After England come from two goals down to beat the World Champions Germany, Lee Davy takes a trip down memory lane to share his experience of a rivalry that only ever seems to go one way.
Empty cans of beer litter the floor. Tina lies on her side, panting feverishly, tongue lying beside her with a life of its own.
EMF Children belts out from the living room. Strobe lighting sneaks underneath the kitchen door.
She can’t hear me. I don’t speak dog. Out comes another one. I rip open the membrane and Tina licks her newborn clean before eating what she can. The door flies open. The sound enters and runs around the kitchen like the devil. Tina growls.
“Oh shit…sorry,” says the stranger before slamming the door shut.
“How many’s that?” I ask.
“Seven,” says my sister.
“I hope there aren’t many more.”
“The football starts in an hour.”
Quite why my parents felt they could trust me to look after the house and my 13-year old sister for the weekend is beyond me. Tina wasn’t due for weeks. The music and mass hysteria of the party must have brought on early labour.
I cleaned the blood from my hands and ordered everyone out. The chip van that used to work at our school had positioned itself outside my house. It was one hell of a party. I ordered some chips and cracked open a can of beer. Dried blood glittered underneath my fingernails.
The place was a tip.
We sat amongst the empty beer cans and watched England v Germany compete for a place in the 1990 World Cup. It was my third World Cup. Diego Maradona had cheated us out of the last one in Mexico. I was the only person in the room who seemed to care. I was the only Englishman. Everyone else was complaining that I had stopped the party. A couple groped on the chair in the corner. My sister was on puppy watch in the kitchen.
From what I remember about the game we hammered Germany that day. The tie eventually went to penalties, and we lost. I cried when we lost in 1986. I was 11. I was 15 in 1990. The tears flowed nonetheless. I knocked for my friend so we could walk to the disco together. His mother could see the clean tracks down my dirty cheeks.
“The football,” I said. “We lost.”
“Don’t worry,” said my mates Mum.” There’s always next year.”
I remember walking up the street throwing stones at every lamp post on my way to the disco.
“Next year?” I muttered to myself. “What does she know?”
In fact, it would be six years before England would get the opportunity for revenge. I was 21. It was Euro 96. England were the hosts. The whole of the UK was lit up with the excitement that a prominent sporting event brings to a country. All troubles are forgotten. Sport becomes the new politics.
There was a hole in my front door. I had kicked it during the penalty shootout win against Spain. England was on fire. Once again we hammered the Germans. Once again we went out of the competition on penalties. Once again I cried my eyes out.
In 2000, I was living in Bristol, watching the Euro 2000 group game in a pub with my heavily pregnant wife. An Alan Shearer header won that one for us. I had never experienced anything like it in the aftermath. People were jumping into the river outside the pub. The streets were rammed with people singing the national anthem at the top of their voices. Cars beeped incessantly throughout the night.
We only won a group game!
Imagine what it would be like if we ever won anything of note?
Three major games. Two losses and one win. And yet the story I will carry to my grave will be.
‘Whenever we play the Germans we lose.’
Of course, that’s not true. In total, the two nations have competed 33 times, with Germany holding the advantage by 14 wins to 13 with three draws. But those two results are the only two that matter to me. I am not sure I will ever see my national team get as close to a major final as in 1990 & 1996 and Germany broke my heart twice.
So as the two teams lined up to compete in their latest friendly in Berlin I had little hope that England would win the game despite winning the last time the two teams met on German soil. England may have qualified for the Euro 2016 finals in France with the only 100% record in the competition. Only Spain has beaten us since the World Cup. But these are the Germans. These are the World Champions.
We started well. The English team looked vibrant. The average age of the starting eleven was just 24. Delle Alli was bossing the midfield. England was on top. Then in the 26th minute, Mario Gomez got in behind the English defence and calmly slotted the ball past Jack Butland.
“Not again,” I said to myself.
Then I saw the offside flag. That was late. The replay showed he was clearly onside. Luck, it would seem, was on our side. Then again, when had it ever been in our favour against the Germans?
Jack Butland injured himself in an innocuous dive for the ball. A few minutes later, he pulls up after clearing his penalty area. Toni Kroos picks up on this. He takes a pot-shot from the edge of the box, and the injured Butland can’t make it. This time, we are a goal down. A tearful Butland is taken off on a stretcher. Fraser Forster comes on for his fourth cap. We are so strong in that department. We head into to halftime break by a goal to nil, but we are clearly the dominant side.
The second half starts a little slower than the first, but Alli is still bossing the game. He is pinging in shots from every conceivable angle. Then in the 54th minute, the ball is squared to Jordan Henderson in the box, and his goalbound shot hits Hector and flies over the bar. Two minutes later and the Germans are two up courtesy of a Gomez header.
“It’s happening again!” I scream to my wife.
She has absolutely no idea what I am on about.
How can we be two goals down? That’s the difference between them and us; our shots hit defenders and go behind for a corner. When they shoot, it hits the back of the net. They are clinicians of the highest order. We are wasteful. Two minutes later and Mesut Ozil could have made it 3-0. We are falling apart.
Out of nowhere. Harry Kane does an honorary Cruyff turn in the box and puts the ball past Manuel Neuer. It was a goal of sheer quality that reminded me that I have never seen an England side with a player like Harry Kane. He is a player who might win the Premier League for Spurs. Could he win the Euros for England?
England is flying now. Germany is shambolic. Ross Barkley and Jamie Vardy are warming up. I have this horrid feeling that Roy Hodgson is going to bring off Kane and Alli. I hope not. Alli is in charge. Kane looks magical. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana trudge off the pitch.
Three-minutes later and the terrier-like Vardy runs to the front post to meet a Nathanial Clyne cross and backheels it into the back of the net. He hadn’t had more than five touches. It was class; his first goal in five games in all competitions and what a time to score it. We were all level and deservedly so.
It was nice to see Vardy playing up top with Kane. I don’t think Hodgson will play that way, but that was amazing to see our adaptability. The pace of Vardy and the trickery of Kane would scare any team in the world.
A few minutes later and Vardy breaks through again, Alli bursts into the box just in time to take it on a plate 8-yards from goal. It’s the lads chance to be a hero, and he blazes it over the bar. Germany is shell shocked, but I half expect them to go up the other end of the pitch and punish us for that miss. They don’t. I don’t remember them having a chance of note in the second half.
Then with the match running into injury time we get a corner. Henderson goes to take it. All of his corners up to this point have hit Gary Cahill on the back post. For his final kick, he changes things up. He sweeps it into the near post, and there is Eric Dier to head England into the lead and surely cement his place in England’s final 23.
The final whistle goes.
I go ballistic.
It’s the first time in 40-years that England has come back from two goals down to win a game. I think about betting. I wonder how much money I would have won if I had lumped it on England? I think out Tina. I think about Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate missing their penalties. I think about the hole in my front door. I think about all the lamp posts I smashed. I think about all those tears.
We can do this.
We can win the Euro 2016 Championships.
We have the players. We have the flow. We have the unity. Now all we have to do is avoid playing Germany at any stage of the event, because if we do, those dreams will be sucked out of my mind, because ‘whenever we play the Germans we lose.’