German World Cup journalists have been singing the praises of their English counterparts — whether for the expertise, professionalism and tactical knowledge in the broadsheets or the wit and humour of the tabloids.
I must admit I often find myself scanning English newspapers for their insulting, but nevertheless humorous references to Germany. Headlines like "Let's blitz Fritz" or "Don't mention the score" are pure genius and proof of what we consider British humour. Too bad that these remarks create a negative atmosphere among those who like to read too much into the hype around games.
Anyway, the German perception of the British press pack at the World Cup can best be summed up by the words of Harald Stenger. The often grimfaced, but warm-hearted and helpful press officer of the German FA (DFB) has developed close ties with several English reporters over a long period. "We admire their quality newspapers for their great expertise and knowledge," Stenger says. "Whereas with the tabloids, we've learned not to take them too seriously because their stories are a far cry away from reality, especially with regard to the famous ‘Kraut' articles."
In general, German reporters seem to be thoroughly impressed by the work of their British counterparts. "A lot of them have a great knowledge for the game of football," says Markus Lotter of Die Welt. "They are not like German sports writers who sometimes write like euphoric or disappointed fans."
Roland Zorn, chief football writer of leading newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adds: "They cover a lot more ground and are more professional than the Germans. They dig much deeper and it shows in their great articles."
It's not just the coverage, but also the working conditions that are different. Many German colleagues have been surprised to find out that there are separate interview opportunities for the Sunday papers. The relentless probing and questioning during press conferences has also baffled observers — as does the tone of some journalists in interview sessions, which can often border on the aggressive. It seems no one gets an easy ride.
"Jurgen Klinsmann would immediately leave the podium if he faced questions as aggressive as Eriksson does," says Marc Schmitt, a reporter for German sports news agency. "Questions for Klinsmann never tend to be too critical, while the British reporters — who all seem to be pulling on the same string — really give Eriksson a hard time. But he is playing that game."
Most of the German reporters have praised the Football Association for good co-operation and organisation. It looks like England are not only adopting our efficiency on the pitch (i.e. play poorly and win the group) but also organisational virtues off it. Working conditions in the mixed zone, where reporters get direct access to players, are described as pretty good.
Lotter says: "Two or three well-known journalists appear to have the privilege of asking questions, so standing right next to them is the best place to be.
The press officers seem to guide the players through to them."
Generally speaking, the battle in the English mixed zone does not appear to be much worse than the usual hassle every reporter faces when he tries to get quotes, although the atmosphere can be more aggressive, with a few elbows flying around and microphones getting knocked away.
Of course, with access to players being organised by the FA, we understand that there is a big fight for exclusivity going on. It is not that much of a big deal in Germany as the DFB would still grant the biggest newspapers — and even the top regionals — regular one-on-one interviews. And our sole national tabloid, Bild, is pretty much unrivalled as far as breaking stories (or obtaining leaked information!) is concerned.
But British journalists are not shy to fight for exclusivity. There have apparently been several occasions when they tried to keep colleagues — as well as poor Fifa volunteer note-takers — away. It even prompted the organisers to issue a warning through the media channel: "Fifa would like to point out that the quotes given in the mixed zones… are free of use for all the media," the statement read.
"There are no exclusive rights for these quotes, contrary to certain allegations by members of several media who claimed that only their news organisation was allowed to make use of these statements."
Speaking of quotes, it always amuses me to see how some of the stories I provide from Germany are interpreted. I remember filing an interview with Owen Hargreaves saying he was happy at Bayern Munich, but could imagine playing in the Premiership one day. Sure enough, there was the headline "Owen desperate to switch" the next day.
As a foreign reporter for a British-based organisation, it is intriguing to have a foot in both camps sometimes. One of the most interesting recent episodes was Luiz Felipe Scolari's four-day trip to Germany at the end of April, during which he pulled out of the race to become the next England manager.
One day after the Portugal boss blamed the British media for intruding in his life, some 20 reporters had apparently camped in front of his house in Lisbon.
‘Big Phil' got another taste of what he could have expected if he had decided to take over from Sven Goran Eriksson when he took a tour of Portugal's World Cup training facilities in the tiny Westphalen city of Marienfeld. It ended in complete turmoil.
Dozens of photographers followed him through the narrow corridors and rooms of the hotel, with British TV reporters and tabloid writers throwing question after question at him. Why had he snubbed England?
Was it because of money?
His English might not be the best, but he understood all of it and steadfastly refused to respond in English. At one point during the half-hour tour, he became trapped in an elevator which failed to move, but still he would not say a single word to English journalists who refused to relent.
Later, when he was assured that no British reporters were around, he answered questions from German and Portuguese colleagues.
Such is life on the British football beat and, if Scolari could not take the heat, then he was better off staying out of the kitchen, as you say across the water.
One thing is for sure, the interrogative and unrelenting nature of the British media has not yet left a negative impression in England's base in Baden-Baden. All my German colleagues have described their English counterparts as friendly, knowledgeable and more than willing to share information.
"I have a feeling that most of the media are supporting the campaign as long as England have a chance of winning it all," says one. " There have been no real bad campaigns yet."
We're curious to see what happens once they crash out. Or, preferably, play Germany in the final!