THE MID-1930s was a time of growing fear in Europe, indeed the world. Germany, in particular, was a major concern for the rest of the continent. In 1935, a number of events pointed the way towards the conflict that was World War Two. This was the year that the German air force, the Luftwaffe, was formed. A few days later, Adolf Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty and announced that Germany would rearm. And in September, the Nuremberg Laws, an antisemitic doctrine that made it illegal for Jews and non-Jews to have any form of relationship, came into effect. The rest of the world was scared of Germany and its intentions.
It was the year in which the ultimate propaganda film, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) by Leni Riefenstahl, was released. Meanwhile, football, indeed sport, was being used by right-wing governments to express national identity and racial supremacy. Germany had its Kraft durch Freude (strength through joy) movement based on fresh air, exercise and sport. And Italy had won the 1934 World Cup in France while Germany finished in third place. Sport became a pillar in the propaganda agenda, as displayed a year later when Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
But in 1935, when it was announced that England would play Germany in a football match in London, on December 4, public sentiment became inflamed. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) called for the game to be postponed and that the entry into Britain of German football supporters should be prohibited. The Daily Mail added fuel to the fire by reporting that swastika-adorned motor coaches, packed with Germans, would proceed through central London. Some newspapers noted that the presence of Germans in the capital would be interpreted as a gesture of sympathy with their tyrannical regime.
The Football Association, and various football bodies, tried to separate sport and politics. It wasn’t easy, however, because news filtered back from Germany that a young Jewish footballer had been kicked to death in Ratibor, Upper Silesia. This was later denied by Germany, although evidence was not forthcoming. London’s Jewish community was, understandably, totally against the fixture. There was a touch of irony about the choice of venue for the game – Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane. Tottenham had a strong Jewish contingent among its clientele. There were media reports, driven by local Tottenham and Edmonton newspapers and the Jewish Chronicle, that German supporters would march through known Jewish neighbourhoods. There was little substance to such rumours.
While the TUC initially called for grand-scale protest and demonstrations, they later changed their approach. As early as October, there were plans for a “walk-out” during a Tottenham game by anti-Nazis and Jews at the sound of a bugle.
Football people had a swipe at the TUC for its part in whipping-up hysteria. For example, at a Middlesex Wanderers dinner just before the fixture, the Reverend Herbert Dunnico criticised the TUC for “gratuitous and impertinent interference” and “high-handed arrogance”. Stanley Rous, then secretary of the Football Association, agreed entirely with this sentiment.
A letter to The Times also suggested there was a growing feeling, especially among the middle and upper classes, that sport and politics should be separated:
“Sir, With such enthusiasm for the Berlin Orchestra in London and the provinces and an almost sold-out house for their last concert on Sunday, why should we treat our friendly visitors any differently upon the football field.” – Philip Ben Greet, Lambeth.
Hans across the sea
In many ways, playing the game was also an opportunity for the British to show their own powers of good order. Germany was renowned for this quality, albeit under the gaze of authoritarians with armbands and uniforms. The Daily Mirror pointed this out, citing two reasons for putting on a good show: to make visitors feel as comfortable as possible; and to demonstrate how a tremendous piece of organisation can be carried out without any militaristic display. Just as Germany and Italy were using sport as a propaganda tool, the British were also doing their best to turn the story to their advantage.
Headlines screamed their warnings to the public – “Hans across the sea”, “Nine football ships reach England” – as 10,000 German supporters made their way to London. “We want this to be a peaceful invasion,” said Sir John Simon, the Home Secretary.
In an age where stereotyping was not a crime and political correctness had not emerged as an art, the British press portrayed the Germans as bull-necked, bespectacled and noisy. Every one of them was a Nazi. The head of German football, Herr Linnemann, was called a “Nazi football dictator” as he warned travelling supporters not to sing political songs. The Home Office could not resist a comment or two in this direction, saying “Nazi football match is not political”.
