The Swastika flies over Tottenham – December 1935

FA Chief apologizes to the Nazis and the swastika flies over Tottenham

Shameful moment No. 4

December 1935 – The German team give the Nazi salute at Tottenham

On Wednesday 4th December 1935, the visiting German national football team had been invited to an after the match dinner reception at the Hotel Victoria in London. William Pickford, the vice president of the Football Association and the man who first introduced markings on football pitches in 1902, rapped his table and everyone fell silent. “It is“, he declared, “a privilege and honour to be able to propose a toast to the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.”[1]

The assembled guests immediately responded with a Nazi salute and, maintaining their arms in an extended position, they sang the ‘Horst Wessel’ song,” the infamous anthem to a young nazi thug who’s death in 1930 was mythologized as martyrdom.[2]  At the conclusion of the singing,  Sir Charles Clegg, the Chairman of the FA,  stood up and apologised for the earlier presence of anti-Nazi protesters outside the football ground as an unwelcome “annoyance to which our visitors have been subjected” and, according to a report published in several regional newspapers, “amid thunderous applause Sir Charles proceeded to say ‘This is the first time the TUC ( Trade Union Congress ) has interfered in football. I hope it will be the last.'”[3]

He was referring to a delegation from the TUC which had attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, to cancel the proposed match between Germany and England which had been scheduled to take place at White Hart Lane, the home ground of Tottenham Hotspurs; a club which boasted a large number of supporters from London’s East End Jewish community, who typically made up one third of  the spectators at the stadium.[4]  However, even had Sir John seriously considered calling the match off, the British press was almost entirely united against such an idea.  

The Times declared that any such ban would be “abhorrent to English sentiment,”  asserted that “a sporting fixture in this country has no political significance,” and accused the General Council of the TUC of “hysterically… (lending) themselves to the designs of those who would poison even sport with partisan intolerance.”[5] Other newspapers also joined the attack.  The Daily Mail lambasted “the mischief-makers of the Trades Union Congress” and their “preposterous demand that the Home Secretary shall prohibit next Wednesday’s match,” adding that “they are seemingly anxious to provoke every foreign nation which is not under the Red flag.”[6]  The Daily Telegraph was equally adamant that the game should continue as planned, commending that Home Secretary’s “irrefutable common sense that the match has no sort of political implication,” and adding that “there is clearly no reason for any government interference with the match.”[7]  The Daily Express‘ veteran sports correspondent Trevor Wignall was in complete agreement. Under the headline “Wignall Advises TUC to Keep out of Sport,” he cautioned would be protesters that “ordinary common sense should be shown…even by those who are opposed to Herr Hitler,” adding that, “the affair after all is only a football game. It should not be turned into something that may have unhappy consequences. If the TUC have wisdom they will keep out of sport.”[8]

The next day Wingall repeated his warning yet again, declaring that “on all sides (there is) condemnation of those who are striving frantically to bring politics into sport….why cannot sport be left alone ?”[9] Two days later the Daily Express published two letters, both of them strongly supporting Wignall’s attack on the TUC, with one from a correspondent from Ladbrooke Grove declaring that “every sane Britisher will welcome the Nazi players to our shores.”[10]

Letters published in The Times were also united at their opposition to TUC “interference” with a reader from Teignmouth arguing that “if further evidence were necessary to prove how dangerous it would be to trust the government of this country to the Labour Party it is provided by their attempt to interfere with the visit of the German football team to London. I am sure that all good sportsmen will agree with me that politics should never be associated with football.”[11]  Even the left leaning News Chronicle concurred, at least in its conviction that protests over injustice and persecution should be kept out of sport. The paper declared that this “intrusion of politics into sport” was “so detestable a  poisoning of the springs of human fellowship that we cannot help feeling that this protest (by the TUC) gives undeserved importance to a most unfortunate controversy. It is impossible to prevent our (German) visitors investing this game of football with political significance, but the true answer to that attitude is to refuse to follow a bad example.”[12]

