Watching the San Marino football team clutching their chests with ‘pride’ (I hate that action, it doesn’t mean anything) but not singing during their national anthem before their game against England on Friday made me think – do they actually know the words? Having further researched their country’s anthem I have found that there are actually no official lyrics! Who ever heard of that, a national anthem without lyrics? But it doesn’t stop there – it doesn’t even have a name, it is just simply called ‘Inno Nationale’ (National Anthem)! Composed by Sammarinese violinist Federico Consolo in 1894, it is loved by the natives of the small state but largely unknown throughout the wider world. But at least it is quite easy on the ear and not too long…
Building up to a big international game such as a football World Cup Qualifier or rejoicing in the success of an athlete at the Olympic Games allows us to experience national songs we may never have heard before, but many of them are so long and tedious that we get bored after a handful of seconds. For example, the Greece national anthem is 158 stanzas long. However, it is mercifully never played in its entirety at any of the aforementioned events. But what is the point of writing something so long? National pride is one thing, but that is seriously over the top! Still, I don’t think many Greeks will want to recite this song any time in the near future… Uruguay should take their lead from the southern European nations though – their anthem is 5 minutes long, including an introduction of nearly 60 seconds in length! However, the most bizarre part has to be the opening line – it translates as ‘Orientals, the Fatherland or the Grave.’ Obviously this could mean something completely innocent but to me that seems to suggest that, rather than rejoicing in the ‘glory’ of their own nation, they are telling the Eastern Asians to either emigrate or die! I knew there were differences in how southern Americans see other races but I didn’t know it stemmed from their national song!
One of the great idiosyncrasies about national anthems is that many haven’t been written by members of their own country! 44 nations have had their anthems written by foreign composers, the most famous example being the Germany’s ‘Deutschlandlied’; Haydn, the famous Austrian, composed this. How someone can write a song praising a country that they don’t belong to is beyond me; I know I certainly couldn’t do it. One of the most ironic compositions must come from Mohammad Salim Flayfel and his brother Ahmad – they were Lebanese nationals who wrote the national anthem of Syria when relationships between the countries were… Well, let’s say rather tense in the mid-20th century! Another great disappointment for me is that unknowns and composers who have never really been heard of outside their respective countries have created many anthems. Haydn and Mozart (disputed composer of Austria’s ‘Land der Berge, Land am Strome) are the exceptions and this could explain why these national anthems are so much more recognisable than others. Either that or I have watched too much Formula 1 over the years, a sport dominated over time by German drivers and currently by an Austrian-owned car in Red Bull.
Sport is a great tool in exposing us to this fantastic element of the world, but also has the potential to ruin it. All this clutching of the chest and crying before a game, for me, is just an act. I have no problem with athletes crying when they are listening to them after a victory, but before a game… Really? These sportsmen and women don’t actually care about national pride; they just want to win over supporters watching them at home by pretending they care. It’s just role-play, terrible role-play at that, and I find it highly disrespectful. You can tell those who really care about their country because they are the ones who just stand their and sing, zoning out of everything else completely. That, for me, is true national spirit. Chris Robshaw was a fantastic example during the 6 Nations, belting his heart out at the beginning of every game without any of the other shenanigans. I wish more sports stars could take his lead and cut out all the rubbish that goes with it. I’m not saying people who don’t sing should, everyone should have the choice whether they want to or not, but if you’re going to do it then it must be done in a tactful and respectable manner.
Being totally biased I think the British national anthem is the greatest – it is short, to the point and reflects how great our monarchy is. I must admit, though, I am also a great fan of ‘Ireland’s Call,’ a specially composed anthem for the Irish national rugby union team. Because representatives of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland play for the team this anthem had to be composed to reduce any friction amongst both players and fans. While still not popular with a lot of natives it is gradually catching on but, from a neutral’s perspective, it’s fantastic. It is powerful, evocative (watching it being sung by members of Ireland’s team such as Donnach O’Callaghan often gives me goosebumps) and extremely nationalistic, it is everything a national anthem should be. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit it’s better than some out there!