England vs Germany: Ten… Other Matches

by | Jun 25, 2021

Those amongst you who pay particularly close attention to the news media may have become aware over the last day or two that England will be playing Germany in the second round of this summer’s European Championships at Wembley on Tuesday night. This is, of course, an extremely important match. It’s England’s biggest rivalry and – after the Netherlands and Italy – Germany’s third biggest, so there will be more than just a place in the quarter-finals of the competition at stake. The national pride of at least one country will be on the line, until the next time it is, and, as we all know, this is always a match that brings out the very best in England, and in particular its populist news media.

Now, we’ve all heard endlessly about 1966, 1970, 1990, 1996 and 2001. Indeed, with this summer being the 25th annversary of Euro 96, you’d have to have been living under a rock not to have seen endless replays of Paul Gascoigne in his double-denim England kit, just failing to get a toe on the end of a cross at Wembley that could have put his team in that summer’s final. But England and Germany have a long history of international matches going back over 90 years, many of which now lie half-forgotten in the archives. So here are ten matches between England and (the various incarnations of) Germany from over the years that might have escaped your attention a little. (Click on the details of the matches to open highlights of them.)

10th May 1930 – Germany 3-3 England (Deutches Stadion, Berlin): The England national football team played its first official match in the year after Germany unified into the country that we know today, but the first meeting of the two teams didn’t come for another sixty years, thanks in no small part to a combination of the fact that Germany didn’t play their first match until 1908 and the First World War, which followed just six years later.

By May 1930, though, the teams were ready to play each other. Both England and Germany were absent from that summer’s World Cup finals, with England having left FIFA in a huff in 1928 over a dispute regarding ‘broken time’ payments to amateur players in the Olympic Games, while Germany couldn’t afford to travel to Uruguay after their economy was eviscerated by the Wall Street Crash of October 1929.

The match didn’t pass without incident. England led 2-1 at half-time thanks to two goals from Joe Bradford, but a minute into the second half England’s Billy Marsden had to be withdrawn with a serious back injury, leaving the visitors with ten players in an era before substitutes. Germany levelled the scored through Richard Hofman – his second of the game – three minutes after Marsden’s injury, and it looked as though a surprise might be on the cards when Hofman completed a hat-trick ten minutes later. A David Jack goal seven minutes from time, however, salvaged a draw for England. Billy Marsden’s spinal injury was so severe that he never played again.

4th December 1935 – England 3-0 Germany (White Hart Lane, London): By the end of 1935, Germany had changed a lot. A new government had chilled blood with its policies – In September that of year, Germany’s Nuremberg race laws had prohibited intermarriage and criminalised sexual relations between “Jews” and “persons of German or related blood” effectively turning Jewish Germans into second-class citizens – and the decision of the Football Association to schedule a match against Germany certainly didn’t pass without comment, and certainly not in relation to where the game was being played.

As the Weekly Herald noted at the time: “Apparently, 50-odd letters had been sent to Spurs from individual Jews and Jewish organisations, protesting against the match. A boycott is suggested and protests on the day threatened. Spurs simply sent them on to the FA and reminded the latter that it was their responsibility to keep order.” But as much comment was passed on the fact that 16,000 German supporters would be traveling to London for the match as anything else. The fans were under strict orders to be on their best behaviour, and on the morning of the match the Daily Express, foreshadowing the tabloid coverage of decades later, led with the headline, “Hans Across The Sea!” There were 1,000 police on duty, with a demonstration march which started two hours before kick-off that was broken up amid scuffles outside the ground.

England won the match comfortably by three goals to nil, with George Camsell scoring the first two and Cliff Bastin adding the third. It would take three years for the return match be played in Berlin, and this match would become notable for the England team giving a Nazi salute before the match. The idea of protesting Germany’s government wasn’t new, though, even by the end of 1935. When Derby County toured the country in 1934 they were required to give a Nazi salute before a match against a “German XI” in Frankfurt. Goalkeeper Jack Kirby refused, turning his back instead.

1st December 1954 – England 3-1 West Germany (Wembley Stadium, London): It would be 16 years and a second war between the two countries before England played Germany again, and by the time they did meet again the world had changed very much again. By 1954, England had been thoroughly disabused of the notion that it was the finest football nation on the planet. Even those who had been unmoved by the team’s failure at the 1950 World Cup couldn’t have failed to miss their 6-3 and 7-1 defeats to Hungary in November 1953 and May 1954.

What, though, of Germany? The country had been cleaved into two in the immediate post-war years, but the West German team had caused a surprise by beating Hungary in the final of the 1954 World Cup, so this was a match that really turned the received wisdom of the time on its head. Only a few years earlier, it had been commonly assumed that England were the best team in the world, but now it was West Germany, and they had the receipts to prove it.