Sir John Simon, however, made it clear he would refuse the TUC request to cancel the match even before the press editorials launched their mass attack against “politicising” football. The press merely lent its powerful support to what was a predictable, almost automatic, reactionary response by the British government. Some newspapers such as the Belfast Post made this crystal clear in their commentary. It approvingly observed that “moderate opinion in London warmly endorses the Home Secretary’s dignified reply to the Trade Union Congress letter seeking a ban on the Anglo-German football international at Tottenham next Wednesday.  Sir John Simon condemns as ‘most undesirable’ the introduction of political feeling in to what should be a purely sporting contest.”[13]

Other regional newspapers also published editorials and comments by their correspondents on the issue and it seems that all strongly supported the stance of the Home Secretary.   Typical examples were F. G. Walters of the Sheffield Daily Independent who disparaged “the frivolous and unnecessary representations which have been made against the game taking place“[14] and an editorial in the Lancashire Daily Post which claimed, under the headline “Let Us Play The Game,” that “the vast majority of people will welcome the tone of the reply by Sir John Simon…. It ought not to have been necessary, but the Home Secretary did right to point out, to those who have raised this controversy, that the matter they are so anxious and fearful about is a game of football which nobody need attend and that everyone should do his utmost to discourage the idea that a sporting fixture in this country has any political implications.”[15]

The German press expressed its appreciation of the support. The Berliner Tageblatt, who’s previous editor Theodor Wolff had been dismissed in March 1933 because of his Jewish ancestry, noted with great satisfaction that the TUC intervention appeared to have created a pro-German backlash and concluded that “the propaganda against the march had the effect on the sporting Englishmen of working as propaganda for the Germans.”[16]  Baron von Hoesch, the German ambassador in London,  was also pleasantly surprised by the robust advocacy for the match in both the British national and regional press. On initially hearing of the TUC protest, he had called on Sir Robert Vansittart, the Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, to make it clear that he had Hitler’s authority to cancel the match if the British government felt unduly anxious about it.  However, he had also expressed the hope that the match could proceed “with the object of improving the good relations between the two countries”  and said that Hitler wanted to assure the British public that it was “a purely sporting event.”[17]

Hitler was helped in this ambition by an Associated Press report, published in several regional newspapers including the Yorkshire Post, the Western Daily Press, and the Leeds Mercury. Attempting to assure worried readers that the Nazis would not politicise the game, it assured them that although “German supporters, most of whom are travelling with the Nazi Party holiday organisation “Strength Through Joy“, are permitted by the rules of the party to use the Nazi salute when occasion demands… it is a rule that party insignia and badges are not to be worn abroad. Hence the swastika sign will not be seen.”[18]

The German team, however, was a permissible exception. The Belfast Newsletter conceded that “the members of the visiting team will wear white jerseys with the German eagle holding the swastika in its claws, embroidered on the breast,” but the paper still argued that people should not protest because  “in England politics have always been divorced from sport and it would be very regrettable if there was a departure from tradition on this occasion.”[19]

The Daily Worker seems to have been the only newspaper not convinced by such arguments and assurances. It remained staunchly opposed to the match going ahead reasoning that “the main purpose of the visit is not for the international match… but for Nazi propaganda.” It pointed out that the Germany State Railways Office in London’s Regent Street was already displaying a large swastika flag in its front window as the background for a display about the German team. It also quoted an Independent Labour Party petition which stated that the team was not composed of “working class sportsmen” chosen on merit but that instead they had been hand picked,  based on their political views, racial features and religion, by Nazi agents.[20]

One of the regime’s most senior officials, Hans von Tschammer und Osten, was travelling with the German football team. He was a notorious racist and anti-semite who had made a speech in Berlin two years earlier, in June 1933, putting both Germans and the international community on notice that in future “we shall see to it that both in our national life, and in our relations and competitions with foreign nations, only such Germans shall be allowed to represent the nation as those against whom no objection can be raised.”[21]

It was not difficult to work out what this meant. No Jews, no Catholics, no socialists or communists, no homosexuals and no pacifists. However this did not dampen the enthusiastic welcome he received in London.   An evening reception was laid on for him by Lord Mount Temple, Chairman of the Anglo-German Fellowship, who used the opportunity of an after dinner speech to express his view that the establishment had been too civil in its dealings with the TUC.

