When I wrapped up my few comments on Soccer’s World Cup contest in Russia a few weeks ago, my last line was one of regret that the nations sending teams to Moscow and beyond couldn’t use the same formula to settle more serious disputes.
How sweet it was, I thought, getting all on-field tussles settled instantly by a referee and two line judges backed by instant slow-motion playbacks if any particular incident had been too fast for the human eye to follow.
How encouraging for future world peace to see teams from around the world paying respect to their opponents singing their homeland national anthem, and then bursting with pride to sing their own while their fans joined in their thousands from the stands. None was more inspirational than La Marseillaise, composed in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle and the national anthem of France since 1795. It’s a spine-tingler when witnessed on TV and an emotional roller coaster if you’re ever lucky enough to be in a crowded stadium and hear 30,000 to 40,000 French fans lift their team as they rejoice in their country’s national song. But it isn’t what you would call a hymn for peace and brotherly love.
It’s better if you join in and enjoy the music but don’t pay attention to the words because they leave no doubt as to what the French are singing about. It isn’t the perfection of their passes, the precision of their set-plays from corners or free kicks. The first stanza sets the scene: “Let’s go children of the fatherland / The day of glory has arrived! / Against us tyranny’s / Bloody flag is raised! (repeat) / In the countryside, do you hear / The roaring of these fierce soldiers? / They come right to our arms / To slit the throats of our sons, our friends.” And then the triumphant chorus: “Grab your weapons, citizens! / Form your battalions! / Let us march! Let us march! May impure blood / Water our fields.”
Thankfully, the French usually excuse us from more than the first stanza and chorus at soccer and rugby games. The second stanza opens with “This horde of slaves, traitors, plotting kings, what do they want? For whom these vile shackles, these long prepared irons?” and sounds more like the threat of a New Zealand Maori Haka than a joyous rallying cry for a sporting team. But, I guess if it kept the mob together long enough to storm the Bastille and win the great revolution, it’s worth reminding today’s generation where their freedoms come from.
Not all World Cup national anthems carried a “remember the revolution theme” although most had at least a few lines reminding singers and listeners that, in the not too distant past, some of them were literally fighting for their lives as nations.
Mexicans sing “Mexicans, at the cry of war / Make ready the steel and the bridle/And let the earth shake to the core / At the roar of the cannon.” The second verse is a little softer calling its citizens to crown their heads with the olive wreath of peace because peace is Mexico’s eternal destiny as written in heaven then adds: “But should a foreign enemy / Profane your ground with their sole / Think, oh beloved country, that heaven has given you a soldier in every son.”
Scotland didn’t have a team in World Cup 2018 – and it doesn’t have an official national anthem – but anytime its team performs on a world stage it powers through Flower of Scotland, a solemn but moving dirge reminding today’s Scots of the time their forefathers “stood against Proud Edward’s army and sent him homewards, Tae, think again.” That would be the Battle of Bannockburn under the lead of Robert the Bruce. Solemnly, the Scots sing: “Those days are past now, and in the past they must remain, but we can still rise now, and be the nation again, that stood against him, Proud Edwards army, and sent him homeward, Tae, think again.”
And there are one or two nations with anthems of rare beauty. Wales, like Scotland, wasn’t at the World Cup of soccer. But, come this fall, it will be popping up at international rugby events and sweeping crowds of 75,000 or more to sing along in the Welsh language when that country’s anthem precedes every game it plays on the big stage. It is a fact that the Welsh national anthem is always sung in Welsh – but you can get an English version and join in your English unnoticed. A few scattered lines:
“The land of my fathers is dear to me, / Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free; / Its warring defenders so gallant and brave, / For freedom their life’s blood they gave / Though foemen have trampled my land ‘neath their feet, / The language of Cambria still knows no retreat; / The muse is not vanquished by traitor’s fell hand, / Nor silenced the harp of my land.”
Then the final chorus: “Wales, Wales, true am I to Wales, While seas secure the land so pure, O may the old language endure.”
A favourite? I think so. One of the Cinderella teams in the World Cup contest was Iceland. It won admiration on the field for sportsmanship and the surprising quality of its on-field skills. Iceland’s anthem is titled Lofsongur (Song of Praise). There are several translations with some slightly longer than my choice, and YouTube has an array of choral versions. It’s worth a listen.
“O God of our land, O our land’s God,
We worship thy holy, holy name.
From the solar systems of the heavens
Bind for you a wreath
Your warriors, the assembly of the ages.
For thee is one day as a thousand years
And a thousand years a day and no more,
One small flower of eternity with a quivering tear,
That prays to God and dies.
Iceland’s thousand years, Iceland’s thousand years,
One small flower of eternity with a quivering tear,
That prays to its God and dies.”