‘A kick-a-bout with fascists’: The British press, public and Government opinion on the England vs Germany football match played in London in 1935
‘A kick-a-bout with fascists’: The British press, public and Government opinion on the England vs Germany football match played in London in 1935
On 4th December 1935, England’s football team played against their German opponents at White Hart Lane. The stadium was packed to the rafters with 60,000 supporters, including 10,000 German fans, cheering on their team. The German side was shown to be inferior on the pitch, with the English side dominating many aspects of the game. Despite a valiant performance from the German goal keeper, H. Jacob, the match ended 3-0 in favour of England after their relentless attacking display resulted in two goals being scored by their centre forward, Camsell, and another goal by Cliff Bastin. The match was regarded as an uneventful affair in some papers with both sides showing great spirit and respect for each other. This fixture, however, was not just a normal international friendly. The implications surrounding this match demonstrated the press and public attitudes towards fascism and anti-Semitism in Britain during this period that need to be brought to light.
In this piece of work, I will discuss the reactions to the Anglo-German match from the perspective of the press, the public and the Government. By doing so I will shed light on the attitudes towards anti-Semitism and the growing fascist movement in Britain during this period. I will assess whether the fixture was seen as just a game of football, or did it have a much greater ideological meaning. My first chapter will probe into the opinions on the match from when the fixture was announced in August 1935. I will discuss the attitude of the Government and their involvement in the fixture’s preparations, which will be followed by an analysis of newspapers’ responses and how they interpreted the game. The fascists were excited at the prospect of a Nazi team playing in London and wanted to use it as propaganda. Anti-fascists, notably Jews, were extremely opinionated in regard to this fixture and this chapter will uncover the reasons for these feelings and the actions taken by the movement. The second chapter will examine the events of 4th December 1935; the press reports on the day, the activities of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and German supporters, followed by the numerous demonstrations held by the anti-fascists. The final chapter will look at how these different parties reflected on the match. Did the press acknowledge the political controversies linked with the fixture? Why did the Fascists view the match as an ideological victory for them? And how did the anti-fascists adapt their methods in response to their efforts to have the match abandoned?
Politics and Sport: Tensions rising in the run up to the match
On 26 August 1935, Germany accepted the English FA’s invitation to an International friendly between the two countries. The match was scheduled to take place on the 4th December and was a highly anticipated fixture as neither side had faced each other in five years. However, in the months leading up to the match, there was a lot of controversy with regard to the implications surrounding a team from Nazi Germany playing in England. Growing public concern surrounding Nazi control of Germany made the Government sceptical about the fixture, however, the Home Office and Foreign Office were reluctant to involve politics with sport. This theme is expressed by elements of the British press who argued that the game should just be seen as a competitive sporting contest and ignoring the wider issues. Other British newspapers were very vocal in their opposition to the game as they thought it was extremely insensitive and immoral to have a Nazi football team play in England. Fascist groups, most notably the BUF, were extremely pleased that a Nazi team would be playing in England. The BUF saw the arrangement of the match as a massive victory against the Jews who they thought were trying to control the country. On the other hand, Jews and anti-fascists were appalled that the FA had chosen to invite Germany to play in England. They had strongly disapproved of the Nazis and their policies such as using sport as a political device. In the months preceding the game, these groups protested against the match in a variety of ways in the hope they could have the match abandoned.
The British Government was extremely sceptical of the match that had been organised by the FA without their approval or knowledge. On the one hand, the Government knew that any kind of formal state involvement in sport ran strongly against the British sporting code and no British political party was linked to a sports movement. The previous year, England played Italy at Highbury and after some rough play on the pitch, relations between the two countries turned sour due to Mussolini’s foreign policies. The Government by 1935 felt that mixing sports with politics would not lead to positive outcomes, with the Home Office anxious over the prospect of mass public disturbances in retaliation to the Nazis.
The big question surrounding the fixture was whether the Government should get involved; Britain viewed itself as responsible for setting a good example as Germany was a country who actively mixed sports and politics. However, Peter Beck argues that although non-interference remained the preferred strategy, the Government found it impossible to avoid treating the match as a political event. The FA had sent the invitation to the German FA and organised the game without consulting the British Government. The fact it was Germany, put the Foreign Office and Home Office in a difficult situation. The British Government was cautious of Hitler as he posed a real threat of war and his drastic domestic policies were common knowledge in Britain. The Government was obviously wary not to provoke Hitler, considering the geo-political climate in Europe, by involving themselves in a football match between the two nations.
There was much debate over whether this issue was a concern and responsibility for the Foreign Office or the Home Office. Members of the Foreign Office such as Orme Sargeant, who handled German affairs, was very suspicious of Hitler and couldn’t help but view this football match in the wider geo-political context. The permanent secretary, Sir Robert Vansittart, shared this view as he wished the game had never been arranged in the first place fearing public unrest and, more worryingly, political trouble. Despite these apprehensions, the Foreign Office feared that cancelling the match would give the Nazi propaganda minister, Goebbels, fuel to push an agenda that Germany was being conspired against by those who claimed to stand for fair play. Britain was conscious of the threat that Germany posed now that the Nazis were in power and didn’t want to agitate them. In efforts to distance themselves from the football match, senior officials were not present at White Hart Lane on the day.
