History-related needle means encounters between English and German teams have not always been war minus the fighting but it is a more cosmopolitan game now than in the 1970s
George Orwell observed that British troops returned from the first world war hating all foreigners except the Germans, whom they considered worthy adversaries. It is a bit like that with English football, which tends to see foreign players as at best devious and at worst cheats while regarding the Germans as more like us than them, even if Jürgen Klinsmann could have won Olympic gold for diving.
On Saturday night, for example, Chelsea will face Bayern Munich in the Champions League final expecting the sort of opposition they might encounter at the top of the Premier League. This will be the sixth time that the paths of English and German interests have crossed in the final of Europe's most prestigious club tournament. The present score is 4-1 to England, a statistic that owes more to English durability than any marked superiority in footballing skills.
Some headline writers still see these Anglo-German encounters as reruns of the second world war although the analogy will be even harder to justify on this occasion seeing that two of the principal threats to Chelsea will come from the Bayern wing pair of France's Franck Ribéry and Holland's Arjen Robben.
At least the game has grown up a bit since the 1970s, when Don Revie was rumoured to have sent out his England team for a friendly against West Germany at Wembley with the reminder: "Their dads bombed your mums and dads."
And there was that priceless moment in Munich when an overnight fall of snow followed by a quick thaw meant that Liverpool's game against Bayern had to be put back 24 hours. A furious Bill Shankly confronted two Bayern officials in the foyer of his team's hotel, insisting that the match go ahead. On getting nowhere he jabbed a finger at each of them: "It's always the same here. It goes from Hitler to Goebbels!" The Germans were more bemused than annoyed.
The angry and chaotic scenes that accompanied Leeds United's 2-0 defeat by Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup final in Paris had little to do with wartime stereotypes and were more about the crowd violence that was becoming endemic in the English game. For much of the time Leeds looked the better side but early on a dreadful late tackle by Terry Yorath, which put Bayern's Bjorn Andersson out of the game, turned most of the Parc des Princes and maybe the referee against them.
Peter Lorimer had an apparently good goal disallowed and the growing unrest among the Leeds fans eventually turned into a full-scale riot, with plastic seating torn up and hurled on to the pitch, badly injuring a photographer. Back in the dressing room Jimmy Armfield, the Leeds manager, tried to console the players, "then I saw Billy Bremner just staring at me and I knew I should have kept my mouth shut".
By contrast, Liverpool's 3-1 triumph against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Rome final two seasons later was a gloriously happy event. Four days earlier Bob Paisley's players had flopped exhausted on to the Wembley turf after losing the FA Cup final 2-1 to Manchester United but now they achieved a tactical triumph that owed much to the unselfishness of Kevin Keegan, who was man-marked by Berti Vogts and consistently took the defender deep, making it easier for Liverpool's attacks to stay onside.
Keegan had twice been elected European Footballer of the Year by the time he led Hamburg's attack against Nottingham Forest, the European Cup holders, in the 1980 final in Madrid. But even he could not break down Brian Clough's defence, let alone beat Peter Shilton, and a long shot from John Robertson that went in off a post kept the trophy at the City Ground.
Two years later a toe-poke from Peter Withe frustrated a Bayern Munich side much fancied to overcome Aston Villa in Rotterdam and when stoppage-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought Manchester United that extraordinary win at the Camp Nou in 1999 Bayern's supporters must have seriously started to believe that the Almighty was an Englishman with a Scottish accent.
The odds must favour Bayern now, given home advantage and Chelsea's defensive weaknesses, but they should remember that they lost in 1999 after Sheringham had spotted several of the opposition making celebratory gestures to the German fans before the final whistle.
Failing that Bayern can always remind themselves of why Manchester City and not Manchester United are the new Premier League champions. Something to do with fat frauleins.