Five Bellies and an Italian love story

Andrew Baker surveys England through the eyes of the foreign press
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The Independent Online
There is no disputing the heavy hitters in coverage of Euro 96: Europe's two established sports dailies, France's L'Equipe and Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport, both singing the blues, or more specifically, Les Bleus and the Azzuri. On an average day L'Equipe runs eight broadsheet pages of Euro 96 news, but the Gazzetta beats that with a round dozen.

The highlight of the Gazzetta's coverage is the Big Ben column compiled by the newspaper's permanent British correspondent, Giancarlo Galavotti. Last week, Galavotti discussed "Gazza, l'amico Jimmy e l'amore", a romantic tale concerning Paul Gascoigne's mate Jimmy Gardner, aka Jimmy "Five Bellies", or, in Italian, Jimmy Cinquepance.

In Germany, the quote of the week, according to the magazine Die Woche, comes from Jurgen Klinsmann. "We are the guests. We must set an example and demonstrate that we are able to laugh at ourselves."

This advice highlights the biggest problem encountered by the bookmakers' favourites during their Euro 96 campaign: the native humour. "Kraut- bashing", the German press has noticed, has eclipsed football as the national sport in England.

The trouble is that Germans fail to see the joke. The "insults" perpetrated by the likes of the Sun and the Daily Star are faithfully recorded on the front pages of German newspapers, and read in terror by the players in their Macclesfield bunker. Hence the advice from Klinsmann, who learnt to live with British jibes during his time with Spurs, that his colleagues should take a crash course in irony.

The German press is also trying to enter into this jolly spirit. The extremely serious Frankfurter Allgemeine is trying to alert readers that not every word uttered by Britons should be taken literally. Reporting on the row between the German team and their hosts, non-League Macclesfield, over the quality of the pitch, the paper quotes the club's manager, Steve Burr: "Our ground is certainly not as smooth as Old Trafford, but it is in good condition. But when Berti Vogts [the German coach] says the ground is bad, then it is bad. He is world champion, and we are only semi-professionals." That statement, according to the Allgemeine, was an example of "typical British humour".

Jokes aside, the Germans are rather enjoying the tournament so far. The papers are happy with the lads, and worry only about what might happen if England were to crash out of the Championship early.

"Everyone can only hope that England will not exit in the first round," wrote Franz Beckenbauer in his column in Bild Zeitung. "Without the hosts, the championship would lose its atmosphere." You can tell the Kaiser is not exactly petrified by the prospect of Germany meeting England, so long as the lads can learn to take a joke.

In Spain, Lola Galan has been telling readers of El Pais about the rivalry between England and Scotland. "It seems that the rest of the teams in the competition are quite worthless compared to these two," she says. "Some of the newspaper coverage is quite incredible. It seems to me quite bitter, quite dangerous."

The Scots can be bitter too. James Traynor, writing in the Herald, spluttered: "The manner in which the [England] manager, some of his players, and just about every English-based newspaper has been approaching these finals makes it virtually impossible to harbour good neighbourly thoughts. Frankly, I hope they get stuffed."

The Croatian press are rapturous about England. The daily Vjesnik describes the arrival of the Croats at their Rutland hotel: "They found the Barnsdale Country Club, the hunting lodge of William II, the oasis of peace, seclusion and idyll . . ."

Indeed, the place has made such an impression on one of the players that he wants to take some of it home with him. The newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija reports the Croat goalkeeper Marijan Mrmic's love affair with English grass. "It simply invites you to walk on it," he says. "To run on it or even throw yourself on it. I have decided to grow English grass in the front of my house at home." And so, when Euro 96 is over and forgotten, one patch of a foreign field will be for ever Rutland.

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