If you’re walking through any built-up area in England between 8 and 10pm this Sunday and you hear a cheer you can be pretty sure it means one thing – Germany have scored yet again.
One of the great myths we were fed as children in the 1980s and ‘90s was that the English don’t like the Germans, and in particular the living representatives of all things Teutonic on earth, the German national football team. We love ‘em, and I imagine most English people will be supporting Germany on Sunday.
I remember being stuck in the countryside in 2006 and watching the Argentina-Germany quarter-final in a pub; the place went wild when Germany equalised and then won. I know they were playing Argentina, who because of Diego Maradona are England’s most hated team (my theory is that the neurotic Italians also fit the bill because they are both sufficiently alien to be dislikeable but also European enough to be proper rivals).
But I reckon many English people probably support Germany against most other major teams, and that reflects a fondness for the country and its football; the post-war period, with its lingering memory of conflict and England’s economic jealousy (epitomised I supposed by those Stan Boardman jokes about Jaaairmans stealing sun beds) was a historical anomaly that is now over.
From the 18th century to the First World War, English society was very Teutonophile, and rightfully so, considering what that country produced in the way of science and culture. According to Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark’s (admittedly quite pro-German) book about events a century ago, British public opinion was quite well disposed to them even in 1914, and getting more so. Even after the war itself many British soldiers expressed admiration for their former enemies, far more than towards their allies the French. While some of the Second World War generation nursed their hatred, in my experience not many, and for obvious reasons nothing like as many continentals.
I think a big turning point was 1996 when the tabloids tried to revive war stereotypes and completely misjudged the public mood; the Mirror headline Achtung Fritz! received an enormous number of complaints from readers. Mancuncians had nothing but nice things to say about their German visitors and after the tournament the national side took out newspaper advertising to thank the English.
As for German football itself, it’s far more accessible to ordinary fans than ours, they still have terraces, and the game is not monopolised by a tiny few; their players seem considerably less awful human beings than ours; as with their economic model based on manufacturing and affordable housing, it’s hard to argue that they’ve got it wrong and we’ve got it right.
And in my experience watching the national sides in the two countries provides a great contrast; I watched Germany win a semi-final in the 2008 euros while in Stuttgart and afterwards the spirit in the town square was one of sheer joy and patriotism, without any feelings of intimidation or nastiness. The last time I went to Trafalgar Square after an England win there were three thousand topless men wearing Burberry caps shouting racist abuse at random strangers. I left before they started fighting each other. My feelings during moments like this are always the same: why can’t we be more like the Germans?
Also, even in a crowded pub during a busy match, I noted that all German men wash their hands after going to the loo; I hate to break it to the ladies of England, but that’s not the case here.
But anyway, it’s just a football game, and may the most exciting and enjoyable team win – that is, Germany.