I love the UK almost as much as my home country. And that’s been making my life a little complicated this month – especially over the last week as, with crushing inevitability, England and Germany have been drawn against each other in a football tournament.
Both teams, and their fans, apparently hate each other. So which football shirt am I going to wear at 5pm on Tuesday? Who do I cheer for, and who do I risk annoying more, my family at home or my friends in the UK?
What do I do now?
I’m sitting here with my Union Jack coffee mug, listening to German rap music. And I’m asking myself: when is this rivalry going to end? Probably not when England play Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night. Possibly, in fact, never.
Kathrin Hake, a German fashion designer living in London, knows exactly what I mean. “I really adore England and everything about the English, but not when we play them at football. I so wish we had avoided each other entirely in the Euros! It’s going to be nerve-racking.”
The relationship between England and Germany is really tricky, but Gary Lineker summed it up famously after Italia ’90: “Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans win.”
Germany have won the World Cup four times, the Euros three times, and they’re unbeaten in the last seven games against England at Wembley. It’s not surprising that England hates us. But, even if England have only won the World Cup once, that was against Germany. Plus they have an advantage in goals scored: 51 English goals to 42 German.
There is, though, the little matter of penalty shootouts. England coach Gareth Southgate missed the sixth penalty in the Euro ’96 semi-finals against Germany and has carried the shame with him ever since. But as Declan Rice has pointed out, he now has the opportunity to rid himself of his demons after the pain of 25 years ago.
And we Germans do love English football. We’re all thrilled when Germans, like Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp, thrive in the Premiership. More and more, I hear my friends saying, “we have a lot of respect for England now.” Equally, excitingly, England has the youngest squad in the Euros this year with an age average of 25.3. (And also the most expensive one). One of my best friends even bet on England to win the Euros. I don’t know if he is ruled by his heart or his wallet.
However, there are still Germans pointing out: “How are they going to beat us if they couldn’t even beat Scotland?” Fair point, but also a little bit bold looking at our rather unconvincing performances against France and Hungary. Not going to mention Mats Hummel’s own goal at this point.
The opinions of friends of mine who are England fans range from “I will be surprised if England wins” to “Germany’s time is over, their strongest time was seven years ago”. There are also plenty of us in England this week with mixed loyalties.
Daniel is a half-British Kölner. “My English friends are really optimistic and think England has one of the best teams in the last decades,” he says. “But we still know that in a match against Germany anything can happen.”
What everyone agrees on is that people take games against Germany very personally in the UK. I’m relieved to see that so far the British tabloids haven’t come up with their usual string of Second World War puns (sorry Mr Fawlty, I just mentioned the War), but I’m not sure that restraint will hold till mid-week.
Nevertheless, I don’t think Germany’s time is over. Yes, we’ve lost good players like Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Lahm. But we still have stars like Havertz, Rüdiger and Gündoğan, all of whom play for English Premiership clubs. I’m personally most excited to see the young talents on both sides at their best, the likes of Kai Havertz and Mason Mount facing each other at Wembley.
It would be amazing to see long-serving German coach Joachim Löw, now in his final tournament, go out on a high. (Yes, I know he already won a World Cup in 2014, but his team didn’t fare so well in 2018 when we went out at the group stage). But in the end, to quote another wise pundit, this one a German, Sepp Herberger, one of our game’s all-time legends: “The ball is round and the game lasts 90 minutes. That’s fact. Everything else is pure theory.”
So, what happens to me on Tuesday evening? I’ll throw caution aside and watch the game in a pub surrounded by English friends. Expect a healthy mix of “Fuck!”, “Scheiße!”, “Yes!” and “Tor!”. Whoever wins, I’ll be happy… I promise.
And the good news is, the World Cup is looming, in Qatar next year. The opportunity for revenge is not far away. Prost!