Winning at the art of losing

The Local is proud to publish My Dear Krauts, a regular column dissecting German society by Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for British daily The Times.

Winning at the art of losing
Photo: DPA

Asking me about football is like consulting Stevie Wonder on the brush-strokes of a Rembrandt painting or Dieter Bohlen on the tone quality of Fidelio. You will get an opinion but it won’t carry much authority.

This isn’t just because I’m allergic to sports, but also because I come from England. Remember England? The chaotic over-priced country that invented football but which is only just discovering that it cannot really play the game?

Even so, Berliners have been coming up to me during the present European Championships and asking me, with a worried look, how do I feel? Naively, I thought at first that this was due to my unusual pallor and gave them a polite, censored resume of my medical condition. Slowly it dawned on me that I was being exposed to a rare and delicate example of Berliner irony. This is something I would normally welcome, but after a while the joke wears thin.

“So, Mr Boyes, another rest day in the English camp?” asks the guy at my lottery kiosk. Or my local baker: “Cricket is a nice game too, right?”

Psychotherapists probably diagnose our present problem as play-exclusion syndrome, familiar for years to countries like Ireland and Hungary. At first, you blame a conspiracy for your failure to qualify. Then you blame your coach. Then you blame the Germans. After a period of mourning you accept that England is simply devoid of football talent – but pretend that everything will be all right by next year. All these processes are irrational.

The next stage, having recognised that you are doomed to watch this tournament on television, is to find a national team that can serve as your proxy. English men have only one criterion: who can beat the Germans? English women tend to cheer on teams with good-looking players (another deficit on the English side), and this year seems to have settled on Portugal as the team they would most like to sleep with. The men favoured first Poland and now Holland. The next stage – we haven’t quite reached it yet – is to acknowledge that Germany will win and announce to the world that it is all down to the Chelsea-training of Michael Ballack.

I don’t think I will ever make quite such an abysmal surrender. Instead I am just enjoying the free time. For example, going to an empty cinema during a German match to watch “Sex and the City,” knowing that I won’t be embarrassed by the presence of other men. Or walking my dog down the middle of the road, devoid of traffic, listening to birdsong. Of course, if there is any chance of the Germans scoring during the walk (and letting out a seismic “Tor!!!!!!!”) I muffle my ears with the sweet embrace of my iPod.

At the Queen Birthday Party in Berlin last week, the new British Ambassador thoughtfully removed the wide-screen television from under the garden tent. We had one in 2006, this time it would have been tasteless, mere self-mockery So, instead I listened to an anglophile professor (clearly identifiable by the way he said “Bless you!” when I sneezed) explain to me that the British had mastered the “Science of Losing.”

First we invented games – football, rugby, cricket, croquet, golf – and made up the rules so that only we could win. Impatient for competition we invited foreigners to take part – and lost our dominance. To cope we developed the concept of the “good loser” and “fair play.” It was, he said, a metaphor for post-imperial decline. Exclusion from the Euro 2008 was actually England deliberately cultivating its football incompetence in order to marginalise itself in Europe.

Naturally I almost choked on my strawberries and cream and assumed that the prof was simply raising the Euro mockery of the English to a new sophisticated level. But then I studied his brogue shoes from Church’s, his striped tie, the snuff box and concluded: the man is serious – albeit wholly deranged. The fact is the English are terrible losers at sports. That is why we have such crude and ugly fans. We are good at losing only: A) Empires. We lost most of our colonies without bloodshed and taught them first how to play cricket and drink tea; B) Elections. Some of the best political speeches ever made were delivered by people who lost an election; and C) Our virginity. Sadly, perhaps, English girls have gained a reputation for this on the Continent.

But as for losing sports encounters, naja. Perhaps we should learn from the Germans. Look at how you approached the World Cup two years ago. First, you spent months telling the world it was going to be a dismal failure, that the stadiums were useless and the team even worse. But privately the Germans were thinking – as they are thinking now – we are winners, better than those slippery foreigners. Some may regard this as hypocrisy but it is in fact an almost oriental aversion to demonstrating arrogance. If Germany loses, then it will have been widely predicted. And if Germany wins, well that’s just fine.

Germany in other words has taken over the stewardship of the (always rather dubious) concept of fair play from the British. We never really believed in it. The English, like the Germans, always wanted just to win, hated to lose. Fair play was, for the English, a mask that we put on so as not to lose face.

Now we are less concerned about what others think of us, are more naked in our ambition to succeed. Sadly, without the talent to match. The Germans meanwhile have become as restrained as we used to be; an image conscious society. I am happy for you – no, really I am. And I don’t really mind if Germany wins. When the moment comes I will be in an air-conditioned cinema, eating popcorn.

Viel Glück, Deutschland! (You will need it)

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.


British football teams allowed to skip Germany’s quarantine for Euro 2020

Germany's government announced on Tuesday it will allow England, Scotland and Wales to enter the country without quarantine to play at Euro 2020 despite a recent rise in cases linked to the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Britain.

British football teams allowed to skip Germany's quarantine for Euro 2020
One of the venues for Euro 2020 is in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The three teams could potentially reach the quarter-final held in Munich on July 2nd.

If that were the case, they would be exempt from the rule that travellers from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must currently observe a 14-day isolation period due to the virus strain of concern – Delta – first identified in India.

“The people accredited for the European football Championship are exempt from the quarantine obligation, even after arriving from an area impacted by a variant” Berlin said in a statement.

“This exemption concerns all the people who have been accredited by the organising committee for the preparation, participation, the holding and the follow-up of international sporting events,” it added.

The exemption does not include fans, who will be obliged to follow German government self-isolation rules.

Germany declared the UK a ‘virus variant area of concern’ on May 23rd due to rising cases linked to the Delta variant in parts of the country. 

READ ALSO: Germany makes UK ‘virus variant area of concern’: How does it affect you?

This reclassification came just seven days after the UK was put back on Germany’s list at the lowest risk level, and barely a month after it was taken off all risk lists completely.

The ban was put in place despite the UK’s relatively low Covid rates as a precautionary measure.

A general ban on entry is in place for people coming from countries on the ‘virus variant’ list – such as India and Brazil – the highest of Germany’s risk categories. 

There are some exceptions for entering from these countries – for example German residents and citizens. However, anyone who does enter from Germany is required to submit a Covid-19 test before boarding the flight and must quarantine for 14 days on arrival, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or not.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new relaxed quarantine and testing rules after travel

Euro 2020 starts on Friday as Italy host Turkey in Rome with the Bavarian city hosting three group games as well as the last-eight match.

Around 14,000 fans will be allowed into the Allianz Arena for the fixtures.