Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Put your hand up if you think I am a traitor

    Something strange happened to me while I was watching today's games. I started wanting Germany to win. I'll repeat that in case you missed it: I wanted Germany to beat Ireland.

    Now this has nothing to do with me hating or even slightly disliking Ireland, I don't. In 1994 when England failed to qualify I wanted Ireland to win. Ireland have supplied Liverpool with some of our greatest ever players - Steve Heighway, Ronnie Whelan, Mark Lawrenson, John Aldridge - and we owe a big debt to that country. No it was nothing to do with Ireland; this had everything to do with Germany.

    All the more bizarrely, something almost identical to this happened eight years ago, again while I was watching the World Cup. That time it involved Argentina. I sat there watching Maradona and Batistuta decimate Greece, and thought to myself 'this is a good team'. I realised how blind I had been for years, how taken in I had been by the British media and its' ingrained xenophobic attitudes. I sat at home in 1986 and wanted to string up Maradona along with everyone else, and a year later when he came to Wembley to play in the League Centenary game, I booed every touch he got of the ball - as did all 80 000 people inside the ground.

    But as I sat watching him obliterate Greece I found myself marvelling at his touch, his control, his movement. His amazing goal - and mad, screaming dash towards the TV camera - won me over forever. He was forgiven, and from that moment on I was a Diego Armando Maradona fan.

    Even then though, I never totally came over to the idea of being an Argentina fan. I like the way they played, and was intoxicated by the TV pictures I had seen of the crazy fans and atmosphere they generated at the Monumental and Bombonera, but fell short of wanting Argentina to win most games. I wanted them to beat Nigeria, Bulgaria and Romania that summer, but once the finals were over I took less interest in Argentina and more in Maradona. I would still enjoy watching Argentina play, but by 1998 and the game in St Etienne, I was back wanting Argentina to lose. Then again they were playing England.

    So I quite like Argentina, and I count Diego among my heroes. But Germany? An England fan wanting Germany to win? This one I did not see coming.

    I was just sat there, watching the ITV coverage of the game, and all of a sudden - just before kick-off - I found myself thinking 'It would be good if Germany won'. It was subconscious at first, but then I found myself hoping that Klose, Ballack or Jancker would score. It was about then I picked up my thoughts, and when Klose scored his superb header I almost cheered. The only reason I did not do so was because I stopped myself, and questioned what I was doing. 'What is happening to me?' I thought 'I cannot really be wanting and hoping for a German victory can I? How can I be doing this? - I am English, I support England and these are our enemies.'

    But I really did want Germany to win. I started to want Ireland to lose possession, for all their attacks to break down, their free kicks to sail over the bar. It was one of the weirdest feelings of my life, but I knew I felt it was right.

    Of course I have also picked the tail end of probably the worst German team ever to start liking. Germany have emerged under Rudi Völler from a half decade of shambolic performances and crushing defeats, but they are by no means back on top of the football world. They have survived the lowest point in their entire history - that 5:1 in Munich - and are on their way back, but there is still a massive way to go.

    Völler has a team of potential mixed in with a whole group of journeymen, sprinkled with one or two world-class stars. It is not a particularly exciting team, and they don't even lose any more, so what did I (or more properly, what do I) like about them?

    I like the way German football has never changed, never panicked, and never gave in. After being humbled by England it would have been easy for Germany to rip up the gameplan and start all over again. But they did not. They knew the system worked, it was just that the personnel was wrong. And although Bild ripped into the national squad for not being able to beat England, there was no massive public outcry, no collective soul searching and no call for a route and branch re-examination of German football.

    Germany just got on with the task of getting better, just as it had always done. The team of Fritz Walter had eventually fallen away and was replaced slowly by the Seeler-Weber-Overath-Beckenbauer version. Then in came Netzer, Müller and Bonhof, and when they retired, Rummenigge, Kaltz, Littbarski, Matthäus, Brehme and Klinsmann were found to take over. It was a non-stop conveyor belt of talent and continuity, and though at times it wasn't the prettiest football in the world, it won. And it made Germany the prime football nation on the planet, bar none.

    So the German people just expected their football team to rise again, and slowly but surely they started to do just that.

    It is not just this dogged determination I like. I like the confidence that runs through this German team, not really a confidence in doing well, but the kind of confidence you see all over Germany. It is the type of confidence that comes from being a happy, successful nation, one that is sure of it's role in the world, and one that also knows it does not want anything else. It is not arrogance - I spent two weeks travelling around northern Germany two summers ago and never met a single person I would consider 'arrogant'. Instead I met a huge amount of compassionate, helpful, happy, successful people. I am not stupid enough to think of Germany as some sort of utopia, and am fully aware of the lingering social problems that exist just under the surface. But I felt safer and more secure there than I do in many parts of Britain.

    Yet I had known this of Germany and German people for a fair few years, so what made me suddenly start liking their football team now? Lets start with Carsten Jancker. On TV today there was a running commentary about Jancker being a 'non-scoring striker', and it gave the commentators plenty of opportunity to ridicule him. But there is something about this tall, bald footballer that I like. In English parlance he is a 'donkey', a big lumbering player with not that much going for him. But Jancker is a lot more than that. He runs all day, and keeps on trying and harassing the opposition defence until they crack. Sure he might not score a lot of goals, but Klose and Ballack have been doing - and they owe lots of credit to Jancker.

    Another German player I have a great affinity with - in fact the one I have the greatest affinity with - is Didi Hamann. Whenever I watch Liverpool play it is Hamman that impresses me as much as anyone. His job is to break up the oppositions play and to support Stevie Gerrard. He is the vital link between defence and attack, and it is no surprise that when Hamann joined from Newcastle, Liverpool started to go places at last. I love the way he is everywhere on the pitch, and is always ready to make a vital challenge. He is just as essential to Liverpool as Sami Hyypia or Michael Owen, and is just as critical a player for Germany. If he could only get more goals, he would be close to being the complete midfielder. I wish he was English.

    Then there is Oliver Kahn in goal - the best in the world. No question here - just look at the saves he managed to pull off today. And what about Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose? I have even found time for serial non-trier Christian Ziege - but what that thing is on his head, I don't know?

    I can't wait for Germany's next game. I hope they demolish Cameroon, and then go on to beat Slovenia and Italy. That would put Germany back where they belong - in the World Cup semi-final. I don't think it is going to happen though - Germany is not quite ready for that yet. But I am happy Germany are coming back, and I don't care if everyone else in England thinks I am some sort of traitor or idiot, this German team has changed my mind and has brought my World Cup to life.

    That is why I love the World Cup - it does strange things to people. Thank you Monsieur Rimet.



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