September 1st 2001.
I was on my way home having spent three weeks travelling around Poland, somewhere between Danzig and Koszalin. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet, just a ropey mobile telephone connection to my roving text reporter – my brother – back home. We should all know what happened on that day: 1-0. 1-1. 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, ende.
For many Germany supporters that night in Munich may have been painful, but like any wound one it would be quickly treated, bandaged and healed. The biggest home defeat for decades, a game that could never really be forgotten, but one that could be safely stored away in the somewhat sparse archive titled “bad memories” alongside Der Nicht-Angriffspakt von Gijon and that horrid evening in Rotterdam in June 2000.
For England on the other hand, September 1st 2001 would be the most glorious day in their footballing history since 1966. A game that would never be forgotten, one that would continue to be trotted out every time they lost to Portugal on penalties. A DVD best seller. A game that, in spite of its eventual meaninglessness, would continue to mark the memories of supporters notching up the years of accumulated hurt with every passing tournament.
…a German living in England was asked about that night in 2001. If the question was meant as the most hamfisted of provocations – and I think it was Sky News, so it would have been – the reply was a study in understated fly-squashing. “Yes,” said the German, gently. “I see the DVD is still selling in shops.”
(Marina Hyde, “World Cup 2010: One-sided rivalry remains football’s grand illusion”, guardian.co.uk, 24th June 2010)
While England continued to flatter to deceive after that astonishing September evening in Munich, football in Germany was finally given the shot in the arm that it so desperately needed. That same battered and broken side patched themselves together to make it all the way to the World Cup final the following year, but more crucially the 5-1 hammering proved to be something of a watershed in the future development of German football in that it paved the way for a faster, more skillful, modern game advocated by Jürgen Klinsmann – and with it the development of a more structured youth development system that has since provided ample riches for current Nationaltrainer and master tactician Joachim Löw.
One doesn’t need to go beyond the raw statistical reality: in the last decade England has gone no further than the last eight in all the major tournaments they have competed in; Germany meanwhile have achieved four top-three finishes in five starts, and the current squad has been widely touted as one of the favourites for both Euro 2012 and the next World Cup in 2014.
It’s really rather sad, and reminds me of some pitiful soul showing off a creased, grubby old photograph of a pretty girl he once went out with for a few days at school. “I had her once,” he sighs, conveniently forgetting to inform us that the object of his youthful desire is now happily married to a hated classmate he once administered a one-off kicking to. Then of course there’s the two fresh-faced kids and the very pleasant beach-side house on the island of Sylt.
With this all in mind, it is perhaps a little absurd to dredge up the memories of ten years ago: trust the Daily Mail to churn out a pointless ten-year anniversary piece, then.