Inter-continental travel was still in its infancy in 1935, but there was a feeling that London would be welcoming an alien race. When the Germans arrived, it seemed to be a surprise when it was revealed that, “All were smartly dressed and almost every other man carried a camera and pair of binoculars.”
Around 1,600 supporters travelled on the Nortddeutscher Lloyd Liner Columbus and a similar number on the Bremen. When they arrived at Southampton, a silver band was there to greet them. Germany had made it easy for them to travel. Excursions to England were offered at the equivalent of 30 shillings (£1.50) and each person was allowed to travel with 10 Marks. Others travelled via Dover and reached London by special trains. Why was it so easy? Perhaps it was, after all, part of a charm offensive ahead of the Olympics.
If it was, it wasn’t a failure. A group of those fans arriving at Waterloo, for example, brought with them a six foot laurel wreath to be placed at the Cenotaph which read: “In memory of the British dead, from 1,500 German football supporters who have travelled to attend the English-German game.”
“You have misunderstood the position here”
The German team also reached England with a mission in mind. Before flying from Rotterdam to Croydon, the airport where a couple of years later, Neville Chamberlain declared “peace in our time”, they said, quite clearly: “Keine politische, fragen” – no politics. “We have nothing to do with the German government. You have misunderstood the position here.”
At the same time, they added that, “We have not heard from Herr Hitler, but I am sure we have his good wishes for success.”
Scotland Yard detectives guarded the team from the moment they landed in London after a “tiring journey against adverse head winds”.
Otto Nerz, the manager of the team, was realistic about the prospect of victory. “We are certain to lose, but don’t tell the players,” he said. The press soon let the German players know, with The Daily Express headlining, “Secret is kept from Nazi team by their officials.”
The team captain, Fritz Szepan, with aid of a translator (not a single player could speak English), added: “Soccer is not a parlour game, but when the 22 of us – English and German – are on the field together, I am quite certain that it will be as comrades and friends, no matter how eager we may be to win. After all, the game is the thing, is it not?”.
Szepan, who remains a Schalke legend to this day, had a shock of flaxen hair. This prompted the English crowd to refer to him as “Greta” as in Garbo.
Germany’s team was not professional, comprising a butcher, an architect, a leather worker and other professions. Eight of the team that would line-up at White Hart Lane had been in Germany’s World Cup squad in 1934.
From Croydon they retired to the Hotel Metropole in central London and on their first evening, visited the London Palladium with the England team. It was clear that the Football Association would be making every effort to ensure their guests were well treated.
A policeman every 10 yards
While the team was being wined and dined, the supporters only had a lightning stop in London. Wherever they went, there were mounted police, police vehicles and uniformed officers. “At times, Leicester Square resembled Berlin Platz,” said one report.
The German FA issued this statement to reassure the British public that there would be no displays of extreme nationalism. “We are sure that with the high sportsmanship of the British, nothing will be done to us unless it is provoked, and you can take it from me we will not do any provoking. Orders are being issued to every German travelling to London that he should be reserved and backward in coming forward.” The German press was quick to tell its readers that German supporters had been welcomed in London.
According to the Times, though, there were still plenty of people who worked the equation that Germans = Nazis = oppressors = mobbing of people in the street. But there was no such thing and the only skirmishes were between communists trying to hand out “Stop the Nazi match” pamphlets and the police.
The German supporters, who developed a fascination for the Belisha Beacons that had been rolled-out in Britain in 1934 , were escorted all the way to White Hart Lane. In Park Lane, a policeman was placed every 10 yards along the route. German messages were blasted out from loudspeakers wherever the supporters went. So much for a non-militaristic presence!
Against this backdrop, a football match was actually going to take place. England, after watching the World Cup from afar and subsequently beating Italy in the infamous “Battle of Highbury” a year earlier, were anxious to win. “A great victory is necessary for our football prestige,” said The Daily Mirror, with one eye on the politics. The Daily Express was predicting a win by five or six goals. “Hot attack, sound defence is why England should beat Germany”.
