A love letter to national anthems

Foreword by Robbe Tarver

In the US, it seems like we hear the national anthem before we are allowed to eat our dinner and a flag is required on every street corner.

Before games, the anthem seems more like a formality than a connection to the country. With the current climate in the United States around the national anthem and the flag, the tie between the national anthem and the country can be lost in the shuffle. Patriotism is fantastic, but the persuasive nature of our anthem and flag can make it a somewhat dull symbol, rather than the shining connection to freedom and the reminder of sacrifice it is meant to be. But national anthems before an international competition like the Olympics or Euros are a special experience.

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In 2010, with the USMNT about to play Ghana in the Round of 16, my friends and I belted out the Star Spangled Banner. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more patriotic in my life. The team somehow said something about me and my tie to the country and our way of life. The song was a chord within me that I didn’t know could be struck. Something beautiful and unexplainable.

Fast forward to the critically-acclaimed treat that is the 2021 version of the Euros, and this chord has been struck in a special way after the absence of fans due to the international pandemic. The return of fans in mass has shown the power of the anthem and its connection to the people of the country. I challenge anyone who watched the first match of the Euros and Italy belting out their national anthem to not feel some type of way. The connection between the fans, the players, and the nation during the national anthem is an irreplaceable part of the summer of international tournaments. If you’re tuning in right at kickoff, you’re not getting the whole experience.

Five to 10 minutes before the official blows his whistle, as the camera pans across to each team’s starting 11, you get to see up close and personal what national anthems mean to these players. As a spectator thousands of miles away, there is limitless, nuanced fun to be had in these little moments. You can enjoy the variety of individual reactions, featuring everyone from the:

  • Hardcore singer belting it out like he’s in his car driving to a 9-5 desk job
  • The lip-syncher phoning it in
  • The introvert who knows the words but just wants to mouth them
  • The stone-faced stoic who is too intense to be bothered with “singing”
  • The Jim-from-The-Office who looks directly into the panning camera (bonus points if they point or smirk, which Matthias Ginter did once)

The way the players address their anthem often reflects their country’s personality. There’s not a lot of reaction emotion pouring from the faces of the uber-serious Germans during Deutschlandlied. Newer, post-Bloc nations such as North Macedonia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary wear their hearts on their sleeves during their respective anthems. The Italians treat “Il Canto degli Italiani” like an opera.

All of these personalities come together for 90 seconds or so in a joyous showing of nationalistic pride. The anthems themselves could spawn countless power rankings and debates, the results of which would probably start a pub scrap or two. It goes without saying, but don’t say Flower of Scotland is better than God Save the Queen in a bar full of Englishmen.

Per a recent article in The Athletic, former English legend Ashley Williams extols God Save the Queen: “That’s one of my biggest memories, the national anthems,” Williams says. “I remember we played Spain at the Millennium and David de Gea and Sergio Ramos said to me, ‘Wow, that anthem is unbelievable’. ‘Yeah, it is’. It is one of the best. So many good nights belting that out with the fans.”

The Italian national team has taken the Euros by storm, playing an attractive brand of football with an infectious energy of a side that clearly did not enjoy sitting out the 2018 World Cup. ESPN pregame analyst Alessandro Del Piero, an Italian football legend in his own right, extolled the Italian anthem in one segment: “It’s part of our culture. It’s the last moment before battle. It gives us goosebumps and you want to scream it out.” Co-host Steve McManaman echoed Del Piero, noting how opposing teams see the Italian passion during the anthem and get goosebumps.

It’s not just players though. The fans there have an almost obligation to represent their country by putting in a Grammy-like anthem performance. The more enthusiastic the better, and the greater chance the camera cuts to you. Prior to the pandemic, these little moments were taken for granted; just another routine before kickoff. But it means so much more now. God Save the Queen could be heard on low volume across TVs everywhere as England dispatched the Germans last week. And as Jon Champion pointed out, you can tell how well France was doing based on how much and how loud you hear La Marseillaise.

After the most trying year in modern history, these little details should not go unnoticed, and a quiet appreciation for these moments will go a long way in moving on from and healing the wounds of 2020. It’s poetic that Italy and England, two countries whose anthems elicit arguably the most emblematic response from fan and player alike, get to meet in the final Sunday. So, as we say goodbye to a month-long feast of football in three days, get to your stream 15 minutes early. Take in both anthems. Marvel at how far we’ve come, and try not to run through any brick walls before kickoff.

The Author

Patrick Martin

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