Aston Villa have always provided the England team with internationals, and some of the legends live on. Players before the Second World War have faded, but deserve to be remembered – and some have lived in the memory – my granddad’s favourite, Harry Hampton from before the First World War, and from the interwar years Billy Walker, captain supreme, the lovable but eccentric ‘Pongo’ Waring, and Eric Houghton – who was manager when Villa went to Wembley to win the  Cup in 1957. But until I started research into my book, I had never heard of Frank Broome, and there is a possible reason for this.

Frank Broome played in possibly the most notorious England match of all time, the game in Berlin in 1938 when the England squad gave the Hitler salute. A year later Britain was at war with Hitler, and it is not surprising people do not want to remember this game. But what happened, and how the England team responded, is important to remember.

England Before The Nazis

Politics and football are a dangerous combination. Mostly politicians stay out of the beautiful game, and it is the fascists who have poked their nose in. Mussolini the Italian dictator ordered the Italian World Cup team at the June 1938 World Cup to win it – or not come home. They duly won as they had done in 1934. However, England did not take part in World Cups in those days, and a more controversial incident had happened on May 14th 1938 in Berlin, when the England team played a so-called “friendly” against Germany.  A friendly match in a stadium filled with Nazis was not realistic. It has always been controversial whether the events which then took place were ordered by the British government.

Playing a match against Germany in itself was not controversial as after the First World War ended, England played games against their enemies in the war, finding Austria more difficult to beat than Germany. In 1932 England beat Austria narrowly 3-2, having drawn with Germany in Berlin in 1930 3-3. A return match in London in December 1935 was a 3-0 victory for England, and few people saw another match in Berlin as anything unusual. However, the Nazi regime was speeding up its preparations for war and a few weeks earlier had swallowed up Austria in the Anschluss (12th March 1938). Most of England’s footballers were unpolitical and had little idea the opponents of 1932 had been destroyed. But by the time they arrived in Berlin it was clear this would not be an ordinary match.

The history books tend to suggest that official British foreign policy makers intervened to make this match a sign to the Nazis that the Anschluss was not going to stop the policy of appeasement, and a BBC report in 2003 said “It was a foreign office order that the England team, which included the legendary Stanley Matthews, perform the salute. The underlying message was calculated to be that Germany which two months earlier had annexed Austria was not a pariah state. The friendly game effectively helped clear the way for Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” deal with Hitler.

This is questionable and eyewitness accounts are not conclusive. Recalling what happened six years after the event, England Captain Eddie Hapgood suggested that the British Olympic team had caused offence to their German hosts at the 1936 Olympics (also in Berlin) when it had given neither the Nazi salute nor that of the Olympic movement (the right arm flung sideways rather than upwards in the manner of the Nazis) and “the authorities” were anxious to avoid more controversy. Hapgood suggests that the England team, which was an amateur group organized by Mr Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had agreed to turn its heads to the right but this had not been noticed and the German crowd booed the English athletes.

It is generally accepted the Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, a staunch supporter of appeasement, was consulted but whether he ordered the salute is disputed. According to Hapgood, the two British officials in charge Charles Wreford-Smith and the new FA secretary Stanley Rous visited Henderson voluntarily as they were uncertain of the protocol. Hapgood suggests Rous proposed that the team voluntarily give the salute, a move Henderson gratefully endorsed.

The FA officials then informed Hapgood, who objected to doing any more than stand for the German national anthem. The practice was to stand to attention for each national anthem but not to give salutes. He informed the team and “there was much muttering in the ranks”. Wreford-Brown then told the players that “there were undercurrents of which we knew nothing, and that it was virtually out of his hands and a matter for the politicians rather than the sportsmen”. The team accepted they had to do it but “personally I felt a fool heiling Hitler”. At the after-march dinner, Henderson was delighted the team had raised their arms.

Two other participants have given their views. Rous, in his autobiography Football Worlds, (Faber 1978) claimed he had gone to Secretary Henderson, who gave no order to give the salute, seeing it as just a courtesy. Rous claimed he put that view to the players. He writes that “as the players had no objection and no doubt saw it is a bit of fun”. That was not how England’s Stanley Matthews saw it- and he along with Frank Broome scored in the first half to make it 4-2 by half time. But he was very clear about the opposition to the salute. Writing his autobiography  The Way It Was,  Matthews reports that when an FA official – which would have been Wreford-Smith – came into the dressing room to tell the  players to give the salute, “the dressing room erupted. All the England players were livid and totally opposed to this, myself included. …Eddie Hapgood told him what he could do with the Nazi salute, which involved putting it where the sun don’t shine”.

The official, according to Matthews, went away and came back saying he had a direct order from Sir Neville Henderson… that had been endorsed by the FA Secretary Stanley Rous… the political situation between Great Britain and Germany was now so sensitive that it needed ‘only a spark to set Europe alight’ “. Faced with this ultimatum, the team agreed to give the salute.

There is no disagreement about what happened when the England team took to the pitch. The squad had only arrived two days earlier after a long boat and rail trip, but the Germans had spent a fortnight training in the Black Forest and the regime expected a propaganda victory. Hitler was not present, but leading Nazis such as Hess, Ribbentrop, and Goering sat alongside Henderson in the Fuhrer’s box. The English team had two seasoned pros in Hapgood and Cliff Bastin of Arsenal, but of the rest none had more than nine caps and two of the players – Frank Broome of Villa and Donald Welsh of Charlton – were playing their first match. It would be a baptism of fire for them.

Leading 4-2 at half time England ran out 6-3 winners, a moral victory that defused the argument over the Hitler salute. However when war came fourteen months later, the match became controversial. Matthews relates that the day before the game, he and full back Bert Sproston had gone for a stroll and seen Hitler’s cavalcade drive past with passers by springing to salute the Dictator. Sproston turned to Matthews and said “Stan, I’m just a working lad from Leeds. I know nowt about politics and the like. All I knows is football.  But t’way I see it, yon ‘Itler is an evil little twat”. Sproston had hit the nail on the head.

From an original article by Trevor Fisher published in History Today 6th June 2010