I’m scared of the German football team. They always set an example that the rest of us should follow, but we never do. Why don’t we? It’s troubling… after a while (say, the ‘best’ part of 50 years), it starts to seem like we can’t. Plain and simple.
The German football team are better than us. And they know they’re better than us. How long can you fight that? At this point, in fact, they wouldn’t even notice they’re in a fight – they’re too busy beating Brazil 7-1 on the way to yet another World Cup final.
Remember that giddy clamor over getting Leighton Baines into the England team? Seems like a nice lad! He’s got sideburns! He likes indie music! Hmmm. Too bad he’s no Ashley Cole, huh? On the opposite flank for Germany: Philipp Lahm. The difference is instructive – you want Baines to be good, but he kind of isn’t; our German friend, on the other hand, is basically just great. Lahm is always in the right place at the right time, and never gives the ball away. Baines is on the plane back to Everton.
So what is the example the Germans always set, and that we never follow? It’s the little things. They successfully execute good plans. They play best when it matters most. They foster tremendous self-belief by continuously winning. And England? We close our eyes and dream – and dare to think, this time it might just be different. Then lose once again, and suffer the same-old agonies of recrimination and regret.
We English surely love football as much as any other nation. But always it breaks our fucking heart. 48 years of hurt. Ever since…
The Beatles and England winning the World Cup – for all the hyperbole the 60s attract, fair enough, they did include two of the greatest things ever. But, me, I was born in 1981.
Football’s great falsehood is that penalty shoot-outs are “a lottery.” They’re not. They test mental strength under pressure, and reward good technique and sound practice: three things upon which all sports depend. The Germans are great at penalties. What hurt more in 1990 is how they scored their earlier goal – a free kick that deflected viciously off Paul Parker’s unlucky arse and into the net. That is a savage sort of cruelty.
Euro ’96. We were the hosts, but they stole all the wine and fucked right off to a better party down the road. If Paul Gascoigne wore boots two sizes bigger, we would have won in extra-time – with a none-too-threatening Czech Republic waiting in the final. Football did come home that year, and it was all too briefly joyful. But the Germans weren’t in the least bit bothered by that and beat us anyway.
Do you even remember this game? No, me neither. For once Germany sent out an under-powered team. In Euro 2000, we didn’t beat anyone else and – like Germany – were knocked out in the first round. For us: business as usual. For them: a jump-start on planning for the future.
True story: out of the blue at 1-1 I experienced my one and only migraine. One of the single greatest games in England’s history was literally too painful for me to watch. Most of it I spent in bed with my eyes closed. In any case, nine months later Germany were in the World Cup final. They do that sort of thing, don’t they?
England were wretched in 2010 – no longer even virtuous in the traditional “plucky loser” sense. If it were any other kind of nation, Germany might even have felt sorry for us. Instead, they settled on giving us one hell of a shoeing.
In 24 combined World Cups and Europeans Cups since 1966, Germany have had a better tournament than England twenty-one times – reaching twelve finals to our zero.
The German football team is a powerful machine built for the purpose of winning football matches. The England team… isn’t.
But, hey, maybe next time will be different.