There was an enormous man in front of me in the pub last night. He was new in there. He had arms the size of hams and a top half carved out of one of Stonehenge’s slabs. He was also only about four and a half feet tall, with a shock of blonde hair and, by the end of the first half, a smile fixed so firmly onto his face it was like he’d had a Peter Sellers moment (the rumour always was that he had died whilst having sex with Britt Ekland, a final huff of poppers proving too much for the old genius’s heart).
With every goal he left his chair and went out to the street to let off an industrial strength banger. They were small, Polish imported, probably, and shook the street itself. He was not alone, smoke hung in the air from all of the explosives being released. At 4:0 I asked him if he’d brought enough. He smiled and confirmed that he did, but Germany’s seventh goal would have to go unexploded, his pockets were empty, because nobody could have expected that scoreline. “I’ll have to buy a load more for the final,” he said.
The World Cup had never seen anything like it before. Germany had eviscerated the hosts, they had destroyed Brazil within the course of the first 19 minutes, and Berlin was being shaken to its foundations. As the Brazilian’s defence folded time and time again like a cheap deckchair on the pitch, the assorted old curmudgeons who while away their hours in this darkened corner of the city – it is a smoky oasis that feels like a thousand miles away from the hipper bars around the corner with their carefully chosen, ill matching, furniture full of beautiful people with expensive tattoos that certainly weren’t scraped on in prison, despite the intention to look that way – smiled like they hadn’t done in 20 years.
They screamed and danced and rushed out into the street to let off their bombs and rockets. The woman working behind the bar had regretted the decision to give out free shots for every German goal. She picked her way through the bar with a box of Kleiner Feiglinge, but as soon as one was taken then there would be another goal, and another cheap fig flavoured hit of syrup. Another box to be opened. She had barely caught up with the scoreline by the drawing of the first half.
And who would begrudge these men the chance to revel in a match so extraordinary that the final result, 7:1, SEVEN : ONE, will be talked about in fevered tones for a lifetime. Last night their cheap fags tasted like Cuban cigars hand rolled on the milky thighs of virgins. Last night those Feiglinge tasted to them like the finest wines, whose grapes were harvested from the slopes of Mount Olympus itself.
Who could begrudge them that moment, because (and let’s be honest here) it could all fall apart in a moment on Sunday. The massive guy that sat in front of me needs to be careful not to buy too many bangers for the World Cup final, because he may not need them all again. The smug old boy in the Germany baseball cap who bounded up at the end, cowing, “Oh, you’re English. Fifty years for you. But Germany are World Champions” may well have to realise that this was still only the semi-final. No one is World Champion yet.
And as nobody expected West Germany to beat Hungary in 1954, or to beat Holland in 1974, now nobody will expect Argentina or Holland to beat the new Germany in 2014. The fans dancing through the streets and lauding their heroes to the heavens as they nurse their hangovers that have never felt so achingly good and righteous will, at some point, need to remember the lessons that they have doled out to other countries who thought that the World Cup was a done deal in the past.
But maybe that is the curmudgeon in me talking. The part of me that fits so well into the darkened corners of this boozer. I don’t know what it would be like to see the team I support enter the World Cup final, let alone after a result as cataclysmic as this one. When I return to the pub today for my regular beer in stony silence, I will exchange a gap toothed nod of recognition to the same old guys dotted around the place. They were all in there last night, of course, just enjoying the game. They weren’t racing onto the streets and they weren’t wearing the colours of the flag. But maybe, just maybe, that gap-toothed nod may today be a smile.
It will do them for now.