22 May 1938
On Sunday 22 May 1938, at a football match in Stuttgart, in front of sixty thousand spectators, Aston Villa gave a Nazi salute both at the start and at the end of the match, while the German team didn’t bother to do the same. The Daily Mirror, under the headline ‘Villa Give Nazi Salute After Win But Germans Don’t Reply,‘ refrained from any criticism of this accidental excess of deference to the Nazi regime. 1 In contrast, the British press had sharply criticized Aston Villa when they had only given one Nazi salute at the start of a match the previous Sunday in front of 110,000 spectators in Berlin’s Olympic stadium. The disorderly breach of Nazi protocol was vividly described on the front page of the Daily Express by its veteran sports correspondent Henry Rose. ‘The German players,’ he reported, ‘lined up to give the Nazi salute (but) the Villa team, with the exception of Allen, the captain and one or two others, ran off the field. Allen tried to call the players back but they refused to return. Finally Allen joined the rest and the band tried to drown out the booing.’2
Although Villa won the match against the German side by three goals to two, the verdict of both the Daily Express article and the Football Association was damning. ‘It was an unfortunate end to a bad game,’ commented Rose, adding that ‘the view of the Football Association officials who watched the game was that all the good work of the previous day, when England had defeated Germany 6-3 in the international in a friendly atmosphere, had been completely destroyed.’3 The following Wednesday, Jimmy Hogan, the Villa manager assured the British press that ‘there would certainly be no misunderstanding in today’s match.’4 He added that unfortunately he had not himself been present in the Olympic Stadium at the end of Sunday’s match but had he been aware of what was happening he would have told his players to go back on to the field and make the salute.5
When Aston Villa returned from Germany, Fred Normansell, Aston Villa’s Chairman, explained to journalists that the team’s failure to give a double Nazi salute at the initial match had been a ‘misunderstanding’, while Hogan stressed that the players ‘were not told there would be any such formality after the game.’ This contrite tone appears to have finally appeased angry officials at the FA who had earlier hinted at launching a full investigation. Hogan, however, was left puzzled by the outrage shown in the British press at Aston Villa’s lack of due deference to Nazi officials. ‘(British) newspaper reports,’ he told a Yorkshire Post correspondent, ‘have been greatly exaggerated’ and, he added that, ‘it was significant that the incident was not mentioned by a single German newspaper.’6
- ‘Villa Give Nazi Salute After Win But Germans Don’t Reply”, the Daily Mirror, 23 May 1938, p. 31.
- ‘Villa Booed By Germans, Refuse Nazi Salute,’ the Daily Express, 16 May 1938 p. 1
- ‘A Misunderstanding’, the Sunderland Echo, 18 May 1938 p. 9.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- ‘Nazi Salute Incident,’ the Yorkshire Post, 28 May 1938 p. 23.
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