Whenever a major football tournament approaches - one of those nation-stilling, nation-unifying events, a World Cup or European Championship - I think first not of England but of Germany, and of the summers of 1974 and 1976 when, as a young boy, I found myself isolated even in my own household because of my ardent support for, as my father saw it, the hated enemy. My boyhood interest in the German team was the result of a competition I had entered while at primary school in the spring of 1974.
The World Cup of that year was being held in West Germany and the competition was organised by DER, a television rental company. The rules were simple: you had to predict the two finalists and the winning score, a month before the tournament began. In those days, at the age of eight, football was my passion, what I read and thought about, what I played and what I watched. So I knew that the West Germans were a strong team, and that Bayern Munich and Ajax Amsterdam were dominating European club competition. So, with the deadline approaching, I chose West Germany to beat Holland 2-1 in the final, and sent off my entry.
My memories of the actual tournament are hazy now. I recall the absence of England and the presence of Zaire and Haiti, who were repeatedly thrashed; the expansive adventurism of the Dutch, exponents of a style of play I have since learned to call "total football"; and I recall a game between East and West Germany, played in unceasing rain, and surprisingly won by the team from the East. That result was significant: had West Germany won, as expected, they would have met the Dutch in the next round.
In the days before the final I felt isolated, at school and at home. Everyone, it seemed, admired the flamboyance and fluidity of the Dutch, led and inspired by Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens. No one admired the Germans, who in style and performance were the antithesis of that great Dutch side: they were dour, mechanical, efficient, relentless. They were the embodiment of the new Germany.
I watched the final with my father on our newly rented DER colour television. My father grew up in Forest Gate, on the borderlands of Epping Forest and the East End of London. He remembered how, before he was evacuated, bombs from German planes had fallen from the night sky, destroying his school and houses in his road and killing people he knew; he remembered the claustrophobia of the air-raid shelter at the end of his garden and the jaunty smiles of the American troops who passed through his neighbourhood in open-top trucks. Emphatically, he did not want the Germans to win. But I did, and, gloriously, they did, 2-1, just as I'd predicted. It was wonderful to watch as Franz Beckenbauer lifted the trophy.
The next morning I discovered what my prize was: not a television, as my father had hoped and expected, but a black-and-white replica German kit, which I wore, at first nervously, but later without inhibition, out on the street, at football training and out on the school playing fields.
I was still wearing my kit when, two years later, West Germany played Czechoslovakia in the final of the 1976 European Championship. I was staying with my parents at a hotel on the Isle of Wight, and I watched the final, surrounded by boisterous men, in the hotel's cramped television room.
I was alone in supporting Germany, and it was as if I were German, so enraptured was I by a match that was eventually won by the Czechs following an enthralling penalty shoot-out. The final penalty was scored for the Czechs by Antonin Panenka, a deft and audacious chip that made the German goalkeeper look completely foolish. I don't think I had ever felt as disappointed at the end of a sporting event.
As for my German kit, I have no idea what became of it - and that summer of 1976 was the last of its kind there ever was to be. For I soon found a new country to support. I found England.
Hunter Davies returns next month