This German team, however, were not the world champions. Only three of the team that had won the World Cup five months earlier were in the West Germany starting eleven for this match, though amongst the others playing that day was Uwe Seeler, who’d made his debut for West Germany at the age of 17 earlier that year and had turned 18 just four weeks earlier before the match. In front of a capacity 100,000 crowd at Wembley, with Roy Bentley, Ronnie Allen and Len Shackleton scoring for England, and Alfred Beck, who was making his first and only appearance for West Germany, pulling a goal back for the visitors.

1st June 1968 – West Germany 1-0 England (Niedersachsenstadion, Hannover): By 1968 it was England’s turn to be the world champions, but their trip to Hannover as a warm-up for their European Nations Cup semi-final against Yugoslavia proved to be Germany’s first ever win against England, and would set a template for English disappointment for generations to come. This match, however, would provide little of the drama that had been seen at Wembley less than two years earlier.

A Franz Beckenbauer goal eight minutes from time – deflected off Brian Labone – won the game for West Germany, but writing in The Observer the following day, football writer Hugh McIlvanney noted that, “Comparing this miserable hour and a half (in which fouls far outnumbered examples of creative football) with the last great meeting between the countries is entirely fatuous.” As if to confirm McIlvanney’s concerns, England lost to Yugoslavia four days later, again by a goal to nil.

Despite being a friendly, this match did get a lot of attention in England. It was shown live on the television on all three channels (even more of a rarity then than now; the number of live matches shown on UK television could in the 1960s be comfortably counted on the fingers of both hands), with its broadcast on BBC2 being the first England match to be shown live in colour.

29th May 1974 – East Germany 1-1 England (Zentralstadion, Leipzig): By 1974, England were the warm-up nation. Beaten by West Germany in the 1970 World Cup and the quarter-finals of the 1972 European Championships, a failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup had proved to be the final straw for the FA with Alf Ramsey, though it took them some considerable time to actually dislodge him from his position. His replacement, while they looked for a permanent replacement, was Joe Mercer.

The partitioning of Germany after the war led to the German Democratic Republic – East Germany – coming into existence as a national football team in 1952. The 1974 meeting between the two sides wasn’t the first meeting between the two sides – they’d previously met in 1963 and 1970 – but this was a match of particular signifiance to East Germany, who’d qualified for that summer’s World Cup finals and would be playing West Germany in their group.

A crowd of 95,000 packed out the Zentralstadion in Leipzig for the match, and midway through the second half a goal from Joachim Streich gave East Germany the lead. This wasn’t, however, a lead that would last for very long. Barely a minute later Mick Channon brought England level with a free-kick, and England hit the woodwork four times, leading to Mercer commenting after the match that, “‘We hit the woodwork more times than a team of lumberjacks.”

At that summer’s World Cup finals, East Germany caused one of the biggest surprises of the tournament when they beat West Germany 1-0 in Hamburg, thanks to a goal from Juergen Sparwasser, but were knocked out in the second group stage, after picking up just a single point from their three matches. They’d go on to play England once more, in a friendly in 1984, before their dissolution and reintegration back into a unified Germany team in 1990.

12th June 1985 – England 3-0 West Germany (Azteca Stadium, Mexico City): In the days before the Confederations Cup, countries hosting the World Cup had to make their own preparations to practice holding the competition and in 1985 Mexico decided on two near-concurrent mini tournaments called the Mexico City Cup Tournament and the Azteca 2000 Tournament. In the first a group made up of Italy, Mexico and England played a round robin, with the final match between Mexico and England also acting as the first match of a second group consisting of Mexico, West Germany and England.

Mexico won their game against England – who’d also already lost to Italy – by a goal to nil. England’s next match against West Germany failed to capture the public imagination in Mexico City, though, with just 8,000 people turning out at the 115,000 capacity Azteca Stadium for it. They missed a reasonably diverting game. England took the lead through Bryan Robson ten minutes from half-time and right on half-time West Germany won a penalty, only for Andreas Brehme’s kick to be saved by Peter Shilton. Two goals from Kerry Dixon in the second half gave England a deceptively comfortable win.

In the tournament’s final match, Mexico beat West Germany 2-0 to lift the trophy, and just over a year later West Germany be back to play the World Cup final against Argentina. Writing in the FA’s official brochure for the tournaments, manager Bobby Robson commented that, “The matches in Mexico this summer will go a long way to prepare us for the World Cup finals in which we sincerely hope we will be participating and will enable us to renew old acquaintances with our friends from Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and, of course, Mexico.” England lost in the quarter-finals to Diego Maradona.

19th June 1993 – Germany 2-1 England (Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit): Another odd-numbered summer, another pre-tournament tour, and this time England were in America as their hosts prepared themselves for the 1994 World Cup finals with the US Cup, another round robin tournament, this time also featuring the host nation, Brazil, and Germany.

