In the summer of 1938, with the sun beating down on the the pitch of the Olympic Stadium - Berlin, 110,000 Germans watched as England thrashed their national team 6-3. It could have been one of those days that goes down in English football history, not only due to the score, but also due to the political climate at the time. Instead, it's remembered for something much darker, when Hapgood - the England Captain - pressured by the FA, led his team in performing a Nazi salute before the crowd.
The decision didn't sit well with the team. There was a good deal of talk about it among the players before the game, and there has been a good deal since. There was no unanimity about the decision of the committee in charge that the salute should be given. Hapgood, the captain, thought standing to attention, as all British teams do on the Continent, should have been sufficient.
"Another member of the team told me; 'I know that when my father sees a picture of me giving the salute, he won't be too pleased".
The English FA were happy with the team and their "goodwill gesture", but the next day Greater Germany were to play one of the biggest, most famous club teams in world football, and things wouldn't go quite as much to plan. Aston Villa walked out that day under no pretences, the British Ambassador to the German Capital, Sir Neville Henderson had stated that tensions were so high that "it only needed a spark to set Europe alight."
After a tense game where Villa managed to turn the entire 100,000+ crowd against them by outplaying the German Select XI, they were to slowly walk to the middle of the pitch and perform the Nazi salute. They didn't.
Instead they walked off the pitch and went back to the dressing room. Villa were not the first team to refuse the salute, in fact 6 years earlier Everton had done the same. Manchester City and Derby had also denied orders previously, but in this climate, one year before Germany would invade Poland and Britain would declare war on them, Aston Villa had stood firm in the face of an international powder keg.
Defiance wasn't the final step, Villa were about to go one step further. In their next game in Stuttgart, the pressure to obey the Nazi's demands was beyond anything previously felt. Our own FA, bending to the will of Hitler, urged Villa to do as they were told, and reluctantly stood on the pitch and raised their arms, but at the last minute turned it around and began flicking the "V" to the crowd (the British version of "flipping the bird"). Perhaps luckily, the Germans had no idea what this meant and cheered anyway. Villa forward at the time Eric Houghton recalled at the next game in Stuttgart both teams gave the Nazi salute.
"But we went to the centre of the field and gave them the two-finger salute instead. "They cheered like mad. "They thought it was alright. They didn’t know what the two fingers meant."
We won the game 1-0. A victory by strangers in a strange land, who didn't sell out their beliefs and cause in the face of one of an evil, oppressive regime. The Second World War would take countless lives and change the face of the European continent & the entire world; but if there's the tiniest sliver of consolation to so much loss - it's that the 1938 Aston Villa team are in a fabled group. When so many people fell in line to obey the laws of hatred, jealousy and violence there were still those who stood tall and said "No." A group of people who in disgust and defiance and stood their ground. A group of people who would fight and lose their lives. Without people like that, we might be looking at a darker and crueler world today.
The above story was originally sourced on the Aston Villa Subreddit. Sometimes you see a story that needs to be shared - in this case, apart from a few edits here and there, the above is the work of the original author who kindly agreed to share the story, even without a credit. Thank you.