England vs. Germany
“Football is a simple game”, summed up the former English player Gary Lineker. “22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win”. But it hasn’t always been like that
THE "FINEST HOUR" OF ENGLISH FOOTBALL
“They think it's all over... it is now!”
Wembley Stadium, the 30th of July, 1966. After 120 minutes, Geoff Hurst scored the fourth goal of the England National Team and sealed the victory over Germany and the title of the 1966 World Cup.
The words of Kenneth Wolstenholme, the BBC commentator, were immortalised in the English popular culture, as a symbol of triumph.
Captain Bobby Moore received the trophy from Queen Elizabeth II, the glorious end of a match watched live by 4,000 million people around the world.
“Like Royalty, they stand on the balcony to hear the cheers of the great crowd”, wrote the Sunday Mirror, on the 31st of July, 1966. “This was the England team last night after their great 4-2 World Cup win against West Germany”.
The world title, the only one the Three Lions have won so far, made the front pages all over the country.
The celebration was even more important, because it was a victory against an opponent with a triumphant history.
A history that didn’t, necessarily, include the football field.
"West Germany may beat us at our national sport today, but that would be only fair. We beat them twice at theirs”, wrote Vincent Mulchrone, from the Daily Mail, in the late morning of the World Cup final.
In 1966, the wounds from the Two World Wars were still healing and the antagonisms carried to sports field.
Actually, it was during a war that England and Germany played one of their most legendary football matches.
In 1914, the Christmas truce between the soldiers who fought in the First World War gave rise to a football match played in no man's land.
“Every acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football”, wrote The Guardian.
THE OFFSIDES, THE FAULTS AND THE POLITICAL GOALS
The first match between the two nations in an official competition took place in 1930. The match, held in Berlin, ended with a 3-3 draw.
Since the match was organised on foreign soil, the coverage of the British Media was poor. The Times only published a note to inform the result.
In 1938, the story was quite different: the sport and politics crossed paths in the Olympic Stadium, in Berlin.
“The English team immediately made a good impression by raising their arms in the German salute while the band, after playing ‘God Save the King’, played the German National Anthem”, wrote The Times.
The gesture had been promoted by the Football Association and by the British Embassy in Germany, for the sake of diplomacy and due to the British foreign policy - "peace for our time".
Germany had annexed Austria two prior; the Nazi party was getting stronger and the friendly match against the English team was seen as a form of advertising.
On the field, the Three Lions won 6-3. In the British press, the highlight was not just the goals. Newspapers criticised the Nazi salute, saying that Hitler was not even at the stadium.
The following year, Second World War begins and the countries went at it head-to-head again, this time on the battlefield.
The World War spelled the end of the matches between the two nations for more than 15 years.
At the time of its next match, in 1954, Germany had been split into two. Wembley Stadium hosted the friendly match with West Germany, which the English won 3-1.
Despite the rivalry, it was only during the 1966 World Cup that the teams met for the first time in the final of a major competition.
The British victory in the Wembley final remains the only world title of the Three Lions.
The German side has four world titles (1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014) and three European ones (1972, 1980 and 1996).
NEWSPAPERS ON THE FIELD
The defeats against Germany - especially in 1970 and on penalty shoot-outs, in 1990 - helped fuel the rivalry ... at least on the English side.
“The so-called rivalry is quite obviously an illusion, existing only in the minds of those wishful to the point of insanity – which is to say, the English”, wrote Marina Hyde, from The Guardian.
An antagonism that has become clearer than ever during the 1996 UEFA Euro.
“Achtung! Surrender – For you Fritz, Euro 96 Championship is over”, published the Daily Mirror.
The references to World War 2 were a constant in the coverage of the British Media, which sought to ignite even more the rivalry with the Germans.
An idea made clear by Piers Morgan’s editorial, from Mirror. “Last night our ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a note”, he wrote, paraphrasing Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war, in 1939. “We are at soccer war with Germany”.
The violence of the coverage wasn’t consensual among the public. “Well that's because of the nature of tabloid Journalism in Britain. I'm afraid it doesn't take itself too seriously and there is a lot of fun, a lot of imagination, goes into the presentation of our pages, and it’s all part and parcel of covering football in England”, explained Phil Walker, editor at the Daily Star.
ENGLAND TRIUMPHS AGAIN
More than thirty years after the victory of 1966, the British returned won big against the Germans again.
In 2001, during the qualification round for the World Cup, the Three Lions won by 5-1, a historic result. Both teams were qualified for the competition.
For the Daily Mail, the victory was “one of those moments you will always remember… like VE Day”.
While the British fans were celebrating, the eyes of the Germans were in Dublin, where the Dutch team had been defeated and failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup .
“Suddenly total strangers began to embrace and the pub where I had gone for the post-match drink shook with a defiant and heart-felt rendition of ‘We're going to the World Cup without Holland! “, described Uli This, the German expert, in an article published by the Mirror.
For German fans, England was seen as a historic opponent, but the real rival was their neighbour: the Netherlands.
In England, though, with Scotland and Wales usually out of the major international competitions, Germany was the “football enemy”.
After all, writes the Times, “England versus Germany has become a metaphor for our relative standing in the world”.
In 2010, a new World Championship ... and more controversy. Tension was rising, even before the start of the competition.
AN OCTOPUS, THREE LIONS AND THE GERMAN VICTORY
“Germany is set to kick up a Reich stink at the World Cup by playing in Nazi-style black shirts”, wrote the Daily Star, referring to the new German equipment.
During the competition, the two teams faced each other, a match fervently anticipated by the Media.
“Job done… now for the Hun”, published the Daily Star; “Here we go again”, could be read in The Sun. The English tabloid published a front cover with “Germans terrified of 3 lions”.
German press was not intimidated. “England, wir schlagen Euch!” ["England, we are going to wreck you!"], published newspaper Bild. “England erklärt a den Fußball-Krieg” [“Britain declared a football war against us"], wrote the Berliner Kurier.
The German supremacy was felt once again, as indeed, it was predicted by octopus Paul, a real Media phenomenon itself. Germany won 4-1 and England was kicked out, a result that was not unexpected.
Since the 1966 World Cup, the Three Lions rarely won against the Germans in major international competitions and the matches didn't have major consequences for the Germans in the games disputed.
Die Mannschaft, the name by which the German team is known, was also the last team to defeat England at the old Wembley Stadium and the first to win against the hosts in the new stadium.
The German hegemony continues to overshadow the British rivals, turning this conflict into a one-sided rivalry.