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Euro 2024 final stadium is steeped in history and home to England’s darkest day

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GARETH SOUTHGATE and his players will walk in the footsteps of sporting infamy on Sunday.

And they also have the chance to wipe out the memories of English football’s most shameful episode by replacing it with glorious triumph.

The Olympiastadion in Berlin is where the Euro 2024 final will take place between England and Spain

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The Olympiastadion in Berlin is where the Euro 2024 final will take place between England and SpainCredit: Getty
The stadium is famous for Jesse Owens humiliating Adolf Hitler at the Olympics

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The stadium is famous for Jesse Owens humiliating Adolf Hitler at the OlympicsCredit: Hulton Archive – Getty
But for many the venue is also famous for England's most shameful episode

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But for many the venue is also famous for England’s most shameful episodeCredit: Rex
The FA shamefully ordered the England team to perform a Nazi salute during a friendly in 1938

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The FA shamefully ordered the England team to perform a Nazi salute during a friendly in 1938Credit: Getty – Contributor
The stadium has a capacity of 110,000 fans

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The stadium has a capacity of 110,000 fansCredit: Rex

For many, the Olympiastadion will always be the place where Jesse Owens humiliated Adolf Hitler in his own backyard.

But the 1936 Olympics WERE used by the Nazis as pure propaganda, as a statement about the supposed supremacy of the “Aryan race”.

The ghosts of those Games still flit between the towers and the colosseum-style architecture.

Fans walking in on Sunday will see the plinth where the Olympic cauldron was lit by Fritz Schilgen – handpicked by propagandist film-maker Leni Riefenstahl – still there, high in the stands above one goal.

And two years later, when the FA disgracefully ordered England’s players to raise their arm in the Nazi salute before beating Germany in a friendly, it seemed that the British state was implicitly accepting Hitler’s authority and power.

The Three Lions have the opportunity to right that ancient wrong yet nothing can detract from the stadium’s place in the pantheon of sport’s darkest hours.

Hitler, coming to power in 1933, two years after the Games had been awarded to Berlin, decided that the entire event had to be homage to his ideology and ambition.

He stuck with the site in the Grunewald Forest, to the west of the city centre, that had initially been chosen for the 2016 Games that were cancelled following the outbreak of World War One.

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Hitler used the Olympics to promote the supposed supremacy of the 'Aryan race'

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Hitler used the Olympics to promote the supposed supremacy of the ‘Aryan race’Credit: Getty – Contributor
The ghosts of those Games still flit between the towers and the colosseum-style architecture

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The ghosts of those Games still flit between the towers and the colosseum-style architectureCredit: Getty

But from what was originally just a stadium, Hitler demanded more, a sports complex named the “Reichssportsfeld” with the stadium at its heart.

The original architect Werner March and his brother Walter were re-engaged.

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However, the main design changes were under the direction of Albert Speer, the “architect of the Third Reich” who later became Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production and who was handed a 20-year jail sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials.

Construction of the 330 acre site took just two years, with the stadium having a capacity of 110,000 fans, including a special stand for Hitler and the Nazi High Command.

At the western end stood the 77m high Bell Tower, which gave a view of the entire city from the top and which contained the 9.6 tonne Olympic Bell, adorned with the Olympic Rings, an eagle, the year 1936, a depiction of the Brandenburg Gate and the motto “I call the youth of the world” between two swastikas.

The design was deliberate. Hitler’s racial theories postulated that the “Master Race” were the natural inheritors of the Roman Empire.

Echoing Rome’s most famous ancient monument leaned into that theory, while the Olympic Rings remain where they were hung between the two huge towers at the stadium site entrance.

It was about power, grandeur, history and a warped and twisted view of all of them.

Construction of the 330 acre site took just two years

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Construction of the 330 acre site took just two yearsCredit: Getty
In the build-up to the Games, Hitler demanded that the IOC ban black Jewish athletes from taking part

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In the build-up to the Games, Hitler demanded that the IOC ban black Jewish athletes from taking partCredit: AP:Associated Press

In the build-up to the Games, Hitler demanded that the IOC ban black Jewish athletes from taking part.

That was refused but fencer Helene Mayer, whose mother was Jewish, was the only Jew selected by the host country.

The Opening Ceremony, devised and then filmed by Riefenstahl, was an exercise in pure propaganda, with Lithuania banned from taking part in the Games on the direct orders of the German government after the trials and convictions of two prominent local Nazi leaders.

