You might have guessed from some of my blogs that I love sport. You might also have guessed from my books and blogs that I'm fond of history, too. So, when a story comes along that combines the too, you can imagine my excitement.
The Nazis hated cricket. Nothing strange there. So do half the world's population, including great swathes of the population of those countries who play what some consider to be the planet's most bewildering game. (Not me, I utterly adore it. There are two places I genuinely feel at peace - on a cricket field playing, or in the stands watching. One day I will bore you all about my teenage prowess and how I coulda been a contender.) However, what had always intrigued me, to the point where I purchased an out of print book for lots of money in order to find out, were the reasons why Hitler (that's him on the far right in the pic up top, taken during the First World War) and his pals hated cricket. The game had taken a foothold in Germany between the wars. Teams were springing up everywhere. Yet by the start of World War II there were only four teams in the whole country, all in Munich. The Nazis simply regarded the sport as un-Aryan, too British, and therefore in some way morally degenerate.
That is all I knew. The wonderfully named 'Gentlemen of Worcestershire' toured Germany in 1937 and I've always thought the story of the tour, English gents illicitly playing the noble game against like-minded cricket lovers, to a backdrop of governmental disapproval, stomping jackboots and the gathering storm of war, had tremendous dramatic possibilities. My research is ongoing, but the reasons and story behinds Hitler's distaste for the game were unravelled somewhat this week.
British journalist John Simpson has compiled a history of new reporting in the 20th century. While delving in the archives, he came across a fascinating article written in 1930 by Oliver Locker-Lampson, a British right-wing MP and Nazi sympathiser. It was about the Adolf Hitler he knew, written to coincide with his rise to power. It turns out, during the First World War, that Hitler was a closet cricket fan and thought it might be an ideal preparation for war. He wanted to know more so he approached some English PoWs who were in the same military hospital.
“He had come to them one day and asked whether he might watch an eleven of cricket at play so as to become initiated into the mysteries of our national game,” Mr Locker-Lampson wrote. “They welcomed him, of course, and wrote out the rules for him in the best British sport-loving spirit.”
Hitler then returned with his own team and challenged the British to a “friendly match”. Immediately after the end of the match, Hitler declared the game “insufficiently violent” for German Fascists. Had he played a team of Australians, it could be argued he might have formed a different opinion.
Other than its gentility, the Fuhrer had several other issues: first, with how long it took to play the game (and he wasn't the first to raise that objection, nor will he be the last.) Secondly, he felt it unmanly that batsmen wore pads to protect their legs, from which I can only deduce that he was never hit in the shin by a cricket ball from a fast bowler, because he would have been a signed-up, card-carrying believer in necessity of wearing pads if he had. It bloody hurts, and unlike, say, baseball, a good batsman has to get his foot as near the ball as possible to play the most efficient shots, which is hard to do with a fractured fibula.
“He had conned over (sic) the laws of cricket, which he considered good enough no doubt for pleasure-loving English people,” wrote Mr Locker-Lampson. “But he proposed entirely altering them for the serious-minded Teuton.”
The serious-minded Teuton never got chance to fully experience Hitler's take on cricket, because a few years later it was considered verboten to even play it. History does not record who won the game Hitler played in, but one can only assume his team lost and like all bullies he responded by taking his bat home. I reckon either that or he got a Golden Duck, which means he was bowled out first ball. Which sheds new light on the meaning of the old music hall ditty about Hitler only having one ball...