Monday, July 3, 2006

Ich bin ein Deutschlander

Ich bin ein Deutschlander

The English grow up in an atmosphere of mild and generally accepted racism towards the Germans (and French, Italians, Argentinians etc.). We all know - whether we have actually met a German or not - that the Germans are ruthlessly efficient, arrogant and desperately lacking in humour. It's common knowledge that when we go on holiday we can't get a lounger by the pool because the Germans will have got up early to hog the best spots. Everyone in Germany owns at least 10 David Hasselhoff CD's and keeps a little shrine of him at home.

Ich bin ein Deutschlander.


At best these are the sort of pointless stereotypes every country engages with one of their neighbours/rivals. Americans make fun of Canadians, Aussies laugh at New Zealanders and so on. At worst the result is hatred and violence or more commonly just plain stupidity as witnessed in the numerous English 'fans' in Germany who delighted in singing 10 German Bombers or Two World Wars and One World Cup. Fortunately the German police displayed considerably more humour than their stereotype suggests in dealing with these idiots.

Personally I don't subscribed to any of these theories but life and football are different and I've never had much time for the German football team, who are pompous, boring and, worst of all, the kind of ruthlessly efficient winners we always hope the England team will be.

I'm too young to have seen the 1966 final but I know the ball went over the line because it has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times on English television. Great though it was that final has haunted English football ever since not least by giving us the delirious idea that we are better than the Germans at football. History strongly suggests otherwise.

Since the '66 final Germany have won the World Cup twice and been to the final on four other occasions. On the way they have tortured England more than any other nation. Knocking them out of Mexico '70, Italy '90 on penalties and Euro 96 again on penalties - they do earn that ruthless stereotype - and winning the last game at Wembely. When England beat them at Euro 2000 or a 5-1 thrashing in 2002 qualifying it didn't seem to matter. Both teams went out at the group stage at Euro 2000 and both qualified for 2002 with Germany, of course reaching the final while England were again bundled out in the quarters. the Germans don't even consider us their rivals saving that spot for the Dutch.

Ich bin ein Deutschlander.


So, when it comes to football we've got a reasonable of a grudge to bear against the Germans. And in this respect surely it's not just us. Great footballers though they were it was hard to like sneering Mattaus, or the diving Klinsman - at least before his rebirth as a comedian when he moved to England. Even the Germans couldn't tolerate the arrogance of Steffen Effenberg who they sent home from USA '94 for swearing at his own fans. When Frank Rijkaard spat in Rudi Voller's bubble perm it felt like he was getting one back for all of us.

Most of all English don't like the German football team because they play with the virtues we want our own team to play with. They are strong and courageous, working with a collective purpose and controlled energy that England aspire to but can never achieve. They don't play the champagne football of Brazil but they defend with lion hearts and move the ball effectively from defence to attack striking with precision at clinical moments. They win on penalties. They win the World Cup. The truth is English don't hate the Germans, we're jealous of them.

This year though something has changed. Germany went into this World Cup facing the fear of humiliation. The team looked average thrashed by Italy and scraping a draw with Japan in the build up. The nation was divided in by the Kahn-Lehman debate (Sven Goran-Erikkson would probably have picked them both), Klinsman lived in California and was babbling all sorts of new age nonsense about positive energy. Germany faced the real prospect of disaster.

Then the team started to play. The arrogance was gone but the confidence was still there. They looked a bit vulnerable at the back but they attacked with venom and energy. Where other teams haven't wanted to lose Germany have wanted to win. A weak group was brushed aside and the Swedes were blown away with some fearsome attacking. Then, the Argentians, lacking the courage of their convictions, succumbed on penalties, and somehow I found myself roaring with delight as every one went in. Klinsi smiled and the nation rejoiced. Thoughts of humiliation replaced with thoughts of Glory.

The players are young and engaging, strong but vulnerable. Even Kahn seems to have mellowed out. Their most symbolic player is not the teutonic Ballack but the left-back Philip Lahm. He bombs up and down the wing like a dashund and defends like a German Sheperd. All the while he innocently holds on to the edges of his long-sleeves looking for all the world like a little boy.
I'll might as well just say it - I LOVE THE GERMANS and I hope they thrash the negative Italians and go on to take the cup. I have only one fear - What if I support the Germans and they lose?

copyright © Will Marquand and Soccerphile

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