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Euro 2020

29th Jun 2021

England vs Germany: A German’s view of the age-old rivalry

Charlie Herbert

“To this day, people talk about ’66”

I can’t remember a bigger build-up to a game. In some ways, this Euro 2020 last 16 tie feels bigger than the World Cup semi-final against Croatia in 2018. This is largely down to one factor: it’s against Germany.

Ever since 1966, there has been no greater rival for the Three Lions. The likes of Argentina, France and Scotland will come along every now and again, but clashes against Germany have long been intertwined with the highs and lows of English football.

Hurst’s hat-trick in 1966. Gazza’s tears in 1990. Southgate’s penalty in 1996. Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ in 2010. Each has a common denominator.

However, it’s difficult to avoid the assumed-nature of the England vs Germany saga, which is that for Germany, clashes against England are often just another game.

So is this actually the case? We spoke to German football journalist and editor of Spielverlagerung, Constantin Eckner to get the German viewpoint on the rivalry and whether matches against England actually hold any extra significance.

The history of England vs Germany

The first point of note was this: for the first time in a very long time, Germany aren’t going into a match against England expecting to win.

When asked about what the feeling in Germany was ahead of the game, Constantin said: “There is kind of the feeling that the Germans are slight underdogs, and that the England team have to be favourites because they play at home.

“In the past it was more like ‘yeah we’ll beat England of course, that’s just how it works.’ If you look back, since 1966 the West German/German team has won 15 of 24 matches [against England].

“So there was some confidence back in the day, like in 2010. Even then most people were like ‘yeah of course we’ll beat England!'”

What about the history of the rivalry then? Unsurprisingly, 1966 and one particular goal remains a bone of contention among many of the country’s older football fans.

“The 1966 final, absolutely! When I grew up in the late nineties, I remember when my dad would tell me ‘In ’66, the third goal, the ball never crossed the line!’ And that is referenced to this day,” he says.

“Even today, I saw on Twitter Germans talking about the ’66 final. To this day, people talk about ’66 because that was like the World Cup being taken away from us.

“And then of course there’s some schadenfreude when it comes to 1990 and 1996. Beating England on penalties is the thing now!”

“Among Germans, especially young Germans, they’re more like ‘why?'”

Of course, every time the two sides meet, the same old tropes are wheeled out by English fans and the media. You know the ones, involving ‘two world wars’ and ‘ten German bombers’.

England fans attending the game at Wembley have already been warned by the FA that anyone behaving in a “discriminatory or disrespectful” manner could face disciplinary action.

So how do Germans feel about these old references to world wars being brought up every time England and Germany meet? The truth? Most don’t understand why it’s still referenced and believe that it should be left in the past.

He said: “I think people understand it, although among Germans, especially young Germans, they’re more like ‘why?’

“Also Germans that I know are somewhat annoyed it. Not only when it comes to playing against England, but also when we play against Netherlands, for instance, or France – all these references to World War Two, like German Blietzkrieg or German Panzers.

“Young Germans are totally annoyed by it. Leave it in the past basically.”

Much of this annoyance, he says, is due to the fact that – in 2021 – Germany is one of the more progressive European countries.

“Especially young people in Germany think that Germany is now one of the most progressive countries in Europe when it comes to LGBTQ rights, migration rights. I mean there are still issues and problems, but overall, compared to other countries, Germany does fairly well.

“And that’s based on young Germans moving on and going forward and trying to advance social rights. Then suddenly you get referenced World War Two, so especially people my age, 30 and below, they are annoyed by it because it’s so little to do with what’s actually going on in Germany.”

He continued: “You feel it’s weird, there’s something nationalistic to it when these chants happen and that’s also something that doesn’t go down well with Germans.

“Nationalistic tendencies are fairly uncommon in Germany, because of World War Two and the aftermath. Germans are not wired that way anymore.”

Is this just another game for Germany then?

Getting down to brass tacks – how big is this game for Germany, really? Quite big, it turns out.

“It is a bit more special than playing against someone like Spain, let’s say,” Constantin replies.

“Even though people might be more fearful of Spain, it is a fairly special match against England. Because it’s being played at Wembley, because of ’96 and ’66 and those games being at Wembley as well.

“There’s something historic to the stadium and those two big matches for the German team being played there, one loss and the other being successful.

“And also because of the players [in the German side] that have a connection with England, and the coaches in the Premier League, and even the German veterans like Jurgen Klinsmann. So many Germans have been ‘on the island’, as it’s called in Germany, for some time at least.”

Interestingly, one reason for excitement about the game echoes much of what has been said by many England fans and pundits.

“This match is also special because people are looking at the tournament schedule and thinking ‘if we beat England then we should get to the final!'” he says.

There is another motivation: to silence the partisan Wembley crowd.

“There’s the image of ‘let’s silence Wembley.’ The idea of going somewhere and conquering their stadium!”