””

SPORTING LIFE

Fuelled by passion, will Euro fever take flight over terror?

Some mornings are more beautiful than others. Two Sundays ago as I ran in the Tuileries Garden in Paris, the Seine swirled to my right, in the distance the Eiffel Tower stood like a steel watchtower in an uneasy city and down a gravel runway lay the Louvre. In the shadow of a ferris wheel which was adorned in the colours of the Euro 2016 teams, men made makeshift goalposts in the Garden and stripped down to shorts. In a landscape that encompassed so many art forms, a last one was unveiled. Football.

For two weeks in Paris and Devon, the first for the French Open, the second on holiday, I wasn't looking for football but kept running into it. The game is inescapable, its symbolism formidable.

My courtesy car driver at Charles de Gaulle airport, barely festooned with flags and pictures, didn't even like football and yet he talked football. As languages go, more people speak it than they do English. Bastian's first comment was that football fans are petulant; his second was that in his city, fear had staked a place. Three explosions outside the Stade de France during the November Paris attacks was a further reminder to sport that it cannot escape the real world.

A long time ago, in another war, an act of civility intruded. On Christmas Day in 1914 during World War I, a temporary ceasefire was agreed. From trenches on either side emerged weary German and British soldiers who swopped gifts, drank beer, sang carols and reportedly in one case even got a shave from the enemy. And on the battlefield, they played football.

Then the game was symbolic of a truce, now the game and its supporters are a target. Making us fearful of the most fundamental pleasures of life - running a race in Boston, going shopping in a mall, travelling on holiday - is what the terrorist does. It is why nearly 100,000 security forces will be involved in France. Citizens and a game need protecting.

Making us fearful of the most fundamental pleasures of life - running a race in Boston, going shopping in a mall, travelling on holiday - is what the terrorist does. It is why nearly 100,000 security forces will be involved in France. Citizens and a game need protecting.

Across the Channel, football has an enchanting grip on a nation which hasn't won a major trophy since 1966. In England, optimism and resignation are familiar companions: Fans believe in their team, then wonder why they do, then recommit themselves to the cause. What else is this but sporting love?

In the song Three Lions, released in 1996, the Lightning Seeds sang: "Thirty years of hurt/Never stopped me dreaming". Now it is 50 years of pain since 1966 but the essence of faith is that it is inexhaustible.

I see it in my brother who wanders daily to his village in Devon, buys The Daily Telegraph, leans back and declares: "Watch out for the new England." Every new avatar, he reassures himself, must be better than the previous one. When I giggled, he asked me where Singapore was ranked on Fifa's list. A minute's silence followed.

English newspapers are choked with football and fine writing, though compared to boxing, cricket, golf, baseball, this game has been less prolific in providing sporting literature. The papers are an education and an amusement, particularly to the outsider, for no nation appears as obsessed with the football manager. Only they can stylishly deify, dissect and devour him - if necessary in the same piece.

Now they worry about Roy Hodgson's tactics and tut-tut over Wayne Rooney's position and, in a searching piece on set pieces, Jonathan Northcroft notes that "in the past four years only Wayne Rooney has scored for England direct from a free kick". It is all grim hope.

But one day anxiety will clear like an English summer sky and one day an English writer will write as Dan Shaughnessy evocatively did of Boston's baseball team which triumphed in 2004 after an 86-year wait: "Time for the Nation to rejoice. Time to dance. Time to go to your window, open it wide, stick your head out and scream, 'The Red Sox won the World Series'."

A few hours ago the Euro's first match of 51 was played as 24 teams began their joust for a trophy that was once contested by only four nations. A city wounded by terror, bruised by strikes, swamped by floods, needs the distracting joy of football, needs to hear a cheer, needs an occasion like 1998 when France hailed the child of a Muslim immigrant from Algeria who worked as a nightwatchman.

The world may have irrevocably changed since Zinedine Zidane won the World Cup but that moment should perhaps hang in the Louvre. As beautiful proof that victory in sport can provide a temporary and yet powerful balm.

•Come chat with Rohit Brijnath today at the Singapore Coffee Festival. Details and tickets at sgcoffeefestival.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Fuelled by passion, will Euro fever take flight over terror?'. Print Edition | Subscribe