The rivalry


The Football Association instigated a four-game tour of Germany and Austria by a representative England team in November 1899. The England team played a representative German team in Berlin on 23 November 1899, with the German side losing 1-0. Two days later a slightly altered German side lost 10–2.

The third and fourth matches were played in Prague and Karlsruhe against a combined Austrian and German side, and England won 6–0 and 7–0. Those games cannot be considered as “official” and are known as Ur-Länderspiele in Germany because they were organized by a regional federation from Berlin and the German Football Association (DFB) was not founded until 28 January 1900.

The first-ever full international between the two teams was a friendly match played on May 10, 1930, in Berlin. England were 1–0 and 2–1 up in the game, but after losing a player to injury went behind 3–2, before a late goal from David Jack brought the score to 3–3, which was how the game finished.

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The next match between the two teams was played on 4 December 1935, at White Hart Lane in London, the first full international to take place between the teams in England and the first since the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933.

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It was also the first match to stir up particular controversy, as The Observer newspaper reported protests by the British Trades Union Congress that the game could be used as a propaganda event by the Nazi regime.

However, England won 3-0.

The next game between the two teams, and the last to be played before the Second World War, was again in Germany, a friendly at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 14 May 1938, played in front of a crowd of 110,000 people. It was the last time England played against a unified German team until the 1990s. This was the most controversial of all the early encounters between the two teams, as before kick-off the English players were ordered by the Foreign Office to line up and perform a Nazi salute with respect to their hosts.

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How compliant the players were with this situation has been a matter of debate, with a feature in The Observer in 2001 speculating that they were: Perhaps merely indifferent players (who had undoubtedly become more reluctant, to the point of mutiny, by the time the post-war memoirs were published.

The Second World War broke out and the relationship between the two countries became bitter.

And on the football pitch, competitiveness and aggression have always been evident.

The World Cups

After the war, England did meet the former West Germany and World Champions back then at Wembley on December 1, 1954, where a depleted German side was beaten and the same happened in Berlin in 1956 and Nuremberg in 1965.

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The following year, FIFA World Cup was staged in England, and in the finals at Wembley, Sir Alf Ramsey’s side met a young and competent German unit, who reached the finals since 1954 while for England, a feature in the finals was for the first time.

England led 2–1 until the very end of normal time when a German goal leveled the scores and took the match into extra time. In the first period of extra time, England striker Geoff Hurst had a shot on goal which bounced down from the crossbar and then out of the goal, before being cleared away by the German defenders.

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The England players celebrated a goal, but the referee was unsure as to whether or not the ball had crossed the line when it hit the ground. After consulting with a linesman, Tofiq Bahramov, the referee awarded a goal to England. Bahramov, from the USSR, became famous and celebrated in English popular culture as “the Russian linesman”, although he was actually from Azerbaijan.

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The German dreams were shattered and Hurst would complete his hat-trick in the dying moments to crown England as the World Champions for the first time.

Bahramov would become a hero in England and such had been his impact over the years that when England went to Azerbaijan for the World Cup Qualifiers in 2004, in a stadium named after Bahramov—many England fans traveling to the game asked to be shown the grave of the official, who had died in 1993, so that they could place flowers on it, and before the game, a ceremony honouring him was attended by Hurst and other footballing celebrities.

On that afternoon at Wembley, Franz Beckenbauer and the German side felt cheated and vowed to pay back if the teams meet again in the World Cups.

June 14, 1970, Leon

England were pitted in the Group of Death in Mexico 70. Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were their opponents. They played a classic against Brazil but lost at Guadalajara whereas they remained unimpressive against the Czechs and Romanians. They were the Group Runners-up whereas Germany topped Group 4 by hook or by crook so that they did not have to face Pele and Brazil.

Even though the motive was to avoid facing Brazil, but that German team of Mexico 70 was like a Goliath. The members of 1966 had matured while they were accompanied by some young and promising talents.

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Meanwhile, despite being unimpressive in the group stages, England still had the determination and class to defend their title. Inspired by Ramsey, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, and Gordon banks; England were ready to face the Germans and progress.

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But tragedy struck when their number goalkeeper Banks failed to feature in the quarterfinals courtesy of a food poisoning.

