Sport and Leisure History
20 June 2011
Football and National Identity in Post-War England
Christoph Wagner (De Montfort University)
Huns vs Inselaffen: Anglo-German Football Rivalry, 1954-2000

In the 1950s and 1960s how was the rivalry between England and Germany in football described by the national press?  With the Second World War still fresh in English minds a lingering enmity between the countries cannot have failed to have an impact.  Today football fans focus on England’ victory in 1966 as a symbol of victory over the Germans but before that World Cup the rivalry was equally poignant.  Christoph Wagner uses various newspaper reports to show how games against Germany drew out the military metaphors and imagery with much more clarity than was generally the case in other matches.  The words chosen in the reports too presented a comedic representation of Nazi Germany as symbolism for English rivalry (and the necessity for victory) against their German foes.

Dr DIlwyn Porter (De Montfort University)
English Football and the State of the (British) Nation, c. 1980-2000

Continuing from Wagner’s discussion of English rivalry with Germany in the game of football, Dilwyn Porter emphasises how it was necessary for English victory to be seen to have occurred on the pitch even after a loss.  A requirement for victory over the German ‘threat’ may well be a hangover from the Second World War but it is one that has remained in the English consciousness (perhaps to its detriment) ever since.  However, Porter goes further in his analysis of this rivalry.  The 1966 victory over the Germans at the World Cup Final is seen as a golden moment in recent English history because it represents a blip in an otherwise story of decline.  After the Second World War Britain’s Empire collapsed and the rise of Europe as an entity revealed more noticeably how England was declining in economy and political power in opposite to its European cousins.    The financial success story of post-war Germany highlights an inferiority complex in England.  The English desire to see victory in football against the Germans represents a much wider cultural identity that focuses on a decline in state and culture.  The war metaphor discussed by Christoph Wagner  is, Porter believes, a continuing symptom of that cultural identity crisis. 


The latter part of Porter’s paper refocuses on to the source material itself – namely how the historian can use the tabloid press as evidence (this discussion begins 28 minutes into Porter’s paper).  Porter notes the need to address fabrication of detail in the reporting and (especially in journalism from the mid-twentieth century) the stylistic preference to insert the reporter into the report itself.  Porter also emphasises the need to be careful of the sensationalism that overwhelms journalistic reporting in the tabloid press.  Secondly, Porter notes a warning to historians of Sport history.  Often research on this subject over-emphasise the importance of Sport on national culture.  Not everyone enjoys football, for instance, and not everyone reads the back pages of tabloid papers.  Even those that do will see different things in what they read depending on various factors related to their standing in society and their daily lives. 

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