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Jacob Sweetman: The 39 stepovers

The Sportsdesk looks forward to next week's Germany vs. England friendly with a tale of derring-do and good old fashioned British cunning.

The tent on top of the British Embassy was quiet as an elegantly dressed man with a public school haircut and the precise clipped vowels of a late adolescence spent swanning around the balls of Oxbridge ran up and down the steps of the ladder leading to the roof, delivering messages and receiving updates.

“Tell the PM, Clive. This time we’ve jolly well got Fritz by the short and curlies. Merkel’s been on the phone to Jögi and she’s demanding that Philipp Lahm plays at full-back. She’s had enough of that flash Harry Guardiola’s silly-buggering around with the captain, and is putting her Birkenstocks well and truly down.”

“Righto, Roger. He’s shouting at the poor for an hour this afternoon, but I’ll make sure he knows in a jiffy. Oh, and by the way, I heard from the chaps in the lab, that new-fangled gazebo attachment is almost ready for our station up here, should be done in a couple of days. Another slice of cake Roger?” “Sounds super, Clive. Thanks.”

Roger stopped and thought to himself proudly for a moment about his country’s glorious achievements. “A tent on the roof, bloody brilliant. They’ll never think to look up here”. But then his face took on an even greyer hue than it had already been, his nose flushed a little more purple as he cast his gaze over the Brandenburg Gate and he realised the implications of the message he had just delivered. This was going to make things tricky for the chaps down at Bletchley Park. They had been trying to decode the “Lahm Conundrum” for some time now, and every time they thought that they had got a handle on him, the clever little blighter would change out of all proportion. He was technically superb, this bugger Lahm. He could play as well on the left or on the right. And now he was doing so for Bayern in the middle, too.

“Clive,” he shouted back down the ladder. “Best tell the boss, too. James Milner is going to have to run up and down in a straight line, and as quickly as possible, for the whole bally 90 minutes on Tuesday. That’ll show them who invented this game, eh?”

Roger knew that he would have to share this information with their chums in the “five eyes gang” when they met up for drinks at the club later on, but this didn’t disturb him too much. After all, it was only the Yanks and the Bruces, and the sheep shaggers and the Canucks, and what did they know about footer? Anyway, Lahm was only a part of the problem. From up there, amongst the roses and hidden by the crab apple tree in the tent on top of the British Embassy he had been cunningly listening into the nefarious schemes of the Germans for some time now. He knew that they had developed a swathe of secret new weapons. A rash of young and flighty players who could do things with a ball that back home were still unimaginable. Chaps like Mario Götze, Marco Reus, and even this young tyke Julian Draxler could turn on a sixpence, they could dance around in a most ungentlemanly fashion with pace and guile and élan and, all the while, come away with the ball in the deadliest of positions.

Clive’s head appeared at the top of the ladder just behind the slice of cake he had brought up to the roof. It was thick, black chocolate, laden with cherries and looked like it had been sculpted by the ghost of Prince Albert, himself. The last good German. It looked so good that Roger didn’t notice the panicked look on its bearers face. “Roger, we’ve got a problem. They know about the tent.”

Roger didn’t know what to say, he was bereft of all thoughts and ideas, he had never conceived that they might think to look up here on the roof whilst the diplomats had been smoothing things out, cooing into German ears and trying their hardest not to smirk whenever they would talk about the great bonds between the two countries. “The clever buggers,” he said and took a mouthful of cake.

“Best tell the PM straight away. And take a message to the boss at Wembley. Our chaps are going to have to do a hell of a lot of running around on Tuesday. We’ll hare and charge and harry and chase around in circles like you’ve never seen before. That’ll show them. They’ll never be expecting that”.

He took another mouthful of that delicious German cake and thought about Nobby Stiles. And Roger knew that everything would be just fine.