Lesson #426: The Double-Headed Eagle

If you’ve been reading for a while, it shouldn’t be a surprise how we got here and why this is of particular interest to me.*

The World Cup is on. I love the World Cup. It’s my favourite sporting event. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them is that the popularity of football offers billions more eyes than usual to put politics on a global stage.**

My experience with Albania is limited. I’ve set very tired feet on the ground in Albania, but barely — it was very early in the morning, I had been dozing (at best) on a very uncomfortable overnight bus from Dubrovnik to Skopje (never again), and I literally didn’t know what country I was in until I saw a sign on the side of the road in a language I couldn’t read. But I know about Kosovo, if only because it’s related to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.***

The Shakiri and Xhaka double-headed eagle gestures were a big thing yesterday (and discussions of match bans were on order today), but the politics of that are a separate post. Today, we’re touching on the history of the double-headed eagle.

I had assumed that the double-headed eagle was a Roman thing, but the Romans never used it. Sort of. There’s a fluidity in the Eastern Roman Empire that makes its use sort of Roman, but not really. Anyway, the origins go back to the Hittites, who occupied modern-day Turkey from roughly the 20th to the 7th centuries BCE. Scholars are in agreement that the double-headed eagle took on a later meaning of orthodoxy (in the Orthodox Christian faiths) and dominance (in the Byzantine Empire), but its original meaning has been lost — in part because there’s a two millenia gap in its use after the decline of the Hittites before the Byzantines started using it as a part of their heraldry. The double-headed eagle as heraldry spread into the Arab world and large swaths of Europe — particularly in Southeastern Europe — in the late medieval period (11th and 12th centuries), as a result of the Crusades.

In modern times, Russia’s association with the double-headed eagle is arguably the most recognizable — it’s even in their football crest.**** However, it also shows up on Albania’s flag (thus the ethnic Albanians playing for the Swiss team using it), along with Serbia and Montenegro‘s flags, and if you look at the not-so-distant past, in addition to the Russians, it was used by the Serbian kings, which remains on the Serbian flag; the Habsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary; the Austrian Empire; the Montenegrin royals;  the German Confederation; and Yugoslavia, generally, up until they exiled their last king after the Second World War.

Fun fact: in this World Cup, five other countries have an (single-headed) eagle in their crests: holders Germany, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, and Tunisia.

For more on the history of the double-headed eagle, see here and here.

*If you haven’t been, the short version is: the sociopolitics of the Balkans as they’re reflected in football hooliganism. And also history.

**In this regard, it’s a shame the US are not participating.

***Serbia basically spent the 90s being a controlling ex until the rest of the world stepped in and were like, “guy…sit down” — and even then, they didn’t do a great job. I have many feelings on the Dayton Accords and not many of them are good.

****If they’re smart, Xhaka and Shakiri will say, “we were paying tribute to our host country!” Which no one will believe, but at least it’s a feasible explanation.


Lesson #401 (sort of): Serbia’s Ultras Problem

I turned in my term paper for my Ethnic and Cultural Conflict class today (three days early!). I’m really pleased with how it turned out on its fourth iteration. It began as an examination of football clubs’ interactions as reflections of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian relations with one another. Then it was how Croatian and Serbian football clubs’ interactions with each other and with European fans is reflective of the overall regional politics. Then it was how football violence in Croatia and Serbia is reflective of each country’s position in Europe. And finally it was what it is…

an explanation of contemporary Serbian politics using four football matches: Croatia/Serbia in March of last year (how Serbia is coping with its lingering resentments and learning to work with its traditional rival); Partizan/Tottenham in September (how the rise of the right is spurring anti-Semitism and homophobia in Serbia); Serbia/Albania in mid-October (how the Kosovo question is affecting Serbia’s relationship with the EU and why its transition has been so slow); and Partizan/Red Star at Halloween (how Serbia is allowing its ultras to destroy it from within).

Short version: all of Serbia’s current political troubles stem from using football ultras groups as paramilitary units during the Homeland and Bosnian Wars.*

It’s 15 pages of awesome. That I had to work for.


…good research will get you everywhere. If I hadn’t done the leg work, paring down enough to get a *good* paper into 15 pages would have been impossible.

*You’re either going to have to trust me on that or do the research yourself. I’ve done the work.

