Hamburg avoids a political own goal

A FOOTBALL match between England and Germany, which was due to be played in April, was cancelled yesterday because the date coincided with Hitler's birthday.

The authorities in Hamburg, where the friendly game was to take place, had pressed for cancellation, fearing neo-Nazis might hijack the event. The birthday, on 20 April, is commemorated with increasing regularity by small groups of extreme right-wingers, who are always eager for publicity.

The game was due to take place on the 105th anniversary of Hitler's birth, at the Volkspark stadium in Hamburg. Werner Hackmann, the senator responsible for security matters, had 'strongly recommended' that the fixture be moved. A city spokesman talked yesterday of the danger that extreme right-wingers might wave Nazi-style flags in the stadium, in a propaganda display 'which would bring Hamburg, sport and all Germany into disrepute'.

The date had originally been agreed by the Football Association and its German equivalent, the Deutscher Fussballbund, which apparently failed to notice the significance of the date. Asked yesterday about this 'lack of instinct', the general secretary of the Fussballbund, Horst Schmidt, retorted: 'Until now, 20 April has not been a special date, for us.'

The overriding concern of the Hamburg authorities was the danger from German neo-Nazis, and possible clashes with the English visitors. Police said there was evidence that right-wing actions were planned. There were also suggestions that English neo-Nazis might be preparing to join forces with their German comrades.

Further talks are due this weekend, in an attempt to re-arrange the game. But the calendar flexibility is limited. An FA spokesman said yesterday: '20 April is now in the international fixture list. It's not easy to move these dates.' The spokesman added that the game might still be played on the same date - but at a different venue. 'That's a possibility that can't be ruled out, if you want to keep the fixture alive.' The FA said the cancellation of the Hamburg game was 'regrettable', but emphasised that the responsibility for the date rested with the Germans alone. 'In footballing terms, it's their fixture - they are the host.'

The extreme-right National List plans to hold a demonstration in the east German town of Halle today, after a disabled girl claimed last week that right-wing skinheads had slashed a swastika on her cheek. It emerged that the girl, described as psychologically disturbed, had inflicted the injury on herself. Police said the protest would probably be banned.

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