The Foreign Office, therefore, distanced themselves and handed the problem to the Home Office, advising it was a matter of internal public order.The Home Office’s main concern was the 10,000 German supporters that would be descending on London which would potentially lead to mass public disturbances from Jews and anti-fascist groups. Due to a large population of Jews living near Tottenham, the Government feared they would confront the thousands of Germans coming to support. As a result of these anxieties, the Home Office, despite being impartial, could not help but see this game as having significant political implications. To calm the Home Offices’ nerves, the German authorities promised that their fans would not exert provocative behaviour such as brandishing Swastika badges.
The Home Secretary, John Simon, was committed to giving the impression that politics should not be involved in sport. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) were active in their disapproval of the match. It repeatedly asked the Home Office to abandon the match because of its links to Hitler and the Nazi party. However, the Home Secretary was reluctant to allow this. In a letter to the head of the TUC, Sir Walter Citrine, on 29th November, Simon said that the match has “no political significance whatsoever”. Simon wanted to keep the British tradition of sports not being interfered with by political issues, and saw the TUC as blowing the situation out of proportion. While the Government did see the potential negative ramifications of this fixture being played, it felt it should distance itself from the situation. By doing this it hoped that other groups and organisations would follow suit and refrain from attaching their political feelings to the Anglo-German match.
Jeffery Hill argues that newspapers were the great instrument of communication in the pre-war era. Although cinemas were growing increasingly popular, newspapers were the principle means of how people interpreted and understood the news. Roughly two thirds of the British population were weekly readers of newspapers in the 1930s meaning these papers could influence a large proportion of people. The England vs Germany fixture was regularly reported in the newspapers across the country. While some papers just focused purely on the football element of the fixture, others reported on the problems that the match was causing amongst different groups within Britain.
When observing which papers commented on the fixture, we see press reports from both regional and national papers which shows that this issue was a widespread talking point. The Yorkshire Evening Post was a regional paper that didn’t look kindly on attempts to stop the game. In October it published an article titled ‘Sport and Politics’, where it expressed its view that this football match is only a sporting event between two competitive teams which is separate from political elements. They relate this issue back to the year before when an Italian team came to Britain to play England and noted that there was not nearly as much opposition to this game, despite Italy being under a fascist regime. The game was nicknamed the “Battle of Highbury”, where England came out victorious 3-2 in a ferocious game that shocked the supporters who witnessed countless foul play and were unimpressed by the Italian lack of style. Richard Holt argues that it was the arrogance of the Italians, claiming their superiority on the football pitch, that caught the public imagination, not the fact they were run by a fascist dictator. Other papers based outside England took this stance in regard to the match. The Western Mail in October reported on the efforts of anti-fascists to have the game boycotted and showed no support for them, arguing “we must not allow political issues to interfere with British sport”. This sort of reporting can been seen right up until the day before the match with The Times expressing their support for the Home Secretary, John Simon, who had articulated his feelings that politics should not be associated with the football. This shows that some of the British press were determined to get the argument across to their readers that this match should not be protested against, as politics and sport should not cross.
Further support for the Anglo-German fixture can be seen in the letters written by readers that were published in the papers. On the day before the fixture, several letters were printed across different newspapers discussing the issues surrounding the match and whether they should be supported. The Yorkshire Evening Post shared several readers’ opinions in regard to the match with many showing their distaste towards efforts to have the match abandoned. The writers showed admiration for the sportsmanship of the Germans and how they were hopeful of peaceful relations between the two nations; all whilst condemning Jewish protests against the match. This attitude can be seen in other press letters such as one posted in The Times on the same day. The letter questioned why the football match should be treated any differently to the Berlin Orchestra which had been welcomed to London with open arms. This is again showing that there were elements of the press and their readers who were reluctant to see the match in any other way than just a pure sporting event. Short opinion pieces like these allow for a wider understanding of attitudes towards the game and their reasons for having these opinions.
However, there was opposition to the match from sections of the British press. Papers such as the Daily Worker, The Jewish Chronicle and the Manchester Guardian all actively expressed their disapproval towards the fixture. These were leftist newspapers so were naturally outspoken against any events that had fascist elements to them. These papers were continually outspoken against the Nazi regime. The Jewish Chronicle on 4 October 1935 published an article attacking the new Nazi legislation known as the Nuremberg Laws, which put greater restrictions on German Jews. This solidified opposition to Nazi Germany and fascism meaning that they were not going to remain quiet about the proposed Anglo-German match. While most British newspapers either supported the game or tried to shoot down any opposition to it, these papers wanted to convey to the public that it was morally wrong to have a Nazi team play in England. In October, the Daily Worker called for the match to be moved to a different venue. The Sheffield Independent had requested to change the venue because it would benefit northern football fans, however the Daily Worker identified the problems with a Nazi team playing in an area with a high Jewish demographic. The Manchester Guardian was another paper that attempted to stir up opposition to the fixture. On 24 October they reported on a story originating from Poland where a Jewish footballer was allegedly murdered by a mob of Nazis. By portraying the Nazis as savages who have no respect for sport, the Manchester Guardian hoped that their readers would be horrified enough to boycott the match. There had been quite widespread dismissal of the TUC’s letter to the Home Secretary to boycott the game, however the Manchester Guardian defended the letter acknowledging the discrimination socialists and trade unions faced in Nazi Germany. The major Jewish paper in Britain was The Jewish Chronicle and they, unsurprisingly, were very outspoken against the fixture. It published an article in late November calling for the match to be abandoned. They made it clear that their hostility did not originate from an opposition to sport, rather the idea of Nazis being welcomed in Britain. These newspaper reports are clear evidence that not all the British press were in support of the match
The prospect of a football team from Nazi Germany playing in England excited the fascist organisations in Britain. They greatly admired the accomplishments of Hitler and Mussolini and the extremist domestic policies they implemented. Fascist groups had formed in the 1920s and grew in popularity in the early 1930s. They shared a common, extreme nationalist view of Britain and were very anti-Semitic, which resulted in much propaganda being published attacking the Jewish communities in Britain in an attempt to stir up animosity against them. Figure 1 shows a cartoon published by the Imperial Fascist League in February 1935. It depicts a British soldier being suffocated by gas that the Imperial Fascist League is clearly blaming on Jews. They argue that the Jews directed the gas attacks in the First World War and were now directing their “poison gas-attacks” on the British Press. Fascist groups wanted to convince the British public that the Jews were the real enemy and wanted to use this as a way of gaining more support for their movement.
