5 Moments In History - Football And Politics


With questions recently raised regarding Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio's political beliefs, today on the blog Jonathan Wilson shares with us 5 moments in football history where politics and football found themselves entangled.


France 1 Italy 3, World Cup quarter-final, Paris, France, 12 June 1938

Italy usually wore white as a change kit but, when forced to change from their traditional blue against the hosts at the 1938 World Cup, they obeyed the request of Benito Mussolini to wear black, a calculated affront to France and their leftist Front Populaire government. Italy were the defending world champions, but there had been dark hints in 1934 that they’d taken home advantage a little too far.

Four years later, although only four of the 1934 side remained, they offered evidence of what a good team they were, retaining the title.

Germany 0 Norway 2, Olympic Games quarter-final, Berlin, Germany, 7 August 1936

Adolf Hitler only attended one football match: an Olympic quarter-final against Norway. Germany had been semi-finalists at the 1934 World Cup and, on home soil, there seemed a genuine chance they could win gold. Two goals from Magnar Isaksen ended that dream, though.

Otto Nerz, the coach, was replaced immediately by Sepp Herberger, one of his assistants. Herberger had not been at the game, instead watching Italy against Japan in another quarter-final. When news of the result came through, he was eating a dinner of knuckle of pork and sauerkraut. He pushed his plate away and never touched either again.

Yugoslavia 3 USSR 1, Olympic Games first-round replay, Tampere, Finland, 22 July 1952

With Tito playing east against west and moving Yugoslavia into a position of non-alignment with either superpower, Stalin was desperate for the Soviets to beat the upstart Yugoslavs. Perhaps that was what inspired an extraordinary comeback from 5-1 down to draw the initial game, but when the sides reconvened two days later, the Yugoslav’s superiority was clear and despite falling behind after six minutes they came back to win 3-1.

“It was not a football match, it was a political game,” said Stjepan Bobek, who scored Yugoslavia’s second goal in the replay. “I remember seeing the headline: TITO 3 STALIN 1”. Stalin was furious, and disbanded CDSA, who had provided the bulk of the team, “for damaging the prestige of the Soviet state”. Three players – Konstantin Kryzhevsky, Anatoly Bashashkin and Konstantin Beskov – were suspended for life.

El Salvador 3 Honduras 2 (aet), World Cup qualifying play-off, Mexico City, 26 June 1969

There had been tensions between the central American neighbours for years, mainly because of the number of Salvadoreans who settled in Honduras. A land reform bill of 1962, fully enacted in 1967, deprived many of their farms and led to the expulsion of many Salvadoreans, raising tensions. They crystallised in three World Cup qualifiers in June 1969.

Honduras beat El Salvador at home on June 8, a game marked by crowd violence. There was worse trouble a week later as El Salvador won 3-0 in the return. Hours after El Salvador had won the play-off, their government dissolved all ties with Honduras and launched an invasion – despite its air-force being so ill-equipped that passenger jets were used on bombing raids.

After initial successes, their advance was halted. A ceasefire was declared on 18 July and troops withdrew in early August. The war itself lasted four days and cost around 3000 lives, while around 300,000 people were displaced and the military was strengthened in both countries, something that had profound consequences in the Salvadorean Civil War a decade later.

New Zealand 2 China 1, World Cup qualifying play-off, Singapore, 10 January 1982

Mao Zedong hated football, seeing its unpredictability as dangerously anarchic. His successor, Deng Xaoping, though, became a fan while studying in France as a young man. His sister claimed that he watched 50 of the 52 matches at the 1990 World Cup, recording those he was unable to watch live, becoming irritated if anybody inadvertently revealed the score of a match he hadn’t watched.

Deng saw football as a way of opening up to the rest of the world and persuaded China to enter for the 1982 World Cup, their first participation since failing to qualify for 1958. Defeat to New Zealand in a play-off came as a huge blow.



Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @jonawils

He is also the editor of TheBlizzard.co.uk

Tags:  Football

Football writer, author of Behind the Curtain, Inverting the Pyramid, Anatomy of England, Nobody Ever Says Thank You and The Outsider; editor of The Blizzard.