By the time England came to play Germany, who were of course the world champions at the time, the tour hadn’t gone particularly well. They’d started about as badly as they could have done, losing 2-0 to the USA in Boston, in a match that was subsequently headlined in The Sun as “Yanks 2 Planks 0”. The vultures had been circling manager Graham Taylor since England failed to get through the group stages of the 1992 European Championships.

England followed their defeat to the USA with a fairly creditable 1-1 with an under-strength Brazil, with David Platt scoring England’s goal, but their final match against Germany in Detroit returned them to their previous, dismal form. In front of a crowd of 62,000 people – for England’s first ever indoor match – Stefan Effenburg gave Germany the lead midway through the first half, only for David Platt to level from close range five minutes later. Ten minutes into the second half, though, Christian Ziege broke through and hit the post, and Juergen Klinsmann scored the rebound to put England bottom of the group. By the end of the year, England had failed to qualify for the following summer’s World Cup and Taylor was out of a job.

17th June 2000 – England 1-0 Germany (Stade du Pays de Charleroi, Charleroi): By the time that England took to the pitch for their second group match of Euro 2000, their tournament was already starting to come apart at the seams, having thrown away a two goal lead to Portugal in their opening match and with scenes of hooliganism as bad as anything seen in the 1970s in the Belgian city of Charleroi before the match.

The inevitable hype machine that accompanies this fixture, however, masked one important matter: neither England or Germany were any good, at Euro 2000. Michael Owen had a shot pushed onto the post by Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn in the first half, and eight minutes into the second half a David Beckham free-kick from the right somehow passed through three Germany defenders before finding Alan Shearer at the far post to score. There was, of course, also further serious crowd trouble after the match.

Beating Germany in the finals of a major tournament papered over some cracks for a couple of days, but it couldn’t last. In their final group match, three days later against Romania, despite needing just a point to get through to the next round of the competition England were beaten 3-2, despite having come from behind to lead 2-1 at half-time. It was the beginning of the end of Kevin Keegan’s spell in charge of the national team.

7th October 2000 – England 0-1 Germany (Wembley Stadium, London): If losing to Romania was the beginning of the end for Kevin Keegan and England, then their match against Germany at Wembley less than four months later was the end of it. This was already a match of considerable significance – how could a World Cup qualifying match against Germany not be? – but it was also the last game to be played at the old Wembley Stadium, a match of huge emotional significance for anyone with the slightest interest in the England team.

And Germany did, of course, spoil the party, with a 14th minute long-range free-kick from Dietmar Hamann proving to be enough to win the game for them. Played in a tatty-looking stadium on a day of pouring rain, this was a loss that seemed to encapsulate the state of the England national team by this point. After the game, Kevin Keegan, never a man to knowingly not making it all about himself, resigned as their manager.

This time, though, England wouldn’t have to wait that long for revenge. Sven-Goran Erikssen was appointed to replace Keegan, and less than a year later his team travelled to Munich for the return match and put in one of England’s greatest ever team performances, winning 5-1 to leave them requirin a win and a draw from home matches against Albania and Greece to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals. After beating Albania at Newcastle in their penultimate match, it took a David Beckham goal three minutes into stoppage-time in their final match against Greece at Old Trafford to get them through by the skin of their teeth.

22nd August 2007 – England 1-2 Germany (Wembley Stadium, London): It says something for the difficulties that the FA had in getting Wembley rebuilt that there were seven years between England’s last competitive match at the old Wembley and their first match at the new one. That their opponents for both matches were Germany says a lot, too. More than 86,000 people turned out for the match, and all seemed to be going well for the home team when Frank Lampard gave England an early lead.

England taking the lead against Germany, however, can’t be considered anything like final, as we saw in 1966, 1970 and 1996. They held the lead for barely a quarter of an hour before goalkeeper Paul Robinson made a hash of a Bernd Schneider cross, pushing the ball out to allow Kevin Kuranyi to bring Germany level from three yards out, while a spectacular long range shot from Christian Pander five minutes from half-time was enough to win the game for Germany. England, who had been well-placed to qualify for Euro 2008 at the time of this match, fell to pieces in qualifying afterwards, losing their last two matches to Russia and Croatia and failing to reach the finals of the Euros for the first time since 1984.

Two years later, England were demolished by Germany in the second round of the World Cup, and they have still never beaten Germany at the new Wembley, despite having played them twice there since 2007. Actually, they haven’t even scored a goal against Germany at the new Wembley since 2007, and they haven’t beaten Germany (or West Germany) at either iteration of their home since 1975.

It might be best not to tell Gareth Southgate any of this, ahead of Tuesday night’s match.