While there were several fascist groups in Britain in the inter-war period, the biggest and most influential of these was the BUF. A Security Service report written in 1933 on fascist groups in Britain, claimed that the BUF was unique as they sought to establish themselves as a credible political party. The organisation was founded in 1932 by Sir Oswald Mosley after the economic fallout of the Wall Street Crash and the increasing popularity for fascism in Europe. The BUF appealed to anyone with a grievance and they saw this as a movement that would give them a sense of purpose. By 1934 the BUF had roughly 50,000 official members and their two publications, Action and Blackshirt, had 25,000 weekly readers at their peak. Although it can be argued that their support was lesser than that of other major organisations and political parties in Britain at the time, they still had the support of very powerful individuals. Lord Rothermere was a media mogul who expressed his support for the BUF in the numerous papers he owned, such as the Daily Mail. One such example is an article written by Rothermere himself titled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”. This was effectively free advertisement and propaganda for the BUF, so even when Rothermere withdrew his support for them in the summer of 1934, support still grew.
The BUF wasn’t initially anti-Semitic when it was first formed in 1932 as they had modelled their form of fascism on that of Mussolini’s Italy, where anti-Semitism played little or no part in their policies. However, by the mid 1930s the BUF began to be extremely vocal in their opposition to the Jewish community in Britain. Colin Holmes argues that the BUF focused their attention on the Jewish “issue” as a means of political progress. The BUF berated the Jewish communities, especially those in the East-End of London, as they felt they could inflict a divide amongst the working classes and therefore produce increased support for their movement.
The BUF believed that the Jews were a threat to the nation’s sporting and cultural character. Jews were viewed as being distinct from the British and could never be integrated into British society as they isolated themselves in their own communities. The notion of the “Hidden Hand”, the idea that Jews were attempting to control all aspects of British society, was continually highlighted in BUF propaganda. This idea of the Jews inability to integrate into British culture is expressed through the BUF’s attempts to show their lack of appreciation for sport. The British were passionate about their sport and the BUF hoped to exploit this by convincing the public that the Jewish communities were fundamentally opposed to the manner in which they viewed sport. The Anglo-German match in December 1935 is a prime example of the BUF using sport to push their anti-Semitic agenda. They were adamant that the objections to the game by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) were being directed by the Jews further highlighting the fears of the “Hidden Hand”. The BUF newspaper, Blackshirt, reported before the game that because the Jews controlled everything else in Britain, they “naturally saw no reason why they should not control and corner British sport as well”. The BUF saw this game as a great propaganda opportunity where they could turn the public against the Jewish community by painting them as a threat to their way of life. The BUF pushed the notion that Jewish opposition showed they lacked the comprehension of the sporting attitude of the British. There was a strong sense in Britain that sports should not be interfered with and that players competed for the love of the game rather than for other motives. By exploiting this idea of Britishness in terms of sport, the BUF would make themselves appear as defenders against the threatening Jews. They hoped to establish themselves as a legitimate political party in Westminster and felt that their stance on backing the game and alienating the Jews opposing the game would give them more support.
Football was by far the most popular sport in Britain in the 1930s so the prospect of England competing against Germany would have excited the hordes of British football fans. Dave Russell argues that for young men in the inter-war period, football was as popular as the cinema. However, members of the British public were appalled at the news that a team from Nazi Germany would be playing at White Hart Lane. From anti-fascist groups and Jewish communities alike, there was a collective opinion that it was immoral to allow a team that represented Hitler, to play in England. Nigel Copsey argues that there was an anti-fascist “minimum”, where all anti-fascists had a common political and moral opposition to fascism rooted in the democratic values of the enlightenment tradition.  To combat the rapid growth of fascism in the 1930s, anti-fascist groups emerged which tended to include mainly young men who wanted to rid Britain of fascism. When the BUF began to organise rallies for their supporters, ant-fascist activists frequently attempted to disrupt these meetings, which very commonly meant violent confrontations. These clashes between the two sides clearly shows a considerable amount of animosity towards one another, suggesting they would do everything in their power in order to undermine each other.
