Nazi Salutes in Southampton and the Swastika over White Hart Lane: England versus Germany in 1935

21/10/2020  -  1.35

Russell Masters

Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 drew Britain into war, marking the beginning of six long years of bitter conflict. Until then, however, even with another war seeming inevitable at times, Britain and Germany had been on peaceable terms. Just four years before the start of the Second World War, on 4 December 1935, the swastika flew over Tottenham’s White Hart Lane as England hosted Germany in a friendly international fixture.

Around 10,000 Germans journeyed to England in order to watch their countrymen play, and roughly 1,600 of them came through Southampton. These fans arrived on the south coast on the German liner Columbus and they were given a warm welcome by those who came out to greet them.

It was the first time that a transatlantic ocean liner had been chartered to bring football supporters to England for a match, and one of the first things they’d have seen upon reaching England was a large floodlit banner on the quayside, which reportedly stated: ‘The Southampton Football Supporters’ Club welcome the German football supporters’. It was a warm welcome and the ship’s captain, Herman Von Thulen, was apparently impressed.

As the ship docked, the Albion Silver Band - who usually played before Southampton games at the Dell - performed the national anthems. The deck of the ship was lined with Germans, who ‘stood erect and silent giving the Nazi salute’ during their anthem. They then applauded ‘God Save the King’ after the band had finished. 

Charles Hoskins, a director of Southampton Football Club and chairman of the supporters’ club, crossed the gangway and went on board with a group of representatives in order to welcome the visitors. Accompanying him was George Goss, Southampton’s secretary and a future manager, who had served with the Royal Navy during the First World War and would go on to serve again during the Second.

According to the Nottingham Evening Post, Hoskins addressed the Germans on board. “On behalf of the Southampton Football Supporters’ Club it gives me great pleasure to extend fraternal greetings to football enthusiasts from Germany. International sport, especially football, is, in my opinion, one of the most essential factors in promoting friendship between nations. The more we get together, both on and off the athletic field, and try to understand one another, the better it will be for all concerned.”

The Germans, wearing no colours, rosettes, or swastikas, disembarked the ship and immediately boarded trains for London. The visitors, of which many were women and young children, enjoyed lunch in London’s West End, whilst a police car with a loud-speaker patrolled the streets, making announcements in German. ‘Leicester Square could have been taken for a street in Berlin. It was thronged with thousands of Germans,’ reported the Nottingham Evening Post. Some Germans ventured to Whitehall to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. The wreath was so large that it took three men to carry it. “It is a token of remembrance from German sportsmen to your dead,” one of them reportedly said.

The match was proceeding despite objections from the Trades Union Congress, who had sent delegates to meet with the Home Secretary just two days before kick-off. They believed that the event could result in public disturbances, owing to anti-Nazi sentiments. Whilst there wasn’t any major trouble, the police did stop some minor protests, seizing anti-Nazi literature and placards in the process.

Excitement for the game grew as kick-off neared, and thousands of German fans inside White Hart Lane would have seen the swastika flying alongside the Union Flag above the ground. Someone cut the rope and the flag fell, but its position was soon restored. A man named Ernest Wooley was later charged with damaging the rope, but the case was eventually dismissed.

The Nazi anthem ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’ was played, and the German players and fans stood and gave the Nazi salute. Horst Wessel, was a leading member of the Sturmabteilung (also known as the SA, or brownshirts), revered as a martyr by the Nazi Party after he was murdered, allegedly by Communists, in 1930. The song contained lyrics about murdered comrades marching with the SA in spirit, clearing the streets for the ‘storm division’, millions of people looking upon the swastika full of hope, preparing for a fight, and Hitler’s banners flying above the streets.

England were favourites for the match but in attack they were initially wasteful, missing numerous opportunities. Stanley Matthews in particular – in only his third appearance for England - was heavily criticised for his wayward passing and poor crossing. It took England until the 42nd minute to break down Germany’s ‘valiant defence’ when Middlesbrough’s George Camsell beat two men as he cut in from the left, before finishing with a ‘terrific low, oblique, left-foot drive’ past the goalkeeper. Camsell doubled the score in the 65th minute when he headed in a cross from Arsenal’s Cliff Bastin. Two minutes later, the pair again combined for England’s third. Camsell cleverly backheeled the ball to Bastin, who gave the German goalkeeper no chance. England were victors by three goals to nil, although the visiting fans could return to Germany safe in the knowledge that their amateur players had performed admirably in preventing England’s forwards from scoring more.

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Whilst the match was being played in London, around 7,000 people came out in Southampton to see a match that had been dubbed the ‘Seamen’s International’. An unbeaten eleven from the crew of the Columbus played against the pick of the sailors and dockers from Southampton. The Mayor of Southampton kicked the game off and the home side won 3-2.

