Why I supported Germany
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
Forgive me, for I have sinned. I wanted Germany to win yesterday. And not only because it would have been appropriate for the worst World Cup in memory to produce the most ordinary champions.
Some claim that Brazil’s was a victory for man over machine. But, in its own way, a German victory would have been a triumph of the human spirit. When all around them were finding excuses for failure, the Germans just got on with it and rose to every challenge except the last one. True, they did not play against any top teams en route to the final; but then, Germany was not in the world top ten before the World Cup. That they got so far suggests that a little applied self-belief (as distinct from the self-indulgent ‘self-esteem’ we hear so much about) can pay dividends.
Franz Beckenbauer said that England would have beaten Brazil if they had the same mental strength as the Germans. At least until yesterday, many thought that we would also have needed the German goalkeeper. But the Kaiser has a point.
In the World Cup semi-final of 1990, when Paul Gascoigne received a yellow card that ensured he would miss the final, Gazza wept as England lost (to Germany) and became a national hero. When the same fate befell Michel Ballack in this year’s semi-final, instead of crying he went up the other end and scored the goal that put the rest of the German team through. There is too little of that Roy Keanesque spirit evident in Britain today, where government ministers warn against exposing our children to competitive egg-and-spoon races, while boys’ football leagues fiddle with the rules to discourage teams from scoring ‘too many’ goals and upsetting the losers.
However, I mostly supported the Germans, not because of the (admittedly limited) attractions of their team, but as a protest against the pervasive mood of what we might call Geo-Political Correctness that has dominated discussion of the World Cup. This code dictates that, as soon as England are out -and in some cases before -we must all support the ‘samba boys’ from Brazil. (That is, of course, once the lovely, plucky little Republic of Ireland team have been bravely crushed beneath the jackboot of imperialism.) The GPC media spent the past week chanting the party line about the ‘beautiful game’ that Brazil have supposedly played for 50 years, even though the Brazilian coach himself says that his team plays ugly to win. Before kick-off yesterday, BBC pundits spent an hour drooling over Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, in a way that brought to mind Ron Manager’s ‘Phwoorahh! Gorgeous, aren’t they?’ sketch from BBC’s The Fast Show. Of course, the same Geo-Political Correctness insists that we despise the Argentine team, even though they have been better than Brazil for most of the past 25 years -including this one.
Meanwhile, back home, those who hoped that the limited success of David Beckham and Co could be the vehicle for a new PC English patriotism are desperately trying to keep the feelgood factor flying along with the Cross of St George flags. Everybody from David Blunkett to Billy Bragg has spent the past week reminding us how our newly tolerant sense of Englishness has ‘reclaimed’ the flag from the far Right.
In reality, the way that the popular desire for some collective experience attached itself to something as wonderfully irrelevant as football suggested that there was nothing more substantial behind it. When Brazil’s second goal looped over David Seaman’s ponytail, it instantly stuck a pin into the thin balloon of national optimism. No wonder Tony Blair declared himself ‘devastated’ by the defeat -a word the Prime Minister has not seen fit to use in response to events that were arguably even more historic than a football match.
What will we talk about now it’s all over? I cannot be the only obsessive who initially assumed those ‘WorldCom fraud’ headlines referred to another dodgy offside decision.
Anyone for tennis? Even before the World Cup was over, the search for something the nation could unite around had shifted to Wimbledon. The England football team having ‘done a Henman’ by bottling it at the key moment, there now appears to be a concerted effort to reinvent Our Tim as, well, a German, to judge by weekend reports of his ‘grit’ and ‘fighting spirit’. We’ll see.
To end with another confession: I always support England at football (including when they play Germany), but I’m afraid that I fail the patriotic Tim Test. Some of us would not be exactly devastated to see the back of Henman’s red-white-and-blue army of shrill cranks and matrons. Then again, I suppose I must be a nutter, since I also believe that Maradona was greater than Pele.
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