Brought up Jewish and soccer-loving in the Netherlands, Simon Kuper has come to realise that he accepted too easily the myth of Dutch wartime heroism. The result is a long litany of hurt feelings, awkwardly transposed onto the world of soccer. He starts with a snapshot of interwar football, when international encounters were still few and English players enjoyed such unquestioned primacy that one German soccer writer referred to them as 'a sort of ‹bermenschen'. 'It was during the 1930s that football became politics,' Kuper claims, though he provides few instances. His discussion of the period revolves around the photo of the English team giving the Hitler salute before their 1938 match against Germany in Berlin. Stanley Rous, the FA secretary, had decided this would be a good thing - after all, they had given the Fascist salute in Rome and that had gone down well. Kuper quotes extensively from the autobiographies of Stanley Matthews and the England captain, Eddie Hapgood, who insist that the team stoutly resisted the idea of giving the salute: Hapgood (so they say) even wagged his finger at the FA official who instructed them to salute and 'told him what he could do with the Nazi salute, which involved putting it where the sun doesn't shine'.
LRB 24 July 2003 | PDF Download