What's that score again?
You know you’re travelling with England. All the signs are there. Lads with cropped hair and Henri Lloyd caps make their way down the steps of the plane. Most of them are wearing the uniform: Hackett shirts, Stone Island knitwear, a smattering of Burberry. They’re pretty boisterous and you can hear them before you can see them. Even their body language is loud – big exaggerated movements by big exaggerated men. Most are good humoured, sharing a joke on the outset of another big adventure, but the lad sitting in front on the airport bus already has a few issues to address. He seems almost offended that the airport signs are written in German. “It’s like being in Nazi Germany,” he says. His mate agrees. An airport employee waves them off the bus. The lad gives him a right eyeballing. “Johnny fucking Kraut,” he spits. A few of the lads raise eyebrows, but for the rest, though, ‘Johnny Kraut’ is very much front of mind.
There’s a special intensity about the passion that an England v Germany tie spews up. Afterall, this is a rivalry – the terrace chant would have us believe – rooted in “Two Worlds Wars and one World Cup”. The clash with Scotland might have more historic roots, while a reckoning with the ‘cheating Argies’ will excite and agitate in equal measure, but nothing in world football lives up to the battle of the traditional giants. “It’s in every Englishman’s blood to want to win against the Germans,” says Sheffield United fan Mick. “It’s just a part of our upbringing.”
The English really need elephantine memories to recall our past sporting triumphs over the dreaded Hun, even though each limited success is catalogued, indexed and dragged out at every possible opportunity. But with the passing of time, even our World Cup win 35 years ago has started to overstay its welcome. “I think the English tend to live in the past,” says one fan from Barnsley. “We still think it’s 1966 and that has meant the England v Germany clash has become our biggest game. Even the Scotland game really doesn’t mean that much any more.” His mate leans over to share an opinion. “This is the big one,” he says. “It’s major payback time and this game is the biggest one in football!” This might be his first away game, but he couldn’t have picked a better one. Like losing your virginity to Pamela Anderson, this is the way to do it. “The feeling is just unbelievable. It’s fantastic. I had to pay £125 for the ticket and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
By Friday night central Munich is starting to fill-up and we’ve just missed a small skirmish in the streets around Marienplatz. The tell-tale sign of trouble are there. A group of lads have run up a street about 100 yards from us. We can’t see who they’re chasing or, indeed, whose side they’re on, but the sound of flying bottles and smashing glass tell us that they’re not here to study the architecture. They stand at a crossroads, giving it that “come on then” look. And then they disappear just as quickly as they arrived. They could have belonged to either side – football hooliganism may be known throughout Europe as ‘the English disease’, but the Germans are a match for anyone on their day.
The depth of the rivalry runs deep and the feeling on the street is noticeably more intense than it was on the streets of Helsinki, Tirana or Athens. The other away games so far have been regular fixtures; as such, they have been attended by trainspotters and adventurers – usually under 2000 in number. These are the people who either follow England everywhere or who simply want to say they’ve been to Albania. This weekend the numbers have swollen by the significance of the tie with the Germans. To start with, some 6000 fans have come to the match with tickets from EnglandFans, the latest reinvention of the England members Club, but there will probably be double that in the city by the following day. Many of the bars are already wary of the English invasion and are insisting on ID checks at the door. Several have already turned us away, including Munich’s legendary Hoffbrauhaus, so we end up in another bierhalle – the Augustiner. Unsuprisingly it’s rammed full of England fans.
We sit next to two Australian backpackers and a Canadian soldier serving in Bosnia. The soldier is slightly bemused by the sight of the ‘mad-for-it’ Englishmen who surround him. “I wanted to get a feeling for the real Germany, but so far my whole Munich experience has been English,” he says. As we speak a drunken Tottenham fan wraps his arm around the Canadian. “Alright fella, ready to join in yet?” It turns out that he’s been trying to teach the soldier how to sing ‘No Surrender’. “How does that go again?” asks the soldier. “‘No surrender to the IRA – scum!’ What’s that all about?” The Canadian is bemused. He’s been travelling around Europe building an impressive collection of ‘soccer’ shirts to remind him of each city, but this is a little bit of football culture that is alien to him.
