It is often believed that the Austrians accepted the annexation lying down. For a big part that was true, however, not everyone was so enthusiastic about the “Anschluss.”
Of Czech descent, Sindelar was born Matěj Šindelář in Kozlov, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of Jan Šindelář, a blacksmith, and his wife Marie (née Švengrová). Despite occasional claims that Sindelar was of Jewish origin, the family was Catholic. They moved to Vienna in 1905 and settled in the district of Favoriten, which had a large Czech-speaking community. Young Matěj/Matthias began playing football in the streets of Vienna.
Sindelar was spotted playing in the street with a ball made from rags and joined the local Hertha club at the age of 15. A year after his father was killed on the Italian front during World War I. Before long he moved to the Vienna Amateurs, later to be renamed FK Austria Vienna, and soon broke into the first team despite a persistent knee injury. Many put his elusive style of play down to the fear of receiving a career-ending knock to his permanently bandaged knee.
He played as a centre-forward for the celebrated Austria national team of the early 1930s, known as the Wunderteam, which he captained at the 1934 World Cup.
Known as “The Mozart of football” or Der Papierene – ‘The Paper Man” for his slight build, he was renowned as one of the finest pre-war footballers, known for his fantastic dribbling ability and creativity.
Sindelar, an awkward, edgy character, had made clear that he was fundamentally opposed to the Anschluss, but, despite the fact, at 35, he had begun to wind down his international career, he insisted on playing.
The sport was, of course, a key element in the Nazi propaganda machine. The 1936 Summer Olympic games had all been about the Nazi image.
April 3, 1938, the Prater Stadium in Vienna. For 69 minutes Matthias Sindelar, playing for his national side, does as he’s told. He passes up chance after chance during a “friendly” match against Germany, who just a few weeks earlier annexed his beloved Austria. This game—designed as a celebration of this ‘connection’ – was an official welcoming back of Austria into the Reich. Having been advised not to score, Sindelar keeps missing the easiest of chances.
Then, in the 70th minute, he tucks home a rebound and scores, much to the surprise of the crowd of 60,000, who were fully expecting the game to fizzle out into a diplomatic 0-0 draw.
Then his teammate and friend, Schasti Sesta blasts home a free-kick to make it 2-0, and the pair dance a jig of delight in front of a box full of Nazi dignitaries.
In months that followed, Sindelar, who never made any secret of his Social Democratic leanings, repeatedly refused to play for Germany. In August 1938, he bought a café from Leopold Drill, a Jew forced to give it up under new legislation. He paid DM 20,000 and criticised by the authorities for his reluctance to put up Nazi posters.
On the morning of January 23, 1939, Matthias Sindelar was found dead in his apartment, above the coffeehouse he had acquired the previous year, lying next to Camilla Castagnola, his new girlfriend. The official verdict was accidental death caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. However, the breakup of the team and city he loved, gradually forced Sindelar into depression. Many felt he took his life in a suicide pact with his girlfriend. There is a third theory, though: foul play. The police investigation was forcibly cancelled by the Nazis. After a few months, the files pertaining to the case disappeared soon afterwards.
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