Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The raw emotions of Euro 2016: That Wales fan

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Raw emotions: Euro 2016
by rick olivares

Around the 85th minute of the England-Wales match in the UEFA Euro 2016 championships, with the score pegged at 1-1, the camera panned to a Welsh fan crying. The camera stayed on him for at least 10 seconds where at first, he seemed to cry because because his country was about to take a point from their eastern neighbours who have dominated the football competition. When those standing next to him pointed out that the camera was on him, he rubbed away the teams and flashed rapturous joy. Earlier, Gareth Bale sent the entire gallery in red (England fans were in white) in raucous celebration with a thunderous free kick from some 30 yards out that gave Wales a 1-nil lead heading into the half. 

Although Jamie Vardy put England on level sometime after the start of the second half, Wales looked like they were not only going to stay on top of Group B (to go with their marvelous opening day 2-1 win over Slovakia) but also stop the blood letting as they had a four-match losing streak to the Three Lions. 

Except England forward Daniel Sturridge snatched away the top spot and a point with a 2-1 win in extra time. The last gasp goal enabled England to vault to the top of Group B, now a point ahead of the Dragons. 

I wished then that the director of the match panned back to the Welsh fan to see the expression on his face. Perhaps it was an act of mercy but such is sports.

Heading into their Euro 2016 clash, the Three Lions have owned their neighbours with a 66-21-14 record. The last two times they clashed it was for the qualification to the 2012 European championships and not the main tournament. Bracketed in Group G, England took the home and away matches by an aggregate score of 3-nil. That meant their June 16 battle at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens was their first in the European championships.

Wales looked outclassed. They didn’t have enough talent to move the ball forward. Without the ball, Bale had to go downfield and help repel one English attack after another. Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, and Joe Ledley tried their best in the midfield. Ledley coming off after sustaining a calf injury when inadvertently colliding with Sturridge further hurt Wales. Jonny Williams was relentless upfront but he was alone and up against three defenders. Neil Taylor’s left flank looked especially vulnerable as the English drove through his side. And when you’re constantly on the defensive, that places massive pressure on everyone. 

Even England Manager Roy Hodgson who was feeling it after the draw against Russia. His celebration after Sturridge’s goal said it all. 

When this match will be talked about, there will be Bale’s stupendous goal, his second such in two outings, the twin strike force substitution for Vardy and Sturridge that led to their goals. And perhaps, that unnamed Welsh fan who unabashedly shed tears and who represents both sides of fans with the full gamut of emotions on display. 

However, nothing is more crushing than the sight of bewildered and wailing Brazil fans after their national team was massacred by Germany, 7-1, in the semifinals of the last World Cup. After Toni Kroos put up the Germans with a side-footed shot that made it 3-nil, there was shock on the faces of the Brazilian fans. How was this happening? On their home soil. On what was supposed to be their crowning glory! Then after Kroos’ second score to make it 4-nil, the sight of a sobbing child was almost too difficult to bear. After Andre Schurrle’s shot made it 7-0, the look on Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar… he was a broken man. And post match, lots of tears, shell-shocked and angry fans. That was in essence the story of the tournament, imperious Germany and Brazil’s national lament (they also lost the battle for third).

While Euro 2016’s defining game has yet to be played, the intensity of the matches especially after a long season by all its participants, has made this tournament a joy to watch. But the fans (the riots included), have made it even more compelling.

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