Frings really have changed
- 3 Jul 06, 05:39 PM
BERLIN - Bear with this blog: I’m eventually going to agree with my fellow blogger Paul Atherton who has audaciously adopted the host nation for the remainder of the tournament.
Eventually. But first, as that well-known goalkeeper and part-time existentialist, Albert Camus once wrote: “All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”
And I’m sure I’m not alone in having my outlook on life partly shaped by watching the Germans in World Cups gone by. Moral justice never seems to have been done, and we’ve generally felt obliged to want them to come a cropper.
The Hungarian psyche must have been permanently damaged when Puskas and co went on a four-year unbeaten run in the early 50s, beat Germany 8-3 in a 1954 World Cup group game, went 2-0 up in the final…and still lost.
The Dutch did something similar when clearly the best team in 1974, and have never really got over it. The Scots have also tasted cruel defeat against Germany, in Mexico ’86 and at Euro ’92.
But England have turned the feeling into an art form. Every generation of England fans over the last 40 years has learnt the hard way that life isn’t fair – 1970 in Leon and ’72 at Wembley if you’re a certain age, ’90 and ’96 if you’re one of our Assistant Producers.
But the seminal moment for me came on 8 July 1982, and didn’t involve England at all.
I was 17 and West Germany were playing France in the World Cup semi-final in Seville. France were an entertaining side with a wonderful midfield of Platini, Tigana, Fernandez and Giresse, Germany were a bunch of pantomime villains.
They had lost their opening game to Algeria, but at that time, the last set of group games were not held simultaneously, so Germany openly colluded with Austria.
Between them, they achieved the 1-0 result that put both through, and Algeria out. It was legal, but absolutely stank the place out. They then bored their way to a 0-0 draw with an equally cagey England, and sneaked into the semi-final.
Their team included a Basil Fawlty-like, permanently angry centre-back called Uli Stielike, various colossal supremely athletic Cyborgs with names like Dremmler and Briegel, a beetroot-faced centre forward in Horst Hrubesch, and a bloke called Klaus Fischer who once in a blue moon used to score with an overhead kick.
He even managed to do that in an irritating fashion. Worst of all, they had Schumacher. Not the guy who efficiently drives round and round a track annoying those viewers who manage to stay awake. This one was Toni the goalkeeper, not Michael, and was infinitely worse.
For the sake of objectivity, I will now quote from the Complete Book of the World Cup: “In the second half, Battiston ran clear and was bodychecked by Schumacher, probably the worst-looking foul in any World Cup. No free-kick, no red card, just concussion and broken teeth for Battiston who was stretchered off and given oxygen.”
He actually spent several weeks in hospital, but not only did Schumacher taunt the French fans in the crowd, he also saved the crucial penalty in the shoot-out, after France had led 3-1 during extra-time. It was just horrible: Camus must have been turning in his grave and I was learning all sorts of lessons about morality and obligations.
None of them very positive.
The above outburst was prompted by the fact that Germany play Italy in Tuesday's semi-final. 24 years ago, I vowed I would never follow football again if the Germans somehow beat Italy in the final.
To be fair, at about the same time, I vowed never to have anything to do with women again if the girl of my dreams didn’t finish with a certain boorish rugger-bugger. My wife probably wishes I’d stuck to my guns…
I digress. Then as now, Italy were not a great team to watch, their football was immersed in a corruption scandal, and to make matters worse, they’d eliminated a fantastic Brazilian side. However, I’ve never supported a team with more fervour than I did Italy in that final.
Tardelli’s delirious expression after he’d slammed the second past Schumacher was matched only by mine as I danced round the living room.
24 years on though, I would actually really like Germany to win, and wouldn’t even mind if they beat France in the final.
They’ve been wonderful hosts (a survey of visiting fans gave them 8.8 out of 10 for hospitality: most of us would give them a 10) and there is absolutely no-one to dislike in this German team. Jens Lehmann is a mite eccentric, but look as hard as you like and you won’t find a thug, cheat or Andy Moeller-strut in sight.
Yes, they’re still annoyingly good at penalties (it even seems to have rubbed off on Owen Hargreaves) but there’s something altogether more wholesome about their progress this time.
They’ve cast off the Teutonic efficiency tag (difficult in any case to sustain with two Polish-Germans up front, and two African-Germans on the bench) and have probably been the most entertaining side in the tournament.
To cap it all, their coach is a study in intelligence and diplomacy. Most people in the UK decided he was OK when he launched into that self-deprecating dive at Sheffield Wednesday.
I was already a convert after he held up the Inter Milan team coach to fulfil an interview with Ray Stubbs after we’d become horribly lost looking for their training ground back in 1991.
He may be a little hippy-trippy for some tastes but, as the Dead Kennedys once sang, “California Uber Alles.” Frings really have changed…