Football and Fascism

R.W. Johnson · Football and Fascism

Several people have asked about fascism and football. The key figure here was Mussolini, who saw soccer as a key tool for creating national unity and international prestige. He created the Serie A as the first national league in 1929 and, once the World Cup had been launched in 1930, he made Fifa an offer it couldn't refuse to hold the 1934 Cup in Italy. It was, of course, essential that Italy should win (they had already won the first European Cup), so Mussolini himself invited a favoured Swedish referee to run the semi-final between Italy and Austria, in which the Italians were allowed to barge the Austrian goalkeeper into his net from three metres out. The ref duly gave a goal. Mussolini naturally selected the same ref for the final, Italy v. Czechoslovakia, and the ref again failed to notice a rather prominent Italian handball, so Italy won.

Mussolini had already emphasised to Hitler the political uses of sport. This did not come naturally to Hitler, who, arriving in Munich as a pasty-faced youth, had been recommended to take up soccer for his health. He declined on the grounds that he didn't like sports in which one might lose. Nonetheless, he got the point, not only attracting the Olympics to Berlin but supporting the German team which came third at the 1934 World Cup. However, somewhat disappointed by some of the athletics results at the Berlin Olympics (Jesse Owens etc), Hitler was told by his staff to go and watch the German soccer team annihilate Norway. He went along, Norway triumphed and Hitler never went to another soccer game in his life. But, of course, Germany came top of the medals table in 1936 – especially the medals tables run by the German press, for they refused to count any medals won by Untermenschen (Jews or blacks) and simply 'awarded' the medal to the next-best Aryan (this helped a lot with the Jesse Owens problem). And Italy won the World Cup again in 1938, completing a golden era for Fascist sport. Hitler was in negotiation with Fifa to stage the 1942 World Cup when war broke out.

The British, of course, were generally seen – certainly by themselves – as the kings of soccer but they had made it easy for the Fascists by withdrawing all British teams from Fifa in 1920, partly so as to avoid having to play countries who had recently been enemies in war, but also as a protest against the encroachment of foreign influence over the British game of soccer. They didn't rejoin till 1946, and as late as 1953 the English FA were still organising games of England v. Rest of Europe. Nonetheless, it has to be said that Mussolini's all-conquering Italian team repeatedly played England and repeatedly lost.

General Franco also got the message from Mussolini. He knew that Catalonia was the heart of Republican resistance and that Barcelona FC was the heart of Catalonia. Accordingly, within a month of the start of the civil war fascist troops assassinated the chairman of Barcelona, Joseph Garriga, and in 1938 fascist planes bombed Barcelona FC's social club. Once he won, Franco banned the Catalan flag and language, forcing Barcelona FC to change its name and remove the flag from its shield. Even so, Barcelona stadium was one of the few places in Spain where people freely spoke Catalan. Franco did all he could to build up Real Madrid as a Catholic, conservative rival and personally intervened in the transfer market to ensure that the great Alfredo di Stéfano signed for Real. As Franco aged, his power waned, a key sign being in 1974 when Barcelona took back its old name and signed Johan Cruyff, who publicly said that he could have gone to Real but would never go to a club associated with Franco.

Lazio S.S. of Rome are the only remaining throwback to that era. They were Mussolini's own team and still play in the stadium he built for them. They try not to sign black players and their supporters are famous for their racism and anti-semitism. One of their players, Paolo di Canio, had Fascist emblems tattooed on himself and gave the Fascist salute whenever he scored. Happily those days are gone. It's bad enough that so much money rests on who wins and loses but fascist regimes also had to win for political reasons. In 1938 Mussolini sent a telegram to the Italian World Cup team saying: 'Win or die!' This was actually a standard Fascist slogan but when the Hungarians lost 4-2 to Italy in the final it gave the Hungarian goalkeeper, Antal Szabo, an excuse which other keepers can only envy. 'I may have let in four goals,' he said, 'but I saved their lives.'


  • 11 July 2010 at 7:32pm
    alex says:
    OK, so that's fascism and football; what about the occult links between social democracy and snooker?

    • 13 July 2010 at 1:44am
      pinhut says: @ alex
      "Even so, Barcelona stadium was one of the few places in Spain where people freely spoke Catalan."

      Suggesting it was a prison of sorts. One thing I've noticed from my human rights activity is that the most free discussion in a repressive regime is often to be found among the political prisoners.