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According to The Guardian:  England had brought much of their own food, their own drink, even their own coach to Mexico, but beer was safe enough. After all, back in the middle ages, people drank the stuff all day because the alcohol killed all the nasty bugs that made the water unsafe. In the country club, the team ordered a round of beers. Someone gave one to Gordon Banks, and at that moment the holders’ grasp on the World Cup was broken. “I can’t remember if the bottle I was served was opened in my presence or not,” he wrote in Banksy, his autobiography, “but I do know that half an hour after that beer I felt very ill indeed.”

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England called upon Peter Bonetti to replace Banks. Bonetti played for Chelsea and as a keeper, he was very good and the ideal replacement, but on that dramatic afternoon at Leon, he would earn nothing but painful memories.

Again, including the pre-tournament friendlies against Colombia and Ecuador, England had played five matches in South America, and Banks had been on the field for every minute. Bonetti had played only once, in a second-string friendly against a Colombian club side. He had a little over an hour to prepare to face the Germans.

England marched on.

The Germans took the pitch with the scars of 1966 still fresh in their mind and heart.

Germany payback, England dethroned

England started off as if the absence of Banks acted as a motivating factor. Within just 60 minutes, Allan Mullery and Martin Peters gave a seemingly unassailable two-goal lead.

With just 20 minutes remaining in the game, the story of German comeback started to show up. Beckenbauer hit a shot from range that deceived stand-in goalkeeper Bonetti to reduce the deficit.

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Not long after, England manager Alf Ramsey took off Bobby Charlton for Colin Bell to try and defend the narrow advantage. In fact, he was trying to save the legs of Charlton for the semifinals.

Later on, Charlton said, “I’d never felt so well. I felt I could run all day, even though we were in Leon and 6,000ft up.”

A dejected Bobby Charlton. Image Courtesy: England Memories
A dejected Bobby Charlton. Image Courtesy: England Memories

However, this move freed up Beckenbauer to roam further forward and it wouldn’t be long before the West Germans grabbed the equalizer.

Shortly afterward, Hurst was inches away from clinching the victory after good work by Bell.

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But the impetus was now with the Germans and, moments after England brought on another defender as Norman Hunter replaced Peters, Germany grabbed the momentum and with just eight minutes left, Uwe Seeler took advantage of a defensive England and equalized with a freakish backward header.

It was 2-2 and the game went to extra-time like four years before.

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Die Mannschaft pressed hard and in the heat of Mexico, the English shoulders started to drop.

England’s World Cup dream was ebbing away. Even if they could win this one, extra-time in the lunchtime Mexican heat would take much out of them for the next round. Four years earlier Ramsey had famously ordered his players to their feet ahead of extra-time to send out a strong psychological message to their tired opponents, but here several were unable to do likewise. When Hurst had a goal disallowed, it seemed as though everything that had gone right for England in 1966 was going against them now.

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And three minutes into the second period of extra-time the turnaround was complete. Gerd Muller had scored a staggering seven goals during the group stage and he showed his predatory instincts to volley past Bonetti.

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There would be no reply and the champions were dethroned. Bobby Charlton was left watching on from the bench and he would never add to his 106 caps.

Allan Ball said, “It was such a strange game. I have never been in a more one-sided international. We were so dominant there was no doubt we would win. We were 2-0 up and cruising. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Then a speculative shot from Beckenbauer went under Bonetti and that changed the whole match. From dominating the game for 75 minutes we went on to lose it. It was spooky. Nothing like that ever happened to me again in my football career.”

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According to many experts, the match was won and lost by the managers and their use of substitutions.

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Helmut Schön brought on the winger Jurgen Grabowski in the second half, who proceeded to “run the bollocks off” (Alan Mullery’s words) the full-back Terry Cooper decisive effect, while Ramsey’s had only a negative impact as Beckenbauer, having spent an hour struggling in Charlton’s shadow, was released.

The rest is history.

For Bonetti, that afternoon at Leon still haunts him.

“It was the worst moment of my life. I should have saved it. I’ve seen it so many times and one of these days I’m going to save it.

“When I returned from Mexico I wanted to look through the papers but they were missing. My mum had binned them. I got absolutely slaughtered”.


England would not feature in a World Cup until 1982 whereas German Football would grow from strength to strength.

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