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England v Germany – A One Way Rivalry? (Part II)
By Steve MacClare
December 2, 2008



At least one German is happy when England win    

     Finally, I got some sensible comment from Englishmen. Russ Coleman, a Chelsea fan living in Seattle explained that “In the past the German rivalry was pretty intense with all the war stuff. Now we have more of a rivalry with Argentina (based on dirty play, a cast of characters, controversial incidents eg Maradona’s hand of God and Beckham’s red card) or even Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo winking after Rooney was sent off. The Germany rivalry isn’t based on the old good and evil stuff as the games tend to be sportingly conducted. The only German character I can remember is Effenberg shooting the crowd the bird. Rivalries such as England/Scotland are more of an elder sibling variety like US/Mexico type where one nation is far more powerful than the other.”


     I’m not sure Albrecht would agree that there has been no injustice in these fixtures; after all everyone outside England except Comrade Bakhramov accepts that the ball never crossed the line for that goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. It is also a little known fact that five months earlier in a friendly at Wembley, Alfred ‘Fredy’ Heiss scored a German goal which had hit the stanchion at the back of the English goal only to be ruled out by yet another linesman for not having crossed the line. Have no doubt; people of Albrecht’s generation have a real sense of being treated unfairly against England, a perception not diminished by the dubiety surrounding both of England’s goals yesterday. “It looked like our goalkeeper was impeded trying to jump for the ball at the first goal”  he said at half time, before adding after the match, “Terry looked slightly offside for the second but it was less of an obvious free kick than England’s first. However I’m glad it happened in a friendly this time and not in the World Cup.”


     Facts back parts of Coleman's argument up, despite a history of bad calls mostly favouring England, the Germans haven’t overreacted to these slights and the games have been played sportingly. As proof I cite the fact that no player has ever been sent off in a match between England and Germany. This sporting sentiment was echoed by John Bayliss, co-owner of Seattle’s George and Dragon pub, who speaks German and has lived there. For him, like Grove and Coleman, it’s all about the football: “As for England v Germany I've been twice to see them play each other and always thought it was never a bitter or hateful rivalry, but more like meeting up with an old foe who’s now your friend. It’s generally quite an ‘even-stevens’ game but I always look forward for the chance to get one over on them.”


     It’s of course not impossible that being distant from England unclutters the mind, so to get the perspective of someone still resident in England, I spoke to Spurs fan and Londoner, Andy Cooper, who works in the football industry “Coming from somebody who grew up in the backdrop of Italia 90’ and the World Cup, I would consider England vs Germany to be THE rivalry when it comes to international matches involving England. Comparing it with other rivalries, from an English perspective the Scottish rivalry has diminished somewhat mainly because we have not played each other in such a long time. As I am sure you would testify, it means more to the Scottish fans than to the English, simply because Scotland always enter is as the underdog – England are expected to win so in many ways we are in a no win situation!


     We’ll leave the last word on England v Germany for now to a broadcaster from each side, both of who have a unique and interesting perspective. Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, German sports journalist debunks the whole war thing coolly when he says, “The English think they have a special relationship with the Germans as if they are in a very special situation with the Germans. That’s just patently not true because there’s quite a lot of countries we did wrong during the War.”


     But Rod Liddle brings up perhaps the love that dare not speak its name, “There isn’t a single country in Europe with whom we have a greater affinity. We both have appalling cuisines. We both eschew visible displays of emotion.”


     And there you perhaps have it. The Germans and the English are natural cousins, siblings even. Take out the first half of the twentieth century and they have been on the same side of the continent’s great conflicts more often than not. There languages are closer than they would like to admit, they can both be slightly hedonistic in their pleasure seeking and they both have a tendency to fail to recognize this trait in themselves while poking fun at it in the other. 


     One thing that can be said about England v Germany games is that they happen fairly often, 29 in all; 15 against West Germany, four against East Germany and ten against a united Germany. Argentina is a totally different matter. Only 14 meetings have been recorded in total, only four of them competitive. Ask any Argentinean who his rivals are and Brazil will be followed by Uruguay; and even Germany and Italy will top the list of their European rivalries. So why are the English even talking about a country to whom they are a minor irrelevance – a country with whom they have played just four competitive fixtures.


     Cooper: The only rivalry which comes close to Germany is Argentina, mainly dating back to the 1986 ‘Hand of God’ match. Having lost to that game, then again in 1998, knocking them out of the 2002 World Cup was a very sweet moment for English fans.” 


     Sadly, where one could mention the English fascination with war while talking about their obsession with the Germans as an ancillary issue, it is difficult to write about England v Argentina without reference to the Falkland’s conflict. Nothing else would explain why the intensity of this rivalry sweeps away repeated defeats to Portugal or centuries of cultural, imperialistic, political, linguistic and cultural competitiveness with the French. There was a fairly tempestuous meeting in 1966 when the England manager called the Argentineans ‘animals’. But many of their and Uruguay’s opponents end up doing that. Scotland said the same about Uruguay in 1986. The same year as that, Argentina beat England with Diego Maradona palming the ball illegally into the net – an incident still known as the ‘Hand of God’. In 1998 and 2002, England got double revenge when Michael Owen theatrically tumbled in both games to con match winning penalties out of the referee. Well, dubious decisions litter many rivalries. Is this once more a case of England seeking par with a real world power by equating themselves or something more sinister?


     I asked Daryl Grove again and he was once more measured and realistic, “With Argentina it's just a lot of bad tempered meetings and incidents (the '66 quarterfinal, the '86 handball, the '98 Beckham sending off.) It's enjoyable to beat them, but the mileage between the two countries makes it hard to argue Argentina is a bigger rival than Germany or Scotland.


     So where does it come from? Grove is in no doubt who is responsible. “I blame the English press, because anytime we play Germany, we have The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mail (like Bild, but worse) covered in xenophobic headlines like The Daily Mirror's "Achtung! Surrender! For You Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over". It's all based on stirring up the ugly side of patriotism and I wish the English press could be a bit more measured. And it saddens me that the rivalry isn't reciprocated in Germany. I wish we had a rivarly like Argentina vs Brazil where it's historic and evenly matched and felt on both sides.”


     But Scotland, Germany and Argentina were the nominees and the result was a cliffhanger with the Germans ahead at 44%, followed by Argentina on 42% and Scotland trailing on 13%.


     Whether it’s returned or not is debatable.

For part I of Steve's article go here

For a full list of Steve's soccer articles here

We welcome feedback and comments on Steve's articles


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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited




© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited