Thursday, 10 September 2009

Football Identity

A big football night last night in the Brits in Bosnia household. Not only was England playing against Croatia (and there are quite a few Croatia supporters who live around here) but Bosnia was playing against Turkey. As Bosnia was once a part of the Ottoman empire and the high proportion of Muslims in Bosnia is as a direct result of that occupation, the links between Bosnia and Turkey remain strong. Bosnian Muslims are often called Turks by the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia. Not only were there strong historical and cultural links to this game, it was also totally vital that Bosnia won if they were to have a chance to go to the World Cup Finals in South Africa next year, which would be their first major footballing championships.

Adam is starting to show quite a bit of interest in football. He enjoys watching people play it, and is full of who we are going to support. We have constant conversations about who the teams are and what colours they wear. As Bosnia wear blue, and so do Chelsea (my family's team) he is very into versions of blue kit. As the day went on and more and more people starting appearing wearing Bosnian kit, he started getting quite excited.

Adam: I'm going to support Bosnia

Me: Good idea darling. I am too. But I'm supporting England in their match against Croatia. Do you remember we saw Croatia the other day. They have a flag with lots of red and white squares on it. Like that one over there.

Adam: What colour is our flag?

Me: do I talk about the Union Jack here or the St. George's cross? The cross is easier, let's run with that one for the moment. It is a red cross on white, like the picture of a knight in your book.

Adam: What colour is Bosnia?

Me: Blue and yellow - look, like that flag over there.

Adam: What happens if England play Bosnia?

Me: Well, we support England.

Adam: I think I want to cheer for Bosnia against England. They wear blue.

Me - in my head: **&&%%&%&&! Who are you kidding? Your grandfathers will never talk to you again! Your father may never talk to you again. I'll never watch an international with you. Supporting the English football team in all their misery and occasional moment of glory is a part of being English, it is what defines us. Then again, this might be the moment when you are spared the abject pain of being a life time England supporter; so hopeful every time, only to be so disappointed - without fail. But on the other hand, the Bosnian football team comes from the same stock, they also have the ability to self implode and clutch defeat from the jaws of a great victory. Arrghgh, what do I say? Bosnia as a second team definitely yes, but to support them over England? What happens if Bosnia qualify for the World Cup and we end up playing them? Does this mean that he thinks he is Bosnian and not English? Is this a good thing, does this show how he has adapted to living here? How can we reinforce a sense of being English whilst we live abroad? How does football define identity? Gosh I can think fast as I haven't even opened my mouth yet in response and my thoughts have covered a lot of ground.

Me: Are you sure? Bosnia is where we live, but we are English so we really should support England.

Adam: Yes. I am going to cheer for Bosnia.

I feel the time may have come for us to consider moving back.


Alice said...

great post! Gosh, it is difficult. There is something so wonderful about embracing life in a new country and in the fact that maybe Adam is feeling Bosnian, but in some ways you still want him to retain his Englishness ... tricky. Yes, I think the only option is to spend a few months living in England each year and then spend the rest of each year wherever takes your fancy. This way England is always the permanent 'root' and there will be no more thinking-quick-about-football-conversations to deal with ... In fact, I think that would be my perfect lifestyle - if only we could afford it!

zooarchaeologist said...

Loved your thoughts. Didn't watch the match but hubby was saying something like 5-1. Like all little boys they will probably defect to the winning side anyhow. Its great they feel part of Bosnia and can identify with it...

Teacher Mommy said...

Heehee. Having grown up in Ivory Coast, football (of the "soccer" kind) earns greater respect from me and my siblings than the huddle-and-then-bash-each-other kind over here. My sister is HUGELY into it. She and her husband are apparently going to start non-profit level soccer leagues everywhere they go--they did so in Philidelphia, and now are starting on Boston. They are indefatigible.

And she cheers for the Ivorien team over the American, FYI. Every time.

Very Bored Housewife said...

