It was inevitable, really: a bit of the sheen of life in England has rubbed off, revealing something rather dark and nasty underneath. And it was all because of a soccer game.
On Saturday, England played Germany in a World Cup qualifier in Munich. There was a lot of hype running up to the game, 1) because of the fear of hooligans, 2) because England hadn’t beaten Germany on German soil since, I don’t know, the Sixties or something, and 3) because every time England plays Germany, it’s a huge issue - for England, anyway. Soccer against Germany is not just a game for the English, it is another battle in the imaginary World War Two that is still going on the minds of some of the people here. It’s a matter of national pride, a case of democratic, independent Britain against the shadowy, faceless forces of European bureaucracy. It’s a chance to put old Jerry in his place. Again.
I didn’t get to watch the game because I had a pottery exhibition to go to (ooh la la), but in the car on the way to the exhibition we did turn the radio on to listen to how the game was going. Germany scored a goal about 8 minutes in, which lead to great rejoicing on my part. Seeing as I now live in England, I have to be a staunch Germany supporter. I’m perverse like that.
About 4 minutes later, England wound up scoring a goal in return. The commentator on the radio screamed so loud and so long that I thought he would burst a blood vessel. He was flipping out on the air, which we all found a bit over the top but somewhat funny nevertheless. We were laughing and enjoying the moment and remarking on what an exciting game it was going to be if two goals had already been scored just 12 minutes in.
The commentator rattled on at high speed about what had just happened. In the course of all the description he made a comment about someone being so many yards away from someone else, at which point he caught himself and said, “I just said yards, I guess I’m supposed to say meters, but I don’t know what it is in meters right now and anyway, frankly, I say hang meters and hang the euro!”
Our mouths dropped open, and there was a split second of silence before we all burst out with a “What?!" I could not believe what I had just heard. In the middle of a soccer game, a stupid sports match played between two teams of athletes, this guy comes out with a vicious and completely irrelevant political remark. It was so inappropriate that it completely ruined the moment and put us off the game entirely. I didn’t care anymore who was going to win. I was happy to just turn off the radio and forget about it all.
Okay, so England has this thing about having to use metric measurements like the rest of Europe (“We’ve been forced to give up a vital part of our heritage! We won’t be ruled by Brussels!”). England definitely has a thing about the euro, which is going to go into general circulation in just a few months in most of the rest of the EU (“Save our pound! Save our right to self-determination! We won’t be ruled by Brussels!”).
The arguments about these things range from the reasonable and understandable to the ridiculous and xenophobic. There is a time and place for these arguments, and as far as I’m concerned, the game against Germany was neither the time nor the place. Since when is it the job of a sports commentator to use his on-air time during a game as a platform for his political views? Even if his view hadn’t been so reactionary, it still would have been completely inappropriate. The fact that it was totally reactionary just made the whole thing even nastier.
The story continues, of course. England managed to beat Germany 5-1, so the English tabloid press was given free reign to break out all the war references and plaster crap like “Germany blitzed!!” all over their front pages. The German soccer players can be somewhat sore losers, and the German press doesn’t seem to have a lot of sympathy for its defeated teams. But that’s nothing compared to the nationalistic ugliness of a victorious England. The English may be good-humored and stiff-upper-lipped when they are the underdogs, but it seems that as soon as they come out on top (when Germany is involved), they take sick pleasure in rubbing everyone’s faces in it.
I have, in fact, written about this same thing before. This is just the first time I’ve gotten to experience the English side of things first-hand, and I really don’t like what I see. It’s such a strange situation here: a very multi-cultural society that can still be completely xenophobic; a European country that seems to prefer kowtowing to America than unifying with its European counterparts; a country that wants to move forwards and backwards at the same time.
I’m sure I’m a bit oversensitive to this thing about Germany because I lived there for so long. Despite all my griping about the place, I do consider Germany a home of sorts, and I while I may be quick to criticize the country, I am also quick to leap to its defense. The Germans may have some hang-ups about the Second World War (and justifiable ones at that), but “losing to England” certainly isn’t one of them. In light of this, England’s insistence on carrying out this ongoing attack against Germany just seems silly and embarrassing - but also threatening, in a way, because of the blind nationalism that it breeds.
No place is perfect. And I know I have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects and gripe about the things I don’t like, rather than praising the things I do. On the other hand, I’ve been singing England’s praises for a year now, and maybe it’s time I put away the rose-colored glasses and started taking a more critical view of this society I live in. I can’t help but be critical at the moment. This one event, this one stupid exclamation by a sports commentator (of all people) cast a momentary shadow over England for me. This spontaneous comment, together with the flag-waving and Germany-bashing that went on in the wake of the game, seems to have revealed some of England’s true colors. And they’re not very pretty colors at all.