FAT HOG - Matthias Sindelar
For the inaugural inductee into FAT HOG - Football And The Hall Of Glory - I wanted to choose someone who was not just one of the greatest players from the hallowed halls of football history - but also someone who represented something deeper than the game itself.
Matthias Sindelar ultimately gave his life to the game & was the victim of fascism not once, but twice.
The first time was in 1934 at the World Cup hosted by an Italy under the iron grip of Mussolini. With Sindelar as Captain, the Austrian Wunderteam reached the semi-finals & lost to a goal by the host nation, after their keeper was pushed over the line. The referee, Ivan Eklind, had "dinner" with Mussolini the night before the game. Italy won that tournament - a tournament in which "Il Duce" hand-picked the referees for every single match. Eklind also refereed the final.
4 years later, with Austria annexed in the Anschluss under Nazi rule, Sindelar lead his team one last time - against Germany - before they were absorbed into a unified German/Austrian team. Austria won the game 2-0 - Sindelar scored - and he went over to celebrate in front of the Nazi dignitaries.
He refused to play for the unified team - citing "old-age" or injury.
He was found dead 8 months later alongside his girlfriend, in his apartment in Vienna. He was under constant surveillance by the Gestapo and other SS/Nazi state machinery. Sindelar and his girlfriend were recorded as having died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
The one small mercy was that his death was recorded as "an accident" which meant, at the very least, he would receive a state funeral. If he was adjudged to have committed suicide then he wouldn’t have been allowed one.
Sindelar is a martyr of the game.
We will never know if he would have won the World Cup under better conditions and we will never know if he was killed by the state directly.
What we do know is that he was so brilliantly talented that he was called "The Mozart Of Football."
A gifted striker, he became one of the most influential players in the history of the game. He was better known for how he played the game far more than he was for his excellent goal-scoring record.
Legend has it that people would pay to watch him play for FK Austria Wien to get a better understanding of how the game could be played. He possessed incredible vision and passing range, but it was his all round control and dribbling ability that made him the great he was.
Sindelar taught us many things - how football could be played - but also how to show the best of the human spirit in the darkest of times.
By saying no, even on pain of death, by resisting, he showed us that evil should always be fought at every turn. He showed us the light to the dark.
Matthias Sindelar - welcome to Football’s Hall Of Glory.
By J.S. Leatherbarrow