England’s Nazi salute
14 May 1938
It was a most shameful moment of English sporting deference to the Nazi regime. On 14 May 1938, the England football team gave the Nazi salute in front of a crowd of over one hundred thousand in the German Olympic Stadium. The most shocking aspect, however, was not the incident itself, but the press reaction to it. Jonathan Duffy of BBC News Online commented in 2003 that ‘the gesture provoked outrage in the British press,’ yet there is little if any evidence of any significant criticism in the mainstream press.1
Many newspapers didn’t even mention the salute and of those that did, most thought it appropriate and courteous. The response of The Times was typical. It observed that ‘the English team immediately made a good impression by raising their arms in the German salute,’ and it praised them for their ‘splendid exhibition of football,’ which was a ‘polished, clean and effective display deserving of its comfortable six to three goals victory.’2 The Daily Telegraph was equally effusive in its eulogy, commenting that ‘the team that bore the insignia of England on so important an occasion as the one which threatened our football prestige on the continent has done us proud’ and it made no suggestion that the salute might have made an inappropriate contribution to Nazi propaganda.3
As for the left leaning Daily Herald, it failed even to mention the salute, while the Manchester Guardian, despite its reputation as the newspaper of the more progressive educated classes, merely noted that ‘the Englishmen gave the Nazi salute as it had previously been decided they should’.4 There was some hostile comment in the press but it was not directed against England’s adoption of the Nazi salute but rather against the heretical Daily Worker, which had been the only newspaper to condemn the gesture as a ‘great blunder.’5 The Daily Worker’s sports correspondent George Sinfield commented in the following day’s issue:
‘With all due modesty, I state there is one paper which had the courage to treat properly this question of England’s team doing the Nazi salute in Germany…. other newspapers have decried our efforts to attach importance to this action of saluting. They saw politics imbued in the attempt to prevent our boys from raising their hands, but apparently, did not see the politics on the other side.’6
- Jonathan Duffy, ‘Football, Fascism and England’s Nazi Salute,’ BBC News Online, 22 September 2003 accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3128202.stm
- Our Own Correspondent, ‘Association Football – England Beat Germany,’ The Times 16 May 1938 p. 8 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 18 July 2017.
- ‘England’s Soccer Triumph in Berlin,’ the Daily Telegraph, 16 May 1938, p. 21.
- Christopher Webb, ‘Robinson As England’s Star of the Future,’ the Daily Herald, 16 May 1938 p. 18 and ‘England Beats Germany – The Match in Berlin,’ the Manchester Guardian, 16 May 1938, p. 11.
- ‘England’s Big Soccer Triumph in Berlin’, the Daily Worker, 16 May 1938, p. 6.
- ‘Players Still Disturbed Over Giving Nazi Salute’, the Daily Worker, 17 May 1938, p. 6.
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