Lesson #400: Yugoslavia’s Dwindling Football League

I’m  writing a paper on how, as Serbia is Europeanized as it moves towards EU membership, football hooliganism is the last outlet for expressing lingering ethno-cultural anger. And I am learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the way football operated in the former Yugoslavia. For example:

Eager to maintain some sense of “normalcy”, and despite the fact that six teams from Croatia (5) and Slovenia (1) had already withdrawn from the league, the Yugoslav League continued the business of football through the first two seasons of the war in Croatia (and the first season of the war in Bosnia) with an ever-dwindling number of teams in its league as teams withdrew — or, in the case of Željezničar Sarajevo, abandoned the league when their stadium was destroyed. The Yugoslav League collapsed after the 1992-93 season.*

I find that fascinating. The article that information comes from also talks about how for the big teams in the top flight, getting to and from matches in the months leading up to the war wasn’t particularly difficult since they could fly from Belgrade to Zagreb, but for second division teams and smaller first tier teams that traveled by bus, getting to away matches in Croatia was a lot of crossing your fingers and hoping no one killed you on the way. Which is mad.

*This comes from Richard Mills’ article, ‘It All Ended in an Unsporting Way’: Serbian Football and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia, 1989-2006.



Lesson #378: In Bermondsey in Burberry

Sorry for the unexpected break; between football matches with my footie friends (it was only supposed to be one, but then our Tanzanian friend showed up and informed us Liverpool were playing, so it turned into two) and a bonfire with both sets of friends on Saturday and brunch, catching up with my college roommate, and (finally) watching Tom Hiddleston do Shakespeare in leather with some girl friends yesterday, my weekend kind of got away from me. 

If you’re familiar with the band Stars, a Millwall fan*, a hooligan, or any combination of the three, that title might make sense to you. If you’re not, welcome to a post on the rather surprising connection between the upscale clothing brand Burberry and football hooligans.

In the late 1970s, when Liverpool were having a run of luck in Europe, their  fans followed them abroad to cheer them on. Like you do. (I did, after all, drive to another country to see Spurs play the week before last.) But a funny thing happened…these fans started coming back to England with continental fashion labels that hadn’t yet crossed the channel. Nearly 20 years on, in attempt both to be seen as ultra fashionable and, probably more importantly, to pass as a higher class of fan than the average hooligan and therefore avoid detention by the police, Burberry’s trademark plaid became the new uniform of the football hooligan. To the point where the brand stopped making baseball caps in an effort to distance themselves from the type of ultra-hooliganism that arose in the 80s and was a serious social problem in England into the early aughts.

Burberry as a hooligan brand arose in the mid-90s, and if you google “Burberry hooligans”, you’ll get any number of pictures of chavs decked out in the brand. There’s obviously speculation about how a lower-class group were able to obtain a high-end label (in my reading it was stealing directly from the store and mugging people who were wearing the brand), but since I don’t know, I’ll not guess. What’s funny about the rise and fall of Burberry as a hooligan uniform is that it mirrors the way fashions trend on a smaller scale; while it started as a way to avoid police detection, it was dropped because it arose too much suspicion.

Bonus lessons: The trench coat is so-named because it was specifically designed by Burberry for British soldiers fighting in the trenches during the First World War. Also gabardine** was invented by Mr. Burberry himself.

For more, read here, here, and here.

*To my knowledge, I’ve never met a Millwall fan in the flesh. Fun, related (bonus points if you know the relation) fact: I met my first ever West Ham fans while out with my footie friends for the Champions League final in May.

**Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America‘ is the first thing I think of when I think of gabardine. It has a lyric, “she said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy”, and I’m almost certain that’s the only time I have ever heard the word spoken…or, well, sung. Vocalized.


Lesson #374: The Time Zaire Lost 9-0 at the World Cup

Apologies for the delay in getting this up. After a month of binging on football, — because that’s really what the World Cup is…a month-long football bender — I took a few days to detox by reading books, catching up with some friends I all but abandoned, running non-pressing errands I’d been putting off, and generally being away from the computer. 

I was sat at the bar in the Irish pub down the street from my house, where I spent all my pub-watching time, for the Brazil/Germany semifinal. I was cheering for Germany, in part because I had them winning it all in my bracket, in part because of Manuel Neuer,* but mostly — because England didn’t even get out of their group (but Costa Rica did…oh, World Cup, your sense of humour!) and Diego Forlan’s flowing locks’ advancement past Colombia were hindered by age and Luis Suarez’s appetite for Italian — because Michael Ballack has long been my footballing God, even if he did play for Chelsea.**

Anyway, among the other regulars at this bar is a guy my Spurs friends and I met in May during the Champions League final. He’s been interesting to hang out with because he’s from Tanzania and is the only person I’ve ever met who can talk about the history of African football.*** So there we are, Guinness in hand, watching Germany crush Brazil. Five goals in, I decided to look up the worst routs in World Cup history. Among them, my new friend mentioned, I’d find a 1974 match in which Yugoslavia defeated Zaire 9-0.**** And then my friend started telling me this insane story (that isn’t all that insane when you consider sub-Saharan Africa’s history of post-colonial despots, but that’s a whole separate issue):