Later that evening, a dinner was held by the Football Association at a London hotel. Sir Charles Clegg, president of the FA, toasted King George V before the singing of ‘God Save the King’. William Pickford, who has been called the ‘father of football in Hampshire’, then made a toast. “Dem Fuehrer Adolf Hitler.” Just like at White Hart Lane, ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’ was played again as the Germans stood, their arms raised in salute.

Clegg apologised for the ‘interference’ from the Trades Union Congress. “These T. U. C. people seem to forget that football is a sport. It is a great sport, free of all political influences, as far as I know. They will never succeed in dragging politics into the great game of football,” he said.

Sir Walter Citrine, leader of the TUC, criticised Clegg’s speech. “So far as the remarks about perverting football into politics are concerned, the whole trouble is that Sir Charles Clegg, like many other people, does not bother to inform himself of the nature of the sport in Germany. If he did so he would realise that football there is nothing more or less than part of the Nazi German regime,” he said.

What might James Grover McDonald have thought of this fixture? As the League of Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees Coming from Germany, McDonald had witnessed rampant antisemitism in Germany and the growing persecution of Jews. Frustrated by inaction and a lack of support for Jewish and other ‘non-Aryans’ who were being threatened by the Nazis, McDonald resigned from his position just twenty-three days after the match. In a letter to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, he outlined his concern about the persecution. ‘Convinced as I am that desperate suffering in the countries adjacent to Germany, and an even more terrible human calamity within the German frontiers, are inevitable unless present tendencies in the Reich are checked or reversed, I cannot remain silent.’

On 14 May 1938, England travelled to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to play in front of 105,000 people, including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels. The England players, including Cliff Bastin and Stanley Matthews, infamously gave the Nazi salute before the game, out of respect for their hosts. England won 6-3. Six months later, thousands of Jews were arrested across Germany as their homes, religious buildings, businesses, schools, and hospitals were ransacked, attacked, and burned. It would become known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. Then, one year later, Britain was at war with Germany.

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In December 1939, SS Columbus, which had brought the German fans to Southampton in 1935, was spotted by HMS Hyperion some four-hundred miles off the coast of North America. USS Tuscaloosa – bounded by neutrality – watched on as the crew of the Columbus scuttled the ship in order to avoid capture by the Royal Navy. USS Tuscaloosa picked up the crew as rescued sailors, as opposed to prisoners of war, and they spent the rest of the war in the United States.

Perhaps some of the crew of the scuttled Columbus had been involved in the ‘Seaman’s International’ in Southampton in 1935. The Nazi regime would bring death, destruction, and devastation to Germany in the years leading up to 1945. What became of the 10,000 German fans who had come to England to watch a game of football in 1935? How many willingly – or unwillingly – went on to fight for the Nazi cause during the war? How many of them suffered as a result of the Nazi regime? How many followed the events of England’s game against West Germany at Wembley in 1954? How many attended England’s return to Berlin’s Olympiastadion in 1956?

Back in 1935, after England’s win at White Hart Lane, the following words appeared in the Daily Mirror: ‘And it may be asked again: “Doesn’t sport reconcile, doesn’t it bring nations together, can’t we kill war with perpetual football?”’ Football did not kill war, but afterwards it did go some way to help heal the wounds.


  • Lancashire Evening Post 04 December 1935: ENGLAND’S 3-0 SOCCER VICTORY OVER GERMANY 
  • Nottingham Evening Post 04 December 1935: GERMAN WREATH FOR THE CENOTAPH  
  • Daily Mirror 04 December 1935: ENGLAND NEEDS EVERY GOAL 
  • Liverpool Echo 04 December 1935: 10,000 GERMANS WITHOUT SWASTIKAS 
  • Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 04 December 1935: SPORTING “INVASION” OF LONDON: TEN THOUSAND GERMANS – SCENES AT PORTS 
  • Western Daily Press 05 December 1935: APOLOGY TO GERMANS – F.A. PRESIDENT AND T.U.C. “INTERFERENCE” 
  • Daily Mirror 05 December 1935: SPORTING WELCOME 
  • Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 05 December 1935: CARTER DOES NOT PLEASE – FAILED TO PRODUCE FORM – WAS HE CROWDED OUT? – MATTHEWS ALSO A FAILURE 
  • Daily Mirror 06 December 1935: NAZI TEAM HOPE TO COME AGAIN 
  • Hampshire Advertiser 07 December 1935: THEY SAID IT IN FLOOD LIGHTS – WELCOME TO GERMAN SOCCER FANS 
  • Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 13 December 1935: THE ANGLO-GERMAN FOOTBALL MATCH 


A portrait of Russel Masters

Russell Masters was born in Southampton. He has been a Southampton fan for as long as he can remember, and been interested in history for a similar amount of time. In 2015, he set up a Twitter account to share his passion for local history and in 2020, a website was launched to explore even more.

Twitter: @HistoricalSoton