On a sultry night in Sarajevo this August, Bosnia and Herzegovina played host to Greece at the Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadium. The match – a rare outing for the Bosnian national side at what is now their second choice venue – was fairly unremarkable, with the Greeks content to sit back, allow the home side to dominate possession and attempt to gain the decisive advantage on a rare forage forward; unsurprisingly, the contest ended 0-0.
But there was one abiding image from that game, and it was not on the pitch: during the rendition of the Hymn to Liberty – the national anthem of Greece – as part of the television montage, the BHRT cameras focused on the stand containing the away team’s fans, as is entirely normal during these kind of presentations. The Greek national football team – so long a chronic underachiever in the international arena – has if anything become a dramatic overachiever in recent years, winning Euro 2004 with a brand of ultra-defensive football that has only seen slight modifications as qualifications for Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and now Euro 2012 have been secured; a passionate following for a summer friendly against a nearby country should have been assured.
Yet Mediolana’s blogger-in-chief was able to count a total of four Greece supporters in the desolate away tribune, two of whom were ladies who – by dress and demeanour, particularly the elegant and slightly detached way they held their Greek flag – appeared to have their origins in Sarajevo’s diplomatic quarter rather than an ultras organisation. In other words, these were probably not typical followers of the Ethniki, because presently no normal Greece fan can afford the kind of outlay that a brief trip to a nation in the same region entails. A recent article by Yorgo Kirbaki in the Hűrriyet Daily News spells out why: 24% of the Greek population cannot pay their telephone and electricity bills; nearly 1 in 10 Greeks cannot stump up money for their rent. Greece has therefore become a nation which watches foreign-made serials – particularly Turkish ones, which are up to 90% cheaper per episode than their Greek counterparts – for entertainment.
However, the example of Greece cannot be seen in isolation; this trend towards cheap amusement – a world away from splurging €20.00 a time on drinks in ‘concept’ nightclubs – is fast becoming a global one in countries afflicted by the post-2007 economic turmoil. The blog of no less an institution than the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently posted a chart illustrating the mind-blowing collapse in discretionary spending in the United States, a graph that makes the protests gripping that country all the more logical; the streets of London, the capital of the United Kingdom, which during much of the late 1990s and 2000s were replete with denizens perfecting the art of booze-fuelled violence, are now monastic by comparison as the country endures a fiscal hangover of epic proportions. Television, video games and the Internet – reproductive media which require little more than a modest initial investment and an electricity supply – look set to become the new escapism.