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How the Nazis restructured sports in the interests of the Hitler regime
How the Nazis restructured sports in the interests of the Hitler regime

In almost all authoritarian and totalitarian states of the twentieth century, leaders and dictators highly appreciated sports and used it in the interests of the regime - to strengthen the morale of the population, the physical training of citizens (future soldiers). Finally, sports were the ersatz of a real war with ideological opponents in the international arena: one can recall at least the confrontation between the Soviet and Czechoslovak teams at the 1969 World Ice Hockey Championship (the next year after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the troops of the Warsaw Pact countries).

However, history is almost unknown for politically motivated attempts to change the rules of sports games. As for football, FIFA has always strictly monitored the integrity of the system, and all the few reforms of the last century were far from ideology. They pursued another goal - to reduce the chaos of the game, to increase its dynamism and entertainment.

In the Third Reich, football remained out of politics for a long time: the top officials of the state emphasized its entertainment character, designed to distract the population from the hardships of everyday life (especially during the war). That is why the only remarkable attempt to radically alter football, undertaken during the years of maximum success of German weapons - to liken it to a blitzkrieg, change the rules towards the "correct" German aggressiveness and belligerence, and militarize the game. But the plans of the National Socialist football fans met with diplomatic resistance from professional coaches … The famous German sports historian Markwart Herzog (Swabian Academy in Irsee, Germany) revealed this story in The International Journal of the History of Sport.

Jewish and pacifist double-ve system

In December 1940, Hans von Chammer und Osten, Reichsportführer (Reich Sports Leader) and Chairman of both Reich Physical Education Unions (Imperial and National Socialist), who himself was a good footballer and a passionate fan, published in several newspapers a manifesto on the ideological restructuring of sports and above all football. The reaction was immediate. In the same year, the Bavarian Sportbereichsführer (local party commissioner for sports) Karl Oberhuber took the initiative to militarize football and turn the game into an aggressive blitzkrieg worthy of a winner in the European war. He was born into the family of a sergeant major, a battalion secretary, in 1900, spent his childhood in the barracks of Ingolstadt, graduated from a real school and volunteered for the First World War. Already in 1922, he joined the NSDAP, became an attack aircraft (member of the SA) and even managed to take part in the Beer Putsch - however, he did not follow the "bloody banner", but only threw leaflets from the back of a truck. Oberhuber earned his livelihood by working in various small firms. In the 1920s, he was imprisoned for hooliganism, but in the 1930s, under the patronage of the all-powerful Gauleiter (the highest leader of the NSDAP at the regional level), as well as the Minister of the Interior of Upper Bavaria, Adolf Wagner, he got out of the rags and by 1937 he had grown to the head of the local branches of the German Imperial Union for Physical Culture, the government overseer of sports and the chief of staff of the Gauleiter himself.

The main enemy of Oberhuber was a tactical scheme with three defenders ("W-M", or "double-ve"). This system, originally English, took hold in German football as early as the late 1920s.This happened as a result of changes in the offside rule, adopted by FIFA in 1925 in order to make the game more spectacular (by increasing the performance). According to the changes, a player was not out of the game if at the moment of passing the ball (to him) there were at least two players in front of him (that is, in most cases - the goalkeeper and one defender). Prior to that, the rule was for three players. Thus, the defenders now acted at their own peril and risk, because behind them was only the goalkeeper. As a result, the number of goals scored in English league matches increased by almost a third. In response to these innovations, legendary Arsenal coach Herbert Chapman came up with a double-vest scheme: he decided to pull the central midfielder into the center of defense and play three defenders.

While the offside rule could not be changed without FIFA's approval, Oberhuber was still eager to build aggressive football and not only bring the center-back to midfield, but also play with six or even seven forwards.

However, for all the revolutionary rhetoric of the Bavarian, in fact, he offered to turn back time, to the football of his youth, when the attackers pushed the whole mass at the opponent's goal

The Reich sports press enthusiastically embraced the ideas of Sportbereichsführer. The three-defender scheme has been defamed as foreign, English, pacifist, democratic, or even Jewish. “When Hitler’s army crushed great powers in attacks of unprecedented force, the aphorism 'offense is the best defense' took on a new meaning - precisely in relation to football,” Oberhuber wrote in his manifesto.

Attack and defense

I must say that the images of the blitzkrieg were introduced into sports not only by party functionaries. The victorious campaigns of 1939-1940 were so hyped by propaganda that their pathos penetrated not only films and radio broadcasts, but also football reports. For example, one commentator called the sensational victory of the Viennese “Rapid” over “Schalke 04” (Gelsenkirchen) in the Bundesliga final with a score of 4: 3 “a bloody massacre on the field”. He was echoed by another: "It was a blitzkrieg in the true sense of the word, the goals struck like lightning." Indeed, the Schalke 04 strikers scored two goals at the very beginning of the match, and the remaining five goals, of which the German team already owned only one, flew into the net in the first 14 minutes of the second half. The attacking style of the two clubs confirmed the correctness of the Oberhuber reform to the press. However, its opponents also adopted militaristic images: in football, as in war, victory requires not only a powerful attack, but also effective defense - "anti-aircraft batteries" and "Siegfried's line," they argued.

The (unpredictable) historical parallels between Oberhuber's initiative and Hitler's plans deserve special mention. The manifesto was published at the end of December 1940, just as Plan Barbarossa (Directive No. 21) was approved in secrecy. Unlike the unexpectedly successful blitzkrieg of the French campaign of 1940, which in reality was a pure improvisation, Hitler and his generals initially laid the idea of ​​a blitzkrieg in their plan of attack on the USSR. In addition, the "exemplary aggressive" match between Rapid and Schalke 04 took place on June 22, 1941. The fans gathered at the Berlin stadium heard the official announcement of the beginning of the war with the Soviet Union.

