The Trouble With The Soundtrack To England 

by | Mar 23, 2017

It is a simple fact of life that the scheduling of international friendly matches is more likely to provoke earnest discussion about the state of things than it is to provide entertainment on the pitch. With Europe’s domestic leagues now gearing up for the final legs of  their domestic seasons, the small matter of why it should have been deemed necessary to poke the hornet’s nest of antipathy that many hold towards the international game by scheduling rounds of matches at this time of year remains tantalisingly out of reach.

So, in Dortmund last night Germany beat England by a goal to nil, with Lukas Podolski scoring the only goal of the match in his final appearance for his national team. Whether the DFB arranged this fixture as a testimonial for Podolski is unknown, but it certainly felt that way. Germany probably learned little about their team, but as the resigning world champions it might well be argued that they didn’t need to do a great deal of learning. For the England coach Gareth Southgate, meanwhile, it was a mixed evening. Sure enough, the evening ended in a defeat, but his team put in a reasonable performance and will likely go into Sunday’s World Cup qualifying match against Lithuania with a degree of confidence. And his much-ridiculed decision to shuffle the team’s formation to a 3-4-3 seemed more coherent than most had given it much of a chance of being. It might not have ended in a win, but Southgate might even have learned a few useful lessons from the whole trip. If only Delle Alli had taken one of the chances presented to him while the score was still goalless.

Up in the stands, meanwhile, it was a fairly subdued evening. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the “rivalry” between England and Germany is a one-way street, with Germany reserving their football enmity for the Netherlands, but this small consideration doesn’t seem to bother a sizeable enough proportion those with the time and inclination to go to these matches. They sing and they goad. They drink to excess. Every once in a while, they throw some objects or a punch for no particularly good reason. And they remain convinced that a football match between England and Germany carries a significance that no-one else is bothered with.

It’s difficult to pin an exact date on what year, exactly, England fans think it actually is. There are no World War II veterans left from either side who are under ninety years old and it’s been half a century since their team last made it past the semi-finals of the World Cup. Over the same period of time, Germany have won the tournament on three occasions and have been beaten in the final twice. It doesn’t sound like a record for the English to be particularly proud of, and that’s before we even get onto the subject of the third goal in the 1966 World Cup final not even fully crossing the line. It seems curious to be so proud of such a moderate record.

But still they sing. “Ten German Bombers.” “Two World Wars And One World Cup”. “The Great Escape”. A set list that hasn’t changed in at least three decades. It’s likely that they’re only doing it in order to be offensive. Even if we set aside what it says about any grouping of people that the one thing that they wish to be offensive, the truth of the matter is that they don’t even really achieve that aim. No-one really gets angry about England supporters wheeling out their  familiar repertoire of dismality. We just think they’re dicks, roll our eyes momentarily, and get on with the rest of our lives. The German supporters in Dortmund last night who were able to translate the words of the songs probably did likewise. After all, why should they care about what this pasty, beer-breathed, sweating collective sing? Perhaps, they might well rationalise, these people continue to eulogise the past because there is so little in their present to celebrate.

But the German football supporters will always have the last laugh. England may have scored five goals in Munich in 2001, but it was Germany who reached the following year’s World Cup final while England limped out in the quarter-finals. Less than three years ago, Germany were crowned the champions of the world in Brazil while England limped home after three group matches without a win. Last summer, Germany considered losing a European Championship semi-final against a host nation a disappointment. England, meanwhile, were losing in the second round to a nation with the population of Southampton.

Is this bullshit the behaviour of a minority? Probably. Does any of this merely reinforce the notion of this island as an isolationist backwater that has to fall back upon increasingly distant imaginations of greatness? Well, it would be understandable if it did. And will the FA ever do anything about this aural wallpaper beyond the occasional media-friendly platitude? Of course not. They’ve had decades to in the past, so why on earth would they now or in the immediate future? England is stuck with those ten German bombers and its own inevitable ongoing diminishment for at least the foreseeable future, it would seem.

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