From one qualification to another
22 years ago this day, someone named Epurianu, spoiled the first official football match in the history of independent Georgia, held as part of the World Cup qualifiers. The match was allegedly attended by over 100,000 fans and was much awaited by absolutely everyone in a dark, chaotic, post-war, frozen and impoverished country. No one had ever heard that man’s name before, neither did anyone hear it afterwards. Moreover, no one had any idea, who he was and where he had come from. We just knew that he was an undistinguished football player from an unremarkable Moldova squad, who literally ‘crapped up’ the whole pre-planned national celebration. The Moldovans just crossed once or twice into our half of the field and scored a goal only once.
But then we had a real team, a team of future that brought together many talented and promising football players; suddenly blasted generation, distinct individualists and team warriors. Those little guys then went around Europe’s grand stadiums, playing in big teams, and what is more, they went around and played so well that no one said a single spiteful word about them-they are still remembered and loved- just ask the Englishmen, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Scots and many, many others.
Despite that notorious day, we still went to the stadium with hope and optimism. Nearly all games were a real celebration for us, even when we lost. There was no chance that a match would end without Gio Kinkladze ‘pulling some stunt’, that made everyone talk about it in unison afterwards. Whereas every kid, who got back from the stadium to an asphalt playground, tried to imitate him and wished he had been ‘Gio Kinkladze’. It was ruled out that any of the fans wouldn’t notice Temur Ketsbaia’s commitment and a real battle that he waged on the stadium. The Arveladze brothers, Tkhadadze-Shelia duet in defense center and many others, were just unforgettable.
But then we were always lacking something, there was always something that hampered us-perhaps from this point that ‘something’ was a coach and the so-called ‘Georgian nature’. The football players were often reprimanded then: ‘They are playing to the max in their teams, whereas here they don’t even bother themselves to do the same.’ If you ask me, it wasn’t that they didn’t bother themselves, they were eager to win as much as we all did.
The years passed and it seems that everything has died out at once.
People no longer remember the time when as many as three Georgians played in the Bundesliga, or a period when Kakhi Kaladze raised the Champions Cup twice; or the glorious period, when Gio Kinkladze was driving crazy even the most experienced British fans; no season would end without Shoti Arveladze becoming a scorer.
It’s different time now.
Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. and just imagine that our footballers, who are playing here, can’t even get in the ‘first eleven’. So, what result is the country’s squad expected to show, if the majority of its key players are just warming their chairs in their own teams? No any.
However, we still live with expectations from one round to another. We go to the stadium again and we are embraced with hope, every time one coach is replaced by another:
‘It more or less resembles a team now’;
‘It’s beyond comparison, it’s much better than it used to be’;
‘Let’s see what will happen, we performed pretty well last time’;
Sometimes we are surprised, that they finally learned how to play in the second half normally, that they didn’t start groaning and moaning, stumbling and falling in the field after 60 minutes. Sometimes we are happy that they precisely and accurately followed all the instructions. These are little hopes, that each round of qualifiers starts and ends with, ends one and the same way: sometimes we are ranked next-to-last, sometimes-third to last. And once we even broke all the records despite the fact that Hector Raul Cuper was the head coach then. By this logic, it’s not the matter of coach, though where the problem actually lies is a subject matter for a long and extensive discussion.
It’s been the same during the ongoing qualifiers this year. They performed pretty well in the last two games; they, so to say, sustained a regrettable defeat during the match with Northern Ireland and tied a draw with the strongest Wales squad (that we once beat 5:0). And before that, in summer, right ahead of the European Cup, they beat Spain in international friendly thank to Okriashvili’s single goal. Some new football players also appeared, including Gvilia, Kvirkvelia, Kakabadze etc.
It instilled hope in fans. On November 12, everyone gathered at the stadium for the match against Moldova. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw so many people at the stadium. Oh no, I do remember-during the matches with Spain, Germany, France, and that’s only because people wanted to see Iniesta, Götze, Pogba and others, live.
Whereas on November 12, the stadium was full of people inspired by the recent games of the Georgian national team.
I can’t remember exactly, but I think Georgian national team has never won the game that it desperately needed, but it has spoiled the others’ games. For example, Scotland. They’ve failed to win this time too. And who have they failed to defeat? Probably the world’s weakest team. This draw has been even more heartbreaking than the first official match 22 years ago.
At least there was a hope then. There was the hope and the generation of footballers, who traveled at their own expense to Georgia, with its freezing changerooms and ravaged training base, and who still managed to beat Stoichkov’s Bulgaria squad.
Whereas today, all the hopes and heartbeats seem to have finally faded away. Following November 12 draw with Moldova, the fans were leaving the stadium in silence. I’d never seen such a sad file out before. It seemed that people didn’t even feel like shouting and swearing, except for someone cheeping here and there. Even the football players themselves left the stadium heads-down and disappeared in a changeroom.
I don’t know, how many rounds and generations it will take; how many people will sadly go from one match to another, but it’s hard to argue with my friend, Alexander Bagrationi-Davidov’s Facebook status: ‘Georgian national team is a mix of stories by Murakami and David Kldiashvili. Full of fake activities and enormous frustration.’