When the game was announced by the FA in the summer of 1935, anti-fascists were determined to have the game abandoned. They published several pamphlets that were distributed to football league games in an effort to turn public opinion against the game. They specifically wanted to target the football supporters at the league games as these were the cohort who would be excited about the Anglo-German match without considering the wider issues. Figure 2 shows a handout that was published by The British Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council. It tells the story of how a Jewish Footballer was murdered by a gang of Nazis in Germany and implies this violent discrimination was commonplace in German football. Figure 3, published by the Young Communist League, warns the public of a Nazi invasion of London when thousands of German supporters travel to watch the game. The pamphlet orates the idea that the Nazis control sport which contradicts the British culture of partaking in sport fairly. Since Hitler’s rise to power, it had been common knowledge in Britain that he had extreme domestic policies, and sport did not escape these. The Nazis viewed sport as a way of showing off their strength and power and as a result made it highly political. Beck argues that sport was viewed as a national asset strengthening the state through psychological rearmament of the German people. The Nazi glorification of teamwork and physical fitness was coupled with extreme patriotism. Anti-fascist groups believed that this German attitude towards sport was totally unacceptable and a valid enough reason for the game to be abandoned. However, the anti-fascists were in a way contradicting their beliefs by making the match political when they claimed sport had no place for politics like it did in Nazi Germany.
As well as pamphlets and other written propaganda, Anti-fascists spoke about their disapproval for the game at numerous leftist rallies and meetings. Frank Rodgers, organising secretary of the Anti-Nazi Council, when questioned days before a huge anti-fascist rally in Hyde Park in October 1935 confirmed his organisation’s opposition to the Anglo-German match. He said:
“We are not opposed to international football matches nor are we opposed to the German people. What we are opposed to is this attempt to bring over here, for fascist propaganda purposes, a team of men from whom every footballer who has ever shown any signs of opposition to the Nazi political bosses has been excluded”.
The anti-fascist movements did not see themselves as adversaries of sport but rather defenders of human rights and liberties, and if the Nazis were going to try and poison British sport then they would fight back.
In the days in the run up to the game, the match was also on the agenda of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which had been active since 1920 and was the largest of the anti-fascist organisations. British authorities were suspicious of their activities after the events of the Russian Revolution, resulting in regular surveillance by the police. At a rally at Trafalgar Square on December 1st, Special Branch were present and took special note of the references to the Anglo-German match by a speaker J.R. Campbell. He called for everyone to show their disapproval for the match by protesting on match day which suggests that opposition towards the match was evident amongst a wide spectrum of leftist organisations.
The Jewish communities in Britain were also very agitated at the idea of a Nazi football team playing in London. British Jews were very aware of the persecution of German Jews by the Nazi party. Only a matter of weeks after the game was organised by the English FA, the Reichstag in Berlin had implemented the Nuremberg Laws. These laws had a crippling social and economic effect on German Jews and was a clear indicator of how the Nazis wanted to represent themselves. Fascism was feared by the Jewish communities in England as they didn’t want to have to suffer similar persecution. Although British Jews did not face the same systematic political anti-Semitism that was present in Germany, they were subject to racism from fascist groups. A paper published by the Jewish Labour Council in 1935 gives us insight into to how Jews felt in 1930s Britain. It describes how Jews in Britain were accused of being overly wealthy and wanting to control British society by anti-Semites. They argue that this came as a result of the economic problems of the 1930s, where disgruntled individuals chose Jews as the scapegoat. This shows that Jewish communities in Britain did feel targeted by far-right organisations so a football match against Germany would make them feel uncomfortable.
The venue chosen for the fixture was White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur. This was a serious issue for British Jews as many of them lived in North-East London. Tottenham Hotspur was the most popular team within the Jewish community at the time and many of them sought belonging and identity on the terraces at White Hart Lane. Jews felt that it was grossly offensive to allow a Nazi team, accompanied by thousands of supporters, to be present at a place they held so close to their community. Despite the fact that the German foreign office had promised that their fans would be on their best behaviour, the Jewish community remained extremely concerned by the prospect of Nazis being in their neighbourhood. The Police were aware of the implications of the game being played in North-East London. Metropolitan Police reports express these concerns where there is a fear that they do not have the manpower “if this Jewish element carry out their intention and they meet with opposition from the crowd”. This is just further evidence to argue that this game was viewed as having much wider implications than just a game of sport.
“Thousands of policemen here and no one watching the flag”64: Match day – 4th December 1935
Despite the questions raised about the wider issues surround this match, the game was finally played on 4th December 1935 in a packed-out White Hart Lane. The morning newspapers were generally positive and excited at the prospect of a competitive fixture. The match ended 3-0 to England, with both sides putting on a very respectful display. Many of the papers had focused on the several thousand Germans who had travelled to watch the game. However, not all papers were showing their support. The Daily Worker published the timings and meeting places for anyone who wished to protest. The British Union of Fascists were enthralled at the prospect of an Anglo-German fixture and made their presence known at the game. Another fascist element at the game were the 10,000 or so Germans who had travelled to London. This cohort of potential Nazis had been a big focal point for the Government in the run up to the game and the Metropolitan Police were determined to make things run as smoothly as possible. On the contrary, anti-fascists, although restricted by police presence, came out to demonstrate their opposition towards the fixture with banners, pamphlets and harsh words for the travelling Germans. They hoped to convey the message that this fixture was immoral and would not go ahead without opposition.
The general positive attitude towards the Anglo-German match in the press, continued on game day. Papers outside of England were expressing their interest in the match. The Scotsman, on the morning of the match, focused on the prospect of a competitive fixture claiming that the German side had greatly improved in the last few years. This is a prime example of the British press choosing to focus on the football itself rather than the wider issues. The same morning, The Times published an article stating that 10,000 German supporters were expected to attend the match, however, it failed to highlight the potential disturbances that could come as a result.
