Football vs. nationalism – England vs. Germany

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Football has developed quickly in many countries because it used to be part of the politics of the pursuit of power and the ideologies it serves. Rapidly, it became the expression of nationalism, patriotism and chauvinism, even before the international federations were established. More than most sports, it lends itself to tribal feelings: the collective effort, the team colors, the speed, the physical aggression. Coaches sometimes nicknamed The General like Ottmar Hitzfeld or Rinus Michels – off the top of my head. Michels said once:

Professional football is something like war. Whoever behaves too properly is lost.

It has often been misquoted in the form “Football is war.” Michels often emphasized that the quote was taken out of context as he did not intend to equate war with football. (Of course, I am not suggesting that he should be blamed for the phenomenon).

The countries’ individual national identities or obsessions are also mirrored in the choice and variety of images they use when reporting on a football match. Tabloids are never slow to dig into their chest of war clichés. Reports which appeared in the English tabloids during Euro ’96, typified by the Daily Mirror’s headline ‘Achtung! Surrender’ (24 June 1996) received widespread criticism.

Nevertheless, the fat was in the fire. A 17-year-old boy walking across the Richmond Green to catch up with friends, completely unprovoked, was punched in the face and knocked unconscious. Why? Because he wore a Germany football T-shirt.

The Sun at another time decided to send a brass band to the German team hotel at night before the World Cup qualifier against England in 2001. On the other hand… it was never proved that Germans had anything to do with the mysterious food poisoning of Gordon Banks a day before the World Cup quarterfinal against West Germany, but eyebrows were seriously raised.

So make no mistake, the Germans are not any better either. Anyway, it seems they cannot get rid of their obsession with leader figures, with generation icon Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer, the Emperor a patent example.

However, there is nationalism, and there is football nationalism, which to be honest, may also
contain darker, more aggressive feelings, especially when sporting combat is loaded with historical memories as it is clearly the case when England and Germany face each other. Fortunately, like everything else, forms of patriotism change over time.

Kevin Keegan making history at Hamburger SV? Nonsense. Who would have ever thought that Markus Babbel would once shake the Kop and Ballack gets cheered in London? If Inzaghi was born offside, than Jurgen Klinsmann was airborn(e). Being so, he arrived at Tottenham as a loathed villain, still left a conquering hero. Nonetheless, there is someone who used to spend even more time in the air than the blonde bomber.

Born in Germany, Bert Trautmann was brought up as one of the Hitler Youth and subsequently became a paratrooper during the Second World War. Trautmann was sent to fight in Russia and spent three years fighting mission impossible, earning five medals including an Iron Cross. Later, he was transferred to the Western front and was captured by the British as one of only 90 of his original 1,000-man regiment to survive the war. He became a POW in Lancashire. Having been released he refused an offer of repatriation and started to work in the agriculture while playing as goalkeeper for local non-league football team St. Helens Town.

Football vs. nationalism - England vs. GermanyIn October 1949 he was signed by Manchester City after impressing them in a friendly. The decision of the club triggered huge protests, 20.000 people attended the demonstration and got abused by fans for a long time. He just couldn’t care less and devoted his entire fifteen year career playing for City (1949 — 1964). Unbelievable as it may sound, he broke his neck during the FA Cup Final against Birmingham and stayed on the pitch!

As a former handball player, Trautmann was adept at throwing the ball long distances, an attribute he used to start attacking moves (particularly after witnessing Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosics use such tactics) and confessedly had great influence on Gordon Banks’ playing style.

He went on to make 545 appearances and won Footballer of the Year award in 1956. He became OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2004.

Bert Trautmann lives near Valencia, Spain. He helped establish the Trautmann Foundation, the goal of which is to improve Anglo—German relationships through his example, through football.

I achieved many things in life. But for me, the most important thing was the way the people of Lancashire and England accepted somebody, who had been their enemy.

His story never ceases to amaze me.

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