It will be Southgate who will face Germany once again in Wembley in a huge match at the European Championship. If England do win, perhaps that’s a 25-year-old memory that England’s manager can finally let go of.

Kevin Hatchard
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The esteemed television commentator Barry Davies bellowed "Oh no!" and Gareth Southgate put his hands on his hips, a man who seemed to be collapsing inside. He gazed disconsolately at the Wembley turf, no doubt hoping it would open up and swallow him.

Andy Möller stepped up, and with a swing of the boot he wiped away England’s hopes of winning the European Championship on home soil in 1996. Möller’s proud strut will be forever associated with one of English football’s most painful moments, as Germany tamed the Three Lions on their way to winning Euro ’96.

England won the last big trophy at the 1966 World Cup

The anthemic "Football’s Coming Home" (which German fans have since adopted) spoke of "thirty years of hurt" in reference to England’s three-decade trophy drought since the 1966 World Cup. That wait for glory has since been extended by 25 years, and it’s somewhat poetic that it will be Southgate who will face Germany once again at Wembley in a huge match at the European Championship. He is a cerebral and kind character, but he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t thirst for some kind of redemption or revenge.

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home)

Nationales Kulturgut von 1996: Three Lions (Football's Coming Home). © YouTube

There will always be jingoism and tired cliches about war that are magnified by a cynical tabloid media, and there’s no doubt that some elements of England’s fanbase have an anti-German feeling that goes beyond sporting rivalry, but the basic truth is that many English fans dislike Germany because you usually beat us.

You dumped us out of Italia ’90 on penalties, and you survived Frank Lampard’s goal-that-never-was before wiping the floor with us at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Four decades before that stinging injustice in Bloemfontein (we’ll conveniently ignore the fact that Germany were the better side by miles that day), Gerd Müller completed a devastating comeback that ultimately saw England lose their crown as world champions. Two years later, in a 1972 European Championship quarter-final at Wembley, Germany outclassed England in a 3-1 win.

England beats Germany during their greatest football triumph in 1966

Of course, England’s greatest ever football triumph also involved Germany, as Geoff Hurst’s hattrick powered Sir Alf Ramsey’s side to victory in the 1966 World Cup final. The iconic pictures of Sir Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft will always be treasured, but for an increasing number of England fans, they are only pictures.

Many of us weren’t alive to witness that moment, and while we have seen the Three Lions stumble and fail all over the world in major tournaments, Germany have amassed a glittering collection of trophies. We’d love to believe that England v Germany is still one of football’s great rivalries, a contest of equals, but the uncomfortable truth is somewhat different.

I work in German football as a commentator and presenter, so I understand the true balance of the rivalry better than most England fans. My kids watch the Bundesliga as much as they watch the Premier League, and my son’s favourite player is Joshua Kimmich (he paused for a moment before deciding to wear his England shirt on Tuesday instead of his Kimmich jersey).

I know that while England fans cling onto the idea that Germany is the bete noire, followers of Jogi Löw’s side truly look to the Dutch or Italians for the real heavyweight clashes.

A German led Manchester to victory in the Champions League

For those who cling to the nastier, militaristic elements of the England v Germany rivalry (probably the same people who still go on about Germans stealing sunbeds), the irony is that there have rarely been as many connections between the two countries’ football as there are now. A German (Thomas Tuchel) just coached Chelsea to victory in the Champions League, with another German (Kai Havertz) netting the winner against Manchester City in Porto.

Jürgen Klopp is idolised in Liverpool – well, at least in the red half – for coaching Liverpool to their first English league title in three decades, and players like Ilkay Gundogan, Timo Werner and Antonio Rüdiger all perform at a high level in England.

Those links flow in the other direction too – England stars Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham have excelled at Borussia Dortmund, and German clubs are always on the lookout for top English talent. The Bundesliga is a league that’s well respected in England, not least because it is a league that is willing to give talented young players the chance to shine.

England fans who love a clichéd view of German football and Germany in general may be surprised when they look at the recent performances of Löw’s side. The old tropes about German efficiency and reliability no longer apply, and haven’t done for years.

Germany can perform a masterpiece oder it could be a shambles

If the 4-2 win over Portugal struck fear into anyone, they should just watch the chaotic performance against Hungary if they want to soothe their fears. This is a team packed with talent, but even the most optimistic German fan doesn’t know what their team will produce from one game to the next. It could be a masterpiece, or it could be a shambles.

Germany’s players seem more excited about playing at Wembley than they do against actually playing against England, while England’s players are keen to play the match and not the occasion. After all, many of them weren’t even born when Southgate took that fateful penalty.

If England do win on Tuesday, perhaps that’s a 25-year-old memory that England’s manager can finally let go of. There are some fans who should let go of it too, as well as the songs about war. The sport has changed, and the world has changed. Maybe they should change too, whether football comes home or not.

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