Reichstrener's rematch

Sportbereichsfuehrer has a strong opponent - the head of the national team, Josef Herberger. The three-year conflict over what the football of the Third Reich should be is not mentioned at all in the biographies of Herberger, who made a brilliant career already in Germany. In 1954, he led the West German team to the World Cup title: in the final match, the Germans defeated the magnificent Hungarians 3-2 (the famous “Bernese Miracle”).Like Oberhuber, Herberger went through the trenches of the First World War - not as a volunteer, but as a conscript. He did not feel any enthusiasm for the war, did not receive awards or promotions, served as a radio operator away from the front line, played for military clubs and often took leave of absence to participate in matches. During World War II, having already become a coach, Herberger recalled this experience and tried to prevent the sending of professional footballers to the front, and was also extremely skeptical about the militarization of sports. The former player of Mannheim and Berlin's Tennis Borussia, who received a higher sports education, became Reichstrainer in 1936, after the defeat of the national team at the Berlin Olympics.

To promote his ideas, Oberhuber mainly "huddled" the German and Austrian press. He personally called editors of specialized publications and sports headings in major newspapers, promoted articles, interviews and arranged photo sessions with his supporters. Berlin Football Week even put “Bavarian Revolution Against the Double-Ve” on the front page. However, even in a seemingly totalitarian state, many media outlets actively challenged the value of such a reform, defending the old system and ridiculing Oberhuber. Herberger also defended his position in the press and refused to develop a new tactical revolution. The discussions reached such an intensity that in the spring of 1941 the Reichsportführer generally forbade any public discussion of this issue.

And yet, Oberhuber did not limit himself to declarations. Back in 1939, he challenged the coach of the national team by organizing an exhibition match between the “attacking” Bavarian team and the German “defencists” of Herberger at the rally of the Bavarian branch of the NSDAP. But it was not possible to prove the superiority of the “revolutionary” tactics: under lightning and pouring rain, the German team beat the opponents with a score of 6: 5. After such a fiasco, Oberhuber limited himself to administrative methods of struggle: he threatened Herberger not to let the Bavarian players into the national team and even promised to create a separate team from them. In addition, he boycotted the training of young football players from the Hitler Youth, which was in charge of the Reichstrener. The pinnacle of Oberhuber's successes was the campaign to replace Herberger with a more "correct" coach in the selection of talented Hitler Youth in the spring of 1941.

In 1941, Oberhuber began to put pressure on the heads of the Bavarian clubs, urging them to play more attacking football and, in particular, persuaded Bayern Munich to play without central defender Ludwig Goldbrunner. In words, the country's football authorities supported the reform, but in practice everyone preferred the tried and tested double-ve structure - to the delight of Herberger and his supporters.

The two opponents also clashed in the preparation of the players, who were transferred from the Bavarian teams to the national team, where the "double-ve" system was preserved. The national team player Andreas Kupfer stopped playing for his home club Schweinfurt 05, explaining this by the incompatibility of tactics. And during the game with the Romanian national team, Oberhuber did not allow front defender Georg Kennemann from Nuremberg to enter the field, because he had already been “retrained” as an attacking central midfielder.

You need to understand that Oberhuber did not just want to change the tactics of the game of professional footballers. He (and his associates in the country's leadership) hoped to change the face of sport as such and transform it from entertainment to a means of training ideal soldiers. The outbreak of war was not an accidental episode for him, but an ideal end, the embodiment of the essence of the Third Reich. “We need to train warriors, not virtuosos of heads and passes,” the functionaries wrote. Football blitzkrieg required new training methods, and boxing was to play the main role in them - the only sport that Hitler confessed his love for at Mein Kampf.The game Herberger and the German Football Association wanted to see, where defensive building plays an important role, is the legacy of the impotent pacifist era of the Weimar Republic. By the Wagner decree, Bavarian footballers were instructed to undergo a full training cycle starting from school: sports training under the auspices of the Hitler Youth, then playing in clubs where future footballers will learn to play offensive, acquiring the necessary aggressiveness in the boxing ring, and endurance in athletics competitions. Finally, the career of the ideal German footballer had to find its end on the battlefields.

But the pressure and radicalism of Oberhuber ultimately turned against him: he so violently imposed a new system and openly boycotted national events that already in October 1941, Hans von Chammer und Osten deprived him of all sports posts (Oberhuber retained his party and state posts). The Second World War, which gave the Bavarian the very idea of ​​a "football blitzkrieg", ruined his plans: Hitler and Goebbels postponed all reforms to nazify sports (for example, the liquidation and merger of clubs, strengthening military training), in many respects so as not to demoralize the numerous athletes on the front … In addition, the Reich leadership needed sports primarily as a spectacle - it helped to distract the population from the burden of war - and the insane tactical reforms did not come at all at the right time. This allowed the diplomatic Herberger to bypass the "ideologically correct" Oberhuber. Already during the war, the coach spoke with irony about the ambitions of the Bavarian. The most glorious pages of Herberger's coaching career lay ahead in post-war Germany. And Oberhuber, although he escaped punishment for his activities in the ranks of the NSDAP, did not make a successful career and until his death in 1981 made a living selling milkshakes from a cart near the Frauenkirche Cathedral in Munich.

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