Painting the flag on the faces of football fans on the way to the game against Portugal made me nervous. Was I getting the proportions right? After all, I am American. Luckily, I was sitting on a train with over 400 Danes covered in a celebration of red and white, including flags. By the end of the tour in Lviv, Ukraine, I could draw this cherished symbol and had become a convert of Danish national pride.
Call it arrogance, but Americans are used to relaxing and waiting for success. Of course this perception is unrealistic. The U.S. never made it past stage two of the 2010 World Cup, losing 1-2 to Ghana. Still, the feeling of being unbeatable persists because we say that football doesn’t really count.
In contrast, I found cheering for Denmark stressful, yet rewarding. The train nearly danced on the rails on the way to the Fan Zone and the game against Portugal. Having already won the Netherlands 1-0, we were euphorically jumping up and down, continuing at the stadium: “Dem som ikke hopper, de elsker Portugal,” (Those who aren’t jumping, they love Portugal).
Our high spirits burst like a punctured balloon when the Portuguese scored in the 24th and 36th minutes. We were flying again before the first half ended, when Michael Krohn-Dehli headed the ball in for a goal. “Ole, vi er Danskerne, vi er Danskerne!” (Ole’, we are the Danes, we are the Danes!). Hope peaked to new levels when Nicklas Bendtner headed the ball in to make it 2-2. With only 10 minutes left of the game, we waited out the tense atmosphere, but were again disappointed when the Portuguese scored with 3 minutes to go.
There was no party that night. Yet hope sprung eternal because Denmark won the European Championships in 1992. Marching into the Fan Zone before the game against Germany, there was a feeling that it could happen again. “Deutschland, Deutschland alles ist vorbei!” (It’s all over Germany!).
When our red and white force of over 400 was met by Ukrainians smiling from the sidewalks and waving from the balconies, I was surprised to find that I felt like crying. Although we lost the game to Germany 1-2, I had become a convert to Danish national pride. Here success doesn’t come by default and we run into walls most of the time. Instead, success requires an unwavering collective belief and a stubborn tenacity to hold on for the ride. Because we know, one day, it will be like 1992 again.