This is my coloured pencils drawing (with adding my signature and a few white highlights in PS) of Gianluigi Buffon, goal keeper of Italy’s national football team and Juventus Turin. A legend. The #1.

The drawing took me a few days – started last Saturday after Italy lost to Germany in the penalty shoot-out. It’s a bit bigger than A3. It didn’t quite fit into the scanner, so I had to leave out the Italy flag I drew around it as a frame. I will make a photo once I found the perfect wooden frame for it and will upload it.

Today (July 10th 2016) was the finale of the #Euro2016. Portugal won against France. It started a month ago with France playing Romania. Though I admittedly don’t know as much about football as I’d like to know but I have to say it’s by far my favourite sport to watch. Yes, even as an Austrian. It reminds me so much of ancient gladiators – the stadium, the tifosi watching their teams and the players giving their all (well, idealistically). Football has this primordial feeling to it that connects us with times long ago, with a part of us that hasn’t changed in ten thousands of years. It is as if the need for a good fight is something very human. Through football this need can be channelled in a positive manner.

We feel with “our” teams, cheer them on, they let us experience every emotion possible. Excitement, sadness, joy, anger, love. It reminds us of and makes us… human. In a world in which we’re forced to wear a mask on a daily basis, to keep our countenance, to behave. When living those moments with the team it’s like the mask slips, we’re freed, we feel, celebrate, cry with our team. It’s a catharsis. Problems – ours and the ones of the world – are far, far away then. Football, music, games, movies… We need these distractions in order to stay sane.

This year’s tournament was extra special – the Austrian team qualified for the EURO 2016 – for the first time, without being one of the hosts. The Austrian national team got better and better in the last ten years. They played a great qualification – So naturally I was very excited to see how the team would fare in the tournament.

Though football always was part of our family’s life, growing up in Austria never installed great interest in our national team in me. I remember that we always expected them to lose big time. Well, we’re known as a skiing nation. So football didn’t seem to be as important as in other countries – Italy, England, Germany, Brazil… I remember the only Austrian club I was somewhat interested in was Casino Austria Salzburg back then when Otto Konrad played. I still get the chills when I see footage of him in the Uefa Cup quarter finals 1994 saving two times in the penalty shoot-out and then taking responsibility and scoring the crucial goal himself, allowing Salzburg to move on to the semi-finals. Funny how those moments make us feel like veterans in retrospect – for something we actually didn’t achieve ourselves. But still, those moments leave their marks on our lives.

So, when our Austrian team played in the EURO 2016 and didn’t win one game I felt a bit disappointed. I hoped they’d fare better. The dream lived for three games. Then it was over. But… since the Austrian team wasn’t good while I grew up I always watched tournaments „from the distance“. Both my grandmothers were big football fans, the grandfathers, interestingly, not so much. My parents watched football, but it wasn’t as if they had a favourite team. They just watched when an interesting game was on. Champion’s League finals, Euros, World Cups.

I was the same – until summer 2006. The year of the Football World Championship in Germany. I studied Medieval German Philology and we were on a ten day excursion in Germany in June – while the World Championship went down there – we travelled by bus and there was not much to do for hours. I couldn’t read scripts or books because I felt sick when I looked down and tried to read something while travelling in bus. But there were TVs in the bus and I watched every match I was able to see. Couldn’t hear anything because everyone was talking. I just put my earplugs in, listened to Metal and watched football. I was hooked. I especially grew to like the Italian team. They always were some kind of favourite while growing up, but this time I saw them consciously, not just because a game was on. I started to really feel excited – being nervous of their journey. I wasn’t just watching anymore, I was FEELING it. I… wanted them to win so, so badly. I felt their willpower, their hope, their belief, their hearts, their emotions. It was magical. In a year that wasn’t the best for Italian football and a team that had been said to be a less than ideal one… these men fought. They wanted it. They lived (and undoubtedly still live) for football. It was great to see people who actually have something they believe in, something to live for.

Back home I continued to watch the matches. Then, July 9th 2006, the finale was due. Italy versus France. I was devastated when Zidane scored the first goal after, what? Ten minutes tops? Then soon after, Materazzi made it 1:1. We had to suffer through extra time until the penalty shoot-out started. It was almost unbearable to watch. At that time I had a new idol, though he’s just a few years older than I am. Gianluigi Buffon. He was great throughout the tournament. I liked his attitude. He showed emotions, intense emotions, but kept his cool when he needed to be calm. He wasn’t overwhelmed. He seemed to exactly know what is at stake and even when the opponent almost scored a goal he didn’t show any signs of being nervous. He managed to  Before, while and after the matches he was a fair sportsman. I saw leader qualities. The team could absolutely trust in him. It was great to watch.

Until the Italians won the World Cup I never realised how much I could be touched by a moment others achieved. But somehow I felt like being part of it. As if they won for me, too. They did. They showed me that it was POSSIBLE to achieve your goals when you stop dreaming and start working on them. It clicked.

So… when Austria had to go home in the EURO 2016 I wasn’t too happy, but it was okay. They weren’t ready for more. It’s a steady process, I’m sure they’ll qualify for the World Cup 2018. When Italy lost in the penalty-shoot-out to Germany I was devastated. I was on my knees on the stone floor in front of the TV, shouting, clenching my fists till I sunk my nails into the skin of my palms, I felt my heart skipping some beats. After Italy lost I felt empty. Seeing Gigi on his knees, crying, broke my heart. I just watched it. It was hard to bear. But I felt looking away would’ve been a coward thing to do. Face them when they win, face them when they lose. Show respect. They fought well. I looked down and realised there was water on the floor. Absent minded I touched my cheeks. It was then when I realised I’ve been crying. It’s one of those moments when you’re so much in a situation that you literally aren’t in your very own body anymore. You forget about everything around you. It’s a scary a wonderful experience at the same time.

It’s fascinating how much we are able to feel. As an artist, this is a good thing. It fuels inspiration. Seeing Gigi being not afraid to show his emotions, in his moment of defeat, putting himself together and walk up to Neuer to congratulate him to the win… this is something only very few are able to do. Pure grandezza. I wanted to show my respect – and draw him.

Really, I dislike the term “fan” since there’s always a taste of “following without thinking” connected to it. I don’t follow. I see people as people. No matter who they are. I hate the culture of celebrity-ass-kissing. With passion. But I can see a legend. And still know there’s a human behind. To me legend is a self-, a well-earned title. Not bestowed upon you by someone else. So there’s a difference between, say, someone born into royalty and someone who deserved being the #1 because he worked hard for it, because he is the best, because he loves what he does, because he lives for it, because he made sacrifices to achieve what he has achieved.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to know you’re a legend – not even being 40 years old. To wear that crown with dignity, with grandezza. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for #1. Buffon knows he’s a legend. He owns it. He knows this title comes with a price. He knows the responsibility, the expectations. He knows he has to be the leader. At every single moment. His team trusts in him, so do the tifosi. He has to be strong and comfort others when he himself wants to cry. He’s a team player, one of the last players with heart and soul. He plays football because he loves it. He is football.

That’s why I wanted, no, had to show my respect. I started on the spot. A coloured pencil drawing. Just did that once before – a year ago to make a portrait of the late Peter Steele. But this time it had to be perfect. I was nervous and energized at the same time. It was like a rush. I couldn’t stop until I literally fell asleep over the drawing on my desk. I wanted to give my all. It had to be my best work. Nothing less. Though it’ll be never enough to show what he means to me – and I don’t mean this in a starry eyed fan girl kind of way, no. He’s one of the very few people who keep inspiring me. A legend – #1


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