do not mention the war

Searching for Darth Vader

In Anglo-German Relations on November 19, 2013 at 21:17

One of the autumn soccer friendlies this year see England face Germany at Wembley. This fixture saw some interesting headlines in the past. For this year’s edition of Europe’s once fiercest footballing rivalry, this blog has undertaken a paper review of English and German papers to research the fate of Darth Vader.

1966 and all that

Ever since England have won the World Cup against Germany at Wembley in 1966, the Anglo-German relations seemed to evolve around the mantra 2 World Wars and 1 World Cup, at least from an English perspective. The Germans on the other side quickly moved on and became a global football super power. Football fans and newspaper readers alike well remember the Daily Mirror’s infamous ‘Achtung Surrender’ front page from 1996. It presented the climax in the anti-German coverage of the English national press since the end of WWII. Ever since, the war of the words has calmed down significantly with the odd hint at past verbal skirmishes.

From a German point of view it is a classic game as both national teams share historical football moments. For England it is still considered a rivalry; yet a rivalry that has changed in the last decade. Ever since the Euros last year many in the English press appear to have fallen in love with the German national team for their style of play is pleasing and successful. David Storey has written that the Anglo-German rivalry has become a ‘faux-rivalry’ which is ‘perennially established by the less-successful side.’ Raphael Honigstein pointed out that many Germans would prefer England winning the World Cup than Italy or the Dutch.

Searching for Darth Vader

In issue 5 of the excellent football magazine The Blizzard, Dutch football writer Simon Kuper ask where Darth Vader has gone? War, equalled by Kuper as Darth Vader was replaced with football which was supercharged with nationalism, giving credit to Orwell’s most famous quote: ‘sport is war minus the shooting.’ This is very true not just for football but any other sport on a competitive level; it is possible rooted in the idea of the Olympic ideal: higher, faster, stronger. With the introduction of medals tables at Olympics and the Cold war after 1945, sport became an ideal proxy for war.

Simon Kuper explains why Darth Vader:

‘The anti-German feelings weren’t just to do with the war. The near-invincible post-war West German teams, from 1954 through 1990, were the might of the wealthy post-war Federal Republic incarnate. That peaceful might provoked resentment, even hatred … Yet in those post-war decades we all needed Germany, because the country gave meaning to international football. David Winner says In terms of story the greatest nation in the history of football is Germany. A World Cup without Germany would be like Star Wars without Darth Vader. Germany was the perfect villain: the bad guy who killed the beautiful teams, like Hungary in 1954, Holland in 1974, France in 1982.’

This hatred of Germany has stopped in 1990. East and West became one Germany; although bigger and proclaimed to be invincible for years, in the 23 years since Die Nationalmannschaft have only managed 1 title: the European championship 1996. For Simon Kuper ‘Germany has ceased to be Darth Vader.’ As a consequence European football has become less interesting because now we won’t have those games such as Sevilla 1982 or Hamburg 1988. Politically, WWII ended in 1990; so did the war for Kuper in terms of football end in 1990, too. As a result Darth Vader has died. Just like the ‘real’ Darth Vader he escaped the dark side.

The aim of this post is to search for Darth Vader in an attempt if he might show a sign of life. A few examples will follow to investigate whether Germany are still the Darth Vader of football.

Surprisingly, Didi Hamann, scorer of the last goal in the old Wembley stadium delivered some harsh words towards Andros Townsend by stating that ‘he’s being hailed as England’s saviour’ despite having only ‘made his international début a month or so ago. He has been on loan at 9 different clubs.’ The label of saviour has been attached to many before him: Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen, David, Beckham, Theo Walcott and most recently Wayne Rooney.

A German tweet thinks England is still encapsulated in the war metaphoric:

Another highlights that Gary Lineker has become immortal

The Daily Mail offers nothing on their sports page, except German coach Joachim Löw in a discussion with Sir Alex Ferguson. Ironically, the papers ask ‘Got any tips, Herr Fergie?’ The paper highlighted that Ferguson turned down the offer to manage England given the rivalry of the 2 nations. The paper insinuates that the former Manchester United manager might be giving some useful advice to the German national coach.

The Daily Star opened that Roy Hodgson ‘never feared the Germans’ and he will not start now. A strong statement that is underlined by the fact that he has managed in more than 10 countries across Europe. The biggest coup was the success he has enjoyed with Malmö when facing Inter in 1989. That Inter team included a certain Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme and would be world champions a year later. He has experience and seems not afraid.

The Guardian offers a quiz about the Anglo-German rivalry with 10 questions such as who scored the controversial goal in 1966 or the longest serving German player in England.

After this short press summary it seems that the football rivalry between England and Germany is now a thing of the past and most papers indulged in an almost nostalgic look back to the ‘Goode olde days’ when it was all so simple. The Germans were the eternal evil and England the good ones – in football as in war.

Darth Vader it seems is indeed dead. He might have escaped the everlasting darkness, though some might not have realized that the war is over:

The final word goes to Patrick Barclay of the London Evening Standard:

‘Am I kidding myself? If England beat Löw’s second string tonight, will the headlines scream “Take that, Fritz”? I doubt it. Nor are the English just interested in England tonight. Being admirers of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery, we shall be keeping a close eye on  play-off dramas in Stockholm and Paris, even monitoring Zagreb and Bucharest. Things aren’t what they used to be. Thank goodness.’


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