Bosnia's football team has yet to qualify for a big football tournament. The closest they got was about 5 years ago when they had to beat Denmark, at home, to go to Euro 2004. They drew 1-1, didn't make the cut and Bosnians still talk of their misery that day.
Whisper it quietly, but the current Bosnian team (managed by the flamboyant Ciro who took Croatia to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1998) is not at all bad. The Bosnians are secretly hopeful of going to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. Having beaten Belgium away 4-2 on Saturday, last night they hosted them here. A win would put them into a strong position in their group. They might do it. Everyone thinks that they might.
Most people watched Saturdays game at home. You knew when Bosnia had scored, a fireworks display worthy of Guy Fawkes went off. Well, not on the fourth goal perhaps, I think everyone had run out of fireworks. But having beaten Belgium so convincingly there was a real mood of anticipation and excitement about the home leg. A group got together on FaceBook calling for the erection of a big screen in Tuzla to watch the match and after 2000 people had joined it, the government duly did so.
We couldn't resist. We found a babysitter, got the boys into bed and off we went. The square was packed, everyone dressed in blue and yellow. There was a lot of singing and laughing and flag waving. Everyone was having a ball, including the legions of young kids who were out for the event. We drank beer and ate peanuts and shouted at the TV screen along with everyone else. We leapt around singing songs when Bosnia scored and were deafened by the firecrackers exploding by our feet. There was such a sense of fun, of enjoyment and joy, with very little of the drunkenness, shouting or aggressiveness that you might expect to find at a similar event in Britain.
Bosnia won 2-1. We strode down the Korzo with the exultant crowds waving their flags and then back home as parades of cars, with men hanging out the windows, beeping their horns were singing Bosnian songs. We were singing them as well. Especially when we found out that England had won 2-1 too.
We're not the only ones who enjoyed the big screen spectacle in Tuzla. A Balkan Insight blog also writes about the event, but adds additional information about the darker side of football in Bosnia.