Rams in Nazi Germany

Rams in Nazi Germany

The article below was written by Steve McGhee and appeared in issue 1 of Derby County Memories (June 2013).

Much has been written regarding the occasion, in 1938, when England faced Germany in Berlin and were “asked” to perform the much-maligned Nazi salute so as not to offend their hosts. However, it is less well-known that four years earlier in May 1934, this same dilemma was faced by Derby County during a post-season tour of Germany.

In 2012, a Mickleover resident put up a scrapbook for auction and within its pages was pictorial evidence of this very occasion. This photograph is reproduced above by kind permission of the auctioneers, Bamfords.

To put this into context, we must go back to the close of the 1933/34 season and, though top of the table in mid-February, a run of just two wins in the last 14 games saw the Rams eventually finish 4th.

An invitation to play four post-season games in Germany had been received and accepted by the club’s directors though, at that time, most people were unaware of the dramatic changes rapidly unfolding within the host nation.

Arriving by train via Dover and Ostend, it came as something of a culture shock to the Derby contingent to witness the Nazi swastika flag displayed in abundance as soon as they crossed the German border. It was customary at that time for visiting sportsmen to “honour” the Fuhrer prior to play by saluting him – regardless of whether or not he was in attendance – and, much to their reluctance, the Rams players were ordered to follow suit.

Left-back George Collin described the dilemma some years later: “We told the manager, George Jobey, that we didn’t want to do it. He spoke with the directors but they said that the British ambassador insisted we must”.

“He said that the Foreign Office were afraid of causing an international incident if we refused. It would be a snub to Hitler at a time when international relations were so delicate. So we did as we were told. All except our goalkeeper, Jack Kirby, that is. Jack was adamant that he wouldn’t give the salute.”

A close study of the photograph clearly shows the disdain on the faces of many of the Derby players. Jack Nicholas and Jack Bowers can be seen staring at the ground. However, the photograph also clearly shows Kirby, standing at 90 degrees to his team-mates, arms rigidly by his side. The player standing next to Kirby is saluting in an almost satirical manner – does anyone know who he is? Sadly, it is not known what the Germans’ reaction to this “snub” was!

Not the most comfortable of circumstances for the team, then, as evidenced by the results of the four matches. The Rams lost 5-0 in Cologne, 5-2 in Frankfurt, 1-0 in Dusseldorf and drew 1-1 in Dortmund. This unique piece of Rams memorabilia eventually sold for £550 at auction in December 2012.

This article was first printed in issue 1 of Derby County Memories (June 2013). If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.