Flags hanging in the Hauptmarkt in Nürnberg
Andrew, Phil and I headed to Nürnberg for the England v Trinidad and Tobago game to see what kind of atmosphere these two sets of fans brought to the city. Actually, that’s not quite true — Andrew had a ticket for the game — it was Phil and me who were the tourists at the football zoo. I’ve already written about the “Trinnies”, so I’m going to leave my observations about them to stand as they are.
This was going to be my first experience of England fans abroad, apart from the Quarter Final in Shizuoka, where it seemed the Japanese had wisely put the stadium as far from any inhabited area as possible. When I started writing this, I had no intention of adding to the literature detailing how xenophobic and insensitive England fans are. Nonetheless, it has still not been easy for me to write down my observations. This is why.
I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about supporting England despite it being my country of birth. At school I was bullied for having a German name. My mother was born in Hamburg, but as she’ll confirm, even her “German-ness” is questionable. Moreover, my father was Polish with American and Slovakian parents. The fact that my surname actually means something in German is accidental, but this didn’t prevent the bullies from calling an eight-year-old a “Nazi”. Why would it?
In the past, I used to fear any football match between England and Germany. I watched the Euro 96 encounter in a pub in Bristol, and, when Germany won, a few drunken lads piled outside and smashed the windows of a VW because it was a German car. They then went on to hospitalise a Russian guy who happened to be walking past because, well, you tell me why. Anyway, despite this dark history, I was prepared to give it another go and see if anything had changed — both in the England fans and in myself.
The St George flag is as English as it gets
Arriving at the Hauptbahnhof in Nürnberg, we immediately and predictably ran into a bunch of lads standing in a circle facing one another singing “My grandad flew a Spitfire in the War” over and over again. This was, to me, one of the most deeply depressing sights I have ever seen anywhere near a football game and I’ve decided not to dignify their behaviour with a photograph or a clip in the video that accompanies this post. To their credit, they weren’t violent, aggressive or frightening, but still, not a good start.
At first it made me want to turn around and get on the first train out of town again. Later, I began to realise how much like scared little children these “tough” lads seemed. Not only were their grandfathers certainly not fighter pilots, but their cameraderie seemed defensive and their bravado a coping mechanism. Perhaps they sensed that they were basically out of their depth in another culture. Perhaps they weren’t even that aware. I don’t know, and in the end I’m not sure I care. I’m guessing it’s stating the obvious, but it seems to me that this kind of England fan is interested in:
(b) the England team,
(c) beer, and,
(d) um, that’s it.
Right then, that’s the negative out of the way — the further through town we walked, the higher up towards the picture-perfect castle we climbed, the fewer became the chants of Ing-er-land, the more my depression lifted. I’d set my heart on watching the game in a square just below the castle that I remembered from my busking days. On the way up the hill, I became a little disorientated — it had been 15 years since I’d last been in Nürnberg — and couldn’t remember exactly where the square was. A skeptical Phil questioned whether it existed and joked about it to a lad in an England shirt who was walking up the hill nearby. Ah, serendipity — our guiding light…
Matt (who hails from Sheffield) was, like us, looking for a place to watch the game — by “watch” we both meant a view unobscured by the masses of fans that had gathered wherever there was the slightest possibility of seeing the public viewing screens. Both Phil and I immediately warmed to his gentle demeanour, and together we went in search of my ill-remembered square.
A short walk later, we descended some steps to find — to my relief — the square I’d been certain existed; the Albrecht Dürer Platz. As we arrived and looked around, some Germans vacated a table at one of the cafés that encircle the square and we plonked ourselves down, grateful that we’d now be able to do as we wished: there was a TV set up in one of the windows of the café which we could see without obstruction. A friendly bunch of Germans at one of the neighbouring tables quizzed us on why we weren’t down amongst the mass of English fans in the Hauptmarkt below. What could we say without giving the game away? Were we indeed deliberately making ourselves outsiders?
It was Matt, sat with his back to the square, who noticed the statue set high on one of the adjoining buildings that forms the centre-piece of the video episode that accompanies this post. He recognised the figure of St George with a slain dragon at his feet, and thought it highly appropriate to our situation. All the more so, since, as he pointed out, this potent icon of Englishness had, in fact, been born in Anatolia — now modern day Turkey.
St George looks down on the scene
What then constitutes Englishness in the light of this? My experience of England has invariably been that it is the very lack of the usual trappings of nationality (no English national anthem, no national costume, no national dish or even national passport) have led to it being the most accommodating place on earth to live. Englishness is an attitude — not a birthright, and in Matt’s quiet confidence I thought I saw the very best of what it means to be English. Together, we cheered the England team on, and, knowing that, like St George, being an outsider is central to the experience of being English, I shouted my support as loudly as I’ve ever done before.
Here be dragons (no more)
As I post this, England are about to play Sweden to determine who play who in the next round. It’s a huge game.
Come on England!
Written by Christian Wach on Tuesday, June 20th, 2006