All Germans we have come across have been very welcoming and friendly if a little disinterested in the spectacle of the World Cup. We left England with a blaze of flags lighting our trail and are surprised to find little of that fervour over here. While the people beam with good cheer, football comes a gentle second.
At the World Cup 2002 in S. Korea, although they are predominantly a baseball-loving crew, an enormous effort was made to inform folk there of what to expect and as a nation they created a great stage for this diamond of a competition. Of course their team performed beautifully, albeit with a twist of refereeing fortune. The ensuing celebrations were extraordinary. It was youthful, beatles-style euphoria.
The importing of Hiddink as the national coach was a stroke of genius, so much so that they took his management style and used it over a business framework. Jürgen Klinsmann has the same opportunity for this Weltmeisterschaft 2006 but he lacks the national fervour to support the team with such natural exuberance.
We find ourselves now in Erfurt, a former East German town in central Germany, meeting folk who have never met English and also the well travelled hostel owners. A particular couple, one of whose grandparents was a member of the SS, we meet at a 5-a-side football competition, their reticence to talk to us was palpable. However we stayed with them late into the evening exchanging stories, playing more football, learning a new goalmouth training game, and parted company after they had signed our ball — and for the first time since The Ball has existed, we were asked to sign theirs. To hear one of the younger lads saying “thanks for the wonderful day” on leaving, is a heart-stopping moment for me. It’s a small world and a big cup.
All together now!
I am sitting writing this with the Spain Ukraine game on the telly, a Mexican, two Australians, one Japanese and myself are watching, communicating in three languages… that’s English, Spanish and Football.
I love you.
Written by Phil Wake on Sunday, June 18th, 2006
There’s also a story to second Teamgeist ball that you can see in the teamshot picture — the footballs that the family had were both basically knackered, their panels peeling off and not long for this world. Although they would have loved to have bought a new ball, the family were living off state handouts and way too poor to afford a new one, let alone pay the exorbitant amount that a genuine Teamgeist costs.
At some point during our kickabout, someone booted our Teamgeist — which we’d been playing with throughout — over the fence behind the “pitch” and the little lad (squatting in the middle of the picture) legged it round to go and retrieve it from the bushes. We heard a cry of delight and out he ran, clutching both our ball and the ball that he’s got at his feet. Okay, it’s a replica, but what a result!