Counterpoint | 24 June 2014
World Cup 2014: What makes a great national anthem?
Ever since I was a child I’ve been spellbound by national anthems. Not because I’m fervently patriotic but because I come from a family of passionate football fans; combined with my love of music and my general fondness for anything a bit sentimental, that seems to have made my penchant for a good anthem inevitable. Plus, I’m married to a Welshman, and as anybody with even a passing familiarity with rugby knows, the Welsh take their beautiful national anthem very seriously indeed.
My experience with national anthems began early, when my two older brothers sat me down to watch Britain’s FA Cup Final when I was about five and we all sang along – with mostly made-up words – at the tops of our voices before kick-off. A decade later, during the European football championships in 1996, I was at Wembley to watch England thrash Holland 4-1. The football was fantastic, of course – what would we give to be able to beat Holland, or anyone, 4-1 these days? – but it was the experience of belting out the national anthem amid 80,000 people that really sticks in my mind.
In 2000 I was living in Paris on a year off before I went to university. Arsenal, my favourite football club, had many French players at the time, so I felt like France was my adopted national team. I even went to Rotterdam to watch France take on Italy in the final of the European Championships, and sang along with the red, blue and white half of the crowd to Le Marseillaise before kick-off. I found the whole thing deeply moving – no matter that there is not a single French bone in my body.
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