Offside, 14 September
Where was spiked's football columnist when England beat Germany 5-1? In a bar in northern Italy, with Germans, watching Italy draw nil-nil with Lithuania.
Where were you when England beat Germany in Munich on 1 September 2001? In a crowded pub singing the theme from the Great Escape? Cheering in disbelief at home like 14million others? In years to come you will no doubt tell your grandchildren about the day you saw Sir Michael Owen turn over the Germans in their own backyard.
My story is different. I was on holiday in northern Italy at the small seaside town of Albisola with three Germans – my girlfriend, her sister and brother-in-law. On the day of reckoning we trawled the bars and restaurants along the seafront in search of a television. But Albisola is not the sort of resort that boasts an ‘EastEnders English Pub’ or a Jurgen’s Bierkeller along its main drag.
The only bar we found with a television was showing Italy v Lithuania. And that’s where I was during That Game – in a bar, with Germans, watching Italy draw nil-nil with Lithuania. When the goals from the England game were shown afterwards, the Italians were uninterested, the Germans were dismayed, and I was gutted. I felt I had missed a moment of immense historical significance. In reality, of course, I had only missed a game of two halves in the preliminary rounds of the World Cup – but it’s funny how, when the nation momentarily unites to cheer on its football team, being part of the occasion has come to matter more than the result itself.
Missing the game was bad enough, but my failure to find an English newspaper with a match report made matters worse. Two days after the game I found a copy of The Sunday Times, but to my horror it was an early edition without the report from Munich. In desperation, and with only a vague recollection of A-level Latin to assist me, I tried to make sense of a report in the Italian sports paper Corriere dello Sport, which seemed to be saying that Michael Owen had a golden boot…or something like that.
I persuaded my girlfriend to translate a report in the German paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. ‘Apparently the Sun says that Germany had a sausage nightmare’, she explained. ‘Sausage nightmare – what does that mean? Is that all they know about Germany?’ I suggested that it was funny in an absurd way, but the Germans were not amused. It was only later that we realised that the Sun headline was actually ‘Germany’s wurst nightmare’ – a rather corny pun.
Invariably, as the nation experienced one of its episodic bouts of football-related euphoria, all sense of proportion was quickly lost. The Observer declared that England had ‘recorded one of the most astonishing results in the nation’s footballing history, in the history of the world game indeed’. Former England manager Bobby Robson proclaimed it ‘the best England result in history’. Even former German captain Franz Beckenbauer contributed his pfennig’s worth of hyperbole: ‘I have never seen a better England team and I have never seen an England team playing better football.’
For every England fan who lived through the ‘death-by-penalties’ at the hands of the Germans in Italia ’90 and Euro ’96, this was indeed the sweetest victory imaginable. But one of the most astonishing results in the history of the world game? Please. England have beaten a poor German team that has been in decline for several years, as Germany’s humiliation at the hands of Croatia in France 1998 and Portugal’s reserves in Euro 2000 demonstrated. When England start beating France or Argentina with the same ease then we can justify the use of superlatives.
Thankfully the England fans in Munich’s Olympic Stadium retained some sense of perspective. ‘Are you Scotland in disguise?’, they sang gleefully.
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