BLOG UPLOADED: June 17, 2006

By Chris Hunt



Although Germany has a long and proud tradition as a major football power, at the opening ceremony of the 2006 World Cup it is apparent that many of its cultural reference points are borrowed from the English game. At least two recent official England songs have been hijacked by the Germans and transformed into a soundtrack for this tournament: in the minutes leading to the arrival of the teams onto the pitch for the first game, cover versions of ‘Altogether Now’ (England’s Euro 2004 song) and ‘Three Lions’ (Euro 96 and France 98) ring around the FIFA World Cup Stadium in Munich. They are sung in English but the latter has words adapted for the hosts.


Some 32 years after they last hosted a World Cup, the Germans are more than ready for this tournament. Even Munich airport has its own welcome for visiting football fans: a neatly wrapped World Cup-shaped brown paper parcel circles on every conveyor belt in the baggage claim hall. Maybe a nation not noted for its use of subtle irony really has finally found its sense of humour. But when the Germans sing “football’s coming home”, they really mean it. They may have kicked off the opening ceremony with 182 lederhosen-clad dancers, but this was a tongue-in-cheek reminder to the English who still chant about their “two World Wars and one World Cup” – Germany, despite all the stereotypes, is a country that has lifted the trophy three times! That's as many times as England has lions on a shirt!



Just two days in to the tournament and the England team fail to live up to all of the early hype, wilting in the face of the scorching afternoon heat in Frankfurt. This is no consolation for those that have thrown money at the touts. Demand for tickets has far outweighed supply as fans have flooded into the city in search of their football highs. At the World Cup in France in 1998, a ticket for the make-or-break clash with Argentina would have set you back 150 if you had the nerve to wait until minutes before kick-off, but the price of supporting England has risen way above inflation. Today, on the road leading to the Waldstadion, an England fan approaches a lone tout, who refuses to put a price on the ticket. “What have you got?” asks the tout. The England fan suggests 1000 Euros, and repeats the offer by signing a ‘one’ with his hands. This is football gone crazy, but what the England faithful have learnt over the years is that being a fan means nothing if you weren’t there when it counted!


Wayne Rooney is also pleased to be there when it counted. He may not have appeared on the pitch today, but his presence was felt throughout the match. The crowd chanted for him every time his face appeared on the giant screen suspended high above the centre circle – although not high enough to prevent Paul Robinson from hitting it with a monster kick from goal. The crowd had little else to occupy them so thoughts perpetually returned to Rooney. Maybe it really was the lacklustre performance that silenced the crowd – or maybe they were just tired from a night in the brothels of Frankfurt, but it seems that this massive English army will only roar when it has had sight of the talismanic Wayne Rooney coming onto the pitch.





Three days in to the tournament and the World Cup seems to be coming alive. It’s a big country with no obvious central city to act as the main focus, like Paris in 1998 and Tokyo in 2002. Berlin is too many miles away from much of the main action so many visiting supporters are basing themselves in the cosmopolitan host cities of the western border of Germany.


In Cologne fans of all nations wander around the magnificent cathedral, the Dom, the one building in the city that escaped extensive remodelling by the RAF in World War II. Even the city’s Altstadt isn’t as old as the name suggests. It may be a faux old town reconstructed post-1945, but although much of the city is concrete and neon, the football fans are just excited to be here.


The Portuguese may not have much of a World Cup record but their fans fill Cologne with noise and excitement in advance of their match with Angola. Accepted football wisdom suggests that the Portuguese don’t travel, but the recent experience of hosting Euro 2004 seems to have injected fresh life into following their national team. The Portuguese have arrived in Germany in their thousands, jamming the routes to the Cologne World Cup Stadium and shaking the trams from side to side with their boisterous chanting of ‘Portugal-i-a’.



Gelsenkirchen may not be able to lay claim to the historic splendour of Munich or the cosmopolitan appeal of Cologne, but this small industrial centre built on its coal industry can boast several key World Cup games, thanks entirely to the existence locally of one of Germany’s most passionately supported football teams, FC Schalke 04. The town does seem to have little else going for it, and fans of both the United States and the Czech Republic do their drinking outside the bars closest to the Haubtbahnhof, as there seems to be nowhere else go.


