OLIVER HOLT: We’ve measured out our lives in football defeats by Germany, but this England team are more likely to have nightmares about Iceland than a side still clinging to old players who are past their best!
- England’s players do not carry the same baggage that the older generation do
- While England-Germany fixture is emotionally loaded for some, it isn’t for this lot
- Some of us have measured out our lives in football defeats to Germany
- For Generation Z, they’ve moved on from that pain and suffering a long time ago
- Our fears are not our players’ fears – Germany holds no mysteries for them
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
If England lose to Germany at Wembley on Tuesday evening, it will not be because of the baggage Gareth Southgate’s players carry. It might be hard for some of us to grasp but they do not have any baggage. The England-Germany fixture might be emotionally and culturally loaded for older generations like mine but not for this young team. Generation Z moved on from that a long time ago.
Our nightmares are not their nightmares. They do not have images constantly replaying in their mind of Stuart Pearce’s penalty being saved by Bodo Illgner in Turin in 1990 or of Andy Moller smashing his winning spot-kick into the roof of the net at the old Wembley during Euro 96 and then rushing towards the fans before standing stock-still, his hands on his hips.
At St George’s Park on Thursday, I asked Jordan Henderson, who has just turned 31 and is the second oldest player in the squad, if he had seen the Pizza Hut advert made in the wake of England’s heart-breaking exit in 1996, the one where Southgate wears a brown paper bag over his head in a restaurant to hide his shame. Henderson looked blank.
England’s current crop of players do not carry the same baggage that the older generation do
I had a brief chat with him after the press conference. I told him Pearce and Chris Waddle, who had also missed a penalty in 1990, starred in the advert, too. ‘Come on, Gareth,’ says Pearce at one point, ‘it only took me six years to get over it.’ Henderson is an inspirational player with a sharp, inquiring mind but the hinterland of that shootout was, understandably, outside his frame of reference. Being in an advert like that is not the kind of thing a modern player would agree to. He said he was going to watch it on YouTube.
Time changes our fears and worries. When my mother was a child, growing up in Urmston, in the west of Manchester, during the Second World War, her father had a map on the kitchen wall and he moved German flags around on it to mark the advance of their army through Europe. It terrified her. A bomb meant for the industrial complex in Trafford Park flattened a house at the end of their avenue. It shaped her view of Germany for a long time.
My dad was the opposite. He travelled extensively in post-war Germany. His dearest friends came from that time. The Wehrle family from Ottweiler in the state of Saarland showed him such warmth and hospitality when he was travelling that they became like a surrogate family right until the time he died. In Kaiserslautern, a police officer, Ferdinand, let him sleep in the cells in his jail when my dad had nowhere else to stay. They remained friends for life, too.
Gareth Southgate missed a penalty in the shoot-out against Germany at Euro 96
My generation heard the stories of war, the grief and the sacrifice and the bravery, but grew up with a West Germany we admired as a liberal, progressive nation. And when my children talk of Germany, it is because one of my daughters loves the idea of going to live or study in Berlin, which her friends have told her is the coolest city in Europe, or because Angela Merkel is one of the few political leaders who has made a positive impression on them.
None of that means we have forgotten the sacrifices so many made in terrible armed conflicts so that we might be able to enjoy the freedom to think like this but we are at a point in our sporting rivalry with Germany now where war analogies are spent. Some were amused by ‘Achtung Surrender’ when the Daily Mirror used it as their front-page headline ahead of the England-Germany semi-final in 1996. Some were appalled.
Pearce, whose picture was featured on that front page, mocked up in a tin helmet, felt it was inappropriate. ‘I thought it was disgraceful,’ he wrote in his recent retrospective of Euro 96, Never Stop Dreaming. ‘I felt it more because my face was being used to make some war reference or political point. Most of all, it was disrespectful to people who fought in the war. I didn’t fight in the war and I wasn’t a soldier. I thought it was wrong.’
I may be wrong but I do not think anyone would think of writing that headline now. It is as dated as the ‘Don’t mention the war’ episode in Fawlty Towers. Sure, there are still a few idiots at England matches who stagger around before or during a game, their arms spread out wide in pride, singing about ‘10 German bombers’ and how ‘the RAF from England shot them down’.
Stuart Pearce felt it was inappropriate that his face was used on the Daily Mirror’s infamous ‘Achtung Surrender’ front page in 1996
They are the same people who sing about not surrendering to the IRA. It is true some of us have measured out our lives in football defeats by Germany. I was five when I leapt off the sofa at our house in south Manchester because Franny Lee had scored a late equaliser in England’s European Nations’ Cup quarter-final first-leg tie against West Germany at Wembley in April 1972. Gunter Netzer and Gerd Muller scored in the last seven minutes to earn a 3-1 win for their side and spoil that night for me.
I watched the 1990 World Cup semi-final at a friend’s house and suffered the agonies of hope and despair all England fans suffered that night, first mourning the fact Gazza would miss the final if England got there and then cursing the West Germans for their nervelessness in the penalty shootout. That was the defeat that established a football inferiority complex against Germany in our psyche.
