Don’t be fooled by the chants of “Two World Wars and One World Cup, Dudah!” , or by English fans extending their arms in imitation of RAF bombers. The fact is that the one-sided rivalry between England and Germany has lost its teeth. For most English fans, the final installment, round two is on Tuesday Euro 2020 The match at Wembley, it should be a friendly relationship. This is largely because the English now identify themselves more with each other than against the Germans.
The rivalry had peaked for 30 years, beginning with the World Cup Final between England and West Germany in 1966. Prior to that time, the English football team had never been at the center of national identity. Previous British heroes were soldiers, members of the royal family, cricketers or masochists who inflicted pain on themselves for no apparent reason: Captain Scott who died at the South Pole, Edmund Hillary who climbed Everest, or Roger Bannister who ran the four-minute distance.
The 1966 final was the first major football match in the era of near-universal television ownership. 32.2 million domestic viewers remain the largest audience for any British television programme. However, England’s victory produced little in the way of hysteria. “Everyone cheered, a few thousand came out to say well done, and within a week everyone was gone,” recalls Jimmy Greaves, England’s unlucky reserve. People who lived through one or both world wars realized that football was just a game. In any case, the English in the sixties were still ahead of the world in their stride: their team at that point had never lost to the Germans.
But then came the three great English defeats against Germany: at the World Cup finals in 1970 and 1990, and finally at Euro 96. The results symbolized an era in which Germany – unfairly, from the point of view of many Britons – won peace. Even in this period, the English runner had a pantomime component. “Two World Wars and One World Cup, Worm” is a consciously silly hymn, at least to most people who chant it. It is meant, above all, the excitement of a football match.
The hostility felt by the English reached its climax on 4 July 1990. At the World Cup semi-final in Turin, West Germans lived up to the stereotype: without charm, indomitable, and mechanically skilled in penalty shootouts. Germany was to be reunified three months later. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher feared that the new country would become an aggressive superpower. West Germany coach Franz Beckenbauer boasted that he would be unbeatable in football.
None of the scenarios materialized. A united Germany became a gentle power, rejecting pleas from the Allies to build up its army, while its soccer team became fallible. Relax Germany’s neighbors. The English hostility waned, and the Dutch-German and Franco-German football confrontations also lost their edge.
British tabloids tried to continue the show. Ahead of the Euro 96 semi-finals at Wembley, the Daily Mirror published on its front page a composite photo of two England players in WWII-era military helmets, with the headline “ACHTUNG! Surrender! For you Fritz, Euro 96 is over.” But the mirror erred in the mood. The headline caused such disgust that the newspaper had abandoned plans to move a tank to the German embassy in London.
By 2010, when Germany beat England again in the World Cup, the ritual defeat was hardly ever painful. Alongside the Ukip voting group (perhaps over-represented among England fans attending the matches), the British learned to love the Germans.
This is especially true of the UK’s liberal left, which quietly venerates Germany’s professional leader, its industrial exports, and its welcome of refugees in 2015. 58 per cent of Britons have a favorable opinion of Germany, and only 10 per cent have a negative opinion. Opinion and polls report YouGov.
There is a broader reason to hide the feelings: after five decades of televised football, international matches have become a repeat of each other. The England-Germany match on Tuesday will be a mixture of previous matches between England and Germany. Fans will have the years 1966, 1970, 1990 and 1996 in their heads. This means that the feelings will be less primitive than before – even if we leave aside that this is just a second-round match in a European Championship.
On the pitch, the millions of English and German players, many of whom play for clubs in each other’s countries, will have more in common with their opponents than with their fans.
And for many English lovers, the enemy is now within. England’s biggest game in recent years was the Remain-Lea derby on 23 June 2016, in which the weak Leavers took an early lead to win 52-48, leading to the resignation of Remain’s thin-faced coach David Cameron. The referendum triggered a cultural civil war that would continue at Wembley, with native English followers booed, and English Liberals applauding England players for kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter. The Germans have gone from being a bogeyman to trapped guests in the midst of an embarrassing local conflict.