Although there seemed to be a lack of acknowledgement of the immorality of the match in most of the British papers, the Daily Worker was an exception. On the morning of the game, they published on their front page the timings for the various marches that were going to take place on matchday. The vast majority of its readers would have been against the match and it hoped that by putting these times on the front page, they would be able to organise an effective protest. On the back page, the Daily Worker printed the travel itinerary of the visiting German supporters so demonstrators could confront them throughout the day. Unlike most papers, the Daily Worker acknowledged the political significance of the game, so was determined to ensure this match would not go ahead without disturbances.
After the match had finished, the evening papers were the first to report on the fixture’s outcome. The Lancashire Evening Post commended how respectful and well-mannered the German team was, praising how the spirit of the game was played. This rhetoric of praising the German team would be continually present in press reports in the coming days which seemed to undermine the anti-fascists argument that this German team was a direct representation of the Nazi Party. The Evening Standard, a London based paper, published on their front page a detailed account of the football and all other aspects of the day. It highlights the large police presence around the ground and the 3-mile traffic jam that meant many of the spectators were late for kick off. This gives a clear indication of the hysteria surrounding this game with neutral fans, Nazi sympathisers and anti-fascists all attempting to be involved in the days proceedings in some way.
While the majority of the press was reluctant to appreciate the wider political feelings towards the game, the BUF was determined to show their support on match day. In the months building up to the game there had been a growing attention from the BUF as they saw this as an opportunity to undermine the Jewish community and the anti-fascist movement. They purchased a large block of seats at White Hart Lane for the game and were all dressed in their black uniform. They wanted their presence known, especially in an area that had a large Jewish population. They were not concerned with the result of the match, rather that the match went ahead as planned which they believed was a victory over their ideological opposition. The idea of thousands of fans from Nazi Germany being in London excited them and they wanted to impress these visitors.
One of the main issues that the British Government was concerned about was the large contingent of German fans who would be travelling to the game. International football was known for attracting several thousand away supporters for the big games. When France played England in London in 1933 they brought 4,000 fans and then Italy had 5,000 fans support them at the “Battle of Highbury”. However, the prospect of 10,000 Germans coming to London only a year later was deemed a much bigger threat to public order. This was double the number of fans that England had ever had to accommodate and the anti-fascists were determined to make them feel unwelcome.
The vast majority of the German supporters were to travel by ship to Southampton where they would then be taken to London. The Metropolitan Police wanted to ensure that the travelling fans would not have any obstructions from protestors whilst also causing no trouble themselves. They organised a detailed itinerary for the fans, so they could be entertained before kick-off and shown the sights of London. 284 coaches were waiting at their arrival ports and would be their mode of transport for the entire day. This would give the British authorities control over where the travelling Germans could go and thus reducing the chances of disturbances. For their sightseeing tour of London, the coaches had guides on them who would speak German as to better accommodate the foreign supporters. Ironically, many of these guides were Jewish, however, they were under strict instructions to avoid politics throughout the day. There had been so much debate over the political aspects of the game, the British authorities wanted to ensure that this would not affect matchday proceedings. Richard Holt argues that the German football team and their fans wanted to come in “homage to Britain who had invented the beautiful game.” The Nazi regime was not looking to cause rifts between the two nations by showing off their strength on the football pitch or their fans appearing as some invasion force. An example of German positive intentions was the wreath laid at the Cenotaph at Whitehall. The wreath was so large that it took three men to carry it and was in respect to Britain’s fallen soldiers who had been killed in the First World War; this would have resonated well with the majority of the public. The prospect of another war was extremely unpopular with Britons and this show of solidarity from the Germans would have potentially given them hope that they felt the same. Beck suggests that Britain was trying to use this planned tour as a propaganda opportunity. Britain was aware of the increasingly totalitarian policies the Nazis were implementing in Germany and were keen to show their guests what a successful free country looked like. By keeping the supporters in order, they would reduce the risk of trouble but also be able to effectively show off the best that London had to offer, whereas if they were free to travel independently they would likely miss these sights.
At the game, the Germans supporters occupied 4,000 seats and the remaining fans stood on the terrace below them, so they could be all kept in the same section of the ground. In addition, police reports stated that there would be no uniforms, no marching and no flags displayed other than the Swastika above White Hart Lane. By separating them from the home supporters, the authorities hoped this would limit the chance of antagonization. However, as figure 4 shows, all the German supporters raised their hands to salute when their national anthem was played. Despite all of the efforts to reduce hostility, this gesture would have surely antagonised any anti-fascists and Jewish fans sitting in the stadium. No other disturbances were reported from the Germans supporters or the BUF during the match and once the final whistle blew, the Germans were escorted out of the ground. They were then taken by either by bus or by train to the South Coast from where they would board ships back to their homeland. The British authorities were keen to reduce the amount of time they would be in London so that they could not cause any trouble after the game.
For the politically neutral English football fan, the Anglo-German game was an exciting spectacle where “English superiority was beyond doubt”. However, those who were openly opposed to fascism made their presence known on match day in efforts to upset the fixture. Discussions amongst the police gives the impression that if there were to be any disruption they were confident they could contain it. It can be argued that, as a result of tight policing of protestors, anti-fascists were unable to disrupt the fixture as they would have been determined to. However, even with these restrictions, they were still able to show that the game had wider moral implications.
