So it’s finally here; another World Cup, another England–Germany clash. I could barely sleep last night, the anticipation gnawing away at me until I was finally forced to get up at 7 am. What the hell is it about these matches that shreds nerves and causes so much general anxiety?
Well, the history thing doesn’t help. However much Basil Fawlty didn’t want us to mention the war, the English just can’t resist it.
With a little help, we won both major conflicts of the 20th century, and even had a hand in securing German reunification by the simple act of seeing communism off. We wouldn’t be human if opportunities to mention these facts and show off weren’t eagerly taken.
Unfortunately, apart from 1966 we’ve done very little on the international football stage. The Germans, on the other hand, have proved themselves masters at reaching World Cup finals (1954, 1966, 1974, 1982, 1986, 1990, 2002) and occasionally even winning them (1954, 1974, 1990).
So we feel a little jealous and, given that they put us out of both the 1970 and 1990 World Cups, and the European Championships in 1972 and 1996, more than a little inferior.
Now, if you were looking to draw up a list of the things the English define themselves by, history and football would almost certainly be close to the top.
Dunkirk, D-Day, that awkward moment in the trenches when a shot bounced off a wooden shelter and either did or didn’t cross the line (the visiting Russian ambassador said it did); it’s a heady mixture of history and sporting rivalry, so it comes as no surprise to see the UK papers filled with front and back page stories about today’s game.
Here’s a selection taken from this morning’s papers:
Personally, while I love the history, I’m not interested in the shameless xenophobia of the UK press. Much of what they write has more to do with fear, frustration, and ill-informed prejudice. None of it has any place on the football field.
Nevertheless, these people occasionally, if inadvertently, hit the nail on the head. I’m thinking of The Mail stumbling on a group of England fans in Bloemfontein. They’ve just launched an inflatable Spitfire and belted out the theme from Dambusters. A waiter wants to know what’s going on: “It’s too difficult to explain, mate,” says one English fan.
Personally, I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a classic World Cup clash. England can win if they forget all this nonsense about penalties. We didn’t have an inferiority complex before losing on pens to the Germans in 1990. They are not unbeatable over 90 or 120 minutes. Anything is possible, isn’t it?
My tips for today: England and Argentina
The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 23/50