I was in the press box at Wembley for the 1996 semi-final and because of the atmosphere in the country at the time, because of the way the tournament had united us, because of the happy fervour that had swept through England, because of some of the football England had played and the team we had, that defeat felt as bitter as any I have witnessed.
And I was in Bloemfontein, too, when Frank Lampard’s shot bounced down off the bar and crossed the line but was not given and Germany took us apart in the second half. It was not a missed penalty etched on my memory this time but the sight of Gareth Barry botching a desperate attempt to bring down Mesut Ozil in the build-up to the fourth Germany goal that sealed England’s elimination from the 2010 World Cup.
England fans everywhere suffered the agonies of hope and despair against Germany in 1990
Even that is 11 years ago now. Our nightmares, not theirs. Jude Bellingham was six when England lost in Bloemfontein. Marcus Rashford was 12. Bukayo Saka was eight. Phil Foden was 10. If any of these players are going to have a complex about playing any national team, it would probably be Iceland, not Germany. In football terms, the pain of England defeats by Germany belongs to ancient history.
Thankfully, war analogies are even more irrelevant to them. Those wars were not even the struggles of my generation. They belonged to our parents and our grandparents and our great- grandparents. Our players have different battles to fight. They have different struggles. They have different enemies.
Some of them are consumed by the struggle for racial equality that they see raging in American cities such as Minneapolis and much closer to home. That is why the England team take the knee before matches. That is the conflict most relevant to them, not a dispute with Germany that ended three- quarters of a century ago.
So there is a disconnect between the generations when it comes to England-Germany. When Leon Goretzka scored that late equaliser for Germany against Hungary in Munich on a night of fantastic drama in Group F last week, England fans of a certain age cursed the fates for delivering us into the hands of the Germans.
England’s defeat against the Germans in 1996 felt as bitter as any I have ever witnessed
It is built into some of us to fear the Germans at football. We tell each other we will automatically be at a psychological disadvantage playing against Germany because of what has gone before. The truth is that those of us watching at home or in the stadium may well be beaten before a ball is kicked but fortunately we will not be in the line-up that starts the game at 5pm on Tuesday.
And the players in that line-up do not care about Germany. Not any more than they would care about playing Portugal with an icon such as Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks. Not any more than they would care about playing France with Kylian Mbappe up front. Not any more than they would care about facing a Belgian side that boasts Kevin De Bruyne and a resurgent Romelu Lukaku.
Our fears are not our players’ fears. Germany holds no mysteries for them. When Rashford said last week he was not scared of Germany, he was not being arrogant. He was just stating a fact. ‘There is no point in fearing the past,’ he said. Rationally, there is no reason why an England team packed with young players should fear a side that lost at home to North Macedonia in qualifying in March and thrashed 6-0 by Spain last November.
None of that means England will win on Tuesday night. It just means that if getting Germany was the outcome some of us feared the most when the final games in Group F played out last week, cold rationale says it was the match-up many England players will feel gives them the best chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
Frank Lampard’s shot bounced down off the bar and crossed the line but was not given in 2010
A lot of the players hadn’t reached their teens when England lost in Bloemfontein 11 years ago
That is not complacency. It is not a suggestion that football is coming home. It is just an acknowledgment that this is a Germany team who are in an untypically uncertain and confused state. This is a team who can play as brilliantly as they did against Portugal last weekend and as poorly as they did against Hungary. This is a team clinging to old players who are past their best.
It is a team with some wonderful talents such as Ilkay Gundogan and Toni Kroos and particularly Joshua Kimmich, whose best position in the side is still a topic of fierce debate. But it also feels like a team who are creaking, marshalled by a manager, Joachim Low, who is leaving after the tournament and who knows his legacy as a World Cup-winning boss will be tarnished if Germany add a second-round defeat by England to the early exit from the 2018 World Cup.
England played well in patches but did not set the tournament alight in the group stage. They did not manage a performance as good as Germany’s against Portugal. But they did not look as vulnerable as Germany against Hungary. England have not lost a match or conceded a goal. There is no reason to go into Tuesday’s tie with fear in our hearts. It is a 50-50 match. If anything, the odds lean slightly towards England.
Marcus Rashford (left) said last week that he and England were not scared of Germany
They’ve not lost a match or conceded a goal – if anything, the odds lean towards England
Sometimes, you get to the point in a sporting rivalry where history is bunk and that is where we are with England-Germany. ‘Say, what do I care about Napoleon?’ the motor vehicle pioneer Henry Ford said. ‘What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.’
On the same day Henderson spoke at the England camp last week, Kalvin Phillips gave a broadcast interview. He was asked about Ed Sheeran singing a few songs at a barbecue the FA had staged for the players. He mentioned Sheeran had played a few lines of ‘Football’s Coming Home’.
It was a fleeting rendition, a nod to the past. It lasted about 30 seconds, Phillips said, before he moved on to other stuff more relevant to the players. Our song, not theirs. Our fears, not theirs. Our nightmares, not theirs. Our baggage, not theirs.
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