On the fringes with Elizabeth Stewart

On the fringes with Elizabeth Stewart, editor

Football diplomacy

It’s been a month of vibrating pockets. You must have seen it: a diplomat surreptitiously reading texts during dinners and receptions. There’s no diplomatic crisis, mind (unless you call the Irish no vote a crisis); just football-mad diplomats getting updated scores texted to them.

With England, Ireland and Scotland not even qualifying for Euro 2008, this year’s tournament saw a peculiar brand of diplomacy emerging as envoys of all European nationalities tried to persuade undecided British fans to support their team. The German chargé d’affaires even went on radio to extol the virtues of the perfect German penalty shootout.

Several diplomats were quoted in the Independent trotting out every conceivable reason why Brits should support their side. Gabriele Matzner Holzer, the savvy Austrian Ambassador, appealed to Britain’s traditional support for the underdog; Maria Monteiro, at the Portuguese Embassy, had plenty of armoury – “Ronaldo, Nani, Carvalho, Queiroz, Mourinho” – and even a bit of history: “We’ve had a Portuguese-UK alliance since the 1386 Windsor Treaty”.

A spokesman at the Polish Embassy tried the historical link too, spiced with a bit of revenge: “Our pilots fought for you in the Battle of Britain. And another reason: England played Croatia and they beat you. We’ll play Croatia, and while it’s not diplomatic to say so, if you support us, we’ll try to get revenge on your behalf.”

Italian Ambassador Giancarlo Aragona simply responded with several Italian f-words that Brits are fond of: “food, fashion, furniture and Fabio [Capello].”

Which leads me to my final, but most bizarre, bit of diplomatic football trivia from the fringes. At this year’s Russian National Day apparently one of the Russian diplomats decided to invite England football coach Fabio Capello to their party. About halfway through the evening excitement shot through the staff as everybody reached for their cameras: Mr Capello, beyond all expectation, had arrived! Except it wasn’t. It was the Albanian Ambassador, Zef Mazi, who, to be fair, bears an uncanny resemblance to the England manager – except his English is much, much better.