The English have a habit of asking, in irritated earnest, why it is that the Germans are just so damn good at football. With the exceptions of Piers Morgan and the scum who booed the German National Anthem in Bloemfontein, there is a distinct, respectful awe among the Anglo Saxons for their German cousins. We hate them, they say, but you have to hand it to them, they can win World Cups.
It is perhaps no surprise that a nation which has founded its psyche on the dual principles of imperialism and insularity is confused as to its opinion of its worst footballing enemy, but their bitter suspicion of German footballing superiority may not be as chauvinistic as it first appears. If the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, Germany’s first World Cup win in 1954 may have had two helping hands. The first, apparently, was a dodgy referee, and the second, and more important, was crystal meth.
The image of Sepp Herberger making a bloodshot eyed, spikey haired cameo in Family Guy is too brilliant to be ignored, but crystal meth – or rather metamphetamine – is not as ridiculous as it might sound. It was used as a stimulant for soldiers on both sides in the Second World War, and has historically not been impartial to popping up in sporting scandals. Just ask Andre Agassi.
In Germany, the theories linking misuse of the drug to the hallowed World Cup winning team of 1954 have been treated largely with derision. The University of Leipzig study which claims that the players were found with traces of the substance in their bodies after the game is, the purists huff and puff, insubstantial evidence. That may be, but then the equally questionable argument for the defence (it was vitamin C, honest guv) does not have the authoritative backing of the University of Leipzig and the German Olympic Committee.
The real debate here, is not whether or not the Germany side were doped – there is, it appears, a far too minute amount of available evidence to truly make a judgement on that – but rather, does it matter?
Before I get lynched as a blasphemous, treacherous endorser of the callous perversion of sport, I should like to clarify this suggestion somewhat. I am not legitimising doping. I think its a pathetic, weak minded way of devaluing the unadulterated emotional exhilaration which sport offers its spectators and participants. I think Dwayne Chambers should never be allowed to set foot on a running track ever again. And if conclusive evidence emerges to suggest that the Miracle of Bern team cheated, then the individuals responsible should be roundly condemned.
There is though, another level to this debate. The 1954 win is not presented as the Englightment moment in German football for nothing. The victory is not the perfect fairytale simply because West Germany were underdogs to a far superior Hungary side, who had routed them in the group stage. The romanticism of 1954 runs far deeper than that. It takes its roots in a nation still struggling to deal with the vast political tragedies of its recent past; a people still thoroughly confused about its relationship to its government and its European neighbours. A nation trying to condemn and forget fascism while also rehabilitating those who fought for it. That is why a World Cup victory in Switzerland was so colossal – it was proof that football remains one of the few aspects of modern popular culture whose ability to create a genuine unity and sense of national pride (which is very different to nationalism) is simply astounding. That’s why we buy the 1954 retro shirts. That’s why Herbert Zimmermann went crazy at the microphone.
The win in 1954 helped, in its own small way, rebuild a Germany which could put its past behind it and look to its current success. In footballing terms, it facilitated the rise of the Bundesliga, and the golden generations of Beckenbauer and Matthaeus. The English might begrudge Germany the latter, but few could resent them for the former.
The fact is, the 1954 West Germany side were helped. The Hungary side they met in the final was, on paper, a far superior one. But Germany had Adi Dassler’s screw in, all terrain studs. They had a refereeing display which, although hardly biased, by chance got them the rub of the green at crucial moments, and they had romanticism. They had the knowledge that they had got further than anyone ever expected them to, and one more win couldn’t be all that difficult. That’s the beauty of the fairytale, and that is why the doping scandal must, if not be dismissed, take second place. The 1954 was not a merely a sporting competition. It was a cultural revolution.
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