While growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, the country wasn’t able to get anything right. The economy was on the floor, bombs and shootings were a weekly, sometimes daily event in Northern Ireland. And the only solution open to many was to leave, which they did, by the thousands.
Then in the 1990s something changed; the country grew more prosperous, violence in Northern Ireland subsided, and the Irish developed a type of confidence that didn’t really exist before. Explaining this is the job of economists and social historians, but ask an Irishman to pick a defining moment, and he’ll say it was the second round of the 1990World Cup Finals when Ireland beat Romania on penalties to progress to the quarterfinals.
You can see it on YouTube: Euphoria broke out across the country, much of it boiling down to a collective Irish realisation that we could achieve something in front of an international audience. And even though we lost in the quarterfinals, and the team was mostly English anyway, things just started to get better from there.
In my experience Belgians don’t lack confidence — at least not to the extent that the Irish did in the 1980s — but they do lack national pride. While there’s plenty of Flemish pride, and even Bellegem pride and Mons pride, Belgium itself doesn’t always mean that much to the Belgians.
Now I don’t want to jinx anything, but with the World Cup just around the corner, the Belgian national team looks like it might make an impact. Let’s say it does. Is it reasonable to predict the emergence of Belgian chauvinism in the aftermath?
And, more importantly, will this produce a different attitude to beer? Will we see Belgians going abroad and confidently boasting they produce the world’s best beer? Or will they start ordering Belgian beer in gourmet restaurants, because it is, after all, just as complex and sophisticated as French wine?
Never say never. Football can do strange things to people.
Publisher and Editor in Chief