23 November 1899: England beat Germany 13-2 in the first meeting between the two countries
In 1899 a squad consisting of some of England’s top amateur and professional footballers was picked by the FA to go on a tour to Europe. This was in response to a letter in August from Germany requesting that an England side come over to play a number of games. The brains behind the idea was Walter Bensemann who further convinced the FA of the idea when he turned up in person at an FA meeting in October and explained his plan. Bensemann impressed the FA dignitaries with his excellent command of the English language, but probably more importantly he also offered to meet the FA’s demand for £200 expenses from his own pocket.
Bensemann, who was born in Berlin in 1873, had been educated at English public schools for six years where he had developed his love of football. In 1887 he had founded his first football club, Montreux FC, in Switzerland. In 1889 back in Germany he founded Karlsruher FC. In the 1890s he attended university in Freiburg where he was expelled after being found guilty of encouraging boys at Freiburg’s secondary schools to play football, although it was probably the after-game drinking bouts in the local pubs he also organised that raised the most eyebrows.
Before he had approached the FA he had unsuccessfully spent a few years trying to convince the French football authorities to arrange games between a French and a German side, and in 1894 he had helped organise a team to send to the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. The team consisted of six players from Berlin and five from his team at Karlsruher as well as Bresmann himself, who by now was playing for Strasbourg FC, another team he had set up. Sadly, in the end the idea of a soccer tournament never materialised.
In 1898 he finally succeeded in arranging an international game of sorts between a Germany team and a side called White Rovers that consisted mostly of English residents in Paris, and had been playing in France since Englishman Jack White founded it in 1891. Bensemann himself paid for all the expenses and appointed himself captain of the German side. A great organiser he may have been, but the shortsighted and overweight Bensemann didn’t cut it as a football player and in his long white trousers that he wore while the rest of the team were wearing black shorts he cut an incongruous figure. After this appearance he was ridiculed rather harshly in the pages of German sporting journal Sport I’m Bild as an “international football clown.” The result of the game played in front of less than 600 spectators was a 7-0 win to White Rovers who were at the time one of the top sides in France having been runners up in the country’s six team football league for the last four seasons. A second game followed the next day against a scratch side called Tout Paris. This time barely 300 watched the Germans succumb 2-1.
Back in England with Bensemann having convinced the FA they selected the squad for the four game tour of Germany and Austria, the first time an England side was going to venture overseas. Of the fourteen players called upon, Oswald Wreford-Brown of Old Carthusians, Corinthian team-mates Geoffrey Wilson, and Stanley Shelbourne Taylor, goalkeeper Wilfred Waller of Richmond, Edward Brown and the captain Stanley Briggs of Clapton were all amateurs. The others were Philip Bach of Sunderland, John Holt of Reading, Jimmy Crabtree of Aston Villa, Jack Cox of Derby, Billy Bassett from West Brom, Edgar Chadwick of Burnley, Joe Rogers of Newcastle and Fred Forman of Nottingham Forest. Even though none of the amateur players had ever represented their country it was still a strong squad as all of the professionals except for Rodgers had played full internationals.
Although the games were not classed as official internationals it was still the first time an England side had met a German side. The game was held at the Berlin Athletic Sports Ground on 23 November 1899 and refereed by England’s Stanley Taylor. On the day the weather had turned wintery and barely 1000 people braved the cold and rain to watch, with The Times noting that, “a strong wind blowing across the ground hampered the scoring,” but obviously not that much as the English team managed to score 13 goals to Germany’s two.
The Germans had nearly scored first but England settled down to dominate with Bassett in particular giving the Germans a master class in dribbling and England’s first came from a header from a cross delivered by him. The Germans surprised the English by equalising almost immediately but England quickly scored four more times before half-time and eight more times after the break with the German’s managing one more. Basset was widely praised for his performance afterwards but Chadwick had performed well also, scoring five goals; Forman, Bassett, Brown and Wilson all contributed two each as well.
The second game of the tour was scheduled for the next morning, and despite being well entertained until seven in the morning by the city’s students who were famed for the capacity to throw hugely lavish dinner parties, they won 10-2 with Newcastle’s Rogers this time getting five goals.
After lunch the party caught a train to Prague, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and on the next day played their third game in four days against a Bohemian and Austrian combined XI. England this time only managed eight goals but did keep a clean sheet.
After an evening in Prague the squad then travelled back to Germany and the Rhine town of Karlsruhe where they were greeted with another big dinner and drinking session held in their honour. The next day’s game was delayed after someone had to cycle into town to buy a football when it was realised there wasn’t one available. The game, which was refereed by Bensemann, finally kicked off in front of over 5,000 people and saw England this time win by 7 goals to nil. Bassett found time during the game to mock the German’s strict adherence to the tactic of man-marking by going for a walk around the pitch and amusing himself greatly at the German following his every step.
After their return home the members of the English side received commemorative badges from the FA and Bensemann was awarded a specially commissioned gold badge “in recognition of his merits for the cause of international sporting competition.”
Although the results could be considered to be a disaster for the Germans it has to be recognised that they had only started playing the game in any numbers in the 1880s. Bensemann though received a lot of criticism from rivals within Germany’s nascent football scene for arranging the matches against a team who were likely to hand out a heavy beating. The Germans though learnt a lot from the games, for example, a Berlin based sports journal Spiel ind Sport noted in some wonderment that the English rarely used their toes to kick the ball but instead used the outside and inside of the foot. Even more importantly the arguments that had arisen between the different factions of German football over the organising of the tour was instrumental in the creation of the German FA, the Deutscher Fussball-Bund, just a few weeks later, and saw Germany taking the first tentative steps into becoming the footballing force they are today.