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Achtung! Himmel! It's the match the English tabloids love more than any other as it gives them the chance to flag up their tired old clichés about the Second World War and beach towels in Mallorca. Aside from the bluster there's a tremendous history of football rivalry which few other international fixtures can match. Contrary to popular opinion we didn't (prior to Munich 2001) lose every match to them on penalties. Indeed it took the Germans until 1968 before they managed their first victory, 1-0 in Nuremburg. This defeat came after seven defeats and a draw. Here we celebrate ten of the best clashes between two nations who have interchanged between friendship and war over the decades.
The onset of the First World War was accompanied by a much stronger sense of hatred between the two nations than the Second. The prelude to war had included ferocious propaganda on both sides as German envy of Britain's pre-eminence as a superpower was matched by fear of a threatening, powerful and ambitious rival for our imperial treasures. The war itself was fought in appalling conditions as 19th century battle plans were employed alongside the destructive powers of 20th century, industrialised military weapons. This backdrop made the events of Christmas 1914 even more incredible. Reports of what actually happened are inconclusive but what isn't in doubt is that on Christmas Day friendly exchanges took place across the Western Front as troops from both sides emerged from the trenches to swap cigarettes, chocolates and other small gifts. Football was also played. This fraternisation was frowned upon by both leaderships and didn't last long. But it was a moment when humanity shone in an inhumane place, with the great game playing its part. For the record, the Germans won on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
A match that doesn't need much introduction. English football's finest two hours was a
thrilling tussle. No other final since has produced as many goals. We all know the
details, the hat-trick from Hurst, the Russian, sorry Azerbaijani, linesman, Alf
Ramsey's speech at full time ("You've won the World Cup once, now, go and win it again")
and the famous commentary. Though the match will forever be surrounded by the infamous
third goal from Hurst, there was little doubt from most observers that the best team won.
It was supposed to herald an era of domination from football's mother country that never
materialised. However, within four years the West Germans had their revenge, within
six they were European Champions and two years later they added the big one. The
pendulum swung decisively in favour of the Germans after this match and we've never
really truly hauled it back. Still, if we interpret Ramsey's words in a certain light,
surely that means we've actually won the World Cup twice.
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A defining moment in the history of English football for us. Another penalties-inspired
victory for them. A true epic of a game that was easily the best of a rotten tournament.
After stumbling out of a tough group and with a bit of luck and some inspired finishing
from Platt and Lineker, England had surprisingly surfaced in their first World Cup
semi-final for 24 years. West Germany had looked invincible in the opening rounds but
appeared lacklustre in a narrow quarter final victory against the Czechs. For England
this was a redemptive occasion. Our clubs were still banned from European competition,
our hooligans were still throwing chairs at bemused continental police forces and we
were barely one year on from the disaster at Hillsborough. Bobby Robson had produced a
sweeper system after eight years in charge and England were actually playing a relatively
sophisticated brand of football that got the best out of talents such as Gascoigne and
Waddle. This was the best performance of the tournament, one which made the Germans
dig deep into their reserves of resilience in a way that no other team had come close to
managing. Brehme's deflected free kick had given them a lead which was cancelled out by
Lineker's opportunistic strike. The game ebbed and flowed right through an almost
unbearable extra half hour. There were also Gascoigne's iconic tears, once his booking
had ruled him out of a possible final. Penalties then inflicted the cruellest blow on
Pearce and Waddle as they were the fall guys who ensured a final against Argentina
wasn't to be. This was particularly harsh on Waddle who had arguably played the game of
his life. The players came home to a tumultuous reception and the rehabilitation of
English football had begun.
