The relationship I have with international football is an awkward one, best characterised by the idea that I have turned my back on my country in favour of a nation that I have no family ties to. I am Aiden McGeady, minus the grandparent and the sectarian abuse. Since 2006, I have supported Germany during international tournaments.
The term ‘support’ here is as loose as David Cameron’s morality. I support Coventry City, and I actively showcase this support by attending every miserable match. I support Celtic in the sense that they are the team of one side of my family, and I showcase this by attending games when City are not playing. I cheer for Germany during tournaments, but to classify it as support ultimately depends on your hypothesis of the term.
It all began in the glorious summer of 2006. Scotland had failed to qualify for their second world cup, and third consecutive international tournament in a row. In contrast to my country, I had entered a period of relative professional success. I became a fully qualified teacher during Germany 2006, and treated myself and my best friend to a cheap Easyjet flight to Berlin, in time for the quarter final stage.
The bus from Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport was magical. Not only did it break down twice, but in the midst of engine failure, it also had invented time trial. It was 1988, and we were in East Germany. The streets were a juxtaposition of communist heroes and capitalist clown porn (McDonalds advertisements on Karl-Marx Strasse), and the man in the eye patch drinking vodka from the bottle at 7am on the cloudy June morning was merely lamenting life being monitored by the Stasi. I did not fall in love with Germany. I had read that the fan-mile was morphing into a seminal moment in time and wanted to see it for myself; I had only seen a pissed pirate.
The camp-site, a fifteen minute walk from the temporarily pedestranised mile between the Brandenburg gate and the victory column, sowed the seeds for this unexpected romance. After a night being kept awake by a combination of heat, two Swedish men spanking each other in their one person tent, drunkenness, and the popular music festival tactic of shouting a random phrase (for three nights it was ‘Lukas Podolski’) I awoke and placed my head out of the tent, expecting the crisp Berlin morning to refresh my dehydrated body. Instead, a camera was being pointed at my face.
‘Where you from, my friend?’ I was asked.
‘Scotland’ I half-lied.
‘Can we ask you a few questions about today’s game, Germany v Argentina?
I then proceeded to reinforce the stereotype of a young Brit in another country, by telling German TV that I was planning on drinking all day. For some reason that has thankfully been lost to the midsts of time, I proceeded to show my toiletry bag, slowly mouthing ‘toothpaste’ ‘sunscreen’ and ‘shampoo’. I am convinced that there is a German TV show out there laughing at young people camping with a hangover. I did try to reclaim an ounce of credibility by predicting that Germany would triumph on penalties. The crew laughed at this more than my toiletry tips, as Argentina were strong favourites.
What happened next changed international football forever, at least from a fan perspective. The creator of the Berlin fan-fest, the first of its kind at any international tournament, shot himself dead just hours after the 2006 World Cup final. Jürgen Kiessling had created something magical, and left this earth knowing it. Kiessling’s plan had reclaimed a notion of unity, replacing the stale stadium environment saturated by Fifa executives and corporate leeches with a multicultural, month long street party. Whilst nothing will ever replace the atmosphere at a club match, the Berlin fan-mile was wonderful, and this was typified by its nadir: Germany v Argentina, Friday 30th June, 2006.
Search online for Berlin fan mile 2006 and a plethora of videos appear. Yet grainy clips cannot articulate the sheer euphoria. Our English accents were discovered right away, as we arrived five hours before the start of the match to be sure of a prominent spot. This on a mile long stretch of road that had many huge screens along the way. It could have been the friendliness of the German people, the knowledgeable nature of the supporters, or simply being caught up in a seminal moment in the modern history of the nation. Before 2006, waving a German flag was seen as a taboo, a reminder of a shameful past. Whilst nationalism standing alone can be a divisive concept, one afternoon in Berlin brought millions of people together in a manner that I hadn’t realised.
Before the trip, I had spent an hour learning the German national anthem, and to this day I cannot recollect the motivation behind this, but in blasting this out in heavily accented German made people ask questions. Germans were astounded that we were supporting their country. I bought a German shirt from a stall, and as the Jens Lehmann saved Cambiasso’s decisive penalty, the biggest party since reunification erupted on the streets of Berlin. Drunk on a strange notion of success and a predictable dose of alcohol, I was given a huge German flag and I ran waving it whilst being filmed for the second time that day. Granted, it was somebody else’s party, but rather than gate-crashing, I felt part of it.
When Germany plays an international qualifier, I may look for the score, but I do not watch it. The notion of support exists in the summer, in homage to a time when the sun shone and Berlin shone brighter. In Switzerland in 2008, four of us, all in Germany shirts cheered on the nationalmannschaft. Locals took pictures as they couldn’t believe that three English people (the Scot maybe) were supporting Germany. Modern Germany, like every other nation, is engulfed by problems.
The romanticised notion from one glorious summer also glides into realism. In the old east, racism and poverty are high, with a disturbing far-right presence in cities such as Rostock and Leipzig. On the pitch, however, an ethnically diverse squad has flourished due to the liberalisation of the eligibility laws in 1999. This all harks back to the notion of nationalism. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you come from or where you are born, it is what you feel inside. Every other summer, I feel a fleeting sense of belonging to a nation that captivated me so spectacularly in 2006, and long may it continue.