The Best of Enemies England v Germany

// David Downing

English football’s finest hour–victory on home soil in the 1966 World Cup–was made all the more sweet by the fact that the opposition was West Germany. Even then the sporting rivalry between the two countries was intense. In the 34 years between that Wembley win and the next time an England team would beat Germany in a competitive fixture, that rivalry became a national obsession bordering on mania.

Recounting events up to and including England’s victory in Euro 2000, writer David Downing unravels the fascinating history of international and club football between the two nations–from the legendary kickabouts in no-man’s land during WWI, through early English dominance and the glory of 1966, to the slide into defeat after defeat–and asks what it is that has tied the two countries so closely together, and more importantly, how come “they” keep winning.

But as Downing points out, those looking to fuel the always-popular “two World Wars and one World Cup” brand of football analysis will find this book disappointing. It is simply too intelligent and perceptive a study of what has been a pivotal rivalry in English football for over 70 years, to allow that sort of moronic self-delusion to stand unchallenged.

His accounts and analysis of key events such as the shameful collusion with the Nazi regime in 1938, the German comeback that sunk the defending World champions in 1970, and the hollow triumph in Charleroi, culminate in a surprising and thought-provoking assessment of the footballing future for both countries. Alex Hankin.