England and Germany: the next chapter of the rivalry

Battlegrounds provide the foundation to any conflict. They help to set the atmosphere, create boundaries and also possess great soldiers willing to go beyond the unthinkable fighting for their country. It is also unthinkable to reflect footballers as soldiers— it would be unjust to even contemplate. Yet each time England play Germany on the world stage, remnants of The Great War filter through and act wrongly in providing an unofficial rivalry between the two teams.

Expressions such as, “don’t mention the war” and “two World Wars and one World Cup” are banded each time the two sides meet. Yet surely and justifiably the conflict that went on pre-1945 means diddly squat to a football match that may hold significance, but will never be held in the same regard as soldiers battling on the frontline.


For 1966 to be repeated England need to beat Germany at Bloemfontein, will penalties be needed to decide matters? Photo: Germán Aczel

So, then, where does this rivalry come from and how has it become so toughened and meaningful to the footballing world? Post-1945 the first account of rivalry between the two countries on the football pitch came on Saturday, 30th July, 1966. England came out of the dressing room at the Old Wembley, captained by Bobby Moore and managed by Sir Alf Ramsey. West Germany were led onto the field that day by Uwe Seeler and coached by Helmut Schön. The result is possibily the most revered in English football, 4-2 after extra time. No need on that occasion for the dreaded penalties.

There were however two controversial moments in that game in front of 98,000 pitchside and millions watching at home. Firstly, West Germany’s equaliser which sent the game into extra time with the score two a piece. Jack Charlton had initially given away a free kick. Yet, in conventional Jack fashion, he declared he should’ve been given a free kick after Uwe Seeler backed into the Ashington-born player. The free kick, whipped in by Lothar Emmerich, was sufficiently blocked by George Cohen but then tucked away by Wolfgang Weber. Yet England’s stopper Gordon Banks protested to Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst, claiming the ball had struck the hand of Karl-Heinz Schnellinger before Weber hit home.

Then came the moment that sent the home nation into ecstasy. With minutes of the first half of extra time left to play, Alan Ball played the ball in towards Geoff Hurst. Hurst controlled the ball, turned and hit a rasping shot in the direction of the German goal. The ball carried its flight ahead of hitting the underside of the crossbar before dropping onto the goal line. The English shouted “goal” and the Germans shouted “kein zeil.” Attention instantly turned to Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov, who dramatically awarded a goal, leaving the German players outraged.

There’s no doubt that moments like these fuel the dislike amongst both sets of players and fans. Most recently on the World Cup stage, Italia ’90 wrote another chapter in England and Germany’s rivalry. The penalty shootout. The frontline of professional football warfare, where what you do as a player can win your country the most prestigous competition in world football. Yet the alternative means heartbreak. Italia ’90 was England’s big chance to win the World Cup. In between them and the final stood a German side saturated in a wealth of world class quality footballers.

The match went to a penalty shootout after a Gary Lineker goal cancelled out an earlier strike from Andreas Brehme. Then came tension, nail-biting and finally nationwide depression. England and Germany were both level at three all. Up stepped Stuart Pearce, ‘Psycho’ as he was known to fans and teammates. Looking assured and ready, Pearce strode up to the goal with his left foot poised. But disaster struck as it went straight towards German keeper Bodo Illgner.

With Germany scoring their fourth it was up to Chris Waddle to save the hopes of a nation begging for success. Waddle’s body language unlike Pearce’s appeared heavily ridden with doubt. Waddle indicated weakness and proved it when he blazed his shot above and beyond the crossbar into a sea of supporters. England were going home without carrying out yet another World Cup winning objective.

Bloemfontein could well write a new chapter to those written by London and Turin— a chapter that may finally have a narrative that speaks of England emerging victorious and erasing a past tarnished by penalty shootout depression against Germany. The rivalry will only live on.

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