A number of countries, including Spain and Ireland, boycotted the Games, along with many Jewish athletes from other nations.

When the Games commenced, Hitler was in situ to celebrate German victories as an endorsement of his regime, although he was only interested in shaking the hands of home winners.

But those flawed claims of Aryan glory were to be blown apart by Owens, who back home in the Deep South was used to the deprivations caused by Segregation.

England vs Spain record

England have played Spain 27 times in total – here is a look at every result…

  • May 1929, Spain 4-3 England – International Friendly (L)
  • December 1931, England 7-1 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • July 1950, Spain 1-0 England – World Cup (L)
  • May 1955, Spain 1-1 England – International Friendly (D)
  • November 1955, England 4-1 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • May 1960, Spain 3-0 England – International Friendly (L)
  • October 1960, England 4-2 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • December 1965, Spain 0-2 England – International Friendly (W)
  • May 1967, England 2-0 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • April 1968, England 1-0 Spain – European Championship (W)
  • May 1968, Spain 1-2 England – European Championship (W)
  • March 1980, Spain 0-2 England – International Friendly (W)
  • June 1980, England 2-1 Spain – European Championship (W)
  • March 1981, England 1-2 Spain – International Friendly (L)
  • July 1982, Spain 0-0 England – World Cup (D)
  • February 1987, Spain 2-4 England – International Friendly (W)
  • September 1992, Spain 1-0 England – International Friendly (L)
  • June 1996, England 0(4)-(2)0 Spain – European Championship (W)
  • February 2001, England 3-0 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • November 2004, Spain 1-0 England – International Friendly (L)
  • February 2007, England 0-1 Spain – International Friendly (L)
  • February 2009, Spain 2-0 England – International Friendly (L)
  • November 2011, England 1-0 Spain – International Friendly (W)
  • November 2015, Spain 2-0 England – International Friendly (L)
  • November 2016, England 2-2 Spain – International Friendly (D)
  • September 2018, England 1-2 Spain – Nations League (L)
  • October 2018, Spain 2-3 England – Nations League (W)

Overall, England have won 14, drawn three and lost 10 matches against Spain.

In the space of seven days, he won four gold medals, in the 100m, long jump, 200m and 4x100m relay.

Hitler, outraged at seeing a black athlete conquer, left the stadium early to avoid the medals ceremony although he was reported to have “saluted” the victor.

According to Speer: “The Fuhrer was deeply annoyed by the series of triumphs by Owens.

“People whose antecedents come from the jungle were primitive, he said with a shrug.

“Their physiques were stronger than civilised whites and hence they should be excluded from future Games.”

Enough said. Sickening and a foreshadowing of what was to consume the entire planet within three years.

Those flawed claims of Aryan glory were to be blown apart by Owens

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Those flawed claims of Aryan glory were to be blown apart by OwensCredit: Getty
In the space of seven days, he won four gold medals, in the 100m, long jump, 200m and 4x100m relay

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In the space of seven days, he won four gold medals, in the 100m, long jump, 200m and 4x100m relayCredit: Getty

Yet a year before Germany invaded Poland to start that war, on May 14 1938, English football succumbed to the worst of political cowardice.

In the build-up to the game, with Neville Chamberlain having opted for Appeasement rather than instigating the inevitable conflict, the Foreign Office sent a letter to the FA reminding them of the “broader political implications”.

The night before the match, the FA and Government agreed to tell the players to perform the Nazi salute when the National Anthem was played – with Hitler’s key lieutenant Joseph Goebbels among the 110,000 crowd.

That was not passed on to the players until they were in the dressing room before kick-off.

While FA secretary Stanley Rous – later to become Fifa President and be the strongest proponent of allowing Apartheid-era South Africa to remain a member – insisted the players had “no objections”, that was angrily dismissed by some of them.

Wolves’ Stan Cullis refused to comply and was omitted from the team and Stanley Matthews claimed: “The dressing room erupted. All the players were livid and totally opposed.”

Matthews said the “infamous picture” caused him shame through the rest of his life. England won 6-3.

In 1984, four years after his death, the main road leading up to the stadium was renamed Jesse-Owens-Allee in his honour.

One stain slightly removed. On Sunday, Southgate and his players can partially erase another.

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