Chris Terry, an ITV News output producer who is now living in Germany, writes about the expectations and the atmosphere in the country ahead of its big Euro 2020 showdown against England
The mocking centre-spread headline in Sunday’s edition of Bild over a big picture of Wembley Stadium is all good populist stuff but it only tells half the story.
But ask the four amiable Volkswagen engineers who share the roomy apartment above ours near Braunschweig’s main station, and you get a much more nuanced response. One that’s sown with seeds of doubt. One that puts a big question mark of uncertainty, at the end of that tub-thumping headline in Bild.
They are not so sure. They’ve been following every televised game of this tournament so far, and when Germany plays they get the beers in, ready to cheer on their team. But still, they are not so sure.
Moreover, these lads are far from alone in their circumspection about the outcome. The flag-waving coverage in some of the Sunday papers is certainly not reflected by what you encounter out on the streets, as far as Tuesday night’s encounter at Wembley goes.
Braunschweig may not be an internationally known football hotspot like Dortmund or Munich but this is without doubt a football city. Eintracht Braunschweig now plays in the third tier but is strongly supported – and was a founder member of the Bundesliga. Two big clubs, Wolfsburg and Hannover 96, are not far away.
Yet, I’ve seen very little here in the way of public demonstrations of support for Joachim Löw’s team – no bunting in shops, no flags or pennants, no stickers in windows. The most I’ve spotted is one pair of discreet wing-mirror mittens in Germany colours.
When we shopped in the city’s bustling outdoor Altmarkt (Old Market) on Saturday morning, there was nothing on show to suggest anyone was behind the team or looking forward to the game.
Trying to engage our regular stallholders in some pre-match banter also drew a blank. Of course there was no hostility, far from it. It wasn’t as if I’d walked into a sports bar chanting “Engerlund” – they’re all closed, anyhow. But the most I got was a cheerful shrug and a friendly smile, and in one case a muttered “England, I assume”.
The truth is a lot of people don’t expect Jogi Löw’s team to do too well. Despite his distinguished record as a national coach, the famous 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil was his peak and anyway he’s already resigned, after a long stint in charge and three years or so of indifferent results. The Euros are his goodbye. He’s a dead man walking.
And his team is largely seen as a transitional one, a mood reflected in the less jingoistic of the papers. A New Midfield? asks the Stuttgarter Zeitung headline, while the Süddeutsche Zeitung speaks of a “half-cooked side” – both pinpointing widespread worries (shared by the lads upstairs) about Germany’s recent stuttering form.
Yet the bullish mood is there too, no doubt. Many of the papers carry the famous picture of Andreas Möller’s swaggering strut at Wembley in the 1996 Euros after he’d scored in 'that' semi-final penalty shootout. Two others prefer to feature the lone disconsolate figure of Gareth Southgate in the same shootout seconds after he’d muffed his decisive spot kick.
The front of Bild’s sports section, with cavalier disregard for geography, trumpets “NEUER BREXIT”, while Die Welt’s Euro 2021 pullout has a St George’s Cross plastered with the words “Sorry, ENGLAND”. Either, you sense, could easily go up on the wall of the England dressing room to provide a bit of extra motivation.
All this is as you would expect. But listening to the full-throated cheers echoing down the street as Italy struggled against Austria, you suddenly became aware that the fans were perhaps willing their big rivals to fall by the wayside. This is not a nation entirely confident about having its football destiny in its own hands.
Moreover, dig deep enough underneath that market stallholder’s muttered response, and you will probably find Germany’s biggest nightmare of all. The obverse of “DEUTSCHLAND’S COMING HOME”. The fear of losing to, of all teams, England.
The lads upstairs are, like almost every German you care to meet, polite, friendly, and unfailingly hospitable. So, suppose they ask if I want to watch the match with them – what then?
I’d say no. What if England won? Some things are best left private.