Who are these people that they should attempt to dictate to our Home Secretary and say that he should forbid the football match ?  Personally, I feel we handled them in far too gentlemanly a manner. I would have told them to mind their own business and go to and mind their trade unions.”[22]

The Daily Worker, however, was a lot less deferential to Hitler’s sports minister. It warned its readers, under the headline “Gangster Who Shepherds Nazi Players,” that “Osten’s job is to keep Nazi sport pure – that is to hunt out Jews, Catholics, Socialists, all who are not guaranteed to be 100 per cent fascist.”[23]  The historical evidence strongly supports the Daily Worker’s allegations.  The Nazi dogmatism of screening based on race and political ideology had already been spelled out clearly by Bruno Malitz, the sports chief of the Berlin SA, in his book “The Spirit of Sport in the Third Reich,” a copy of which Goebbels had ordered to be placed in every sports club in Germany, in which he warned that “there is no room in the German land for Jewish leadership in sport, nor for pacifists and those betrayers of the people, the pan-Europeans, or others infected by the Jews.”[24]

The Daily Worker had a strong case on this point. However, it also advanced another powerful argument in its headline “Nazi team plan grand propaganda tour of London with police connivance.”  The paper explained that buses with propaganda promoting Anglo-German friendship were to ferry the German team and officials through many of central London’s principal thoroughfares passing Hyde Park Corner, the Albert Hall, Hammersmith Broadway, Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.[25]  Unfortunately, the establishment had never been inclined to listen to advice from the Daily Worker and on the morning of the match locals awoke to see the Swastika fluttering over Tottenham Football Club, even if it was, in the words of the Yorkshire Post, flying  “at half mast as a mark of respect to Princess Victoria,” the sister of King George V, who had died two days earlier.[26]

A confrontation between protesters and the visiting Nazi team seemed inevitable but the British police did all they could to quash any sign of dissent. The Times noted that “two hours before the match began hundreds of police were posted along the approaches.”[27] The Daily Worker reported that “the concentration of police and plain-clothes detectives was one of the largest yet organized in London: scarcely a turning or side road was left uncovered.”[28]  Even the Daily Express found itself in rare agreement with the official organ of the Communist Party; Wignall commenting that “there were more policemen, mounted, on foot and of Special Branch – than have ever before been seen at a football match,” although he derided a failed attempt by some socialists as well as members of the Jewish community to organize a mass boycott of the event.

“The Jewish boycott of the match about which so much has been raucously heard was non-existent,” he declared disdainfully. “Instead, it was an almost laughable fizzle… The occasion will long remain in memory because it defeated those who would have turned it into a fight, and also those who desired to use it as an instrument for the creation of bad feelings.”[29] However he did not mention that, despite huge police numbers and the presence of plain clothes officers among the spectators, demonstrators managed to distribute some fifty thousand leaflets in German and English appealing to “sportsmen and friends” from Germany to oppose Hitler and demanding the release of the German communist leader Ernst Thaelmann, who was then being held in solitary confinement.

Another more eye-catching achievement also went almost entirely unreported, when a 34 year old Londoner, Ernest Woolley, avoiding police and stewards managed to climb up on to the roof of the stand, crawl along a ledge and cut one of the guy ropes of the Nazi flag which tumbled into the stands just as the match was about to start.[30]  It is not recorded whether this was precisely at the “impressive moment,”  to quote the Sunderland Echo, “(when) the playing of the German fascist anthem saluted by their fellows with outstretched arms preceded the appearance of the teams.”[31]

Woolley was arrested as soon as he jumped back into to the stands. He was charged with “willfully and maliciously doing damage to the amount of three shillings and six pence” by cutting the rope which held up the swastika flag. At the hearing at Tottenham Police Court, the arresting officer, detective Wilson, informed the magistrate that the prisoner had told him “You’ve got thousands of police about the ground, but no one to watch the flag.”  The police also made critical mistakes in court. They allowed their only witness to disqualify himself by listening to the proceedings and they failed to bring the one vital piece of evidence, the cut lanyard.  As the Daily Worker eloquently put it, “they lost the rope they intended to hang the prisoner with,” so the magistrate was left with no option but to dismiss the case.[32]

