A number of German-born American players are the sons of soldiers who have served in Europe – a reminder of a once divided country now united by the beautiful Game.
From Issue 5 of Póg Mo Goal Magazine available here
In April 2014, just a couple of months before the World Cup, USA international John Anthony Brooks found himself dropped by his club manager at Hertha Berlin, Jos Luhukay. A back complaint had prevented him from training or playing but the reason why infuriated his coach. He had decided to get a giant tattoo not realising that the skin would become inflamed and irritated. Luhukay was incensed and dropped the defender for the subsequent loss at Bayer Leverkusen.
Brooks had participated in underage camps for both Germany and the USA, and having only earned a call-up to the senior American team the previous summer, losing his club place so close to the World Cup threatened to derail his young career.
Thankfully, he regained his place at the club where he’d risen through the youth ranks. Jürgen Klinsmann, the German legend in charge of the USA national team, named Brooks in his squad for the finals in Brazil where the player would repay that faith. In the opening group match against Ghana, he came on as a halftime replacement and scored the winning goal in the 2–1 victory, in the process becoming the first American
to score as a substitute at a World Cup.
The 6ft 4” centre-back had travelled to South America with some more notable ink on his body. On his left elbow, he sported a map of Berlin marked with a star over his exact birthplace. Brooks was born in
the German capital four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His father was a US serviceman from Chicago based in the city – the reason why, on his right elbow, he displayed a map of Illinois where the American side of his family hailed from.
Over 50 Americans have played in the Bundesliga and many of those, like Brooks, were born in Germany to fathers serving in the US forces. Theirs is a story linked with the bloody history and political evolution of Europe, and east/west relations. At the end of World War II, the four Allied powers divided Germany into four zones for administrative purposes. While Berlin was located completely within the Soviet zone, because of its symbolic importance as the German capital, the city was jointly occupied and subdivided into four sectors.
Allied relations completely broke down with the imposition of the Berlin Blockade enforced from June 1948 which saw the Soviets severely disrupt travel within the city leading to an almost year-long air-lift by the western powers to deliver much needed supplies and relief to West Berlin. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets ended the blockade and reopened the borders. Later in the same month, East and West Germany were established as separate republics. This was the first major international clash of the Cold War and signalled to the USA the need for a permanent military presence within Germany, something which remains to this day.
A decade ago there were 227 active American bases in the country. Many have closed but it’s estimated there are still as many as 40,000 United States military personnel deployed in Germany.
During the Cold War, there were nine major air bases in West Germany. In the 1950s, in an effort to improve relations with the locals, soldiers learned the game of soccer, organising themselves into teams to compete in nearby leagues. While the take-up of the game loved by the Germans may have taken longer than expected to impact back home, the football connection between the countries has endured as has the link to the USA’s overseas troops.
Five of the 30 players in Jürgen Klinsmann’s preliminary squad for the 2014 World Cup were the sons of American servicemen based in the country; John-Anthony Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Terrence Boyd, and the Bayern Munich teenager Julian Green. In Jones’s case, born in Frankfurt to an American father and German mother, he grew up in Illinois and Mississippi before moving back to Germany when his parents were divorced. Coming up through the local youth leagues, his senior club career included spells at Frankfurt, Leverkusen, and Schalke 04. He represented Germany at U21 and senior level but injuries prevented him from lining
out in competitive games. Then in 2009 he switched allegiance to the United States.
The midfielder made his World Cup debut in 2014 in the same match that saw Brooks introduced as a scoring sub against Ghana. In the USA’s second game, Jones found the net with a spectacular effort against Portugal, a match that finished 2-2. Dubbed ‘German Jones’ when first called up to the US squad, the player’s tattooed and dreadlocked appearance meant he was sometimes deemed to be a ‘bad boy’ both at club and international level with a propensity to earn red cards. His performances in Brazil, however, made him one of the heroes of a USA side that reached unprecedented levels of attention at home.
Just like Brooks, Jones was also a fan of inked art on his physique. On the eve of the 2014 finals, he revealed his newest design, a star across his kneecap in the colours of the American flag. In an interview
at the time he said: “I am proud to be half-half, proud to be half-American and half-German and to play proudly for the U.S. national team.”
Of course, Brooks and Jones weren’t just of German-American origin but both were African- American. On December 22, 1974, another son of
a US serviceman, Erwin Kostedde became the first black player to play for the German national side when he faced Malta in a European Championship qualifier.
At the time, the Bild newspaper hailed the 28-year-old as Germany’s “black gem” while Franz Beckenbauer claimed he could be the successor
to the great Gerd Müller. His football career took in clubs such as Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund, and Standard Liege where he finished as top scorer in the Belgian league in the 1970-71 season but in the end Kostedde would win just two more caps for West Germany. Having suffered from racial abuse on and off the pitch, Kostedde later fell out of love with football, but always acknowledged his pride at being the first black player to play for Germany paving the way for future generations.
For decades, German and American relations had been multi-layered, for too long defined by the spectre of conflict. For the football culture of both countries however, the relationship has not been defined by military force but by a shared identity, a force for good. With tattoos of the cities representing his dual nationality on either side of his body, John Anthony Brooks publicly displayed his pride in his mixed roots. The circumstances of history meant he was born in a city which a few short years before was physically divided. As fate would have it, he would later earn the nickname ‘The Berlin Wall’ from the Hertha fans for his talents on the football pitch, united in their affection for the German-American.
Illustration by James Loughman www.jamesloughman.com
This article appears in Issue 5 of Póg
Mo Goal Magazine, 64 pages of excellent feature writing, beautiful photography and illustrations from contributors across the globe.