Schön was not bitter: no two countries more alike

As he gave a press conference before the 1966 World Cup final, the West Germany manager, Helmut Schön, was asked if he was an Erwin Rommel to Alf Ramsey's Bernard Montgomery. Schön, who was 30 when the war ended, was nonplussed. Even if Montgomery quite liked football and had sent fan mail to Tom Finney, who had served under him in the Eighth Army, it was still only a game.

Not in England, where football, war and Germany had been linked since Christmas 1914 when men of the II Corps kicked a ball into No Man's Land and played a game with the Kaiser's troops. Germany won 3-2.

Thirty years after Schön was wrongfooted by the comparisons to Rommel, Germany and England met again at Wembley in the semi-finals of Euro 96. The Daily Mirror's front page showed a steel-helmeted Stuart Pearce shouting: "Achtung! Surrender. For You Fritz Ze Euro Championship is Over." The Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, dispatched an armoured car to the German team hotel which was stopped by police on the M25. Germany won on penalties and Franz Beckenbauer dismissed the stunt with the withering comment: "All that stuff about Stukas, Panzers and war doesn't bother us. We leave that to the English."

Even four years ago, there were some sections of the media that couldn't leave it alone. The Daily Telegraph's podcast from the German World Cup began with Basil Fawlty hissing "Don't mention the war", and one of its regular guests was the actor who played Herr Flick in 'Allo, 'Allo. The Telegraph was behind the times. Deutsche Bahn's trains ran on time and ran beautifully but nobody mentioned the war.

Jürgen Klinsmann, who had completed his football education at White Hart Lane, where in 1935 the Football Association had provoked riots by insanely staging a friendly against Nazi Germany in the middle of London's Jewish quarter, was an Anglophile, who lived in California. He created a fragile but wonderfully effervescent team in 2006, at odds with their traditional image. Those who travelled from England saw a friendly, confident country that staged perhaps the smoothest World Cup of the modern era.

When Klinsmann recalled yesterday how he and his then assistant, Joachim Löw, had travelled regularly to England to ransack the Premier League for ideas, he was merely echoing the thoughts of his predecessor Schön, who said that no two nations were as united when it came to football. He added that not until the 1972 European Championship, when Günter Netzer destroyed Ramsey's ageing team, did Germany feel confident about playing England. They beat them two years before in a World Cup quarter-final in Mexico that was seen as payback for 1966 but Beckenbauer admitted they were fortunate.

For Germany there was only one World Cup that carried echoes of war: the Miracle of Bern, where a nation emerging from the ruins of Hitler's conflict won the 1954 final, overcoming a Hungarian side that had put eight goals past them in the group stages.

In his book Football against the Enemy, Simon Kuper states there was no real hatred expressed towards the Germans when they met Holland in the 1974 final, although Johan Cruyff longed to humiliate them for allegations in the German tabloid Bild that he had partied with call-girls before the final in Munich. But a generation on, with the war a more distant memory, there was an explosion of national emotion, some of it very pointed, when they beat West Germany in the 1988 European Championship semi-final.

England have had nothing similar for 44 years. Even the one tournament victory – a 1-0 win in Charleroi, a steel town that is as much a backwater as Bloemfontein, had no lasting resonance. Germany were dreadful, so were Kevin Keegan's England. For both, the European Championship was soon over and nobody felt very inclined to mention the war.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor