Say it quietly, but there’s a problem with the England-Germany rivalry. We like each other.
The British press have done their best to roll out the tired old rhetoric, but in reality the match described as a “Klassiker” in Germany is not based on hatred. The truth is, both England and Germany know their histories are so intertwined that we’re part of the same narrative. It’s too much to hate each other, when as much of what makes us who we are today is as a result of what we’ve done in the past together.
Put simply: Holland are Germany’s nuisance neighbours. England, however, are Germany’s distant cousin that they actually really rather like, but family history means they have to put on a show of disliking each other. Both cousins are considered successful: Germany has the better car, England earns more money. England works in a more prestigious company, Germany has more qualifications. Every few years the cousins meet up again and start comparing lives to work out who is doing better. Inevitably the discussions become heated, insults exchanged, and afterwards they both make up over a stunningly better beer Germany brought with him. They end up forgetting what they were even fighting about in the first place.
Abstract metaphors aside, English and German football cultures are so similar that they have come full circle. German fan culture fell in love with all the trimmings of the English game during the 80s: the songs, the violence, the unfaltering support. Fanzines and magazines such as When Saturday Comes inspired similar German upstarts to the point where today 11Freunde is better than anything offered in England. Then Premiership (as was) and Sky TV came along in the 90s and everything got a bit more serious.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll see English football fans wondering why it is they can’t replicate the Bundesliga. Beer on the terraces, safe standing and cheap ticket prices. English fans take trips to Dortmund or St Pauli’s Millerntor for a taste of terrace culture. A game at Munich’s Allianz Arena is more procession that sport. English fans marvel watching FC Bayern prance to victory whilst drinking Weissbier and an oversized pretzel, standing all the while. Dipping back into the family metaphor, it’s as if Germany has turned up to the party with England’s ex-girlfriend in tow, only she’s gone and got prettier.
And so to Sunday. If the Germany-Holland rivalry is based on hatred, and England-Argentina is all about revenge, then England-Germany is mutual, begrudging admiration. The fact that so many column inches on both sides of the Channel have been dedicated to penalties shows that the so-called rivalry is a close-run thing. When I first read Marina Hyde’s article on the Guardian website suggesting the rivalry was one-sided, I wasn’t willing to believe it. Living in Munich, there is absolutely an excitement at playing the English. Like any other occasion the two play each other, it’s a barometer of how well we’re all doing. That 60,000 people are expected in Munich’s Olympiastadion and the Berlin Fan Mile will empty the streets of the capital, shows that this isn’t just any second round game. It could never be.
This was supposed to be an article about how in fact Germany does indeed bear a grudge towards England, but there wasn’t a compelling argument to be made. Instead, it’s excitement for a spectacle, for the next chapter in this swaying history. England and Germany get excited about playing each other in a way that no other fixture can match,
It’s all the bad blood, bleak times and good humour bundled into 90 minutes. Probably followed by penalties.
Joe Westhead is an occasional Pitch Invasion contributor. Read his World Cup blog at joewesthead.com/worldcup