Police reports, in the days before the match, show their concern for disruptions by Jews and anti-fascists. They had received threats from a handful of individuals about their intentions to stop the game. The location of the game meant there was certain to be opposition shown from the Jewish community. A Jew named John Hubert claimed that he would “fly overhead and make the game in more than one way unpleasant and damaging”. Other intelligence suggested that up to 10,000 Jews would attend the match and when the second half kicked off, they would all storm the pitch and have the fixture abandoned. Although neither of these events actually took place, they were clear indicators of the intentions of the Jewish community to stop this game because they did not approve of Nazis being welcomed into London. When the Germans were chauffeured near Jewish areas, many demonstrators came out in protest holding placards and banners with messages like “Fascist sport – Jew baiting” and “Hitler wants gold, not goals”. This rhetoric that the Nazi Party used sport for their own political ambitions had been repeatedly voiced by protesters in the months preceding the match, coming to a head on match day. Even in non-Jewish areas, such as Central London, Jews made up some 90% of the protestors demonstrating against the visiting Germans, showing their determination to oppose the fixture. The police were quick to intervene with any groups of anti-fascists by stripping them of their placards and anti-Nazi leaflets, whilst not allowing them to cluster into large groups. This did limit the effectiveness of the anti-fascists as they were unable to demonstrate in greater force, however, their presence gave a clear indicator that this match had a much bigger significance to people than just a game of football.
One of the major controversies surrounding matchday was the Swastika flying above White Hart Lane which was seen as totally disrespectful to the Jews living around the ground as this Nazi symbol was intertwined with anti-Semitic values. Despite the German supporters not wearing any Nazi items of clothing and under strict instructions not to antagonise anyone, the flag flying above the ground was enough to enrage anti-fascist demonstrators. Ernst Woolley, a communist well-known to the Metropolitan Police, climbed up the West Stand during the middle of the match, drew a knife and cut the rope that hoisted up the Swastika flag. He was promptly arrested by officers stationed at the match and taken away and it took another 15 minutes before the flag was put back up. This was a very symbolic act by Woolley as this would have been witnessed by the majority of the spectators and showed that although a game of football was being played, the political implications could not be avoided.
Opposition from anti-fascist groups continued after the final whistle with several individuals being arrested at Victoria Station. Following British Government guidelines, the German spectators were to return home immediately after the match and many would have to get their trains from Victoria Station down to the South Coast. Several communists were waiting for them, protesting their presence in the same way that other anti-fascists had done earlier in the day, holding anti-Nazi banners and shouting abuse. Six individuals were arrested by the police and were charged with using insulting words and behaviour, with the remaining demonstrators being removed from the station. This was the last demonstration of the day and the German supporters would be heading home disheartened by their teams defeat whilst, having in the back of their mind, the opposition they encountered during the day that suggested that the match had wider ramifications.
Ideological victories and changing tactics: After the game
In the days and months following the fixture, Newspapers expressed a mixture of thoughts on the match, with many focusing on the football aspect of the event with some commending the good spirit of the German players and spectators. Other papers, such as the Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald, aimed at highlighting in detail the failure of the anti-fascists to disrupt the match effectively. The Jewish Chronicle was one of the exceptions as it continued its criticism of the fixture, as it had been actively doing for weeks prior. The BUF were thrilled with the fixture because of the ideological victory it gave them over the Jews who they believed were attempting to control British sport. The BUF became more actively anti-Semitic in the ensuing months with more attacks on Jewish individuals and their property. On the other hand, the anti-fascists felt they had been greatly hindered by the police and that their passive protests had been largely ineffective. While the fascists became more active in their Jew-baiting, the anti-fascists held more rallies and were confronting them head on with greater effect, for example at the “Battle of Cable Street” in October 1936.
In the days following the game, there was a variety of attitudes towards the Anglo-German match in the press. The Times took a traditional approach to its account of the game by focusing on the events on the pitch, highlighting the superiority of England’s skill and professionalism, without mention of any other aspects of the day. They wanted to keep it strictly about sports without the injection of any political elements. As a result of the controversy over shadowing the fixture, in the months preceding, there was uncertainty of the true intentions of the Nazi football team. However, some press reports suggest that many were pleasantly surprised at the good nature of the players, which became a focal point of the day. The Daily Express praised the spirit in which the game was played, commending the gentlemanly behaviour and respectful nature of the German players. The Manchester Guardian, could not help but follow suit despite their previous efforts to have the match boycotted. These reports seemed to brush over the demonstrations on the day, not awarding the anti-fascists their publicity. Other papers went further to highlight the events that happened off the pitch with demonstrators. The Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald gave an in-depth report on the actions of the demonstrators under the sub-heading ‘organised protests flop’. Many newspapers before the game had expressed their dismay at the attempts to have the game boycotted, which they saw as unnecessarily involving politics with sport. The Anglo-German fixture was viewed as a victory for sport by papers like this, where left wing political activists were unsuccessful in preventing the game from going ahead.
However, some papers were outspoken in their disappointment that the match had gone ahead. The Jewish Chronicle questioned why there were 10,000 German supporters as they believed this could not be purely for the love of the game. As the paper was a media outlet for the Jewish community, they were able to effectively express the anger of the British Jews in regard to the wave of Germans coming into London. It strongly believed that this was a political statement from the Nazi Party who were trying to flaunt their power. It concluded by stating that the Nazi Party will not survive in the long run, whilst hoping for continued healthy Anglo-German relations. While most papers dismissed the political elements surrounding the match, The Jewish Chronicle was still adamant on pushing the idea that this fixture had a more malicious element to it.