When you’re a fan running on the adrenaline of the big game atmosphere in an exciting new environment, it’s easy to forget that other people – those who’ve never experienced football fans on the move – can be shocked speechless by the noise, the language, the hostility of it all. When you’re actually in the eye of the hurricane you know how much of the fury is a sham, rooted in our sense of show and irony. Everything is just a big joke to the English, but it’s a culture gap that’s hard to justify rationally to strangers. Try explaining the heritage of the English sense of humour to a couple of Australians just as 200 lads climb up on the tables to sing “There’s only one Bomber Harris” or “My grandad killed your grandad (doo dah)”. And then try and explain the drinking culture! Even drink-hardened Australians get bemused by that one.
All around us, seemingly unaware that no-one is going to call last orders, the lads are necking beer after beer after beer. And it’s not those neat little designer beers either, but those bloody great big ones that come in glasses that look like they could hold – if push came to shove – nay on a gallon. But then, for the English drinking is very much a full-time job, for the Europeans it’s just a hobby! Even their beer glasses are designed for leisure – they’re fancy and tall and exotically shaped; the English, however, like to drink out of straight, no-frills pint pots – workmanlike and cheap-to-replace in case it all kicks off! Thankfully tonight it doesn’t in the Augustiner bierhalle – and even the town square remains relatively peaceful, but by the next morning it will be rammed.
Almost a ritual for the England fan abroad is the spontaneous congregating in the town square on matchday. In Munich, it’s a grand and elaborately structured area known as Marienplatz. The square is used to scenes of violence and confrontation – in 1923, during the Nazi’s aborted putsch, it was the scene of a mass show of strength by Hitler and his armed SA troops. Nearly 78 years later it’s filled with the sound a thousand England fans humming ‘The Dambusters March’ and singing tributes to ‘Bomber Harris’. Mick and his mates from Sheffield are among the fans in the Marienplatz – where do they stand on the songs of war? Should we be partying at the very thought of the razing of Dresden? “I know there’s been some move to try and stop the England fans singing things like that,” he says, “but it’s in your blood, it’s part of the English sense of humour.”
As we speak, behind us an England fans chucks a glass of beer over a large, leather-waistcoated Bavarian. “There some trouble now,” says Mick, keeping a nervous eye on the escalating situation. “We worry about getting caught up in trouble,” he says. “We try stay out of the way. We’ve never been involved in trouble and none of us are interested in fighting – we’d rather just have a good drink and a good laugh.”
The brief exchange of unpleasantries behind us has evaporated under the watchful eye of a wall of riot police. The square is jammed with people and a stage has been erected for some afternoon entertainment, but there’s still a sense of unease so we move on to another quarter of the city. When we return to the Marienplatz a couple of hours later, the crowd has thinned out. While there are no signs of trouble, it’s obvious that something has happened. Later I hear tales of fighting and find a perfumery with a large hole in its window, but for the moment I’m none the wiser. I’m still wondering about the change of mood when there’s a sudden surge of England fans – they run at another group, scattering Saturday afternoon shoppers who dash for cover. A woman trips up as she tries to escape and a row of bicycles are trampled underfoot as the shoppers run for safety. Riot police chase the youths up a street and within seconds life is back to normal as people stand around like interested spectators.
As kick-off approaches, word spreads through the network of fans that “it got a bit naughty in the old town”. On the way to the game we stop to change trains on the Metro and I’m approached by a lad from Bristol who I’d first met at Athens airport en route to the qualifier in Albania. “It’s been kicking off in the Marienplatz,” he tells me. “It was mad. They were right at it. I spoke to my girlfriend back home and she said it’s been on BBC News 24 and that Gary Lineker had been on the telly condemning it.”
