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Football and Fascism

John Simkin

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Eddie Hapgood, the England captain that day, wrote about the incident in his autiobiography, Football Ambassador (1945):

The story starts in 1936. That year England competed in the Berlin Olympic Games, held in the fabulous stadium, built for the sole purpose of impressing the world with Nazi might-hundreds of millions of marks were spent, not only in the building, but in propaganda to put over the Games.

Mr. Stanley Rous, the Football Association secretary, went over in charge of the English amateur side, which competed in the soccer tournament. Early on, the question of the salute to be given Hitler at the march-past was causing some anxiety. After most of the other countries had decided on the Olympic salute (which is given with the right arm flung sideways, not forward and upward like the Nazi salute), it was arranged that the English athletes should give only the 'eyes right.' Mr. Rous told me afterwards that, to Hitler, and the crowd stepped up in masses round him, the turning of the head by the English team probably passed unnoticed after the outflung arms of the other athletes. So much so that the crowd booed our lads, among them Arsenal colleague, Bernard Joy, and everyone seemed highly offended.

When it was our turn to come into the limelight two years later over the same vexed question of the salute, Mr. Wreford Brown, the member in charge of the England team and Mr. Rous, sought guidance from Sir Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador to Germany, when our party arrived in Berlin. Mr. Rous reminded Sir Nevile of his previous experience and suggested, as an act of courtesy, but what was more important, in order to get the crowd in a good temper, the team should give the salute of Germany before the start. Sir Nevile, vastly relieved at the readiness of the F.A. officials to help him in what must have been an extremely difficult situation, gladly agreed it was the wisest course.

Mr. Wreford Brown and Mr. Rous came back from the Embassy, called me in (I was captain) and explained what they thought the team should do. I replied, "We are of the British Empire and I do not see any reason why we should give the Nazi salute; they should understand that we always stand to attention for every National Anthem. We have never done it before-we have always stood to attention, but we will do everything to beat them fairly and squarely." I then went out to see the rest of the players to tell them what was in the offing. There was much muttering in the ranks.

When we were all together a few hours before the game, Mr. Wreford Brown informed the lads what I had already passed on. He added that as there were undercurrents of which we knew nothing, and it was virtually out of his hands and a matter for the politicians rather than the sportsmen, it had been agreed that to give the salute was the wisest course. Privately he told us that he and Mr. Rous felt as sick as we did, but that, under the circumstances, it was the correct thing to do.

Well, that was that, and we were all pretty miserable about it. Personally, I felt a fool heiling Hitler, but Mr. Rous's diplomacy worked, for we went out determined to beat the Germans. And after our salute had been received with tremendous enthusiasm, we settled down to do just that. The only humorous thing about the whole affair was that while we gave the salute only one way, the German team gave it to the four corners of the ground.

The sequel came at the dinner in the evening after the game, given by the Reich Association of Physical Exercises, when, with everybody in high good humour, Sir Nevile Henderson whispered to Mr. Rous, " You and the players proved yourselves to be good Ambassadors after all !"

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