Escapist Thoughts: On Germany 02.07.17
To watch them is to be seduced by their hypnotic passing rhythms, Kroos to Ozil, Ozil to Kimmich, Kimmich to Ozil, Ozil back to Kroos. They usually win, and when they don't, it's controversial, or at the very least, surprising.
I'm talking about a cycle of individuals who I've watched with growing passion, even escapism, since 1990. They are not my country; they are Germany, the football team I have loved since a teenager from faraway Wales. Now, they are better, deeper, a thing more beautiful than ever. When I am low or agitated, I reach into my subconscious and draw them out in memories and fantasies, I think about their passing rhythms, their power, their success, and I attach myself to it and to them. I no longer think bad thoughts.
Their national youth team have just become European champions, upsetting highly fancied Spain, and this evening, the senior German team – effectively their B team, with the best players left at home – take on Chile in the final of the Confederations Cup. Germany are favourites. Even their B team are favourites. That's how good they are.
It's sad, I know, to love football like this. A friend of mine who hates football compared it to religion, and he meant it in a pissy way. I understand him. Club football especially is all about the myth, of 11 players in your colours, a tribal battle, you support them, but they're actually just mercenaries, and they might just wear some other team's colours later. Traitor, the crowd will scream if your player leaves for another team. But they're no more supportive of your team than you are of them as players. When a certain player from your team plays badly, you scream at him to be replaced, to be sold, you give them little loyalty, and theirs is equal. But the national team is something else, players who feel attachment to this single entity, by birth or upbringing or family connection. Still, this is a kind of myth. All countries are based on myth, to some degree. You're no more likely to have connection with your compatriot than with someone from the other side of the world, the language barrier apart. And I am not even German.
But still, I love the German national team. Like all teams, they have their own enduring brand. After the Nazis, everyone hated Germany. When they kept beating those beautiful teams from Hungary (1954), Holland (1974) and France (1982; 1986), they were reviled. One quote in particular, from the French journal La Liberation, conjures up the feeling, after Germany's exit from a particular tournament in 1984:'German football, this brute animal, deserves to be drowned in its own urine.' And then of course, England seemed to hate them, their fans still mock them with chants about losing two World Wars. I saw this hatred, grew up with it, from the British side of the fence, and fell in love with these black sheep in white tops and black shorts, with curiosity. Germany, always lucky, never deserving, never skilful, always somehow more successful.
So I grew up in the 1980s, became aware of Germany's numerous disgraces in war and on the football field. I watched the British agitation. By 1990, I was hooked. In every international tournament, I wanted Germany to win.And now? They are better than they've ever been, their youth team, B team, senior team, groan with talented players of every ethnic background, a rainbow nation that kicks arse. Yet like any of the successful footballing countries, they have their continuity. Germany: powerful, determined, they'll fight you to the very end. Only now, they'll do it by mesmerisation, and they're beautiful to watch. They're playing tonight for the Confederations Cup, with new names like Goretzka, Werner and Stindl. Isn't it sad to feel this way? To love a football team like this, and invest so much of yourself into them, and be rescued by them when life grows dark. But still, when my personal darkness comes and starts to overwhelm me, men in white and black appear, Kroos to Ozil, Ozil to Kimmich, Kimmich to Ozil, Ozil back to Kroos . . .