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Less than a year after an utterly dispiriting 1-0 home defeat in the last ever match at
the old Wembley, England exacted an astonishing revenge over their old foes. The Germans
had only ever lost one World Cup qualifier at home (back in 1985), and that was after
they'd already qualified. England were re-emerging under the supervision of Sven
Goran Eriksson after the calamitous reign of Kevin Keegan, but the Germans were still
favourites on home soil. What followed was one of the most remarkable results in both
countries long football history. After a wobbly opening which saw the home side take the
lead through the poor man's Hulk Hogan, Carsten Jancker, England equalised through Owen
six minutes later. In perhaps the seminal moment of the match Seaman produced one of the
greatest saves of his career to maintain parity. After that England simply scythed
through the increasingly ragged opposition. An imperious Gerrard strike just before half
time gave England the lead. In the second half Owen completed his hat trick and there was
a beautifully worked goal for Heskey. Yes, Heskey. It was one of the finest performances
ever produced by an England team. Sven became the nation's hero. For a bit. The euphoria
couldn't last and it didn't. A creditable World Cup quarter final showing was hampered by
the loss of Gerrard and Neville and the injury Beckham carried to Japan. The Germans
meanwhile, aided by a favourable draw, made it to the final. But that night in Munich
will never be forgotten by a generation of England fans.
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Four years after the World Cup final the two countries were head to head once again,
this time at the quarter final stage in Mexico. England were favourites. Despite their
loss to Brazil in the group stage, England had performed magnificently in a thrilling
contest. They were still holders after all. Yet goalscoring remained an issue. Only two
goals were eked out in the victories over Romania and Czechoslovakia. The West Germans
had no such difficulty. They'd scored 10 in their three group matches with the
incomparable Gerd Muller grabbing seven of them, five more than England had managed in
total. Yet it was England who dominated the match once the initial skirmishing was over.
Mullery capped a splendid move with a half volley into the net to produce the half time
advantage. In the second half there was more of the same and Peters scored a second.
England were nearly there. Only a mistake from the reserve goalkeeper or idiotic
substitutions could get Beckenbauer's men back into it. Oh dear. First the German
captain's distance shot squirmed underneath Bonetti. The Chelsea man was in for the
supreme Banks who'd been laid low with food poisoning. Then Ramsey compounded the
situation by removing Bobby Charlton, much to the delight of Helmut Schoen's team. A
further incomprehensible substitution saw Peters replaced by Hunter. By now the momentum
was with West Germany and Muller scored to force extra time to the delight of a partisan
Mexican crowd. It was the pocket battleship who ended England's hopes with a winner in
the second additional period, his ninth goal of the tournament. England, through
misfortune, fatigue and Ramsey's blunders were indeed "Back Home".
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The prelude to this match was the inevitability of war. A militarised Germany was preparing to unleash its terrible assault on the rest of Europe. Austria had been annexed, Czechoslovakia was in German-provoked turmoil, and at home the persecution of all who didn't endorse the barbaric Nazi ideology was in full flow. Chamberlain hadn't yet waived his worthless bit of paper but Britain was still appeasing Hitler and the FA was not going to rock the boat. The match went ahead. The game was controversial for what went on beforehand and sensational for what happened during it. After pressure had been applied by the government, FA officials ordered the players to perform the Nazi salute as the teams lined up for the national anthems. Stanley Matthews, in his autobiography, wrote that the request caused uproar in the dressing room, with captain Eddie Hapgood telling officials where to stick their salute. He also wrote of the uplifting sight of England's travelling support, "two doughty men who raised their thumbs in encouragement". They had even draped a Union flag over the perimeter, though Sir Stan never related whether it stated "Nuneaton" or "Treeton RUFC" across the middle. During the match itself England, perhaps inspired by the shame of their infamous salute, ran the German side into the ground. Goals from Robinson (2), Matthews, Broome, Bastin and Goulden had provided ample evidence of both what the following months World Cup in France would be missing and the folly of the FA's decision not to participate. All this under the noses of Goebbels, Goring and von Ribbentrop (Hitler probably didn't like football), in the stadium where Jessie Owens had exposed the Nazis sporting myths for the bogus poison it was.
