Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Goalie and the Nazi

by Christopher Draper
CHANCES are you’ve never heard of Jack Kirby but he deserves public recognition as a bona fide Northern Hero.  The North was never short of footballers with scoring ability and popular appeal but Kirby had neither.Jack was a quiet, modest goalkeeper who in 1934 defied the concerted might of his Derby County Management, the British Government and his Nazi hosts and alone refused to salute fascism.
(insert amended Derby County Shield here)

Nazi Football
Hitler hated football but saw the game’s potential for showing off Nazi physical prowess.  When he assumed power in 1933 Germany was a weak footballing nation that hadn’t participated in the 1930 World Cup but Hitler was determined to remedy that.  The head of the German Football Association, Dr Otto Nerz, the man who brought Jack to Germany, shared Hitler’s view and not just on football. Nerz was a devoted member of the Nazi Party long before Hitler’s accession and was as determined as the Fuhrer to make the national team a model of Nazi success.  To this end he travelled extensively studying successful foreign teams, including periods 'living-in' with Aston Villa, Glasgow Rangers and Arsenal.
Nerz similarly shared the Fuhrer’s rabidly anti-semitic prejudices and subsequently detailed his struggles,  'Jews and their bondsmen continually made the lives of the leadership (of the football association) very difficult, particularly with regard to the issue of professional players. During the crisis before 1933, there was a great danger that football would also become Judaized. The major clubs were always deeply in debt and the creditors frequently were Jews.  The drive towards professional football was very strong and the state at that time could not give the leadership of the sport any support because the state itself was dependent on the Jews.'
With Hitler running the state and Nerz running the F.A., German football was swiftly 'cleansed' of racially unacceptable players and managers but this didn’t concern the English F.A .
New Best Friends
The leaders of English football admired Hitler’s commitment to the game and were keen to cooperate in raising Nazi Germany’s international profile.  Within a year of Hitler’s take-over Dr Otto Nerz had secured the agreement of the English FA for top team Derby County to tour Germany playing exhibition matches against a German FA XI.  The British Government and almost all elements of the English Establishment were delighted at this public demonstration of our two nations’ shared values.
In February 1934 Dr Otto Nerz announced details of the Derby County tour to the international press telling reprorters,  'They play very attractive football and their style of play is likely to make a big appeal to Germany.'  The tour awaited the English close season when Derby would play successive matches at Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Dortmund with the first kicking-off on 10 May.
Rams on Tour
Jack Kirby along with sixteen team mates and half-a dozen officials, including a photographer from the Derby Telegraph left Derby station late on Sunday evening, 6 May 1934.  Sailing from Dover at noon the following day the party didn’t finally arrive at their hotel until the early hours of Tuesday. Everyone was in good spirits although, as the Derby Telegraph reported from Frankfurt, everything hadn’t entirely gone to plan,  'The Derby County party arrived here this morning in very happy mood in spite of a lengthy hold-up at one a.m. at the German frontier.  We were requested to produce all moneys in our possession.  This is an innovation since Herr Hitler’s regime.  The same procedure takes place when the traveller leaves Germany.  The German authorities thus have a check on one’s purse, the motive being to make sure that travellers do not leave Germany with more money than they had in their possession on arriving in that country.'
As soon as were met at their Frankfurt hotel by Otto Nerz they experienced no further obstructions as he chaperoned them around Germany ensuring that everywhere they were enthusiastically received. Specially translated English language menus were provided at eating places, dedicated guides provided and relaxing river trips on the Rhine organised.
A Rum Do
By May 1934 German football had already been thoroughly Nazified with both teams expected to stand and deliver a formal 'Hitler salute' before kick-off.  The Derby County men weren’t keen to comply and made this clear to club officials well before the Frankfurt match, as George Collins much later recalled, '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 the Foreign Office were afraid of causing an international incident if we refused. It would be a snub to Hitler…'
Despite Herr Nerz’s cosseting the players were beginning to realise that they were pawns in a wider political game and the Germans were determined to win.  As the Telegraph reported, 'The German pivot was playing very unorthodox football…he repeatedly played the man instead of the ball…
Bowers was badly fouled and injured…he came around after about three minutes (although) still appeared dazed…Kirby was the next to receive an injury.'  Even the referee seemed to be under orders from Nerz, 'It is interesting to note that the second half lasted 55 minutes and Herr Otto Nerz had to send a message to the referee by a linesman to remind him that it was much past time.'
The jubilant Germans won 5-2 although the Telegraph reporter claimed, 'Even the German authorities doubted two of the side’s goals.'  What he didn’t report was the Derby team’s instructions to salute.(pic of Derby team giving Nazi salute – except Jack!)

The Quiet Man and the Nazi
Jack Kirby was a Derby man through and through. Born at Overdean in South Derbyshire in 1910 there were Kirby’s all over the area and for generations they’d worked down the pit. Jack’s grandad was a miner, his dad was a miner and he never forgot his roots,  When instructed to salute fascism Jack adamantly refused.  As the photo shows, whilst the rest of the team followed orders, defying 35,000 chanting German football supporters Jack Kirby stood his ground and kept his arms by his sides.  It was a gesture every bit as brave and powerful as the iconic Black Power salutes of the 1968 Olympics although in 1934 nobody mentioned it.  This picture, taken by the accompanying Derby Telegraph photographer wasn’t published in the paper, nor was the incident reported.  There was no protest from the Nazis, no apology from the British F.A. and simply no mention of Jack’s defiant gesture in any media outlet.  It was fake Non-News, a conspiracy to keep quiet about an astonishingly brave public act of opposition to Hitler. Only after Jack Kirby’s death in Derby in 1960 did his old team mate George Jobey reveal Jack’s astonishing bravery, 'We did what we were told. All except our goalkeeper, Jack Kirby'.
Jack died as he had lived, a quiet unassuming hero. Satisfyingly, his 1934 bete noire Dr Otto Nerz eventually received his come-uppance.  Much admired by fawning English sports reporters as the, 'virtual dictator of German Football,' in 1945 Nerz was captured by the invading Red Army. Identified as an irredeemable Nazi,  Dr Otto Nerz was interned in Sachsenhausen where he died of meningitis on 19 April 1949.
Christopher Draper (February 2018)

No comments: