Games against Germany represent some of the lowest points in England's 44 years of hurt. Of course England wants to win the World Cup but if we can't, we at least want to be beat the Germans, says DW's Nick Amies.
Nothing hurts England fans more than losing to Germany
Every England fan takes great pleasure in watching and re-watching the 4-2 victory over Germany in the final of the 1966 World Cup. This is not only because this is the pinnacle of the national team's success to date, but also because in winning the World Cup, England stopped the Germans from lifting the trophy. It's a two-for-the-price-of-one bargain that never gets old.
This is where an England fan's indoctrination begins, with a joyous moment. Our national sporting obsession with Germany has its roots in happiness - in the gap-toothed smile and carefree jig of midfielder Nobby Stiles. The bitterness doesn't begin until you've been hooked and forced to watch more recent England vintages in the flesh. Then you have to admit that 1966 is as good as it gets.
England didn't even show up for World Cup in 1974 or 1978 and our involvement in 1982 is best left unmentioned. The main recollections of 1986 are of a squat Argentinean bloke cheating us out of the tournament. At least the fat gaucho had a hand (not literally in this case) in beating the Germans in the final, so he couldn't have been all that bad.
Things were equal in 1990 until the shoot-out when England players suddenly forgot how to shoot
All of which brings us to Italia 90. Looking back, the only thing I now remember about that tournament is the Germans in full group hug mode as England's broken failures trudged from the pitch, vowing to practice penalties from now on. That penalty shoot-out defeat to Germany in a semi-final was traumatic, mainly because England looked as though they had a team good enough to win the cup for once.
When the European Championships came to England in 1996, the animosity towards Germany was still at a pretty low level, despite the tabloids' lazily digging up the war to try and get an already feverishly patriotic public ready for another semi-final clash against the Germans. Italia 90 was an aberration. We still had 1966 - which was only 30 years of hurt away at that point. Revenge would be ours because, you know, lightning couldn't strike twice…could it?
From today's vantage point, there was more chance of lightning striking twice than England scoring two penalties.
Two spot kicks. Penalty taker against goalkeeper. It doesn't seem that hard, does it? And this was a team that knew the heartbreak of losing to the Germans on penalties. Surely they wouldn't let it happen again? History tells us that it did. It also tells us that after beating England, Germany went on to win the trophy, as they did in 1990 at the World Cup.
English tabloids dragged up war rhetoric for the 96 clash
Two soul-destroying defeats were enough to turn a little rivalry into a massive vendetta for the English. With the memory of 1966 dimming fast, all that most of us had actually experienced was getting beaten by the Germans.
For the Germans, however, England's obsession has never prompted anything other than mild bemusement. As far as the Germans are concerned, England are just another opponent, albeit one with a certain amount of history. There certainly isn't the rabid reaction in Germany to playing each other as there is in the UK.
Germany's grudge match is usually one played against their neighbors to the west in the Netherlands. Fans in Germany get excited about playing Holland in much the same way as Englishmen go loopy of the Germans.
This fact infuriates the English further. The rivalry should mean as much to the Germans as it means to us - otherwise what's the point of getting all stewed up about it?
Taking what we can get
For England, beating Germany is the pinnacle of any campaign. That's why a turgid 1-0 win over one of Germany's worst-ever sides in Euro 2000 was celebrated like the Second Coming. It didn't matter that England were dreadful too - and weren't far behind Germany in getting knocked out of the tournament. We'd beaten the Germans. It was a hollow victory, but one still held close to English hearts.
Meager as it now sounds, a 5-1 demolition in Munich in a World Cup qualifier a year later was even better. It felt almost as good as 1966. Almost.
Beating even a woeful Germany team, as in 2000, is better than not beating them at all
And so we meet again. It's 2010, and already the highlight reels from 44 years ago are being projected onto a new generation's formative inner eye, mythologizing events from ancient history and lionizing men who are either no longer with us or who now look very old indeed when wheeled out for comment whenever Germany and England clash.
The papers, of course, are beside themselves with glee. It's only a matter of time before we see distasteful war-related headlines in the red tops and the demonizing of young German players who don't much care about beating England, only about winning the World Cup.
This is what the coming match should be about for us England fans - about progressing and emulating the heroes of 1966. Instead it's about getting one over the Germans. That's what it's always about for England. We may beat Germany, but even then we'll probably meet an even stronger Argentina side, managed by a certain fat gaucho, who'll knock us out.
But we won't care. We'll have beaten the Germans. And that's all that matters.
Nick Amies is a life-long England supporter, and Germany detractor.
Editor: Matt Hermann