On 4 December 1935, England played Germany at White Hart Lane, the Tottenham Hotspur football ground in north London. The game was seen by the Nazis as a great political and propaganda coup, especially coming so soon after Hitler devised the racist Nuremburg Laws that deprived German Jews of their citizenship and civil rights. In England, the decision to go ahead with the game met with considerable opposition, but the Conservative government and its supporters, together with Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, were positively enthusiastic. It is worth noting that in 1930 the then Labour government banned a Russian club from playing in Britain for political reasons. What made the decision to play Germany even more provocative was the chosen venue, since Spurs, as they are popularly known was well-known to have many Jewish supporters.
The Swastika was going to be raised over White Hart Lane whether the Jewish and other Spurs’ supporters liked it or not. The decision was championed with the argument that politics should be kept out of sport, an argument that conveniently ignored the fact that the Nazi regime had taken complete control over sport in Germany. In fact, ReichsportFuhrer Hans von Tschammer, a veteran Brownshirt thug, actually accompanied the German team to London. Under his supervision, German sport had been ‘racially purified’ with not only Jewish sportsmen and women purged, but supporters and spectators as well. The German club, Bayern Munich, had been a particular target of Nazi wrath, denounced as a ‘Judenclub’, with its Jewish administrator, Kurt Landauer, thrown into Dachau, but later escaping from the country.
In England, there were protests from the TUC and from a number of trade unions (the NUR, ASLEF, the TGWU and others) but the government ignored them and they were denounced in the Tory press. With the Football Association determined to go ahead, preparations got underway for protests outside the ground. Some 10,000 German fans travelled to London for the game. This was the largest number of foreign fans to ever attend a match until then. They were hand-picked Nazis and von Tschammer’s original plan was for them to march through the streets to the ground en masse, parading through predominantly Jewish districts in a deliberate act of provocation. Fear of serious rioting led the Home Office to veto this.
Even so the number of police on duty at the ground was increased from the normal contingent of 200 for such a game to 800. On the day there were hundreds of anti-Fascist protesters outside the ground with placards and sandwich boards (KEEP SPORT CLEAN: FIGHT FASCISM read one placard), handing out leaflets publicising the recent murder of a Polish goalkeeper by Nazi thugs and the regime’s anti-Semitic sports policies. The police went around confiscating leaflets and placards and moving the protesters on with a number of arrests.
Mosley’s Blackshirts had been up early, painting PERISH JUDAH at various places on the approach to the ground. Inside the ground, the German players gave the Hitler salute which was reciprocated by the German supporters. Once the game was underway though, Ernie Wooley, an engineering worker and Spurs supporter, climbed up onto the roof of the stand and pulled the Swastika flag down. He was promptly arrested. This dramatic gesture was completely ignored by most of the press. Indeed, Wooley was accused by the chairman of the Counties Association of Football Clubs of having ‘despoiled the high traditions of English sportsmanship’.
The press was determined to present the game as a triumph for Anglo-German understanding, conveniently ignoring the Nazi regime’s brutal anti-Semitism. The following year, on 4 October 1936, massive crowds, overwhelmingly working class, both Jews and non-Jews, fought with the police and physically prevented Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from marching through the East End at the Battle of Cable Street.
Later, in 1938, when England played Germany in Berlin, the English players were actually instructed to give the Hitler salute themselves. This was at the insistence of the Foreign Office. Although some of them subsequently regretted this, sadly none of the players refused at the time.