Football and politics, a lethal combination that doesn’t have the best track record. The two mixed together have a history that will only go one way: corruption. It’s an irreversible chemical formula. You could argue the peak of it all is through FIFA, where money laundering and bribes have become/becoming – whichever tense you please – second nature. However, you have to look a little closer to home to see that perhaps it is the English FA, rather than FA, where it all began.
The English national team managed to grab the headlines for the wrong reasons – not a huge surprise to anyone – by taking Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement onto the football pitch in Berlin. The policy to conform to Adolf Hitler’s demands had stretched as far as contaminating the English football team.
Yet, this shouldn’t have been a huge shock to anyone. It was only three years previous, in a game at White Hart Lane, where thousands protested against England playing Nazi Germany in a 1935 fixture. The game attracted heavy media attention, with trade unions pledging to government to cancel the fixture, made all the more reasonable considering the anti-Semitic nature of the opponents and the venue of choice.
“A quite independent body… I think that we have to keep up in our country a tradition that this sporting fixture is carried through without any regard to politics at all.”
Sir John Simon
The game went ahead and it was agreed following ‘good behaviour’ a return fixture should be played on German soil in 1938 – the moment the FA lost all credibility. The moment they made English players carry out Nazi salutes infront of 115,000 people in the Berlin stadium, following the orders of the Sectary of the FA, Sir Stanley Rous.
This was led by England captain, Eddie Hapgood, as well as players such as Stanley Mathews; huge names in the sport producing a symbol which stands for everything inhumane about the 20th century. Who’s in the wrong, though? Can you blame the players in question? If we look back to the moment when Austrian footballer, Matthias Sindela, refused to play for Germany following the Nazi’s annexation of Austria, the star footballer was found dead a few days later – although his ‘murder’ has never been officially proven, he was found on the top of the Gestapo’s list of ‘targets’.
Had English players failed to shown such obedience in Berlin, would they have faced a similar fate? Well, not really, because this was a spectacle being watched by millions, supported by reports that 400,000 separate applications were made for tickets to the stadium. Where defiance was needed on stage, on a huge platform, it was in hindsight – always a beautiful thing – the perfect opportunity for resistance, and encouragement to those being pursued by Hitler.
Instead, the English FA bottled it and they followed what was likely the demands of Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. What happened next? Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Why? Peace talks were held after the game of a great British-German relationship that could be built through unity; Hitler was laughing at Britain.
A perfect example of the British culture of politeness and diplomacy getting the better of the UK, and allowing a man drunk with power to control the whole of East Europe leading to one of the greatest black marks in history.