Ha ha, love it! T'husband and I have had a similar conversation before J was born about whether he should be a Leeds United fan like his Papa, or a Forest fan like myself. Thankfully we both came to our senses and decided that he had a birth right being born in Catalunya to be a Barcelona fan, and why would we want to inflict years of misery on him when he can watch a great team win every week.

Thankfully the Catalans don't support the Spanish national side so we have no such debate when it comes international football, the poor lad will just have to suck it up like the rest of us and support England.

Nicola said...

Very funny. My boys also pick their teams dependent on the colour of the strip/flag/player with a nice hair cut. They also have very split alliances between America and England. Luckily 'soccer' is not such a big deal over here so this type of dilemna doesn't really occur. Ex has pretty much insisted since they were hours old that they support Chelsea and any team they watch wearing blue gets the 'Chelsea Chelsea' chant, so I guess he is doing a good job on that front at least.

Iota said...

My son bravely supported England in the World Cup when we lived in Scotland. Scotland hadn't qualified, and the word in the playground was that you supported whoever England was playing against. So all his friends cheered for Brazil, Croatia, Netherlands - it didn't matter who. But he stuck to his guns, which made me realise he is probably made of sterner stuff than I am (either that, or I just haven't understood the whole football thing).

Very Bored Housewife said...

There is an award with your name on it over at mine.

Mwa said...

Very funny post, but very close to the truth. If you stay over there for a long time, you will have to be prepared for having (at least partly) Bosnian children.

My parents took us to Scotland for only two years. I stayed behind for another four more, and ended up with a Scot. We very nearly moved to Scotland to settle forever.

Of course, this can happen even if you never leave the country at all. Still, it's something you're obviously considering.

Anonymous said...

When you say Bosnian Muslims are often called Turks by Serbs, it is an offensive word they use to describe us. Thier nationalists try to teach fake history about our people, just because we are Muslims doesn't mean we cannot be European - In fact: Bosnian Muslims have more white (aryan) genes than Serbs.

Anyway, nobody really cares about Serb nationalists and thier feelings, all Abrahamic religions started out in the middle-east didn't they? So on that basis i guess were all Arabs then aswell.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Alice - He can support whoever he wants, obviously. But it has got me thinking about this whole mixing cultures thing. Tricky...

ZA - It was 5-1. I didn't want to crow about it, there are some people here who are pretty upset about that. I do find it amazing how much can go through your head before a word gets out.

TM - See, this is what I mean. But in our family where football is huge, then having a traitor in our midst is a problem (only joking, he can support whoever he wants, he just might not be able to watch any matches with the rest of us)

VBH - I think being an English supporter is sometimes a curse that is bestowed upon us at birth. But, being a Chelsea supporter, I can't condone the encouraging of Barca in anyway! Thanks for the award too!

Nicola - Your ex has many negative aspects, but his choice of football team is not one of them. We have Chelsea scarves (currently doubling as a belt for pirates) all over the place.

Iota - He is a principled lad, big time respect for him! I find that whole I'll support anyone but x concept weird. But then I'm not Scottish.

Mwa - Imagine, you could be in despair over their inability to beat the Netherlands. Instead, in Belgium, you are still smarting from the Bosnian defeats in March. I think they'll work out who they identify with according to their experiences. It doesn't really matter all that much.

Anon - Thanks for your comment. I had always thought that the use of Turk was offensive, but was told by a Bosnian Muslim the other day that he doesn't understand it to be an insult or offensive. I put it into the post as I wanted to give some concept to those who don't know the history of Bosnia as to why the Bosnia Turkey game was of such interest and resonance to those supporting Bosnia. And you are right, noone should pay any attention to nationalists and their extraordinary agenda. We all came from Africa originally after all!

Anonymous said...

Well, Em, as a mommy for 40+ years, with grandchildren now, I can identify with how fast you mind was working before your mouth did. Adam's decision is a tribute to how you and daddy are raising the boys.-Best, Toni