Germany: A problem for the fans

So, it’s the Germans again. Did we really need to face up to those demons this early in the World Cup?

If it hadn’t have been for a last-ditch USA goal against Algeria, or Robert Green’s goal-line comedy of errors earlier in the tournament against the Americans, we could have been spared this whole stressful experience. After all, no derby game in football can match the special intensity of the England-Germany clash, a rivalry rooted, as the terrace-chant informs us, in “Two Worlds Wars and one World Cup”.

Yet in the four decades since Alf Ramsey’s substitution of Bobby Charlton helped to throw away a comfortable lead during the 1970 World Cup quarter-final, beating Germany has often presented a psychological barrier for the English, a mindset made much worse by the scarring penalty shoot-out defeats of Italia 90 and Euro 96.

In more recent times the triumphs of Charleroi in 2000, and the ‘Rout of Munich’ that followed in 2001, finally enabled the English it was possible to break down this psychological wall... but still they managed to beat us in the final game at the old Wembley Stadium.

The pressure that will weigh on both the fans and the players is still immense, as very few derby games in world football can compare to this. Indeed, everything about the way the English fan approaches international competition has evolved from this rivalry, such as the terrace-inspiring theme to The Great Escape, the tiresome and never-ending ‘Ten German Bombers ’ chant, the arms-outstretched recreation of a squadron of Lancaster bombers during the humming of The Dambusters March, and of course, the cry of “If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts” regularly aimed at opponents.

Yet unlike other rivalries on the world football stage, there's no real malice in this – and more than a little irony. When the English think of Germany, it’s images from the classic British war films that come to mind, not the struggles and conflicts of the last century. Our football rivalry is a product of too many of those old Fifties and Sixties war films that we all watched as kids, magnified by the memory of our one epoch-making sporting victory at Wembley in 1966.

These images are etched into our collective consciousness. Maybe it’s time to let go, but 40 years of Sunday afternoon re-runs is a lot of our culture to shake off, especially as this Sunday afternoon we’ll be reliving it all once again when the England team of 2010 take on the indomitable spirit of German football. Odds are that ‘our brave boys’ will be praying that it doesn’t come down to penalties yet again, as in that particular art, the Germans are cunning masters.

For the fans in England, there is a real feeling that the Germans are beatable this time. However, while the players prepare for this contest in earnest and try to rebuild the fragile team unity that was very nearly ended by John Terry’s attempted putsch, out here on the ground in South Africa the biggest problem for fans has been travel arrangements.

For the thousands that took a gamble on match tickets, flights and hotels that followed the route taken if England had finished top of their group, there was the mad scramble to try to find out exactly where Bloemfontein actually was and whether it was driveable from base camp.

In the bars after the game, you could't hear celebrations (something that the French would have dearly loved to have been doing), but conversations about how to offload the surfeit of now-unnecessary tickets for the USA-Ghana clash in Rustenburg – and find a way to get into the most anticipated game of the World Cup so far.

Still, like their war movie predecessors, the English are an enterprising bunch, and even if it means tunnelling into the stadium with the assistance of Tom, Dick or Harry, I’m sure they’ll find a way into the ground.

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