Jean Bernard Léon Foucault was a clever man. In the 1850s it was he who proved that the earth was revolving in space through his experiment, the Foucault pendulum (although, presumably at the time he just called it the pendulum). We don’t need to go into the details, for today's lecture is not about physics – it is, of course, about football – but when he swung a 28 kilo brass ball from a 60 odd meter wire in Paris, he helped to change the perceptions of all of us just a little. We could see ourselves spinning in the loneliness of the cosmos. The passage of time had a bit more context to it.
It was quite a big deal.
The Foucault pendulum is often recreated, but was rarely more meaningfully achieved than when Frank Rijkaard set up his own little one in Rudi Völler’s hair when Germany played Holland in the Word Cup in 1990.The world would do a lot of turning under that swinging shot of phlegm. It was ugly as hell, thoughtless, out of character apparently, really stupid, and made great television.
Rijkaard had hammered the German striker on the slide and received a justified yellow card. He cleared his throat as he jogged back past him and let one fly. He would do it again a few moments later after they both received red cards – Völler’s for being wound up, spat at and having his toe stamped on. The image of that little pendulum swinging from the curly blonde locks of one of the nicest guys in football (off the pitch at least) was defining for a World Cup that brought the game to callous new levels everywhere one looked.
It was a great game though. On the way to winning their third World Cup, Germany beat Holland 2-1, and the beautiful Dutch team that were still reigning European Champions would go home in acrimony, arguments and a storm of bitchiness embodied by the spit in Völler’s hair and Olaf Thon's shirt being used to wipe the arse of Ronald Koeman.
But let’s not over-analyse a little gobbing incident as being the culmination of a dislike between the neighbours since long before they could even be recognised as being the countries that are today. This wasn’t about bicycles (as in the popular Dutch chant of “We want our bicycles back” – after the Nazi’s rounded them all up during their occupation of Holland), or about Caravans clogging up the motorways (the defining German stereotype of the Dutch). This was just a great scene in the comparatively new drama that is the footballing antipathy between two countries who were both bloody good at football.
It would be interesting to know if Hungary, whose wonderful side lost the World Cup final in 1954 to the totally unfancied Germans, resent them as much for winning that game as the Dutch do about the final in 1974. The Dutch were 1-0 up before Germany even touched the ball, but they tried to humiliate them, missed a bagful of chances and the rest is history. They have never forgotten it, and ever since it has become the great European derby.
Tonight they meet again in a European Championships that has seen the world revolve a good few times under that little spuck of a pendulum. In the last World Cup Holland were cautious, ugly, aggressive, and reached the final. Germany were sprightly, multicultural, beguiling, and didn’t. It was as if everything was the wrong way around.
It will be an occasion to match last nights excellent match between Poland and Russia, where both sides tore into each other with gay abandon, and as far removed from the stodgy, turgid, torpor of England against France as it is possible to be. And where better than to enjoy the spectacle than here in Berlin.
Holland need to win to survive in the tournament, but, just as much, they need to play well for their reputation to be renewed. It is still a little weird that Germany will be the side the neutrals are rooting for, but that is probably just what Foucault would have wanted.