Monday 29 June ~
"There's no doubt there's an extra little incentive because it's Germany. That's the way they think about us and the way we think about them." So says West Ham midfielder Mark Noble ahead of England's European Under-21 Championship final against Germany tonight. Always keen to promote matches being shown exclusively by Sky Sports, the Sun devote a double page spread to the game which includes the claim that it's "43 trophyless years since the Three Lions lifted the World Cup at Wembley".
But that's not true. England have won the biennial competition twice before, in 1982 and 1984. In the first of those finals, then played over two legs, they beat West Germany. That result is overlooked now because it predates the media obsession with 1966 that began in the build up to Euro 96.
Every year that passes without England winning a trophy, another "year of hurt" is added on to references to the Skinner and Baddiel song that was inescapable during Euro 96. That tournament ended with another English defeat to Germany, the third in a major competition since 1966.
German teams have played in far more semi-finals and finals than the English over the period, which is one reason to doubt Noble's suggestion that tonight's opponents have an equally keen feeling for the rivalry; modern football history suggest that a German team is much more likely to encounter France or Italy in the latter stages of a competition than England.
Another comment by Noble gets to the nub: "We all do history at school. When you put an England shirt on and you play against the Germany you want to win." It's war nostalgia again. For 1966 read 1939-45 – the last time that England (in reality Britain, a distinction that tabloid sportswriters tend not to make) was a global power.
It's understandable that the Second World War might have coloured attitudes towards an England v (West) Germany match in 1966, just over 20 years after hostilities ended; less so another 43 years on, especially given that for at least part of the intervening period it had seemed to matter less.
England have defeated Germany twice in competitive matches within the last decade but that has no discernible effect on the perceived rivalry which gets ramped up again in the media before the next encounter. The burden of 1966 will never be shed until England teams create some new national sporting myths by winning things, or at least getting past quarter-finals, on a regular basis. In the meantime stand by for a barrage of war metaphors in tomorrow's match reports. Carl Hawkins