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Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 14:24 UK

Britain's new best friend?

By Marie Jackson
BBC News

San Marino is a rugged mountain state
Once the world's smallest republic, San Marino is now the UK's Eurovision ally

Britain's woeful Eurovision result could have been even worse had it not been for the votes of Ireland and one other country San Marino. Time to start building links with this Italian microstate?

Before the final sequins were sewn onto the more outlandish costumes, Britain's fate on the night had probably already been sealed.

And true to form, bar neighbourly Ireland, the UK's entry, Andy Abraham, was to see nothing but big fat zeros all night. That was until San Marino chose to bestow six valuable points on us. A quizzical nation sat up from their sofas and said "who?". But perhaps the more pertinent question would have been "why?"

Unwritten rules

It is possible the Sanmarinese, for that is what residents of this European microstate are called, have long been fans of Abraham and his offering, Even If. And, as Eurovision virgins, maybe they were unfamiliar with the unwritten rule that votes must be made along political or geographical lines - and never decided on music alone.

Most of all, we like the attitude of the players towards the referee, their good sportsmanship, loyalty
Giorgio Crescentini, president of San Marino Football Federation about English players

But maybe, just maybe, they like the UK. And while the rest of Europe were busy giving us nul points, San Marino, the little land-locked republic, was merrily waving the Union Jack flag and becoming our new best friend.

But what evidence is there they could possibly be reaching out an arm of friendship to Europe's Eurovision outcast?

Perhaps the first hint they dropped was in 1940 during World War II when San Marino did not join Italy in declaring war on the UK. Instead it opted for neutrality, a wise move given it has one of the smallest military forces in the world.

And we have come to know each other on the football pitch. England fans got a memorable shock in a 1993 World Cup qualifier when San Marino scored after eight seconds - the fastest goal in a World Cup competition.

Map of San Marino
San Marino's government is headed by two captains-regent
Its football team is 200th in the Fifa world rankings
The country's postage stamps and coins are keenly sought by collectors

At that stage, San Marino had only been playing on the international stage for seven years so for Giorgio Crescentini, the current president of the country's Football Federation, watching from the VIP stand, it was a glorious moment.

"When there was the goal we were incredulous, surprised. We always considered English football as very beautiful and fascinating, so scoring against the country that invented football was incredible," he says.

England fans will want it noted that their boys retaliated, and went on to win 7-1. Maybe the Welsh also endeared themselves to the people of this tiny state when visiting for a football match in September last year. The 2-1 goal margin was a respectable loss for San Marino and the Welsh even threw in a streaker to give locals a taste of British culture.

San Marino, 200th in the Fifa world rankings, still holds the England team in high esteem. "We all watched the Champions League final which was a great game... Most of all, we like the attitude of the players towards the referee, their good sportsmanship, loyalty. I think this could be a positive model for us," says Mr Crescentini.

Fine words for England's boys but could there be something a little more calculated about this new-found friendship with Britain?

A lot of the world knows neither where San Marino is or if it even exists
Alessandro Capicchioni, head of the Sanmarinese Eurovision delegation

It may be small and slightly misunderstood, but the 61 sq km republic is certainly very self-aware and knew Eurovision would be a major plug for its tourism industry.

Going into Eurovision, the head of the Sanmarinese delegation knew what it could mean for the country.

"We're a little state, we need tourism, we need our name to be spread. A lot of the world knows neither where San Marino is or if it even exists," said Alessandro Capicchioni.

And he's not wrong. There are not many European countries that live quite so anonymously.

Postage stamps

Often mistaken for an Italian island, the Appennine country of about 31,000 people - including three British residents - is surrounded entirely by Italy.

A streaker at Serravalle Stadium in San Marino, 17 October 2007
A British cultural ambassador announces himself to the Sanmarinese

Tradition has it that San Marino was founded in the fourth Century AD by a devout Christian stonemason called Marinus. Its rugged isolation helped the enclave to develop and keep its independence and until 1968 when the Pacific island of Nauru gained independence, it held the title of the world's smallest republic.

Big on postage stamps and coins which are keenly sought by collectors and as one of Europe's tax havens, San Marino attracts a large inflow of cash from non-residents. But it's tourism that dominates the economy and each year more than three million people pay it a visit.

Maybe the Sanmarinese will be hoping for one more visitor this year... someone seeking out an unlikely fanbase, who goes by the name of Mr Abraham and has a bit of time on his hands.


Below is a selection of your comments.

Didn't San Marino also have one tiny jail with one single prisoner...who promptly escaped?
John Polenski, Toronto, Canada

We get it, Eurovision's political, but this certainly isn't "news". The media all run this same story every single year after Eurovision. How about a real revelation - when was it NOT political?
Steve, Peterborough

Perhaps we can get more votes in the Eurovision song contest if England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey all field their own entries (as we do for football), then we can all vote for each other too.
JulianR, Sheffield, England

What about the Irish vote for England? Don't think that was based on geographical/political lines. Last year it was the Scandinavian bloc. This year it is the former Soviet bloc countries. Just a shame that we don't have more people like the Irish so that we can also play the geographical/political lines "game"
Gordon Ocansey, London

Why don't people take defeat coolly? Why is it so difficult for the British to accept that they could not win the Eurovision, not because their entry was bad, but because there were other better entries. Would British still call it a political scam if the British entry stood first and the Russian stood last? I doubt that.
Pranesh Bhargava, Msida, Malta

Formula 1 motor racing has known San Marino for years. There used to be the San Marino Grand Prix in the F1 Calendar, until a few seasons ago when I think it became too expensive for the San Marinese to host. It was always a very popular venue.
Miguel, Peacehaven, UK

Given its rather small population, it's quite possible that the votes from three Brits living there were enough to secure us those six points. Whoever voted for our entry though, deserves our gratitude.
DS, Croydon, England

San Marino is also surrounded by some of the best cycling country in the world. There are numerous climbs that Marco Pantani used to train on (he lived in the coastal town of Cesenatico) with incredible scenery and some of the best fresh pasta you are likely to taste. An excellent plate of pasta or pizza will cost around 5 euros! A fabulous place for anyone who likes riding their bike.
Jonathan, London, UK

If you're talking about other nations and politics, then surely that's the only reason why Ireland voted for the UK. It's just that the UK have very little friends in Europe due to there anti Euro stance, lack of support for the EU, it's about time the UK woke up and started thinking about the role the must play in a united Europe.
Richard Quigley, Portstewart, Co.Derry. N Ireland

"Most of all, we like the attitude of the players towards the referee, their good sportsmanship,.." Which game were they watching?????
Matt, Derby

Given the number of votes likely cast there, was it not perhaps more likely due to a group of Brits on holiday that decided to phone in to vote for the UK a dozen or so times?
David Wiseman, Brighton

I loved the story. Very grateful to the author to bring this up, and by the way the song of San Marino in the contest was one of the best. Unfortunately, however good they might be, it is highly unlikely they'll ever win due to their small size and the lack of big supporting neighboring countries.
Tatiana Larina, Nicosia, Cyprus

Did Britain ever consider the possibility that the reason that they got zero points is because their music was not particularly good or down right pitiful?
J French, London


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