Arriving at the ground, his story is echoed by a guy we’d met that morning in our hotel. An Englishman who lives and works in the Stuttgart area, he tells me a story – again centred in the Marienplatz – that sounds vaguely familiar. “I speak German,” he said, “and I was chatting away to these Bayern fans when a few hundred England fans came into the square. This guy – he must have been five-foot nothing if he was anything – just went up to a huge German and poured a glass of beer over his head. It could have only happened because he had a couple of hundred people with him. That was our cue to get out of there – and that was where it all kicked off later on!”
Stories circulate like Chinese whispers and grow in size as fans piece together a slanted view of the day. Despite the tales of horror, inside the ground it’s the best atmosphere that we’d encountered in our travels through the World Cup qualifiers. “It’s the passion and the atmosphere of England v Germany,” says Randolph as we take our seat. He’s a Gooner from Bedford who shunned the easy flying option in favour of a 12-hour road-trip to Munich – and he’s absolutely certain that England are going to win. “We know that in the last four or five games with Germany we’ve always had ’em, but this is the first time that we know we can beat ’em. The Germans are poor at the moment – very poor.”
The match kicks off and Germany score within minutes. “We said we’d go if Jancker scored,” sighs Randolph. “He’s the worst striker the Germans have ever had!” Still confident? “Sure,” he says. “The Germans can have all the luck in the world today and we’ll still beat them.”
How right he is. And how absolutely mental he goes as the goals go in – one, two three, four… by five he’s standing on top of the terrace barrier, screaming his head off and hugging complete strangers. Across the other side of the stadium I can see Ashley from Nottingham ecstatically dancing with a six foot high English rose in one hand, a giant replica World Cup trophy in the other. A familiar sight at England away games, as ever he is dressed entirely in a flag of St George. The last time I saw him, he was standing in the fountains of Charleroi following our victory at Euro 2000. That night I remember his exhilaration at the result. “We beat the Germans,” he screamed back then – but I also remember how succinctly he described the importance of a win like this to the English. “I know several people who have died young and never experienced England beating Germany,” he said. “Unless you’re a football fan you can’t understand what this result means. Beating the Germans? It’s not better than sex but there isn’t much in it to be honest!”
At the final whistle, Simon from Watford also found himself climbing on top of the terrace crowd-control barrier to salute an England team who had come here, to the Olympiastadion in Munich, and inflicted on the Germans their biggest defeat in 70 years. “It just doesn’t get better than this,” he gushes. “If I never go to another England game again it’s okay after what we achieved here. I’m old enough to have witnessed much unhappiness, but this… I still can’t believe it’s real!”
The fans parade out of the ground in good humour – we might have won 5-1 but the mood has as much to do with the fact that, unusually, we’re not kept behind for an hour in an empty stadium and forced to walk a couple of miles back into town. There’s a quiet sense of disbelief in the crowd. After the tense and emotionally-draining victory in Charleroi last year, the release was palpable and thousands of fans partied through the streets and fountains. Tonight, there’s a sense of shock, a feeling that as the Germans have been utterly annihilated on the pitch, it would be almost bad form to rub their noses in it outside.
On the Metro the train carriage is predominantly full of English (many of the Germans left early). A local gets on and enquires why everyone is so quiet. “It’s just shock!” we say. He laughs. Later we pay a return visit to the Augustiner bierhalle. It’s quieter tonight. There’s a bit of singing – but no dancing on the tables, no beer-mat slinging, no sounds of breaking glass. There’s a chorus of “5-1 to the Eng-ger-land”. The Germans retaliate with “We won the last game at Wembley”. It’s a great night out, football fans laughing and joking about the game they all love. Everyone is slightly shellshocked. Maybe it has just taken this result to exorcise a few of those old ghosts. Maybe the next clash won’t be as tense, as fuelled with passion.
Nah, can’t wait for it!