Danke Deutschland

This is a blog that I originally wrote in July 2006, as a re-cap of the World Cup. At the time I was a 22 year old teaching student.

If you are a purist of the beautiful game, then Germany 2006 was not the World Cup for you. If you are an England fan, likewise, although when was the last time England played well in the World Cup?! Friends are quick to point out that at least they qualified and Scotland did not. That is akin to a Brazilian saying that at least they got further in the beach football championships than Greenland.

This World Cup was to be the World Cup of difference for me. Shamefully, during Euro 2004 I did not venture out to the pub once for a game. I watched every game at home, or at my then-girlfriend’s. Shackles off and freedom returned, my egotism centred this World Cup on myself. In the back of my mind I wanted to actually be there, but having tried and failed to get tickets, experiencing games in different locations with my friends would be good enough.

At the risk of sounding like your typical Brit football fan, the first match that I did not drink alcohol during was game 7 – Mexico v Iran. Maybe I was breaking out in sympathy with the non-drinking Iranians? Or perhaps there was too much blood in my alcohol stream to fully continue. A rewind is needed. The Germany – Costa Rica game was watched in a beautiful pub in Leicester, outside on a fairly large screen.

My friend Alex joined me and my love for all things German began. Perhaps it was the fervent Costa Rica support from the rest of the pub, but I wanted Germany to win, and my love for this nation grew throughout the tournament. My friend Steve had a shocking start to the tournament. Having finished work at 5pm he made the fifteen minute walk across town to discover Germany 2-1 up. To console himself at missing three goals, he went to the bar. 3-1. In the second half he went to the toilet. 3-2. He did see the sixth goal of the game though.

Later that night a uni friend’s birthday resulted in drunken talk with his German housemates, and me arrogantly telling a French girl that if she fancies Zinedine Zidane then I must have a chance. I didn’t. Just a German and an English woman. Poland lost 2-0 to Ecuador and I passed out for an hour in my mate’s garden.

England’s first game was a taste of things to come. Dull and uninspiring, with my friend Graeme bemoaning Owen Hargreaves and Alex and myself arguing his case. We watched the Trinidad v Sweden in a pub full of English fans too busy falling over to care about their next two opponents. From there it was on to Coventry to watch Argentina v Ivory Coast before a night of partying. An explosive start to the World Cup and one which resulted in me suffering on Monday.

I am now a fully qualified teacher but the first Monday of the World Cup resulted in me starting my last week of teaching practice. Professionalism should over-ride football but in my quest for all things beautiful game I managed to teach a lesson in the computer suite during Australia v Japan so that we could listen to the radio commentary. One of my kids is Australian, so it was my duty. The same thing with Korea v Togo – I taught a lesson on globalisation centred on the World Cup so that we could listen to the game. Shockingly, some kids did not care about this game. Bring back the cane, I say. Sacrilege!

With World Cup fever in full swing I made a hasty decision after seeing Brazil beat Croatia. I would go to Germany for one day, experience the Berlin fan mile, and return home. In an instant a flight was booked. The small problem was that I had booked it during the last week of the PGCE course, when unit called. Still, what could they do? Actually, refuse and threaten me. So I had to re-schedule for the week after, and a possible quarter final between Germany and Argentina.

Meanwhile, my love of all things German resulted in the German national anthem being learnt (I had an hour, I was bored and I was out of beer). My first attempt of singing this was thwarted as my mate Scouse decided that we would watch the game in a pub in Bedworth. Hardly the most cosmopolitan town, the pub we frequented was seedier than a Big Mac in a strip club. We were the only ones there until after the game. At this time two drunk, middle aged women came in. One of whom cornered Scouse by the most seductive chat-up lines:

‘I hate the fookin’ Germans’

‘I wanna go out, get drunk, and get some action’.

