Very bizarrely, I was actually very excited about the upcoming England game last week. I say bizarrely, because in recent years, like so many other football fans, the anticipation of watching my national team has been far eclipsed by my devoted and tribal support for my real football love, Crystal Palace.
However, the match is a little different. England v Germany has always been a fixture that stirs up great memories, but none quite like this night provided. Okay, this game is a “friendly”, but being English or German, is there really such a thing as a friendly between these two countries? We are all fully aware of the rivalry that exists, and in my lifetime, I have certainly been treated to some very exhilarating clashes between these two enemies. None could be more satisfying however than the 2002 World Cup qualifier in Munich in September 2001.
Being a Saturday evening game, and being 23 years old, I decided to go to the pub with some mates to watch the game. “The Rocket” pub, on the Euston Road in London was our chosen venue, massive screens and it was packed to the rafters with beer swilling England fans. The atmosphere inside the pub was building up to a frenzy, and the singing of England songs by most punters very loud. Classic England songs, “Vindaloo” and “Three Lions” were the preferred choices of tune that night.
As the game got under way, the beer flowed, and the pub was still very much rocking. However, in typical German efficiency, they took an early lead. It was a scrappy goal, and completely avoidable from England’s perspective, but the Germans were in front nonetheless, and a miserable evening beckoned us at this point. The irony of the surname of the goal scorer was not lost on me either – Jancker would be considered a harsh surname if Carsten was from these shores, but the big, bald Jancker managed to knock the ball past Seaman (no puns intended), and we had it all to do, and some more..
England though, did not crumble, did not wilt, and we even managed to force our way back into the game, quite quickly too. From a set piece on the edge of the penalty area, Michael Owen fed on a Nick Barmby header, and beautifully volleyed the ball past Oliver Kahn (who should have been on the Autobahn)? Cue pandemonium in the pub, pints spilling all over the already beer sticky floor, England had tied the game up – GAME ON!! The pub singing began all over again, and even “Mr Neutral” Sir Trevor Brooking was jumping off his fence, and getting very excited alongside the great John Motson, in the BBC commentary box.
Things in the pub descended into calmness after a little while, and there was the usual pre-half time rush to the bar, to top up our rapidly emptying pint glasses. Little did we all realize what was in store next though, when David Beckham took a free kick. The ball didn’t clear the German wall, but Becks retrieved it, and managed to get an accurate cross into the penalty area. The towering Rio Ferdinand met the ball with his head, in the direction of Steve Gerrard. Head down, and from some 25 yards out, Stevie G hit a crisp, low shot into the back of the net, to give us the lead – our full pints were again in mid-flight, and even more new beer had to be purchased! The Landlord of the boozer must have loved us lot..
But little did we know, this was just a mere prelude for what occurred in the second half. Becks was at it again early on, his cross finding the much barracked Emile Heskey (having the night of his life), who headed the ball down to his Liverpool team mate, Michael Owen, and unmarked, Owen hit the ball into the right hand corner of the net. Khan got a hand on it, but not enough, and incredibly, England were winning in Munich, 3-1.
I think it’s fair to say that the Three Lions then started to relax, and enjoy this smug feast – defeating the Germans so ruthlessly in their own back yard, who could have imagined it? Years of pent up hurt from many an evil defeat at the hands of Germany.
We were not out of the woods yet though, and the Germans came back onto us , but offered very little in the way of actual goal scoring chances, and England really made them pay for this profligacy, when the pacey Owen sprinted onto Gerrard’s through ball and placed the ball into the far corner of Kahn’s goal, to give us a flattering (but fantastically awesome) 4-1 lead. Michael Owen had also now completed his hat-trick.
I can only imagine the ecstatic scenes being witnessed throughout the country, pubs literally rocking, our generation had seen nothing like it. Was this like winning the World Cup in 1966? Probably not, but we were still stuffing the Germans again! Incredible!
The fifth (and final) England goal duly came, and the clinical, surprising destruction of Germany was complete. The home side were even kind enough to let Heskey score against them, which was some feat in itself. As the stadium of disgruntled Germans commenced their hasty and humiliating exits, the enormity of this result really started to take effect, and Sven Goran Eriksson (The Legend), was born in England.
In very suitably typical England style, we went on to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. We scraped through against Greece, got to the finals, and exited in glorious failure at the hands of the eventual winners, Brazil in the Quarter Finals. Germany got their act in gear, but were beaten finalists in the end. So, normal service had been resumed, but if England can play half as well as that tonight, I will be one happy fan.