PtG Article 27.08.2008

Review of ‘Football With The Foe – Danish sport under the Swastika'

Review by Steve Menary of Hans Bonde's latest book, ‘Football With The Foe – Danish sport under the swastika’, which examines wartime sport during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.

The book grew out of a masters thesis by Martin Frei on the role of the Sports Federation of Denmark (DIF) during the occupation. This thesis was jointly supervised by the author of Football With The Foe, Hans Bonde, at Roskilde University. Bonde was assisted by Frei in writing this fascinating book, which breathes fresh life into events that happened six decades and were perhaps never the subject of the scrutiny involved here.

Early on, the author states that the book is based on the acceptance that there is no one formula for correct moral conduct during occupation. Separating sport from politics remains difficult today but at a time when Denmark and its citizens were subjugated by Nazi Germany the division was harder than ever but also the stuff of small victories against unwanted occupation.

The main title suggests that the book is limited solely to football. However, in addition to a detailed exploration of this sport’s sporting links during Denmark’s occupation, the author goes into great detail on the same theme for range of other sports, including professional ones such as cycling and boxing, to handball, wrestling, fencing and amateur sports.

Excellently researched, the book looks at policies and individual matches, the new order of European sport that was to emerge and the issue of Jewish persecution.

The book faithfully details historical events and the difficult choices that sports clubs, teams and individual players and athletes had to make, and highlights small, subtle acts of defiance, such as boys wearing a hat decorated in the style of the British Royal Air Force logo.

The author avoids over emphasis on individuals, citing the amount already written on this in his native Denmark. This is understandable for a book written for a Danish audience but the edition of Football With The Foe published in 2008 is an English-language edition and surely aimed at a wider audience outside of Denmark. Individuals and their roles in matches or events are clearly identified but perhaps a little more background would be of help to a non-Danish layman reader.

The overall subject is particularly interesting for British readers as, apart from the Channel Islands, the British Isles escaped occupation during World War Two. The British never had to entertain whether or not to engage in sport with an occupying force and make the moral choices made by the bodies and individuals in this book.

A scholarly tome, the Danish version of Football With The Foe won the 2007 Danish history book of the year award and must surely be eligible for more international recognition on publication of this English language edition. This fascinating book is about choices that many people in developed countries could hardly imagine making today and should surely interest readers in a broader audience outside of academia and history.

'Football with the Foe - Danish sport under the swastika’ by Hans Bonde is published by the University Press of Southern Denmark 2008.

Steve Menary is the author of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot (Know The Score Books 2007 & is writing a history of the Great Britain Olympic football team