We ran, and we will never go back. Still, it was an experience. As was for the first time ever, watching an England game in a pub. Usually, I drift away, choosing to watch it with the nationalistic Scots that are my parents. However, this was the day in which I was supposed to be in Germany. Having been made to come into uni I used this to my advantaged and got the sympathy vote from my friends. If that is what sympathy feels like then cancel every trip that I book. At 2.30 we were supposed to have an important meeting about a year 8 conference that was running the next day.

But this was the World Cup dammit! So, out of sympathy myself and Dave (the birthday party dude) were allowed to go to the pub and watch Germany v Ecuador. First Magners at 3pm, last at 2am. The night resulted in the usual ritual that happened in nightclubs throughout the World Cup – a great selection of music interrupted by Three Lions or World in Motion. Still, even a Jock can join in.

Thus, the World Cup reached its nadir during the quarter finals. My trip was rescheduled, extended, and gained a fellow drunk in the shape of Alex. Three days camping in Germany, with added beer, women and culture. We also didn’t make it, having been subjected to vigorous passport checks at Luton Airport. I overheard one English fan saying ‘yeah, I got done for GBH but that wasn’t at football mate’. When we arrived we still almost didn’t make it, having got on an East German bus that broke down twice, leaving us stranded at a bus stop where a guy with an eye patch was drinking beer. It was 9am.

The undoubted highlight of the trip was being on the fan mile in Berlin with 1 million Germans, and celebrating after the win on penalties against Argentina. At the moment of the Germans’ equaliser, my beer flew into the air and into my eyes. At first, my cries of ‘I can’t see’ descended into the more upbeat ‘Yes! This will get into my bloodstream quicker’. The Germans we met were knowledgeable, funny and as crazy as we. Berliner Beer – I also salute you. I was also interviewed on German TV before the game. I must have looked great sitting outside my tent, hungover and wearing a Scotland shirt.

One golden rule of foreign travel is as follows. No matter where you go, you will always, and I mean always, meet some paddies. Being of Irish heritage, we staggered over and started conversation. In true stereotypical fashion, it took about five minutes before we all had to sing an Irish song. Me and Alex, in our drunken state, had put on convincing Irish accents but now this was our true test. Luckily, Alex is a Thin Lizzy fan and knows Whiskey in the Jar. I went for Rare Old Times. We were officially Irish. In the background Italy were playing Ukraine. Who truly cared, as Italy were never going to win the World Cup.

England v Portugal. Never for one second did I believe that the English would win the World Cup, but Alex was convinced of an England – Germany final. It was not to be. Again, the behaviour of English fans (in Berlin at least) was fantastic. I did see two reprobates attempt to cause trouble in the aftermath of penalty defeat but they were quite rightly laughed off. The fan mile helped console Alex by offering the great mix of beer and music. The Germans, as fantastic as they are, do not fully understand musical irony. YMCA was met not with laughter but serious arm swinging. Still, it was always good to dance with random European girls.

This was everything that I wanted the World Cup to be – people from all over the world mingling, embracing and partying. Whenever a game was on we set a challenge to take pics of ourselves with fans of the teams. We achieved that and more, having also secured Mexicans and Australians. The three days we spent in Berlin will stay with me forever.

Alas, 43 pints of strong German beer in three days can only result in a comedown. Or a kidney infection. I felt genuine sorrow as Germany crashed out, and genuine happiness as I watched the 3rd place game in Coventry in a pub full of Germans and German supporters. Yes, it may be purely down to the new found anti-Portuguese hysteria, but part of me would love to envisage a future where Germany is viewed only in a positive light. The Germans certainly feel a warmth towards the English.

The final was watched on my own, as I was praying for extra time and penalties. I did not want this World Cup to end, as the memories I hold from it will remain forever. In South Africa 2010 I will hopefully be in my fourth year of teaching, and it has already been revealed that fan mile’s like in Berlin will not occur. The World Cup of 2014 will feature a 30 year old version of me. By then I may even be sensible. Germany 2006 truly was once in a lifetime, and I hope that everybody made the most of it.

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