Another protester at the same court was not so lucky. Harry Marks, a 31 year old shop assistant from Manor Park in East London,  was fined ten shillings for “obstructing a police officer”. His crime was his refusal to hand over a poster of a swastika with the subversive caption “Nazi emblem of murder” written below it.  Marks’ unsuccessful defense was that it was another man and not he who had been holding the placard.[33] Equally unfortunate was George W. Skyes, a 23 year old from Battersea, who was convicted at Westminster court of “painting an anti-Nazi slogan on a fence” and sent to prison for a week.[34]

Skyes’ crime had been committed on a fence in central London several miles from Tottenham. His and other protests were not confined to a few heretical acts of defiance inside the stadium.  In the working class neighbourhood surrounding the stadium, where anti-Hitler slogans such as “Stop the Nazi match” had been painted on walls,[35] there was a demonstration by 150 “anti-fascists,” described in the Daily Mirror as “silly” and in the Daily Express as “a few foolish people.”   They marched from Bruce Grove towards the Spur’s Ground.  When they got within yards of the stadium, they were stopped by a line of police officers who ripped up their posters and leaflets and arrested six who were charged with “obstruction” and “disobeying the orders of the police.”[36]  However, other protesters were not easily deterred. Several hours later, as the ten thousand German supporters boarded trains for Germany at Victoria, seven more demonstrators were arrested for “using insulting words and behaviour,”  a well understood code for broadcasting anti-fascist propaganda via leaflets or slogans,  while mounted police were employed to force an angry crowd away from the station.[37]

Most of the protesters outside the stadium were probably unaware of how far British officials had gone to please the Nazi elements among the German spectators. During a lull in the proceedings before the match had started, and after an official appeared to have a long talk with the bandmaster – the band had suddenly struck up a song which must have surprised German supporters as much as it must have shocked the thousands of Jewish spectators.  The notorious Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel Song.   The Nottingham Journal described the astonishment of the German spectators.

For a moment, the Germans could scarcely believe their ears. This was the song they had been warned (by the Nazi authorities) not to sing and here we were playing it for them. They started to sing. How they sang with arms extended in a Nazi salute. One or two protesters behind me tried to whistle shrilly, but they stood no chance.”[38]


1. “Toast Drunk to Hitler,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 December 1935 p4

2. “Hitler Toast Follows National”, the Dundee Courier, 5 Decembter 1935 p6, “Footballers at Dinner,” the Leeds Mercury, 5 December 1935 p1, “Toast Drunk to Hitler,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 December 1935 p4 and  See also Daniel Siemens (2013) “The Making of a Nazi Hero: The Murder and Myth of Horst Wessel,” I.B. Tauris, London.

3. “Hitler Toasted in London”, the Nottingham Evening Post, 5 December 1935, p15 and “Hitler’s Health Drunk in London,” the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 5 December 1935 p9.

4. The Manchester Guardian claimed this at the time according to Anthony Clavane, writing in the Daily Mirror, 23 November 2012 accessed online at

5. “Sport and Politics,” Editorial in The Times, 3 December 1935 p15 accessed online at The Times Digital Archive on 17 July 2017.  See also Richard Holt, “Great Britain: The Amateur Tradition” in A. Kruger and W. Murray (editors) “The Nazi Olympics, Sport, Politics and Appeasement in the 1930s“, p72-73.

6. “TUC Mischief,” Editorial in the Daily Mail, 29 November 1935 p12

7. “No Politics in Sport,” the Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1935, p12

8. Trevor Wignall, “Wignall Advises TUC to Keep out of Sport,”  the Daily Express, 29 November 1935, p13

9. Trevor Wignall, “Why Cannot Sport Be Left Alone ?”  the Daily Express, 30 November 1935, p11

10. Harry Fisher, Letter to the Daily Express, “Letters,” the Daily Express, 2 December 1935, p12

11. Letter from Lane Jackson, “Points From Letters,” The Times, 30 November 1935, p8 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 18 July 2017.

