My parents' generation had good reason not to warm to the Germans but they rarely indulged in the kind of knockabout xenophobia we have to put up with in the run-up to Sunday's match. The strange thing is that the people behind it, the ones writing the links on Five Live and the headlines in the tabloids, were probably born in the 70s, long after the end of hostilities, and their jokey antipathy seems to owe more to viewings of The Italian Job, Dad's Army and The Great Escape than it does to anything very real. I heard football writer Mick Dennis on the radio the other day saying that he'd changed his mind about the Germans based on having gone there on holiday ten years ago. It seemed odd that you could have a prejudice so superficial that a few days in a pension was enough to shrug it off. It's not as if he went ashore on D Day and got shot at.
Maybe the key to our feeling about the Germans is in that line that gets attributed to Gary Lineker. "Football is a game with 11 men a side where the Germans win". We only keep referring to the war because we keep losing at football. Maybe it's a way to explain away our national lack of confidence by pretending it's something to do with the continuation of a noble struggle and not because, nine times out of ten, our multi-millionaires don't hold their nerve under pressure quite as well as their mere millionaires. We're very good at jutting out our chins and pretending it's all to do with the bulldog spirit. But then we make silly mistakes and give it away, much like Captain Mainwaring did when he said "don't tell him, Pike!"