X marks the spotArticle
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BLOG: ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain has lived and breathed the VELUX EHF FINAL4 since its very first event and there is no better man to set the scene for our tenth trip to Cologne
»2018-19 Men's News

X marks the spot

It is the tenth anniversary of an event that in its infancy was an unknown. If it were a wedding anniversary it would be symbolised by tin, a metal that is both durable and flexible. In jewellery it is represented by a diamond and the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is the gemstone of the EHF without a shadow of a doubt.

It was a gamble that hastened the demise of the two-legged final across all club competitions in our sport. The idea that the best team over two legs would always win was replaced by an event that challenged the physical, mental and emotional capacity of all the athletes. 

The misgivings that the arena would not be full if a German team was not there, was replaced by a "Field of Dreams" scenario that if you build it they will come. This weekend will see the 200,000th (or close to it) spectator watch the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. 

The original apprehension that German clubs were unfairly advantaged by the event being held in Cologne has been put to bed.

It is a tale of redemption. The belief in a dream. The perseverance to conceive a plan, keep the faith and drive to success.

It mirrors the very athletes and teams who have graced this stage over the past ten years. It is they who are the stars upon the gilded stage that is the LANXESS arena. Their skill, strength and capacity to succeed have left us with the most amazing memories.

I will not list them all. Sometimes I feel I have glamorised the Glandorf goal in 2014, the Kubes contribution in that 2012 winning team for Kiel or when the LANXESS arena heaved with the heft of the impossible as Kielce overran Veszprém in a final thirteen minutes. 

But what I do know is that within each player there is a fire that we mere mortals do not possess or perhaps cannot access. So many of these teams this year have been written off from the beginning. The tale of redemption for Veszprém, Kielce and Vardar this season is the reason sport is so unpredictable and so uplifting. Although I cannot list Barca in this, Pascual's complete change in system and concept of playing is in itself a redemption of sorts for a club that has underperformed in recent years.

This time around it is redemption or revenge for the semi-finals. Take your pick. Both are throwbacks to ultimate glory for one of the participants and a pit of despair for the other. The universe has a habit of not quite instantaneous Karma, but a kind of serendipitous rolling of the dice to right a wrong instead of suffering the same ignominy again.

This time around it is even more significant and symbolic.

It is difficult to take the emotion out of the whole event. It washes like a wave through the entrance tunnel, through the tiered stands and hits all of us with a tsunami-like force. It binds us all players, coaches and fans. We are insulated in our intoxication as we witness the motto of the Olympics: "Citius, Altius, Fortius" play out before our very eyes.

When I was a boy growing up I was always told that boys don’t cry, boys don’t hug, boys don’t kiss. Be manly. Shake a hand firmly, do not hug for no good reason. The other emotions are all for girls. 

And so I did what I was told. I grew up like many boys with no blurred lines. And then I discovered team sports. And suddenly it all changed. As a fan or as a player it was not just ok to hug and cry and celebrate like all your birthdays had come together but it was expected. 

Ten years on from the first edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, tears of exasperation, sadness and elation have been shed by men and women alike as their teams have waxed and waned in equal measure. Children and grandchildren have been named after famous players. Teams have been immortalised in framed pictures on walls.

And grown men who have reared those same children and grandchildren have cried together as their team has reached the peak of European handball. 

Handball: It binds us together as a world family. 

It is life and all its emotions in sixty fuel-filled minutes. 

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator