Terry Duffelen
Sat 7 June 2008

The Box Factory

At last Euro 2008 is underway. What's more, it has started with boxes. That’s right, boxes with balloons in them carried by "volunteers" wearing inflated shell suits. I am of course referring to the official Opening Ceremony in Basel.

Opening ceremonies are truly bizarre affairs. What sort of society do we live in where we feel this urge to spend vast sums of money parading around in daft costumes (although I rather liked the milkmaids) and holding aloft wooden cows before a football match?

The organisers will no doubt say, in some carefully prepared statement, that they exist to promote positive values of patriotism, national identity and international brotherhood. The exact opposite to political rivalry, ethnic hatred and desire for restitution, which is surely what international competition is really about. For "A place to make friends" read "A chance to stick it to the Krauts or the Frogs or the Island Apes assuming any of them could be arsed to turn up."

However, as Nigel (manager of the B Sharps) once said "That'll never fit on a marquee, love" so we are compelled to endure particularly florid examples of why performance art should be banned and its practitioners incarcerated along with saccharin messages of phony comradeship before open hostility begins.

Join us then as Some People Are On The Pitch looks back on some of the more cringe-worthy international tournament’s opening ceremonies.

Germany 2006 (World Cup)
When you think of Germany you think of lederhosen, unless you're me and you think of Gunter Netzer and Kraftwerk. So what better way to reinforce a cultural stereo type than with an expression of Bavarian cultural imperialism in leather. You can just imagine the meeting when they decided that. Avant-garde Berliners pleading with the First Munchen Sausage Munchers to do the decent thing and spare the watching world their pot bellies and short fat hairy legs to no avail.

Proceedings are enhanced somewhat by the presence of large skirted dancers descending into the stadium as the "traditionally dressed German performers" looked upwards in the hope that their stiffies don't show up on the telly.

Euro 2004 (Portugal)
It's at times like this when nations, latterly identified with post-war leisure activities such as sunbathing, swinging and child abduction get the chance to reassert their imperialistic credentials through the means of cardboard sailing ships. Hence Portugal’s celebration of their (ahem) "proud history of exploration". Replaying clips of John Rhys-Davies as Vasco Rodrigues in Shogun may have been cheaper but what do I know? Anyway, the closing ceremony of national humiliation was much more entertaining.

Euro 96 (England)
What finer way to capture the national spirit of modernity and multi-culturalism than with white girls in pointed hats prancing around to "merrie olde England" folk music? If harkening back to a bygone age that never happened wasn’t bad enough, then imagine the dismay of the Wembley crowd when a long-haired decidedly English looking St. George appeared to fight an unconvincing and reluctant looking dragon. The ceremony set ethnic relations back ten years and represents the final gout-ridden heave of established fucked up Tory notions of Englishness. Say what you like about New Labour, but no post-97 sports minister would have stood for that bollocks.

Argentina 78 (World Cup)
This is more like it. Start with the ballons and go from there. Marching bands, high school girls spelling out the words 'Argentina '78', 'Mundial FIFA' and 'Trade Unions will be crushed' with the kind of precision only possible when your family are facing permanent internment if you fail. They even managed to chuck in some doves of peace. President Redondo watches on making a note of any Argentine national in the crowd not applauding enthusiastically. You can witness the full horror online but be warned, it goes on for half an hour.

You can always rely on a dictatorship to put on a good display. That’s at least one good reason why North Korea should be awarded a World Cup. Their ceremony would probably go on for days. Many people would die of exhaustion in the audience alone but it would be a small price to pay to watch hard core mass dancing.

Share your painful opening ceremony moments with us here by leaving a comment.

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