Friday, November 2, 2012

Nicht Cricket Mein Fuhrer

I have a book to finish by next Tuesday, so here's one from the vaults, a particular favourite, and one which has led to very interesting project which I'll be telling you all about in the near future.

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...


Dan - Friday


  1. I fall into the 'cricket is a sport?' category. I mean, in how many sports do players break for lunch, stop for tea, and sleep overnight?

    I notice the photo of a tree on the field. I'm told there are two ovals in the world that have trees in the field of play. One I've seen in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; could this be the other? Which brings up the question: How rigorous is a sport in which bloody trees grow and flourish amongst the players? And is that a sand trap? Do golfers get to play through?

    So a few months ago, I was invited to watch a game with friends and I was promised it wouldn't be boring. I think the game was between the Brighton Hamsters and the Sussex Prawns. The camera played on elegantly white-dressed players, especially Sir Hinton Buffington Clarefield-Smythe who was befuddled by an infestation of termites in his bat.

    Then came a twenty minute commentary on grass. I swear, grass, the a lawn. I'm told it's called the pitch report, although it didn't resemble baseball pitching. (And I used to think baseball was a slow game.)

    So I watched for some hours while my hosts alternately shouted and dozed and the Brighton Hamsters score approached 3000 to 0. Apparently if batters, er, bowlers are good enough, they never have to relinquish the field of play, which explains why games can last for days. In the American sport of politics, that's called a filibuster.

    On the third day of exciting eye-glazing play, I begged off with the excuse I needed to translate an ancient Sanskrit newspaper into contemporary Greek for my SleuthSayers article. Mine hosts thought I might better enjoy rugby and indeed I did, but I earned glares when I asked why some of the players wore shower caps. And hey, any guy that sticks his hand up between my legs is likely to get it chopped off. That's a scrummy thing to do.

  2. Leigh, you have to visit Knysna! I can tell you a thing or two about cricket... and rugby. Dan, great post. We have never shot the breeze about cricket. Come to Crimefest next year and we can tell excited crowds about our prowess. I played quite often against someone you have probably watched a lot - Geoff Boycott - a most unpleasant gentleman, I must say. Gentleman, did I say? Anyway ... As interested in cricket as I am, I could easily fall asleep with him at the wicket.

  3. Dan, I forgot to say that cricket is by far my favorite game, and I adore it too.

  4. So, Leigh, not a cricket fan then :)?

    That tree is actually off the field (it's behind the flags that mark the boundary of the pitch.) I've played on pitches with all kinds of obstacles. Trees, hedges, dogs, dog shit, copulating couples...ah the joys of the English countryside. The other professional ground that has a tree on the pitch is in Canterbury, Kent. There was a lime tree on the outfield, which was there when the ground was built in 1847. It was damaged by disease then high winds in 2005. A new tree was planted outside the playing area, and will eventually be moved onto the pitch to replace the old one when its stump finally gives up the ghost.

    Cricket is a game that yield its pleasures slowly, I admit. But for those of us who love it, it's more of a religion than a game. I still play, aged 40, and I think I will until I some kind of malady, like death, prevents me. I'm happy in only four places: at home with my family, propped up at a bar with a pint of ale, on a cricket field in high summer, or in the stands at test match (with a pint of ale). I should take you one day, if you're ever in these parts...

  5. Stan, you're on. I have met and interviewed 'Sir' Geoff. I have a stock of stories about him to share. Now that promises to be an interesting evening!!

  6. Eagle eyed readers will spot that between writing this article two years ago and commenting on it now, I have found two more places where i am happy. This is a good sign as I enter my 40s, I think...

  7. Stan and Dan, you've got a deal (as soon as I stop rolling with laughter). Pay no attention to cynics (my girlfriend) who might imply I finagled this simply to win tutoring by the experts.

    Thank you stout and honourable gentlemen!

  8. Cricket, of course, like baseball, is one of the few games left where a stout and amply proportioned person can still compete...

  9. I tried to stay out of this, Dan, because I'm abysmally American ignorant of the sport--though in trying to explain to my Greek house guest what was I was watching last week called the "World Series," allows me a certain empathy for how you feel having your national sport picked on by so many sorts.

    I guess you could say it's just what ales us and leave it at that.

  10. This really was interesting. I have to say Hitler and I are pretty much in agreement. On the issue of cricket at least, we see eye to eye. But, England wouldn't be England without odd things like cricket. I'm even more glad now than before that this game is still being played.

  11. I have never paid attention to cricket, being that it seemed like a British upper-class game, but maybe not. But the fact that Hitler hated it, makes me think I should be interested in it.