12. The News Chronicle quoted in “Today’s Opinions,” the Northern Daily Mail, 28 November 1935 p3

13. “Germans in London,” the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 30 November 1935 p6

14. F. G. Walters, “Tottenham Game will Pass off Quietly,” the Sheffield Daily Independent, 4 December 1935 p8

15. “Let Us Play the Game,” the Lancashire Daily Post, 30 November 1935 p4

16. The Berliner Tageblatt quoted in “German Football,” the Dundee Evening Telegraph, 6 December 1935 p15. Theodor Wolff’s dismissal is covered in Tobias Churton (2014), “The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex and Magick in the Weimar Republic, ” Simon and Schuster, London, and in the Historical Dictionary of the Weimar Republik accessed online at

17. Quotations from “Herr Hitler’s Offer to Cancel Game,” the Dundee Evening Telegraph 30 November 1935 p5

18. “No Swastikas to be Seen at London Match,” the Yorkshire Post 29 November 1935 p11, “German Team not to Wear Swastikas,” the Western Daily Press, 29 November 1935 p3 and “No Swastikas at German Match,” the Leeds Mercury, 29 November 1935 p11

19. “London Letter,” the Belfast Newsletter 29 November 1935 p8

20. “Nazi Team Plan Grand Propaganda Tour of London,” the Daily Worker, 2 December 1935 p1

21, Guy Walters (2006) “Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole The Olympic Dream,” John Murray, London p20

22. Lord Mount Temple quoted in “If Another War Comes,” the Daily Mirror, 6 December 1935, p3

23. “Gangster Who Shepherds Nazi Players,” the Daily Worker, 3 December 1935 p6

24. Guy Walters (2006) “Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole The Olympic Dream,” John Murray, London p20

25. “Nazi Team Plan Grand Propaganda Tour of London,” the Daily Worker, 2 Deember 1935 p1

26. “10,000 Germans Spend Day in London,” the Yorkshire Post, 5 December 1935 p10

27. “10,000 German Visitors,” The Times, 5 December 1935 p13 accessed online at The Times Digital Archive on 17 July 2017.

28. “Nazi Flag Pulled Down at Tottenham Football Ground,” the Daily Worker, 5 December 1935 p1

29. “Not One Boo, Not One Real Foul,” the Daily Express, 5 December 1935 p4

30. “Nazi Flag Pulled Down at Tottenham Football Ground,” the Daily Worker, 5 December 1935 p1

31, “England Forwards Make Germans Gasp,” the Sunderland Echo, 4 December 1935 p12. The phrase “impressive moment” was used in the plural in the article in the subsequent paragraph to the related longer quote.  “Impressive moments” referring to the singing of both countries national anthems. The German national anthem then included the now banned first verse “Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles” (Germany, Germany above all the world.)

32. “Scotland Yard Men Lose Witness,” the Daily Worker, 6 December 1935 p3

33. “Man with Poster,” the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 5 December 1933 p5

34. “Seven Arrests,” the Daily Herald, 5 December 1935 p1

35. “10,000 German Visitors,” The Times, 5 December 1935 p13 accessed online at The Times Digital Archive on 17 July 2017.

36. “Sporting Welcome,” the Daily Mirror, 5 December 1935, p13, Trevor Wignall, “Football ‘Picnic in a Dell,” the Daily Express, 5 December 1935 p1 and “Nazi Flag Pulled Down at Tottenham Football Ground,” the Daily Worker, 5 December 1935 p1

37. “Hitler Toasted in London”, Nottingham Evening Post, 5 December 1935, p15. An interesting account of the protests is also given in “Nazi Visitors ‘Contaminated’ at Victoria Station,” the Daily Worker, 6 December 1935  p3.  For mention of the role of the Nazi Strength Through Joy organisation see “Anglo-German Match,” the Belfast Newsletter, 29 November 1935 p3

38. “A Happy German Invasion – ‘Horst Wessel’ on the Spurs Ground,” the Nottingham Journal, 5 December 1935 p1