Most of England’s team was relatively new to the international scene. Harry Hibbs, Birmingham’s goalkeeper, was earning his 24th cap, and Eddie Hapgood (the captain) and Cliff Bastin, both of the Arsenal, would be playing their 14th and 12th game respectively. Another Arsenal player, Jack Crayston, was being included for the first time, and Stanley Matthews of Stoke and Raich Carter of Sunderland were winning only their third caps. The jury was still out on both players as internationals.
The line-ups at White Hart Lane, as the Nazi flag flew above the main stand, were:
England: Harry Hibbs (Birmingham), George Male (Arsenal), Eddie Hapgood (Arsenal), Jack Crayston (Arsenal), Jack Barker (Derby County), John Bray (Manchester City), Stanley Matthews (Stoke City), Raich Carter (Sunderland), George Camsell (Middlesbrough), Ray Westwood (Bolton), Cliff Bastin (Arsenal)
Germany: Hans Jakob (Regensburg), Sigmund Haringer (Wacker Munich), Reinhold Munzenberg (Alemania Aachen), Paul Janes (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Ludwig Goldbrunner (Bayern Munich), Rudi Gramlich (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ernst Lehner (Schwaben Augsberg), Fritz Szepan (Schalke), Karl Hohmann (Bonrath), Josef Rasselberg (Bonrath), Josef Fath (Wormatia Worms)
Germany had won their previous seven games and had lost twice in 19 fixtures. But England still considered themselves “world champions” although they had never tested it in a major competition. When Italy were beaten at Highbury, it just reinforced the somewhat insular view that England were still the best and didn’t need the Jules Rimet Trophy to prove it. Otto Nerz merely added to this when he said on the eve of the match: “We learnt to play football from the English.”
England, as expected, won the game with some ease. Hibbs had a quiet afternoon in goal and although some players failed to perform as expected – notably Carter and Matthews – Crayston was very impressive as were Male and Hapgood.
Germany were criticised for adopting a slightly negative approach, an accentuated “W” formation, which was not the most enterprising. But it was noticeable that all the German players were very good at heading the ball.
In the 41st minute, George Camsell of Middlesbrough opened the scoring, running onto a long ball and outpacing the German defence.
Camsell scored his second (making it 15 goals in six appearances) in the 65th minute, heading home from a Bastin cross. And two minutes later, Camsell returned the favour and created a third for Bastin. England 3 Germany 0.
Camsell was 33 years old and had been recalled to the England team after making his debut back in 1929. His entire Football League career was with one club for whom he scored 345 goals. His international career was no less successful, with 18 goals in nine games, which still ranks as the best ratio by any player representing England.
The players left the field arm-in-arm, England had reminded Germany that they were their superiors on the field of play, and the authorities had shown that they had let the vast swathes of supporters into the country on their terms.
That evening, the FA dinner at the Victoria Hotel was held in high spirits. It was there, and only there, that the Nazi spirit came to the fore with the singing of the Horst Wessel Lied – “Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!” And that was followed by everyone, including the FA and England players, toasting Adolf Hitler’s health.
The game is the thing, is it not?
The friendly spirit of the game was something of a relief. The Daily Mirror commented: “Doesn’t sport reconcile, doesn’t it bring nations together, can’t we kill war with perpetual football?”
Germany flopped in the 1936 Olympics, losing in Berlin’s Poststadion to Norway with Hitler in attendance. Otto Nerz was relieved of his duties and replaced by Sepp Herberger. He was arrested in Berlin as the war ended and died in Sachsenhausen camp. Szepan, his captain, went on to manage Schalke and Rott-Weiss Essen and died in 1974 in Gelsenkirchen.
England met Germany again in 1938 in another infamous game where the England team had to adopt the Nazi salute. It would be many years before the two nations would meet again, although in the aftermath of war, West Germany were regular opponents. England and Germany enjoy meeting each other – the two countries are still rivals and they have a healthy regard for the historical relevance of these games. To quote Fritz Szepan: “The game is the thing, is it not?”