History's Geoff Cocks Adds Insight to ESPN World Cup Documentary

Nazi Germany expert adds voice to film about soccer trophy mystery

May 29, 2014

Geoffrey Cocks, professor of history, Albion College
European history professor Geoff Cocks joined Albion's faculty in 1975. His most recent book, The State of Health: Illness in Nazi Germany, was published in 2012.

Albion College history professor Geoff Cocks, noted for his scholarship on Nazi-era Germany and the Third Reich, offered his insight about why the Italian soccer commissioner of the time may have hidden the World Cup trophy as part of an ESPN 30 for 30: Soccer Stories documentary, “Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy.”

The documentary made its debut earlier this month and is now available for viewing via the WatchESPN app.

Italy won the 1938 World Cup and held the Jules Rimet Trophy, named in honor of the man who served as FIFA president from 1921-54, throughout World War II. It has been rumored that the Italian soccer commissioner moved the trophy out of Rome, perhaps even concealing it in a shoe box.

“The producer who called me said she had seen Room 237, so she knew I did German history,” said Cocks, referring to his commentary in the 2013 documentary that explored Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining. “In the [30 for 30] documentary, I tell how the Germans had a horrific record of plundering Europe and taking anything they wanted. One could understand why the Italians were concerned that the Germans might want to take the cup. But I think Hitler, by 1943, when the Germans occupied Italy, had a lot of other, more pressing concerns.

“That was the producer’s argument, and I provided general background on Nazi Germany,” Cocks added.

Cocks noted the World Cup was a matter of pride for the two fascist dictators during the period.

“Italy was the favorite to win the World Cup in 1938,” he said. “Mussolini was the first fascist dictator, Hitler was the second. And there is no doubt Nazi Germany wanted to prove in soccer, as in all other things, that they were the master race.

“They were coming off a huge success in 1936,” Cocks continued. “They had hosted the Berlin Olympics and had won the most medals in both the winter and summer Olympics that year. So the feeling among Germans was they could do it in soccer. And the Germans had another advantage in 1938, after the 1936 annexation of Austria. Austria had a stronger soccer team than Germany did at that time. But they went to the World Cup and lost in the first game against Switzerland. They were humiliated, and there was a certain amount of resentment that the other fascist dictator in Europe had two World Cups and Hitler had none. Whether that amounted to Hitler’s determination to steal the cup, I don’t know.”

The Rimet Trophy's wartime travels are only one of its mysteries. It was eventually stolen from Westminster, England’s Central Hall in 1966, but it was recovered and retired when Brazil won the World Cup for the third time in 1970. It was stolen again in 1983 and has not been recovered.