This match went down in German sports writing as the ‘Miracle of Wembley’. Quite why is unknown. This match however, should be marked as the watershed between England and Germany when it came to football. It was the first win of a German team on record at Wembley in a competitive match. It was the third defeat of England against Germany in a row. All these things should have given English football something to think about. Albeit it didn’t. England and Germany went in diametrically opposed directions.
The Game: Young Players vs. The Old Guard
The competition still had an odd format with the rounds being played out over two legs over several months, unlike today where there are three weeks of concentrated tournament action to be followed. Germany came to England not looking too confident as there was unrest within the camp. Rumours had it that keeper Sepp Maier had fallen out with some of his Bayern München team mates after a string of bad results. More importantly though was the bribery scandal that rocked German football in 1971 and saw many experienced internationals banned from football, among them Reinhard ‘Stan’ Libuda and Klaus Fichtel. However, it gave Helmut Schön, the ‘first gentleman of German Soccer‘ as the Daily Mirror called him the chance to introduce young players to the international level.
Ramsey’s Old Guard
On the opposite side Sir Alf Ramsey relied on his tried and tested players, his ‘old guard’ as the papers pointed out not without some critical undertone. That is not really justified as only three players from 1966 started the match: Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Martin Peters. The criticism seemed to focus on these four as they also featured in the defeat in Leon in 1970. Germany had three players from 1966 in their staring XI: Franz Beckenbauer, Horst-Dieter Höttges and Siggi Held. Yet no one spoke of an old guard in Germany.
The game was an ‘experience England could do without’ wrote Geoffrey Green in The Times while Peter Wilson in the Daily Mirror described the day as D-Day in British sport: D stood for defeat, disaster, disgrace and distaste. Wilson witnessed several sporting occasions on that day but the football topped off a bad day for British sports. Germany had control of the game almost from the off and despite the slippery turf spun some ground passes around the pitch that took England’s breath away and left them on the backfoot for most of the ninety minutes. The crowd was left in disbelief just like 19 years earlier when the Hungarians ripped England apart at the same ground. The people in the stands shifted between desperation and admiration.
David Downing put the game in a row with the World Cup triumph in 1966, the unlucky defeat at Leon in 1970 and described it as England’s slow fall from grace with the last game in 1972 as a shock as it revealed the gap between England and Germany in the cruelest way possible. For Jonathan Wilson England ceded to be world champions after this defeat, at least psychologically. For England, it was the end of an era as most of the squad from 1966 were considered to be worn out or washed out, while for Germany it was the beginning of their most successful spell in their history winning three titles in the space of eight years. For many observers the German team from 1972 was the best ever, not even the world cup squad of 1974 has had the quality that the 1972 team had.
The aftermath of the game saw England fail to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups and generally saw the national team slip into a dark period while the club game prospered. Between 1977 and 1982 the forerunner of the Champions League, the European Cup was won by either Liverpool or Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa. Hamburg’s triumph in 1983 ended the dominance and it was from 1984 until 1999 that no English club won Europe’s biggest trophy in football.
The game from April 1972 is rightly considered a watershed for the reasons pointed out above. This successful spell for Germany was extended until the triumph of Rome in 1990 after which German football slowly declined hitting rock bottom in 2004. Even in the 1980s German football has become a dull affair leading Pele to claim that Germany play with Rummenigge and ten robots.