In light of the rapid rise to power of German football, coupled with Arsenal’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich last night, it’s time to put some pride back into English football.
To do so I've chosen to reminisce back to the 1930’s, for a story that the world should know about Aston Villa football club.
Forget England’s 5-1 hammering of Germany in Munich; forget even the widely spoken 4-2 victory in the 1966 World Cup final. This is the tale of the Aston Villa team that famously defied orders to perform the Nazi salute whilst on tour in Germany.
During the 1930’s Aston Villa was probably the world’s best and well known football club. They were then what the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United are today. Everybody wanted to see the famous claret and blue in action, including the despicable skimpy moustached face of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen.
The year was 1938 and Jimmy Hogan’s world renowned Aston Villa team had accepted an invitation to tour Germany. It was a time when the Third Reich was beginning to strike fear into mainland Europe with mindless propaganda and monstrous self indulgence. It was also a time when the full extent of Hitler’s horrific regime and master plan had yet to take full effect.
One day before Villa embarked on their tour the England national team had also been invited to play Germany in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. The players had been told that the political situation between Britain and Germany was so sensitive that it needed “only a spark to set Europe alight”. On the advice of the Foreign Office the England players reluctantly gave the Nazi salute, in front of 110,000 applauding Germans.
A day later and it was Villa’s turn in the same stadium. Although this time they faced an even better side, a German Select XI, which also included players from Austria. The Aston Villa team was given the same advice from the Foreign Office in order to placate Hitler. The Villa team refused to perform the salute and added insult to injury with a 3-2 win.
Villa’s disobeying of orders caused outrage in German media circles but, they did have the chance to redeem themselves during a further game in Stuttgart. This time political pressure was even fiercer in it’s insistence that the Villa players give the Nazi salute, but yet again the famous claret and blue chose to snub Hitler’s demands.
Taken from Rogan Taylor’s book ‘Kicking and Screaming’ Eric Houghton, a Villa forward at the time, recalled, “When we played the day after the England match – we were Aston Villa!
“Our manager Jimmy Hogan said “They’ll expect you to perform the Nazi salute.” “The FA fella in charge of the England team had come to our manager and said ‘We’ve had a chat about it and we think it would be better if your players gave the Nazi salute to be really friendly’.
“We had a meeting about this, and George Cummings and Alec Massie said ‘There’s no way we’re giving the Nazi salute.’ So we didn’t give it in Berlin.
“It did leave a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth for them.
“At the next game in Stuttgart both teams gave the Nazi salute.
“But we went to the centre of the field and gave them the two-finger salute instead.
“They cheered like mad.
“They thought it was alright. They didn’t know what the two fingers meant.”
Aston Villa won the match 1-0 and failed to experience any negative repercussions for their proud stance, as Hitler was unaware of the significance of the typically British two-fingered salute. Instead Villa went down in history as the team that defied Hitler and Nazi Germany; they were also the best football team in the world. Oh how time can be cruel.
image: © ell brown