A Golden Cup

German flagTomorrow one of the most coveted trophies in sport will come to Berlin. Today Germany woke up collectively hungover but with a jubilant smile on its face. Yesterday, just before midnight, the nation erupted into euphoria when the German football team won the World Cup.

Around the world, online and print media is chock full with articles on that extraordinary night: why the Germans won, how they won, what the players’ wives and girlfriends wore, what Rihanna did to celebrate the goal, what type of beer Joachim Löw (the German coach) and Angela Merkel drank when they celebrated together in the hotel. Sitting here in Berlin there can be no other topic to write about today, but as neither football expert nor celebrity gossip connoisseur, I ask myself what relevant and original ideas can I add. The English expat’s view perhaps …

First this – how Germany became England’s favourite. For English fans, Germany would not be the obvious team to support once our own boys failed so miserably to progress beyond the group stages (yet again). Most Germans would not perceive a direct rivalry between the two teams, but most English do. This World Cup has been different – or so my Facebook newsfeed would suggest. English friends have whooped and cheered (online at least) and toasted the brilliance of the Germans with a good German beer. In part, this is because a good number of German international players now play in the English Premier League – Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), Andre Schürrle (Chelsea) … But it’s also because Germany, through years of investment at a grass roots level, training up young talent, and through deliberate limits on the intense commercialisation of top class football, has done what England cannot, which is put together a solid, unified national team, less about superstars and more about collective effort. Today’s Spiegel headline says it all: “Das ging nur im Team.” (“It was only possible as a team.”)

And what about this remarkable pervasive sense of modesty surrounding the German team and fans, most notable following the dazzling defeat of Brazil in the semi-final, knocking out the home nation by a stomping 7-1. There was no great national outpouring of patriotic jubilation, which I expect would have been the case in many other countries. Indeed, after the third goal, German fans (at least on the streets of Berlin near where we live) might as well have stopped celebrating at all. Disbelief may have been one reason; running out of fireworks (as no-one could have predicted quite so many goals) perhaps another; but mostly it was the combined feeling that they didn’t want the Brazilians to be humiliated and that winning a semi-final is all well and good, but only winning a final would make history. Even yesterday, when the final whistle blew, the euphoria seemed more a giant sigh of relief – we’ve won, after all that hard work. “Phew” and certainly not “Germany beat you all, ha ha ha.”

Perhaps I just haven’t followed previous World Cups closely enough to know how other victories have been reported, but this time there is a tremendous emphasis on parallels between the reasons for the German team’s victory (good training, playing the long game, sticking to a system, working hard together) and the nation’s political and economic standing globally. As was written in the UK newspaper, the Guardian, “British politicians may begin wondering whether the startling synchronicity between the philosophies behind Germany’s economic and footballing revivals is entirely coincidental. Parallels are bound to be explored …. Just as the country’s rebranded, heavily yet subtly tweaked version of socially responsible capitalism (a bit more ruthless than before but still big on fair competition, long-term goals and employers maintaining the sort of paternalistic attitudes towards employees now scorned in many UK quarters) paid dividends so too has the Bundesliga’s similarly socially responsible football model.”

Whether these parallels be true or not, I’m not sure most Germans really care about that right now. They are simply delighted to have won for the first time as a re-united Germany, with a hugely popular and well-supported team who have shown the world the Germans play beautiful football too. In the words of a German fan, quoted on the BBC, “I feel love and peace and freedom and I love you all.” Let the Schwarz, Rot, Gold, freedom-loving party continue.

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