Two years after the defeat in Leon, England had a notable opportunity to reclaim a footballing superiority which had lasted for decades until 1970. There was one slight flaw with this scenario. Since Mexico, England had stagnated whereas the West Germans had improved. The significance of this improvement was amply demonstrated on an April evening in 1972 at Wembley in a European Championship quarter final. The visitors, inspired by a remarkable display of midfield playmaking by Gunter Netzer pulled England apart. The 3-1 scoreline barely illustrating the gulf in quality. Goals from Hoeness, a Netzer penalty and the inevitable Gerd Muller strike more than dealt with Franny Lee's effort. Coach Helmut Schoen and on-field general Beckenbauer, had simply taken the German game to a new level, rivalling and then surpassing the Dutch total football machine in Munich two years later. That evening at Wembley was the first emphatic marker on that trajectory to greatness. Despite the inevitable soul searching in the aftermath it was to be 29 more years before a significant England victory would be achieved.
A fascinating inclusion in our 10. Of the pre-war matches 1938 is by far the more famous, but this game is worthy of recognition. After the First World War England had resolutely refused to grace the same pitch as the Germans for 12 years, until a 3-3 draw in Berlin. Plans for a rematch eventually came to fruition in December 1935 against a backdrop of Hitler's increasing hostile regime. The playing of the match itself caused controversy among organisations such as the TUC, but with the acquiescence of the government and much of the establishment press, the FA got their match. Arguably the most curious aspect of the whole episode was the away support. Incredibly, 12,000 Germans travelled over by boat to the channel ports. For their onward journey to London colour coded trains took them to Victoria whereupon they were fed and watered. There was then a short period of sightseeing before colour coded buses took them to White Hart Lane. The choice of Tottenham's ground, with their strong Jewish traditions, was another curiosity of the fixture. Proposed demonstrations never materialised and it helped that the British government had asked the German authorities to forbid Nazi symbols from the travelling supporters. England won the match 3-1 with two goals from Middlesbrough's prolific centre forward George Camsell and a further effort from Cliff Bastin. Yet this was an intriguing foretaste for the infamous 1938 clash.
In our humble opinion, unlike 1990, this was not the heroic, romanticised defeat it has
since become. It possibly would not have made the ten, if it hadn't been for a truly
titanic extra time. Most of the previous ninety had been largely anaemic once each side
had scored within the first seven minutes. Shearer had given England the dream start
after two minutes only for Kuntz to level five minutes later. The importance of the
occasion combined with both sides desire to finish the game with a 'golden goal' elevated
this game to its exalted status. Extra time was as gripping a half hour the old stadium
had seen since 1966. Ultimately of course, Gascoigne wasn't quite sprightly enough and
Anderton was denied by the woodwork. Penalties it was and, despite the Englishmen making
a decent fist of it for once, the quality of German finishing was ominous. Gareth Southgate
was the fall guy with the Pizza ad contract and the consoling hug from Terry Venables.
Euro 96 was great fun, and we did come close. But against an average German side minus
the injured Klinsmann and on our own pitch, we should've come even closer.
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This was a vital test of England's virility after the failure to qualify for the 1974
World Cup in West Germany. The match was played at Wembley with the home side under the
stewardship of Don Revie. England were going through one of their regular rebuilding
periods where hope was still outweighing expectation, but a full house ensured a proper
competitive environment and with the Germans shorn of several of the key World Cup
winners England were able to outplay their opponents and win the game 2-0, with a goal in
each half from Colin Bell and Malcolm MacDonald. The star of the show however was Stoke's
Alan Hudson. This was an era where English football produced many maverick talents and
more than one national team manager failed to integrate them into the team with any
degree of success. The result emboldened English optimism for the 1978 World Cup, but
ultimately it proved a false dawn. We didn't qualify and the man Gunter Netzer thought
had everything to become a world class player, Hudson, won just one more cap.
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If you enjoyed reading this piece we strongly recommend you read 'England versus Germany: The Best of Enemies' by David Dowling. A superb account of the historical rivalry between the two nations which provided many useful reference points for this article. A full review of the book will follow shortly.