Aston Villa’s Double Nazi Salute – May 1938

After the team was vilified in the press for disrespecting the Nazis.

Shameful moment No. 8

Aston Villa Team give a very reluctant Nazi salute at Stuttgart in May 1938

The following day, Sunday 15 May,  Aston Villa played against a combined Austrian-German team in front of 110,000 spectators in Berlin’s Olympic stadium. The Villa players duly gave a Nazi salute at the start of the match, but British and German officials were stunned when they did not repeat the gesture as expected at the end of the game.  This 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.”[1]

Jimmy Hogan,  the Villa manager, informed Rose that initially the Villa team had, under pressure from the Football Association, agreed to give the salute.  However, there had been a “spontaneous” last minute change of mind. He claimed this was “entirely due to the bad feeling created during the game” since “each time the Villa defence played the offside game there was a shout from the crowd of ‘Pfui !’ ( Shame ! ) and shrill whistling.”[2]  His explanation did not, however, help to lessen the suspicion of British officials and the press that the real reason for the team’s failure to salute was its flagrant contempt for Nazi etiquette.

The Daily Express

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]

Frank Carruthers of the Daily Mail, writing under his pen name “Arbiter,” was equally disparaging.  Under the headline “80,000 Boo as Villa Win in Berlin,” he disclosed that the team had “failed to give” what he termed “the customary salute of friendship to their opponents.”  He acknowledged that “Allen, the Villa Captain, tried to persuade his men to return,” but explained that “two of them waved him aside, and when they disappeared down the tunnel leading to their dressing room the others followed. It was,” Carruthers concluded, “a most unhappy ending.”[4]

The Daily Telegraph

The Yorkshire Post joined the chorus of condemnation. First it reproved the team for several fouls and “exploiting the offside game” which “spoiled the play a great deal for the crowd,” but “the worst feature,” it noted, “came at the end. It is the practice at the finish of a match for the rival teams to line up in the centre and salute the spectators, but either through ignorance or lack of  instruction, most of the Villa players ran straight off to the dressing room, leaving the Austrians to perform the ceremony alone.”[5]

Ivan Sharpe reporting for the Sheffield Daily Independent, under the headline “Unpleasant Scenes in Villa Match,” was also disenchanted, commenting that “the splendid impressions of the German-England international of yesterday (during which the England team had lined up to give the Nazi salute), were followed today in the Aston Villa match by unpleasant and unwelcome scenes.”  The first disappointment was the “offside tactics…new to the continent” which had caused some unhappiness among the spectators, but he noted that Villa players were “quite entitled to employ (them)”.

It was, however, the failure of the players to give the Nazi salute at the end of the match, which for Sharpe was the “unfortunate spectacle” of the day.  As the home team lined up for the closing salute, Sharpe observed that “only a few of the Villa team remained. The others were trotting off the field, and although Allen, the team captain, tried to signal them back, it was too late. Some had disappeared down the tunnel into the dressing room.” He also noted that at least one player appeared to deliberately ignore the call back. His attention had been “drawn by the trainer at the tunnel entrance to the fact that his colleagues were calling him back, but he brushed his way past and went to the players quarters.”[6]

The Sheffield Daily Independent

The correspondent of the Sunderland Echo was equally dismayed by what he implied was the team’s discourtesy. He excused the Villa players for resorting to an offside trap as that was “legitimate enough and Villa’s usual style of play” but what was inexcusable was that “at the finish of the game some of the Villa players did not stay on the field for the usual salute function.”   He reminded readers that the “Old saying ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’ applies,” and added that  “if the Germans coming to England failed to stand to attention when the national anthem was played, there would be an uncomfortable situation. Apply that the other way round, and whether you agree with Nazism or not you must at least be courteous to the creed when you are in Germany.”[7]

The Daily Herald‘s Christopher Webb was the only journalist to discover evidence of the real motive behind the players’ decision not to give a second salute. He noted that the players, as they left the field, brushed aside German officials who had tried to stop them and he explained that the players had admitted to him that it was a protest. Jimmy Allen, the Villa Captain, had confessed that “our boys resented the fact that before the England-Germany game (the previous day) when the English players stood to attention during the playing of our national anthem, the Germans gave the Nazi salute.” The players were deeply unhappy about being ordered to pay servile obeisance to the Nazi regime especially since the German players had been allowed to use the Nazi salute when the British national anthem was played.[8]

However, the football officials and most journalists appear to have held the opposite view – that anything except servile obeisance to Nazi etiquette, regardless of the circumstances, was inexcusably disrespectful. When, on Tuesday, 17 May, Sir Patrick Hannon MP, president of Aston Villa Football Club, flew back from Berlin, he was immediately questioned by journalists about the team’s failure to give the salute.   According to reports in both the Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Guardian he insisted that, contrary to the explanation given to the Daily Express earlier by Jimmy Hogan, “the incident at the end of the game… was due entirely to a misunderstanding,” and added. “I am satisfied that there was no want of courtesy on the part of Aston Villa players.”[9]

Possibly Sir Patrick was already aware that at that same moment, the Football Association councillors, who were accompanying the England team on a fifteen hour train journey from Berlin to Zurich, were discussing what action might be taken against his team.  After several hours they eventually agreed that Villa should face a disciplinary committee when they returned to London but when they communicated this to Fred Rinder, who was both an Aston Villa director and a Football Association councillor, they made it clear that any final decision would be strongly influenced by how the team conducted itself during the remainder of its tour.[10]