The Americans flood from the trains making plenty of noise but sounding very little like football fans. The devotees of ‘soccer’ have yet to find their own true football voice and they have nothing to chant other than “U-S-A, U-S-A”. They arrive draped in the stars and stripes and dressed as Uncle Sam, clutching the kind of hand-painted banners you often see in the crowd at baseball games, with slogans like ‘Let’s Roll’! But football is gradually growing in popularity in the US. Hollywood film director Spike Lee, it transpires, is a fan – but at this World Cup he’s rooting for Brazil rather than the USA. “I’m not being unpatriotic, I just like the way they play,” he says. “Brazilians play football the way Americans play basketball. It’s flamboyant.”


Mike from Tennessee is a football fan too, although he does actually support Team USA. He arranged his naval reserve posting to Germany just so he could be in the country for the World Cup, but after watching his team huff and puff through the humiliation of a 3-0 annihilation by the Czech Republic, it turns out that unlike Spike Lee he wasn’t expecting to see the sport played with flamboyance – Mike’s English team is Swindon Town and he’s well used to this kind display.



There is only one good thing about France’s dismal display against their neighbours Switzerland – and that’s the fact that it doesn’t spoil the party in Stuttgart. As the crowd – far more Swiss than French in numbers – spill out of the early evening match to join the merrymaking in the city centre, Stuttgart celebrates the Weltmeisterschaft in style. The Fan Fest in the Schlossplatz is filled to capacity, with the Brazil-Croatia game showing on three huge screens that manage to make the image of Ronaldo look even bigger and fatter than the real thing.


Outside the perimeter thousands more fans crowd around the square to peer over the fence at the giant pictures of a lacklustre Brazil side, but even the quality of football does not dampen spirits. On the final whistle the football is replaced by live music and the party carries on into the night, fans swapping stories, shirts and phone numbers with the locals, while the English – you’ll find them in every city and at every game – drunkenly hug each other and sing the national anthem in to their beer.



The last minute victory of the German team over Poland sends the host country into ecstasy and on the final whistle football fans – and those who a month ago wouldn’t have even known what football was – pour on to the streets, waving flags, sounding horns, stopping trams in their tracks, screaming like the possessed, and indulging in innumerable other examples of un-German behaviour. While most of the displays of football fervour are good-natured, the match itself attracts local news coverage of the worst kind, as German and Polish fans manage to build on several generations of antipathy and enmity by throwing wicker chairs at each other. While all the talk in the run up to the tournament had been of the potential for displays of English hooliganism, the only images of football-related violence on the television screens tonight are transmitted direct from Dortmund and feature large-bellied Germans taking on their shaven-headed Polish counterparts. The English, meanwhile, congregate in Nuremberg and harmlessly sing their songs about “the RAF from Ing-Er-Lund” and hum the theme to The Great Escape. Did someone mention the war?





It is a baffling concept that a football match could be played merely yards away from one of the few monuments to the Thousand Year Reich that remains standing in Germany, but Nuremberg’s Frankenstadion is situated on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Adjacent to the terraces where England fans will cheer on their team against Trinidad and Tobago are the terraces of the Zeppelin Tribune, the venue for many of Hitler’s tub-thumping rallies and fanatical Swastika-waving pre-war march-pasts.


With this massive and immovable piece of Albert Speer-designed stonework a constant reminder of the city’s less-celebrated heritage, it seems strange that the German police should expound so much time and energy into discouraging English football fans from singing songs about the war. Nazi salutes and Swastika symbols are quite rightly outlawed in this country, but England’s football songs are tongue-in-cheek parodies sung by a generation brought up on widescreen escapades like The Great Escape, A Bridge Too Far and The Battle Of Britain. This is WWII starring John Mills and Gordon Jackson, not the real thing – for that you need just take to the steps of the Zeppelin Tribune.


At the game another poor performance by the England team is livened up only by the appearance on the pitch of Wayne Rooney and a pair of late goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard. But not everyone notices England’s late Nuremberg rally. One fan seated near me is so drunk that when the long-awaited goal finally hits the back of the net, he doesn’t actually realise what has happened and has absolutely no idea who Peter Crouch actually is. All this surely makes the 500 that he paid for his ticket a completely worthless exercise. But at least he can say he was there – even if he can’t remember it.



Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007