Although many Americans may be unaware of it, every four years the European football (soccer) championship takes place, and this year the tournament is being co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria. Living in Zurich, I’m right in the middle of it all. One end of the city houses the stadium, where the French, Italian, Dutch and Romanian teams have all kicked the ball around – though not at equal levels of success or skill. The other end of town hosts the fan zone, which is comprised of a massive viewing area with multiple flat screen televisions as well as the usual bars and fast food stands that crop up during such outdoor spectacles.
While Europeans might be close to obsessed with the sport – the British even call it “the football,” adding an article so as to emphasize its centrality in the sporting world – none, if any, are aware that two Jewish players took part in the competition this year. “Markus Rosenberg,” the sportscaster mentioned his name in passing. “Is he or isn’t he?” I asked an Israeli I was watching with. The Israeli wasn’t certain, but later it was confirmed: Rosenberg is an “OTF.” The latter is something else I’ve learned during this tournament. I was chatting with an Israeli/Swiss colleague of mine about Tomáš Galásek, the Jewish Czech player, when my colleague used this acronym. “Hmm…” I muttered, but soon came up with, “original tribal follower?” Actually, turns out it’s “of the faith“, but we both concluded that “original tribal follower” carries a more dynamic edge.
Sadly, neither Rosenberg nor Galásek have made it far in this competition. Sweden and the Czech Republic both fell out of the tournament, neither even reaching the quarter finals. For the latter, it was truly disheartening. The sixth highest ranked team internationally won only one of their matches. Their goalie, who is considered one of the best goalies in the world, and plays for Chelsea – an English football club owned by the notorious OTF (it’s now taken on the noun form as opposed to the adjective), Roman Abramovich – made a fatal error against the Turks, allowing those underdogs to move forward into the quarter finals. It’s uncertain whether the 35-year-old Galásek, who plays the midfield position, will play in another European or World Cup.
Rosenberg, who at 6’1″ and blond appears the archtypical Swede, is only 25, so will likely return for more showings in future international competitions.
The semi-finals begin this Wednesday, with Germany and Turkey playing each other (potential bloodbath), followed by Russia and Spain on Thursday. My money’s on a German-Russian final. In lieu of a Jewish mother in the bleachers, it would make Roman Abramovich proud.