It’s a typical October day here in (not so) sunny Leeds with dark and dreary overcast skies and a steady drizzle making me want to think about better times in better places.
Yesterday the last group qualifying games were played for countries hoping to go to Brazil in 2014 for the FIFA World Cup. England beat Poland 2-0 and so topped their group and will go to Brazil. Wooohooo.
207 countries try to qualify for the World Cup Finals. 21 countries have now qualified (Brazil, as host, get automatic qualification) with 22 more to play off for the remaining 11 places. All the ‘big names’ should be there but what about the minnows ? What about Andorra, Singapore, Indonesia, Barbados, Dominica, Virgin Islands, Samoa and so on. These countries have played a total of 41 games and lost the lot, in most cases not even scoring a goal.
Occasionally a ‘lesser’ country will make it to the finals but the ones mentioned are the lesser of the less and stand little chance of ever winning a qualifying game, never mind the 6 or so needed to make the finals. Scoring a goal would be a success for them.
One “country” not in that list is San Marino. Not because they’ve qualified or anything. Oh dear God no. It’s just that they are the subject of this blog post. Yes, yes, I’m getting there. Eventually.
The enclaved microstate of San Marino (oh get me !) is surrounded by Italy, a nation that HAS made it to the finals. San Marino’s record was Played: 10, Won: 0, Drew: 0, Lost: 10. Goals For: 1, Goals Against: 54. Yes they did score a goal….against Poland last month and the players were still doing a lap of honour when the next game started.
All this waffle has been because the games last night reminded me about our visit to San Marino back in 2009 when we were touring N. Italy. Ok a tenuous link at best, but it’s a link nevertheless.
We had driven down the East coast from Venice on our way back to Rome and it was too good an opportunity not to visit San Marino and what a delightful, if at times bizarre, microstate it was. It reminded me of that old 1959 comedy movie “The Mouse That Roared” where the tiny fictional and impoverished Duchy of Grand Fenwick decided to declare war on the USA to obviously lose but in the process, get economic aid. They sent a small invasion force (less than a dozen I think) armed with longbows and swords and the rest is…..well you’ll have to watch the movie for that.
Anyhoo, every second store in San Marino seemed to sell items of warfare well suited to the needs of Grand Fenwick. They were stocked with cross bows, knives, swords and enough armour to put the Leeds Armories to shame. They may not be much cop at football but I’m glad they take defeat well as I wouldn’t want to upset them.
Weapons aside, San Marino is a fairytale place straight out of Disneyland but you need to be fairly fit to explore it. It’s as if a small part of Italy was shoved up into the air during a very localised earthquake and when the dust settled, some bright spark decided to build an independant nation on it. A part of it is on the plain but the good bit, the tourist bit I guess, is a steep drive up to an enchanting area of high stone walls, soaring battlements and turrets impossibly built on cliff outcrops. It was stunning.
With a population of just over 31,000 and an area of 24 square miles, San Marino is the perfect place to visit in a day. As well as having envious scenery, it has no national debt, a budget surplus and almost no unemployment. What’s not to like about the place ?
Yeah ok…..their football team !