I was on the train to Cologne again yesterday. Half way, in Frankfurt, a group of drunken football supporters got in and sang a few „songs“ for the rest of us. The European Championship starts today and I suppose they were on their way to France to watch one of the early games. They calmed down after a while and were a peaceful bunch, but it did put me off the spread-sheet I was working on. I decided to listen to some music and reflect upon the next four weeks, as the country goes football-crazy.
I will try, again, not to get my expectations up. As the “only England supporter in the village“ it can be a tough time. When other teams win, especially the Southern European countries, you always get a procession of loyal fans driving around after the game beeping their horns. Should Italy, Turkey or Croatia win a game then I won’t be getting any sleep for an hour after the game. If England do actually manage to win anything, I will be the only guy in the neighbourhood who feels like driving around beeping my horn. I might just do it out of spite – Schönaich’s first one-man „Auto Corso“. Of course, England will have to win something first which is by no means guaranteed. Still, I hope they do win tonight.
And there is that dangerous word again – hope. In the 25 years I have lived here, England have been consisently disappointing in all major tournaments. There is a grinding inevitability to it which saps the optimism out of you year after year. And yet each time a tournament looms there is another reason why it might be „different this time“. I met an friend on the train yesterday, himself a decent footballer in his day, and he reckoned England were a good team this time around. They had fully deserved to beat Germany in the friendy a couple of weeks ago. I tried to stop him talking – he’s only getting my hopes up even higher.
I will be tuned in tonight to watch our boys play and try as I might, I will be hoping that things might be different this time. I’m a bit like Charlie Brown kicking the football. He manages to convince himself that „this time“ Lucy won’t pull the ball away. This time it will be different. And then she pulls it away and he ends up disappointed, lying on his back in the dirt. It’s actually the perfect metaphor for England football fans.
The Germans are the reigning World Champions but expectations are not particularly high. Their qualification campaign was unimpressive and there are quite a few players injured. But even when the team is not in particularly good form, it is taken for granted that they will somehow get to the semi-finals. The whole country has a confidence which seems to have a self-fulfilling element to it. In England, the team is almost expected to underperform or get unlucky or a bad decision no matter how talented the squad may be. Here it’s the exact opposite. It feels like „We know you’re having a bad year, but it will be fine once the competition starts – just like it always is.“ Knowing that your fans have this trust in you, no matter what, is probably a good thing.
Their first game is tomorrow, and so far the country seems to be quite relaxed about the tournament. I haven’t seen a single car with those plastic flags stuck on the windows, I haven’t seen any German flags hanging outside windows and there hasn’t been that much talk about the whole thing. I think Germany still has a bit of a hangover from the World Cup two years ago.
Ariane and the girls are going to the theatre, so I will be able to suffer on my own this evening (although I am sure that Alan and I will be texting comments to each other every 5 minutes). At least I can shout at the TV without getting told off for a change.
I’ll let you know how it went.