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January 20, 2013

A friendly

Part one of a Franco-German blogpost trilogy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty.

On 6 February, France will receive Germany for a friendly at the Stade de France. The match was fixed by the two federations – no doubt gently nudged by their respective governments – on the first available date following the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer on 22 January 1963.

True enough, the Treaty is a remarkable piece of visionary reconciliation, establishing a unique partnership that even has turned into something like friendship carried not only by governments but by large parts of civil society. Organising a ‘friendly’ seems to be a rather appropriate semantic choice.

Colombes, March 1931 - The first France-Germany.

Except that friendlies in international football between neighbouring countries are never really friendlies, are they? How could they be? In the fans’ and media’s memory, a century-old rivalry is always in the background. In the players’ mind, facing another European top-team is an opportunity to earn or justify one’s place in the team for the important World Cup qualifiers to come. For the coaches, it’s most of all an occasion to test tactical schemes and rotate in the team.

Curiously enough, this ‘anniversary’ friendly is only the 25th encounter between the two national teams. That’s not a lot for two neighbours who had both been founding members of the FIFA as early as 1904. In comparison, France played Belgium, England and Italy 71, 39 and 37 times respectively, while Germany played as many as nine other team more often than its French neighbour (Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, Yugoslavia).

The reasons for these statistics are of course historical ones. On the eve of the First World War both the French and the German team were born into an era of aggressive nationalism, and it is understandable that the federations looked elsewhere for organising international games. It took until 1931 before they met for the first time on a football pitch (a French 1-0 win in the stadium of the 1924 Olympics in Colombes). The match inaugurated a short-lived rhythm of one friendly each second spring, which came, obviously, to an end after the fourth encounter in Stuttgart (a German 4-0 win in the recently built and aptly named ‘Adolf-Hitler-Kampfbahn’).

Colombes, October 1952. Fritz Walter and Roger Marche resume diplomatic relations.

Fifteen years and one World War later, when the two teams met again in Colombes, the French federation decided, in order to avoid any kind of diplomatic incident with the 60,000 spectators, not to play the national anthems before the game. On the German side, the newspaper repeatedly invited their travelling compatriots to remain as discreet as possible in the Parisian streets and ‘avoid mass choirs both in the stadium and on the boulevards’. Relief was great after the French 3-1 victory, which was won in a ‘cordial atmosphere’ and followed by ‘sympathetic applause for the visitors’.

Thirty years later, France and Germany wrote one of the most dramatic chapters of World Cup history, in a match that produced an atmosphere much different from the ‘cordial’ one in 1952 and certainly no ‘sympathetic applause’ for the winner. One of these matches that transcend the bi-national character of international fixtures and find a place in transnational football memory. ‘Sevilla 1982’ seems to ring a bell with many football fans even outside France and Germany. It will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category : History, Memory, Posts - No Comment

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