  • 12 July 2010 at 12:06am
    Martin W says:
    "Di Stephano"? Di Stéfano.

    • 12 July 2010 at 8:27am
      Deborah Friedell says: @ Martin W

    • 12 July 2010 at 10:40am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Martin W
      It should be Untermenschen too.

    • 12 July 2010 at 3:28pm
      Daniel Soar says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      It totally should.

  • 13 July 2010 at 12:30pm
    poda_again says:
    "Lazio S.S. of Rome are the only remaining throwback to that era. They were Mussolini’s own team and still play in the stadium he built for them. "

    False. Lazio was founded in 1900 a long time before Mussolini and the Olympic Stadium where they play was certainly not built for Lazio. On the contrary AS Roma was founded in 1927 following the wishes of Mussolini who wanted one team for the capital of Rome. Lazio did not adhere.

    "They try not to sign black players"

    False. Makinwa, Manfredini, Dabo, Diakite are all black and play for Lazio.

  • 13 July 2010 at 12:51pm
    jp1900 says:
    I'm Italian and supporter of Lazio.
    "Lazio S.S. of Rome are the only remaining throwback to that era. They were Mussolini’s own team and still play in the stadium he built for them. They try not to sign black players and their supporters are famous for their racism and anti-semitism." it is a sentence full of mistakes.

    Mussolini was not a Lazio supporter: he was born in north of Italy, not in Rome. Please consider that Lazio won the first national championship in 1974: you told that Mussolini was able to pilot the world championship, wouldn't it be easier to pilot the italian league to make Lazio winner?

    Moreover, Lazio plays in a stadium built for the Italian Olimpic games in 1960, obviously not by Mussolini.

    I'm proud to be Lazio fan, and I'm not fascist and racist, as the majority of my team supporters. The group inspired by fascist ideals it is not the leader at the stadium, please do not judge several hundred thousands persons using that few people: it is a prejudice also this.

  • 13 July 2010 at 12:52pm
    pilo says:
    You wrote a lot of bullshits! Inaccuracies, sorry!

    SS Lazio was founded January 9, 1900, when Mussolini was just a 17 years old student.

    Stadio Olimpico has been opened in 1937, Lazio started to play its games there in 1953.

    In 1927 Lazio was the only major Roman club which resisted the Fascist regime's attempts to merge all the city's teams into what would become A.S. Roma the same year.

    Lazio had a lot of black players in the last seasons: Dabo, Mudingay, Diakite, Makinwa, Manfredini, Winter and Pintos.

    Di Canio did the Facist salute just one time, and for this, he got the boot.

    You can find all this information on internet, wikipedia for example.

  • 13 July 2010 at 2:27pm
    gplexousted says:
    dear mr johnson, you are not well informed about Lazio, my footbal tem

    S.S. Lazio has never been part of regime fascista not even more then any other italian football team. Is true that some of our worst supporters throw the years, are fascist but they do not represent the majority of Lazio fan.

    I'm a Lazio Fan but i'm alredy very far from any kind of fascim idea.

    furthermore Di Canio doesn't rappresent anything expet itself. In our team we have some black player in our team, as Manfredini, Diakite, Dabo and they are loved as the other and we try to buy an Israelian player named Golaza that unfortunally never played with us becose is team never let him come to Italy.


  • 13 July 2010 at 7:07pm
    Sylaq says:
    Apart from numerous errors, hyberbole and terrible grammar, you seem to have cut 'n' pasted chunks from Wikipedia's Fifa page.

    I seriously hope you didn't get paid for this "article".

  • 13 July 2010 at 8:55pm
    jones.jones says:
    I suggest you to make a deeper research before writing an article like this one. I have never read so many false facts in so few lines.
    S.S.Lazio was never Mussolini's team. It was actually A.S. Roma which was founded in 1927 by the fascist regime. S.S.Lazio, which was founded 27 years before, refused to become part of the new founded A.S.Roma.
    Stadio Olimpico was built for the Olympic Games of 1960 and currently hosts the games of both S.S.Lazio and A.S.Roma.
    It is true that Paolo Di Canio gave the Fascist salute a couple of times (not every time that he scored!), but for this reason his contract has not been renewed by the club.
    There are black players playing in S.S.Lazio and it is compltely false that they do not want to sign them. The fact that there's a minority of Lazio supporters who belongs to extreme right movements has no influence on how the club acts.

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