The British Union of Fascists were ecstatic after the Anglo-German match. They welcomed the travelling German fans with open arms, enthusiastically attempting to impress them with their black shirt uniforms and salutes. The BUF was not interested in the final score. The fact that the match had gone ahead, despite the protests, was an ideological victory in their eyes. They viewed the protests as a Jewish conspiracy, where they were attempting to control British traditions and society with their ‘Hidden Hand’. The infamous anti-Semite and BUF member, AK Chesterton, published an article in Blackshirt celebrating the BUF victory over the Jews. He highlighted the failure of the Jewish elites, in the TUC and other organisations, to prevent the match from going ahead. Chesterton, along with the rest of the BUF, believed the Jews’ only motive was to undermine the diplomatic and sporting relations between the two great nations. This so-called victory could now be used as propaganda to alienate the Jewish communities further. The events surrounding the protests of the game appeared to provide some substance to the fascists claims that Jews were unwilling to accept British sport, and therefore unable to integrate into British society.
This ‘Jewish conspiracy’, fuelled further anti-Semitic hysteria in the following months. Aaron Goldman argues that anti-Semitic vandalism and attacks were at their peak in 1936, with Mosley’s Blackshirts running rampant in the East End. Police reports from 1936 support this claim with an abundance of threats and damages to Jewish property. These malicious intimidation tactics by fascists were known as Jew-baiting, with the aim of forcing Jews out of the East End. The police began to become aware of the increase in anti-Semitic offences and thus it was advised that they begin to collate these together to get a better picture of the situation. The reports show a variety of offences against the Jewish community that appear to have occurred very regularly. In March, a Jewish household had a note reading “Kill the Jews” stuck to their front gate and the word “Jew” was painted on the side of a Jewish surgery. Figure 6, shows a note that was left under a Jewish shopkeepers door in August 1936. Threatening messages were not the only malicious acts of Jew-baiting, with Jews assaulted on several occasions by groups of BUF thugs, for example Frank Wager who was attacked in May outside his house. Although anti-Semitic propaganda had been present in Britain before 1936, the months following the Anglo-German match saw fascists being more active. The toxic rumours spread about the Jews had spurred on many right-wing sympathisers to take it upon themselves to attempt to drive them out of Britain.
The BUF was a propaganda machine that sought to indoctrinate disaffected individuals by highlighting a common enemy, and the best tactic for this was the use of rallies. They had been an integral part of the BUF and they continued to grow in size and frequency after the Anglo-German fixture. These meetings tended to have extremist and anti-Semitic orations from passionate speakers. However, as the police began increasing their presence at these rallies in the summer of 1936, Mosley ordered the speakers to refrain from Jew-baiting in their messages to the BUF members. He believed that this would hinder the movement as the authorities would clamp down on such activities. However, sections of the BUF hierarchy were adamant the message that Jews were a threat to Britain, needed to be expressed which would support the actions already taken against the Jewish community.
Following the Anglo-German match, anti-fascists experienced mixed feelings of emotions. On the one hand, they had shown that the match could not go ahead without protests and the grievances of the Jewish community being widely acknowledged. However, effective organised demonstrations were hindered severely by the police, resulting in the anti-fascists lacking significant power. The police were quick to close in on any groups of anti-fascists protesting in and around the stadium, confiscating their banners and pamphlets, and forcing them to disband. The anti-fascists came from many different backgrounds, however the main bulk of them were communists. The Communist Party of Great Britain sought to press charges against the Metropolitan Police for the “seizure and detention of anti-Nazi literature”. They believed that their attempts to protest the presence of a Nazi football team had been unfairly supressed by the police. Britain was a nation with free speech, so this seizure of protest material would have been viewed as censorship from the authorities, alienating the anti-fascist movement even further. Following the First World War, British authorities were anxious about the communist movement in Britain because of the numerous leftist revolutions across Europe. The demonstrations would have been regarded as a form of communist propaganda, which could explain why the police were so swift to limit their effectiveness.
As discussed earlier, BUF rallies and activities increased in size and frequency, which in turn saw a reaction from the anti-fascist movement. The opposition to the Anglo-German fixture had been relatively passive, where propaganda was seen as the best method of protest. However, the match had highlighted the potential ineffectiveness of these methods. In response, anti-fascists began to turn towards more confrontational means as the months progressed which proved to be more effective. The Communist Party of Great Britain were the largest of the anti-fascist groups and frequently had large meetings, however, a number of other groups became more active in the months after the Anglo-German fixture. One of these examples was the Ex Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism, which was a non-political group for ex-soldiers, whose sole aim was to “crush fascism in London”. Jews were part and parcel of this increased response to fascism, such as The Jewish Group, the British Union of Democrats, who the police noted had been “carrying out an intensive and bitter campaign against the British Union of Fascists”. They were very representative of an increasingly violent nature of opposing the fascists. It was not uncommon for groups of anti-fascists to confront fascists at their rallies, however, arrest reports suggest that these clashes were occurring far more frequently by the summer of 1936. 35 anti-fascists were arrested in August compared to the average of 10 arrests per month at the start of 1936. Whereas anti-fascists rallies rarely faced opposition, BUF rallies were regularly interrupted by groups of Jews and anti-Nazis which was the reason for the majority of the arrests. In September 1936, a BUF march to Holbeck Moor was confronted by some 20,000 anti-fascist demonstrators, who hurled missiles and attacked the march, injuring many. Only a matter of weeks later, another BUF march in the East End was disrupted as anti-fascists barricaded roads to stop the fascists route. This became known as the Battle of Cable Street and was a defining event in the conflict between the two movements, where Mosley was stopped in his tracks by a successful popular protest. Anti-fascists realised confronting fascists head on was the most effective method and this is a tactic they turned to from then on.
On a superficial level, the England vs Germany football match on 4th December 1935 was a thrilling sporting encounter. However, it is clear from this discussion that this game had many more significant elements associated with it than any normal sporting event. When we look at the wide range of view points, it gives a clearer picture of the deep-rooted feelings that people had towards this game. To say this match was just a sporting event would be to undermine and underestimate the political and social context of people’s attitudes towards sport, fascism and anti-Semitism.
The British Government felt conflicted; they recognised the political implications of this match going ahead, however, were reluctant to get involved. British sport had always prided itself on being solely about the love of the game, without the threat of interference from external forces. The Government wanted to keep to this tradition as best they could, however, it was impossible to detach the German football team from the Nazi Party. The rise of fascism in Germany had heightened geo-political tensions in Europe and the Government was careful not to antagonise Hitler as this could result in conflict. The Foreign Office was very anxious about the way that Germany could use this as propaganda if they abandoned the match. The Home Office on the other hand, feared that the match could cause mass disturbances if it went ahead. Ultimately, the Government decided to allow the match to go ahead, believing that heightened tensions with Germany was a bigger risk than public disorder from British anti-fascists. This dilemma would continue over the following years as Hitler became more radical, forcing Britain to make more difficult decisions.
This game was a hot topic in both national and regional newspapers. People in the 1930’s received most of their news through newspapers so were heavily influenced by the press reports they read. The majority of press reports viewed the match as being purely a sporting event, choosing to ignore the political aspects. These newspapers sought to substantiate the opinion that politics had no place in sport. Football was the most popular sport in Britain at the time, so many of their readers would have agreed that this match should be treated strictly as a sporting event. By involving politics, there was a worry that this could interfere with a potentially exciting game between two talented nations. Some papers went as far as to actively denounce any attempts to have the game abandoned, appearing to relish the fact the anti-fascists failed in their protests. However, while many were influenced by papers supporting the game, left wing papers played their role in persuading others to oppose the match. By detailing the injustices of the Nazi regime, the Manchester Guardian, the Daily Worker and The Jewish Chronicle, were able to stir up opposition to the Anglo-German match. The frequent coverage, in an abundance of newspapers, shows how significant this game was viewed, regardless of whether the papers supported the match or were grossly offended by it.
The British Union of Fascists treated this fixture as an opportunity to boost their membership and further their reputation. They were outwardly anti-Semitic, strongly believing that Jews sought to control every aspect of British society and culture, including sport. The BUF treated the opposition to the match from the numerous anti-fascist movements as a Jewish conspiracy, where their refusal to accept British sport showed their inability to be integrated into British society. The failure of the anti-fascists to have the game boycotted, was treated as a glorious ideological victory by the BUF. British sport had come out on top, escaping the grasp of the Jewish “Hidden Hand”, which was ammunition that the BUF could use in their propaganda. In the months following the game there is clear evidence to indicate a significant increase in anti-Semitic activity by members of the BUF and other fascists. Despite Mosley calling for speakers to refrain from inciting Jew-baiting, the Jewish community was continually subjected to threats and violence, especially in the East End. The match was viewed as a very successful political event by the fascists who used it to undermine their ideological enemies and propel their own agenda
The anti-fascists perceived this fixture as being extremely controversial and immoral. A plethora of left-wing organisations expressed their dismay at the match, with the main focus point being the acceptance of a football team representing Nazi Germany by Britain. Nazi Germany was growing increasingly unpopular as a result of their extreme domestic policies, for example, the Nuremberg Laws. The totalitarianism regime controlled all aspects of German life, including sport, supressing any form of freedom. Their anti-Semitic policies scared the Jewish communities in Britain who saw a visit from a German football team as an intrusion. Like the BUF, anti-fascists used propaganda to a great effect, highlighting the injustices of the Nazi regime and why the game should be abandoned. They believed that the German football team was only playing to show off the power of the Nazis, rather than playing for the love of sport. The prospect of 10,000 German fans was another reason for protest, with the Jewish communities seeing this as an invasion of their neighbourhoods.
Due to the authorities concerns over communism and its propaganda, the police were quick to intervene with any demonstrations on match day. Taking away banners and pamphlets, as well as dispersing groups, limited the protestors effectiveness. Despite this, the message that this game had a greater significance than just a football match was made clear, most famously with Wooley cutting down the Swastika flag, flying over White Hart Lane. Following the match, the anti-fascist movement started to become more physical and energetic in their opposition to fascism. They had been too passive at the Anglo-German match, so began to confront the fascists at their rallies and marches in greater numbers and more grit in their teeth, which proved to be far more effective. The match appeared to have inspired those opposed to fascism and the Nazi Party to inject more passion into their protests.
This dissertation was expertly written and thoroughly researched by Swansea University alumni Liam Pembroke. You can follow Liam on Twitter here - @
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