When the Swastikas Came to White Hart Lane

When the English and Nazi German football teams met for the first time on British soil in 1935, the game was not the headline.

German football supporters giving the Nazi salute, White Hart Lane, London, 1935. Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo.

Fixtures against Germany have defined – or at least preoccupied – English football ever since the two nations played their first full international in Berlin on 10 May 1930. Games against the Germans evoke all sorts of images and stories, memories and moments: of English football’s greatest day – Wembley, 1966 – and of one of its most shameful – Berlin, 1938. The first time the two nations met on English soil may not, however, be as readily recalled – but it should be.

On Wednesday 4 December 1935 England played Germany at White Hart Lane stadium in north London, usually home of Tottenham Hotspur FC, winning 3-0. But these bare facts do not begin to tell the whole story. The fixture was extremely controversial and certain sections of British society believed – with good reason – that it should not have gone ahead. By late 1935 the Nazi Party had been in power for nearly three years and Germany was considered by a British governmental committee as ‘an ultimate potential enemy’. A few weeks before the German team travelled to London, the German Reichstag had passed the Nuremberg Laws, depriving German Jews of basic rights.

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