The Last Day the Germans Owned Wembley

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Wembley Stadium has seen some great finals

Wembley Stadium has seen some great finals

The Last Day the Germans Owned Wembley

by Steve Clare, Editor Prost Amerika

Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will be one for the ages. The crowd at the long venerated home of English football will be composed of approximately 50% Germans, there to watch two culturally different clubs, from either ends of Germany.

Their football has been good and their mutual demolition of the footballing aristocracy of Barcelona and Real Madrid a joy to watch; at least for those of us uncomfortable with global brands far removed from the roots of the sport.

However, it will not be the first time the home of English football contained more Germans than natives. Germany contested the Euro 1996 Final there against the Czech Republic.

And to quote the great Bard of the Welsh Valleys, Max Boyce,

“I know. Coz I was there.”

It all began on the night of the semi final between England and Germany at Wembley. That match was a close and tense affair after a wild opening 15 minutes. England centre forward Alan Shearer headed his side in front after just three minutes to give his side the lead, before Stefan Kuntz equalised within a quarter of an hour.

It was 30 years since England had hosted a tournament and they won that one in 1966 but had not really come close to winning much since. However with home advantage and arguably one of their best sides of the 20th Century, they had reasonable cause for hope, although as always, their media went overboard.

After a quarter final penalties win over a Spain side who had seen a goal wrongly chalked off for offside, they ran into their old foe, the Germans. The whole English nation was talking about little else. The phenomenon ‘Gazzamania’, a bromantic empathy with England midfielder Paul Gascoigne reached fever pitch while Shearer was and still is still probably England’s best ever striker, perhaps on a level with Gary Lineker. The German side was largely humdrum, certainly nothing to compare with Gerd Muller or the Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.

It is hard to describe how abuzz England was. I had traveled down to Birmingham in England’s Midlands to take in the Scotland game with Switzerland, and stayed on to catch Portugal v the Czech Republic at Villa Park.

So I spent the bulk of the tournament behind enemy lines, supping in the English media’s still odious war-obsessed coverage, while happily noting their ignorance becoming increasingly out of touch with an English population who by and large wanted little truck with excessive jingoism.

I actually felt an increasing warmth towards England football fans at that time, which only stopped at the uncrossable line of actually wanting them to win.

The Londoners were by and large devoid of jingoism, and were honest about expressing their feelings about a tabloid press that encouraged the perception that England was populated by racist clowns, who could only refer to the Spanish Armada or Germans by tired World War 2 references. England was a better place than that in 1996. It still is.

I was almost sad when the Germans eliminated them on a penalty shoot out in the semi, mostly for Gareth Southgate, the player who missed and a very honest professional. But, like every other Scot, I was secretly ecstatic they’d fallen on their faces. We’re mean like that.

(Penalty Shoot out – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izCKtubriis)

After the high drama of the shoot out, my friend and I were discussing the tournament over beer in North London. I noticed we were using the past tense; “That was a great tournament the English put on,” “they were superb hosts,” and “I guess football really did come home.

Why are we talking about it in the past tense?” I asked. “It’s not over yet. Let’s go to the final. Let’s go to Wembley! Yeah, let’s go to the f****ing final.

They reserve a certain amount of tickets at these tournaments for fans of the finalists and they are held back until the sides are known. We hadn’t imagined the possibility that England wouldn’t be there and began to wonder how many Czechs and Germans would apply for tickets. There had been about 200 Czech fans at Villa Park.

“They can’t be using all their allocation. Let’s head to Wembley and the Box Office tomorrow morning before the scalpers show up.”

The next morning we headed to Wembley Park Station and down into the bowels of Wembley Stadium. There were plenty of Germans wandering about asking us where to get tickets.

We made a pact with two. We would guide them to the ticket office and I would translate and offer English currency to the ticket booth, if they would vouch for the fact we were in fact Germans and had left our passports at the hotel.

We shook hands and I negotiated the passage with the few sultry English stewards to the ticket booth.

What happened next does me little credit but all is fair in the struggle to watch football.

“I vood like to buy tickets for ze finale,” I said in a fake German accent worse than anything seen on Hogan’s Heroes or Allo Allo.

I want to see your passports,” sniffed the sultry Englishman back. “Otherwise, how do I know you’re Germans?” he said sniffily.

I turned to the other Germans and began a conversation about whether and how they would vouch for us. They were happy to but sadly there was one flaw in our hastily concocted plan. The Germans who had agreed to convince the ticket clerk that we were Germans didn’t speak any English.

It was funny later to recall the memory of two Germans gradually raising their voices into the window of a Wembley ticket booth to verify the authentic Teutonism of two total strangers. A queue was gathering behind us and I was getting concerned we would be busted. As the bilingual discussion continued a policeman wandered over and asked what the problem was.

I explained again in Hogan’s Heroes German but altered the story to have some truthiness, in this case that I couldn’t find my German passport that morning.

You can’y buy tickets without a passport,” he said. “You need a passport to get your tickets.

Tickets?,” I said. “How many can we buy with each passport?

Two, I think,” said the Officer.

Bingo. I turned back to our new friends and asked them for their passports.

Wir koennen vier kaufen, Alle vier.

I took their documents and turned triumphantly to the clerk.

The Officer says we can have four, two per passport,” I said in a considerably less German accent. “How much for four?

£200,” he said.

A single ticket was over £500 already on the black market.

I handed it over from my own wallet and gave the Germans their tickets. £50 for a ticket, face value for a EURO Final!

The two visitors opened their wallets, offered us Deutschmarks and started doing verbal calculations. “Bitte schoen,” I said and waived them away.

Their passports had gained us two face value tickets. They’d waited patiently as we argued, and showed us solidarity. And as a fan, I believed they had earned the right to see their country in the Final.

In folklore, I would love to tell you that at that point I turned to the clerk and said in a broad Scots accent,

Thanks pal. Sorry yer team got humped by the Jerries.

But I am 100% sure I didn’t say that. Or even speak English till we got away from the stadium.

The game day itself was fantastic. The scourge of hooliganism still haunted English football then but the atmosphere that day was incredible. People, flags and accents from all over the world mingled happily. The Czechs were in a wonderful mood and their fans’ glee illuminated every corner of the concourse and its surrounding areas.

The Germans conducted themselves excellently and were a mile away from the caricature of swaggering arrogance that England’s tabloid media so reveled in.

They filled their end, perhaps 20,000 of them. Our tickets were actually at the Czech end but the Czechs were all coralled in a corner of it, perhaps 3,000 of them. They sung so loud though.

Their side also gave the Germans a damn fine game, taking them to extra time and the first major tournament to be decided by a Golden Goal.

There were families, women, children, people from all over the world mingling elbow to elbow and not a hint of malice or enmity.

At the end, as the Germans paraded their trophy and the Czechs took a well deserved applause from us all, the public address system played the English team’s song for the tournament “Football’s Coming Home.”

We all sang. Even the Scots.

In so many ways, it just had.

FULL CHAMPIONS LEAGUE COVERAGE:

Match Preview: Six-Shooting the UCL Final: Westphalia or Bavaria?

CL Preview — 10 Reasons Why German Football is Succeeding

What exactly is a Borussia anyway?

Sounders FC’s Germans and Austrians Preview the Final

Hubert’s Hub – The Germans have Added Flair to Pragmatism

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2 Comments

  1. Tangerine Dream on

    What we need before the start of the game is a performance by Tangerine Dream to make it a tremendous German affair.

  2. It would have been more fitting to have had a Lancaster fly over and drop the ball down….all joking aside, the writer of this article does seem to have a thinly disguised hatred of the English.