Don’t mention the war. No, really, just stop mentioning the war.

So, here we are again. Another World Cup, another crucial tie with Germany. Oh, and the usual avalanche of hackneyed stereotypes and Second World War references plastered across the pages of the country’s tabloid newspapers.

Take the Daily Star, for instance. In just 61 words today, they managed to cram in: “war”, “Jerries”, “blitz”, “Huns” and “battle”, which all sat beside a photo of a grinning Wayne Rooney, striking a pugilistic pose and wearing an England-branded Tommy Helmet. And that was just the front page. Turn inside, and you could also find: “Fritz”, “blitzkrieg”, “Boche” and “master race”.


In fact, I found it almost impossible to read the Daily Star’s coverage of England’s forthcoming match against Germany without my internal reading voice adopting the style of Laurence Olivier’s distinctive World at War narration.

Admittedly, finding these terms in a newspaper that Glastonbury festival goers would be ashamed to line a soiled portaloo seat with, isn’t news. I know that. But it doesn’t make the use of these terms (in 2010) any less infuriating.

The fact that Joachim Löw’s German squad have an average age of just under 25 – their lowest at a World Cup since 1934 – seems to be wasted on Britain’s tabloid journalists. Germany’s latest footballing wunderkind, Mesut Özil, was only one-year-old when the Berlin Wall came down, for fucks sake! The cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo have a greater connection to World War 2 than Germany’s current World Cup squad. So why do the tabloids still believe that the war is our nation’s greatest galvanizer for a footballing occasion such as this?

Next to the Daily Star’s front page offers of a “free World Cup pint of beer” and “massive England body flag” (useful, with only one day left in the competition – probably), I was surprised not to see: FREE STEN SUBMACHINE GUN, BATTLE DRESS BLOUSE AND VUVUZELA! (Although, to be fair, my imaginary Daily Star offer probably contains too many words for their average reader to comprehend.)

There was a great article yesterday on the BBC website, which was a German view on English football. Like me, the writer of that article, Marcus Schuler, questioned why British tabloid journalists always fall back on the same old stereotypes. He thinks it’s because they lack creativity. And he’s right.

But it’s also just crass stupidity. Surprisingly, The Sun, like The Mirror, didn’t join the Daily Star with its WW2-heavy reporting, as they were too busy making the most of a photo showing the German team on safari, watching three lions from the safety of a caged truck (three lions – what are the odds, eh?).

From another angle there actually appeared to be eight lions strolling around the Germans’ truck. But as a tabloid headline generator it didn’t really do the same job: ‘German team watch lions and enjoy safari’. If I was a PR advisor to the German national team, I would’ve told them to avoid lions at all costs and ensure that they were photographed near a Hyrax colony instead. What the fuck can a British tabloid headline writer do with a Hyrax on the eve of an important World Cup match with Germany?

Anyway, The Sun’s contribution to World War 2 World Cup fever was a small article on page four of today’s paper, which told the story of how Fabio Capello’s father “starved in Nazis’ hell-hole”. Apparently, Cappello’s father’s weight dropped to just six stone after he was captured in Yugoslavia by German soldiers and then detained for around three years in 1943. Pretty shocking stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. However, the article concluded with the fascinating World Cup fact that “some 60,000 Italians died in Nazi hell-holes” during the Second World War.

Martin Phillips – if you can enlighten me as to the relevance of this story in relation to England’s World Cup match with Germany, please contact me. Thanks.

Mercifully, the aforementioned Marcus Schuler says that when he talks to English friends about football, they never ever use words like “Blitzkrieg” or “Fritz”, which is heartening. So just who are the tabloids speaking to? Possible answers to that question include: (1) white van men, who spend their days farting into their hand and mushing it into colleagues’ faces, and (2) the dwindling few who actually fought in the Second World War, some of whom perhaps still hold a grudge against the German nation. But that still doesn’t make the Second World War even remotely relevant to the build up to a football match.

So, tabloids, do you think we can just get past the war? I mean, do you think you can manage not to be so laughably predictable every time a match like this comes along? Please, give it a try – next time – that’s all I ask.

As for England’s chances in the match tomorrow, it’s been reported that a ‘psychic’ octopus called Paul has predicted a defeat for Fabio Capello’s side. This is another thing that tabloids love to cover when confidence in the national side is low: quirky predictions.

If the tabloids got wind of an illegal horse fighting competition, being held to determine England’s chances, they’d probably report with some glee that an English stallion (Ian) brutally defeated his German opponent (Albrecht) during a frenzied clash of hooves and bared teeth. And it would be a tabloid journalist’s wet dream if the victorious Ian then went on to trample an Argentinean stablehand, before crapping in a giant paella.

‘StalLION tips our boys to reach World Cup final!’

‘Hoof do you think you are?’ Stablehand in coma as England’s Lions are tipped for glory!

If you ask me (which you obviously haven’t), I’d say that if England take their group stage performances into the Last 16, they’ll be flying home tomorrow evening.  I hope I’m wrong, but, you know, it is England. I’d probably have a more pleasurable experience watching 90 minutes of colonoscopy footage. Still, we can dream.


1 Comment

Filed under Newspapers, Sport, World Cup

One response to “Don’t mention the war. No, really, just stop mentioning the war.

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