The ball is round: German football is pure wisdom... and en route to win a fifth star


"The ball is round, and a game lasts 90 minutes" – famous words of German football legend Sepp Herberger, and a common proverb even among people usually not very interested in football. Football wisdom of this kind is part of German culture, and it doesn't matter that Herberger didn't have his facts straight. English football legend Gary Lineker set him straight many years later by stating that “football is a simple game – you play for 120 minutes and then the Germans win on penalties.”

Just like in England, football is for many Germans part of everyday life and the favourite sport. Unlike England, German footballers actually win world cups; and yes, that's a shameless dig at the Three Lions and very unfair to the nation that invented modern football. The author is German and as such of course still holds a grudge about the Wembley goal.

To not drop this topic all too quickly: new studies conducted by the Imperial College London and the University of Oxford agree that the ball in the fateful 1966 final never crossed the line. We shouldn’t believe scientists, though, because football is a game of common sense and sportsmanship.

Wembley Goal 1966

In or Out?

What do you think? Comment at the end of the post.

Football: England inspired Europe… and the world

All banter aside, football indeed is not only an English invention, its worldwide success story started with passionate Englishmen bringing their sport abroad. Traditional teams like Barcelona or Milano have been founded by English players during the 19th century, and it was the effort of English teachers in Germany that made football popular in the country. Historians like to point out that China already knew football-like games 300 B.C., but the rules of modern rugby and football clearly hail from England.

The father of German football is a teacher named Konrad Koch, who in 1874 claimed that the German youth has lost its passion for sports and playful movement, and football would the best possible way to re-ignite this feeling. The Prussian military agreed and used football as a method of recruitment and empowerment for its soldiers – the reason why German football language is still filled with military jargon: Angriff, Verteidigung, Stürmer, Flanke, Deckung, Parade.

Besides the armed forces, football was played mainly in student circles and among the middle class of Germany. The working class simply lacked the means to pay for the expensive equipment, an idea that seems weird in modern times. This changed in 1900 with the start of the German Football Association DFB (Deutscher Fußball Bund). It would take another 63 years before the Bundesliga started – the German Premier League, featuring the big names well known in England: Bayern München (Munich), Borussia Dortmund or Schalke 04, legendary mispronounced “Scheiße 04” by Take That’s Robbie Williams in a prime time German TV show of the late 90s.

Football today

The really interesting teams of the Bundesliga are not among these big names, though. Fringe teams like Hansa Rostock (one of the few survivors of East German football after the reunification) or the 1. FC Köln (Cologne) are at times much more exciting. Cologne supporters live through a constant cycle of happiness and despair – their team is either on top position in the second league or struggling for survival in the first league, with few exceptions, making for good entertainment and occasional suffering.

Teams that should be close to the heart of Mancunians are those of the Ruhr area: Schalke, Bochum and Dortmund resemble Manchester in many ways, being old industrial cities, freshly regenerated (and gentrified), changing the face of football teams and their supporters. None of these teams is as wealthy as the red and blue giants of Manchester, though – but despite the existence of hooligans, German fans have a rather positive reputation abroad.

Let’s see what Russia brings. Many Germans passionately hope for the fifth star, but that seems anything but safe, with teams like France looking very strong. We will have to wait and see, because:

The ball is round, and a game lasts 90 minutes.

Or more...

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