In 1973, Zaire became the first sub-Saharan African team to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Hooray! So off they went to West Germany. After a 2-0 loss to Scotland, the Leopards learned that the wages they were expecting to see for their effort was being, shall we say, reallocated. Directly into the pockets of an incredibly corrupt Zaire government (that embezzled somewhere between $4 and $15 billion over the course of Mobutu’s 30-year rule). Now, as you can imagine, the players were not especially thrilled by this and decided not to play the following match against Yugoslavia. They were eventually convinced to play the match, but, as you can probably deduce from the scoreline, they didn’t put a whole hell of a lot of effort into it. They also went a man down in the 22nd minute.

Anyway, at the time, the country was run by a guy called Mobutu Sese Seke, who was, by all accounts, not a nice man. Funnily enough, though, he was installed as President with support from both Belgium (who had been Zaire’s colonial overlords) and the United States. Mobutu’s solution to opposition was the beloved trifecta of psychotic rulers since the dawn of man: kidnapping, torture, and execution. And he was not particularly pleased by a 9-0 humiliation. So he did what any tyrannical dictator would do in this situation; he sent his presidential guards to threaten the players. They were told that if they lost 4-0 to Brazil in their final match of the group stage, they would not be allowed to return home. In the end, Zaire lost 3-0 and its players returned home without further incident, but Mobutu had a policy that kept the members of the Leopards from pursuing football careers outside of Zaire.

If you’re interested, the scoresheet is here. You can read more about this madness here, here, and here.

*Neuer appears in conversation between me and a friend in the Texas capital on at least a weekly basis. He’s also the subject of the biggest fight The Swede and I ever had. I was mad at him because for an engineer he was being impossibly idealistic, and he was mad at me because for a student of revolutions, I was being impossibly pragmatic. In the end, we nearly got kicked out of a bar in Berlin.

**During the 2008 Champions League final, a friend looked at me before Ballack took his penalty and said, “you know he’s just standing there thinking, ‘of course it’s going in; I’m Michael fucking Ballack!'”, which is still the best ascription of emotion I’ve ever heard.

***The only Africans I’ve ever really known on a regular basis were when I lived in an Eastern European capital, and they had some seriously disturbing stories about how they’d ended up there; we didn’t talk much about football.

****The record is a goal difference of 9. Two separate 9-0 matches — Hungary vs. South Korea in 1954, Yugoslavia vs. Zaire in 1974 — and one 10-1 match — Hungary vs. El Salvador in 1982.

World Cup Break (duh!)

It’s the World Cup. As such, your humble researcher will be spending time cheering for England’s continued mediocrity/Diego Forlan’s flowing locks/the underdog (unless that happens to be Portugal), judging countries on their national anthems (Spain is #1), exchanging sarcastic commentary with friends around the world, and taking everything Michael Ballack says as gospel truth for the duration.

Lesson #360: The Tottenham Crest

The supporters club I’m part of has a Facebook page where we keep each other updated on team-related news. Sometimes, it’s whether we need to relocate to the Chelsea bar (ugh) for the super early match because our bar staff didn’t show up to open for us. Sometimes, it’s videos of fans spontaneously deciding, despite being down four goals to Liverpool, to cheer like Spurs scored a goal (which they did not). Sometimes, it’s lost posters for a certain Argentinian striker. Sometimes, it’s wild speculation that I feel the need to correct. Because, as you may have noticed, I cannot abide poor research.

In this case, it’s the source of the cockerel (or, as Spurs fans are wont to call it, “the cock on a ball”) that makes up the Tottenham crest. One of the members of the club posted about the possibility that the crest had arisen from the fact that White Hart Lane was built on what used to be a farm.

It literally took me 20 seconds to find the actual information. Twenty. Seconds.

According to Ken Ferris’ book, Football: Terms and Teams, the cockerel has been part of Spurs since the 1901 FA Cup final. The cock and ball* first appeared in 1909 when a former player cast a copper statue to place in the West Stand at White Hart Lane. The spurs on the cockerel are related to the late medieval nobleman Harry Hotspur’s riding spurs.** And also, you know, because fighting cocks wear spurs. As I’m sure you can guess, Tottenham Hotspur take their name from our friend Harry, who had ties to North London.

*That just never gets old…I sometimes have the sense of humour of a 12-year-old boy.

**That’s late medieval, not late, medieval, though that’s also accurate. Obviously.