The story of my marriage through England v Germany football rivalry begins in 1990. I was living in Rio de Janeiro and throwing myself with wild abandon into the Brazilian way of celebrating the beautiful game. I watched that World Cup penalty shootout in an English pub in Ipanema and then went home to call the handsome German I’d met a year earlier, the tension of the match soon dissolving in good-humoured teasing on both sides.
Little did I know then that those early flirty exchanges about our teams’ contrasting fortunes would give way to a far more sinister rivalry in years to follow – I am talking about me, not him.
But in 1990 Germany was not really on my radar. I had never been to the country and knew nothing of their football prowess. That all changed when I moved there to live with Johannes – a rather brutal trade of tropical Copacabana for the froideur of the Black Forest. By the time we moved to London in 1993 I was carrying not a few hang-ups about his Heimat.
In 1994, we had a reprieve after England failed to qualify for the World Cup and my father finally got his way because we all backed the Republic of Ireland.
The most sour and shameful period really began in 1996, the year of our marriage and birth of our eldest daughter, Ella – and the Euros.
We went out in the semi-final and they went on to win the whole thing. But it wasn’t just that they won, it was how they won, aloof yet quietly self-satisfied. Ditto Johannes.
My anxiety rose in direct proportion to his nonchalance. They might win or they might lose. He didn’t care that much. Almost more than wanting us to win, I wanted them eliminated.
My chief partner in silent fury and secret schadenfreude was my brother, Mick. There were many sly eyes across the sofa or in the pub. Like the players, we would huddle to discuss tactics, full of dark intent. We had a good feeling this time. If we could just keep our focus. While watching England v Germany, blood was thicker than water – even though mine and Mick’s is in good part Irish.
Resentment peaked in the 2010 World Cup when Germany beat us 4-1. That came during the tough years of small children – our twins were born in another Euros year, 2004 – of nonstop building work and money troubles. That defeat was the final straw and the injustice of Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal coalesced into a giant football that propelled me out of our door at final whistle into the street to scream. Could I not just have this one thing for myself, just one small England football victory?
My snarling fan persona repelled my children and sank me in their estimation each time a tournament rolled around. They painted German flags on their faces and cheered on Mesut Özil and the rest. Three daughters and not a single England fan.
But then my late mother-in-law, Irmgard, a petite powerhouse and Bayern Munich fan, showed me that watching football need not be so fraught and we could all wish each other’s team well. Even when she was in her 90s, we sat side by side and enjoyed all the games together, equally passionate, equally confused about the offside rule.
So here we are again – this year Johannes and I celebrated 25 years of marriage and life is harmonious and much easier. Times change. Ella is backing England though the twins are keeping stumm. Mick would rather put his money on France. As for me, will falling anxiety levels be cancelled out by rising blood pressure? This is the first big tournament when I can say – hand on heart – that I want Germany to get through as well as England. Just a pity it isn’t possible.