German programme for the Villa tour

Despite the stern warning, there remained some doubt among the FA councillors as to what action they would be able to take.  If they were to sanction Aston Villa for their tactics employed during the match, this was questionable, since not one Villa player had been sent off.  As for the players not giving a second Nazi salute, the councillors admitted  that what the club did after a game on the continent was not technically their concern. However they still decided to make their strong disapproval clear, observing in a summary report that in view of “the lead which the international team had given them on the previous day, when all the courtesies were punctiliously observed, the behaviour of the villa players is the more surprising.”[11]

The Yorkshire Post warned its readers not to underestimate the FA’s influence, explaining that “the councillors have wide powers to deal with anything coming to their notice of a nature which they may consider may bring the game into disrepute.”[12] The next day, Fred Normansell, the Aston Villa chairman, seemingly still fearful of censure, issued a statement reasserting the explanation given the previous day by Sir Patrick that the incident at the Sunday match had been due to a “misunderstanding,” explaining that “after a match in Germany it is customary to give the Nazi salute. As soon as the final whistle went our players carried on as they usually do and the failure to give the salute was purely a misunderstanding.”

The same day, Hogan, though not commenting further on what had happened at the match, assured the British press  that “there would certainly be no misunderstanding in today’s match (Wednesday) or on Saturday.”[13] 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.[14]  Fred Rinder,  also spoke out, saying he believed the explanation from the Villa players that they had “assumed no further salute would be made”, but he also made it clear that there could be no tolerance of any further misunderstanding. “We shall take such action,” he assured the public, “as will prevent any similar incident occurring during the rest of the tour”[15]

Such was the paranoia of the players that they might be punished by the FA for offending Nazi officials, that at a subsequent match in Stuttgart on Sunday 22 May 1938 in front of sixty thousand spectators they gave a Nazi salute at the end of the match while the German team didn’t even 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, but merely explained that “according to the football routine, teams only salute at the beginning of the match”. Presumably the FA were pleased that at least this misunderstanding must have amused and delighted the watching German officials even if those same officials may have been disappointed that their own team had not showed the same enthusiastic respect for Hitler and Nazi etiquette.[16]

The German crowd, however, were not so easily charmed by Villa’s double Nazi salute.  They were more concerned with the team’s offside tactics, which though in accordance to international rules, were unfamiliar to the German team and its supporters.  This may be why the Daily Telegraph‘s correspondent did not even mention the double Hitler salute, but instead highlighted the spectators anger, with a report headlined “Storm Troopers Guard British Footballers – 70,000 Germans Boo Aston Villa.”[17]

Five days later the Villa team arrived back in Birmingham. Hogan gave the press a  new account of the team’s failure to give a Nazi salute. This time it matched the statements given a week earlier by both the president and the Chairman that it had all been due to a “misunderstanding”,  with Hogan now stressing that the players “were not told there would be any such formality after the game.”  This contrite tone as well as Villa’s deferential double Nazi salute in the final match meant an FA official was able to hint that a full investigation was now unlikely, although a report would still “probably be made and submitted to the council.”[18]

The FA also decided to overlook an implicit criticism of the British press by Hogan the same day,  who still seemed taken aback by the attention the papers had paid to Villa’s perceived failure to pay sufficient reverence to Nazi protocol. “(British) newspaper reports,” he observed, “have been greatly exaggerated” and, he pointed out, “it was significant that the incident was not mentioned by a single German newspaper.”[19]


1. “Villa Booed By Germans, Refuse Nazi Salute,” the Daily Express, 16 May 1938 p1

2. Ibid p1.

3. Ibid p1.

4. Frank Carruthers, “80,000 Boo as Villa win in Berlin,” the Daily Mail, 16 May 1938, p11

5. “No Salute – Aston Villa Displease Spectators,” the Yorkshire Post, 16  May 1938 p15

6. Ivan Gordon Sharpe “Unpleasant Scenes in Villa Match,” the Sheffield Daily Independent, 16 May 1938, p8

7. “Under the Searchlight”, the Sunderland Echo, 16 May 1938 p7

8. Clifford Webb, “Germans Hoot Villa Team Off,” the Daily Herald, 16 May 1938 p1

9. “Aston Villa Match ‘Misunderstanding’,” the Daily Telegraph, 18 May 1938, p21 and “Aston Villa in Berlin – Salute Incident,” the Manchester Guardian, 18 May 1938 p19

10. “Football Inquiry Will Follow Villa Match In Berlin,” the Daily Express, 18 May 1938 p11

11. “Villa Match Incidents,” the Yorkshire Post, 18 May 1938 p19

12. Ibid p19

13. “A Misunderstanding”, the Sunderland Echo, 18 May 1938 p9

14. Ibid p9

15. “Villa Put on the Spot”, the Sheffield Daily Independent, 18 May 1938, p8

16. “Villa Give Nazi Salute After Win But Germans Don’t Reply”, the Daily Mirror, 23 May 1938, p31.

17. “Storm Troopers Guard British Footballers,” the Daily Telegraph, 23 May 1938 p11

18. “Nazi Salute Incident,” the Yorkshire Post, 28 May 1938 p23

19. Ibid p23