MAIN STORY: It was a year ago when Bhutan played its first match with Sri Lanka for the first qualifying round of FIFA World Cup of 2018. It was a proud moment for every Bhutanese. It showed how a game connected every individual transcending boundaries and differences.
This year, too, the Euro 2016 has kept many Bhutanese football fanatics on their toes.
Kinley Tshering, 21, is home for the holidays after his college examinations. He has exactly a month’s time, a perfect time to catch up with Euro 2016. He has a fixture on the wall.
It was June 10 when Euro 2016 began. The opening match was from Group A between the hosts France taking on Romania.
The UEFA European Championship is one of the world’s biggest sporting events, although the competition’s genesis was more difficult than might be expected.
Championships for national associations had already begun in other continents by the time the idea of a European competition for national teams began to reach fruition in the 1950s. At the time that UEFA was born, in 1954, the impetus for a European championship was coming from the distinguished French sports newspaper L’Equipe, which proposed a competition with home-and-away matches to be played in midweek in the evening.
Adding to the French drive for such a tournament was Henri Delaunay, first UEFA General Secretary and former French national association general secretary. In 1927, Delaunay had already submitted a proposal to FIFA, in conjunction with the great Austrian official Hugo Meisl, for the creation of a European cup, to run concurrently with the World Cup, which would involve a qualifying competition every two years.
Delaunay wrote after UEFA’s inaugural Basel assembly in 1954 that the idea was for a competition open to all of the European associations. A three-member committee, he said, had been entrusted with examining this difficult problem. Delaunay insisted that this competition should not lead to an infinite number of matches. Nor should it harm the World Cup, and participants should not always be forced to meet the same opponents in the same group.
Following Delaunay’s death in 1955, his son Pierre joined the French journalists in the drive towards initiating the European Nations’ Cup. Pierre Delaunay was subsequently appointed secretary of the European Nations’ Cup Organising Committee, and was therefore able to observe at close quarters the blossoming of the competition that his father had wanted. After agreement had been reached that the championship would be founded, the new competition was named the Henri Delaunay Cup in recognition of his outstanding services in the cause of European football.
The inaugural tournament was entered by around half of UEFA’s member associations, 17 in total, and one more than the minimum required. The Republic of Ireland were eliminated by Czechoslovakia in a qualifying play-off (the two teams met after the drawing of lots). The first championship match proper was held on 28 September 1958 in Moscow’s Central Stadium – the USSR beating Hungary 3-1, with the home side’s Anatoli Ilyin scoring the first goal after four minutes – and the inaugural competition took place over 22 months between 1958 and 1960. From small acorns do great oaks rise.
Kinley Tshering was stuck to the television with his father and a group of friends in his home in Olakha. The excitement could be felt in the air. Miniature figures of football players could be seen entering the field in the television. This was the moment when the much-awaited Euro 2016 kicked off.
Kinley Tshering couldn’t take his eyes off from the television screen for the next 90 minutes. Every movement the players made was resonated by the football fans at the stadium as well as Kinley Tshering and his friends in Thimphu. One could hear the loud chanting and screams as a French player managed to score. Kinley couldn’t contain his sheer joy when France scored another goal.
France took the first win of the match with two scores, while Romania ended up scoring one. Kinley Tshering fist bumped with his friends when France took the win since he was betting on their team.
“The first match marked the start of a great competition and I can’t wait to watch the rest of the matches,” Kinley said. “I’m rooting for Germany to take the winning title in the finals but you never know, the tide might change any moment.”
As soon as the match between France and Romania ended, Kinley Tshering went to his laptop to check his friends’ predictions on the social media. Most of their predictions were wrong.
“We are allocating points for the right prediction and we have collected a nominal amount, which will be given as prizes for the winner who scores the highest prediction,” Kinley Tshering said. “We did the same predictions for the previous World Cup and Euro2012 as well. Although we didn’t give any prizes before, this time we are serious.”
Kinley and his friends have created a webpage in a social media where more than 30 people are actively engaged.
Euro 2016 is the 15th edition of the UEFA European Championship being held in France from June 10 to July 10. Spain is two-time defending champions, having won the title in 2008 and 2012.
Like Kinley Tshering, even some corporate and private employees in Thimphu are predicting every match for the Euro 2016 among their colleagues and friends.
A corporate employee, Tashi, said it’s exciting to watch every game knowing you have already predicated the scores among the friends. He makes sure to watch every match sometimes staying up to the wee hours of the night or till daybreak.
“I anticipate every match since I hope it comes right with my predictions. It’s interesting to be able to participate in such competitions even if we can’t watch live matches in the stadiums at France,” Tashi said. “It’s nothing like gambling. Predicting every match is an interesting hobby for the love of football. This time, predictions are bringing all our colleagues together.”
Even during breaks, football fanatics are gathering together and discussing the highlights and interesting moments of the previous match. “It’s a change we all look forward to. Although Bhutan can’t participate in such huge matches for now, we all hope that one day we will be cheering and predicting the same for our country as well.”
Another corporate employee, Tempa, said Euro championship is organised once every four years, which is one of the major events for football fans worldwide.
“I have also started predicting the scores, but so far got only a handful of them correct,” Tempa said. “That’s the fun part of big championships like Euro 2016, nobody can get all the predictions right. Yet we continue to do so whenever there is a huge sport event happening every now and then.”
Tashi and Tempa will be continuing with their predictions for the FIFA World Cup 2018.
While football fanatics go on predicting and cheering for their favourite teams for now, there are many more matches to go for the awaited finals.