Association football during World War I

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When World War I was declared in 1914, it had a negative effect on association football; in some countries competitions were suspended and players signed up to fight, resulting in the deaths of many players. Frederick Wall, Secretary of the Football Association, famously implied Jimmy Hogan was a traitor for spending the duration of World War I in Europe.[1]


English club Harrogate Town were to play their first ever match on 5 September 1914, but the match was cancelled due to the outbreak of the war.[2]

Between 1915 and 1919 competitive football was suspended in England. Many players signed up to fight in the war and as a result many teams were depleted, and fielded guest players instead. The Football League and FA Cup were suspended and in their place regional league competitions were set up; appearances in these tournaments do not count in players' official records.

League football did continue in Scotland with the aim of maintaining morale,[3] however the Scottish Cup was not held for five years.[4]

Even though the Swiss Football League was not suspended, some 5,800 footballers – out of a total of 8,500 – signed up to fight.[5] However, many of the pitches were destroyed – 420,000 square feet (39,000 m2) out of a total of 920,000 square feet (85,000 m2) had been turned into potato fields.[5]

After the outbreak of war in 1914, the Swiss national side did not compete again until 1920.[5]

Christmas truce[edit]

The Christmas truce, was a series of brief unofficial cessations of hostilities occurring on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day of 1914 between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front. During the truce, a game of football was played between the British and German soldiers.[6]

Fighting footballers[edit]

The Football Battalion[edit]

On 6 September 1914, author Arthur Conan Doyle made a direct appeal for footballers to volunteer for service.[7] Many players heeded the calls, and a special Football Battalion was formed, as part of the Middlesex Regiment.[8] The battalion was led by Frank Buckley, who later estimated that over 500 of the battalion's original 600 men had died.[8] There were over 5,000 men playing professional football in Great Britain 1914, and of those, 2,000 joined the military services.[7]

Edinburgh City Pals[edit]

The first of the footballers' battalions was raised in Edinburgh in November 1914 by Lieutenant Colonel Sir George McCrae. The 16th Royal Scots included players and supporters from Hearts, Hibernian, Falkirk and Raith Rovers, and recruitment of 1350 officers and men was completed in only six days.[9][10]

Decorated footballers[edit]

Donald Simpson Bell V.C.

A number of British soldiers received medals for bravery during World War I, including Bernard Vann (MC and VC), Donald Simpson Bell (VC), William Angus (VC), Jimmy Speirs (MM), Tim Coleman (MM) and David Glen (MM).[11] Others to receive decoration include Leigh Richmond Roose (MM) and Philip F. Fullard (MC and AFC).[9] Other players who were not awarded medals have also been honoured, such as Walter Tull, who is honoured on both the Arras Memorial and at Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium.[11]

Players killed in action[edit]

Many football players, both amateur and professional, lost their lives. Larrett Roebuck was the first player from the English league to die, on 18 October 1914.[12] Scottish side Heart of Midlothian lost seven players. Another Scottish side, Brechin City, lost six players.[13] English team Bradford City, for example, lost nine players – first-team players Bob Torrance, Jimmy Speirs, Evelyn Lintott, James Conlin, James Comrie, Gerald Kirk, and reserve players George Draycott, Ernest Goodwin, and Harry Potter.[14] William Baker, a member of the Plymouth Argyle team that won the Southern League in 1913, was killed in Serre during the Battle of the Somme.[15][16]


On 21 October 2010, the Footballers' Battalions Memorial was unveiled at Longueval, France, near Delville Wood, to commemorate those from the Footballers' Battalions who had fought and died in the Great War.[17][18]

In October 2018, it was announced that in November 2018, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, a number of clubs would plant trees as part of a 'Football Remembers' campaign.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How total football inventor was lost to Hungary". London: The Guardian. 22 November 2003. Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  2. ^ "Harrogate Town AFC in appeal for WWI squad descendants". BBC News. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  3. ^ "The War Years, including The Victory Seasons, 1914–1919 and 1939–1946". Scottish Football Historical Archive. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  4. ^ "The Cup". Scottish Football Association. Archived from the original on 21 October 2017. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Club history: 1913/14 until 1922/23". FC Basel. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  6. ^ "Christmas 1915 World War One". History Learning Site. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Football and the First World War". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  8. ^ a b "Football Battalion". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  9. ^ a b Paolo Bandini & John Ashdown (1 April 2009). "Has a referee ever been sent off?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
  10. ^ "History : the story of McCrae's Battalion". Hearts Great War Memorial. Archived from the original on 14 March 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  11. ^ a b John Ashdown (25 March 2009). "Which footballers have been honoured for their off-field bravery?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  12. ^ "First League player killed in the First World War". When Saturday Comes. 18 October 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  13. ^ Steve Mitchell (16 February 2005). "THE FIRST PART OF THE STORY". Brechin City. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  14. ^ David Markham and Lindsay Sutton (2006). The Bradford City Story: The Pain and the Glory. Breedon Books. p. 37. ISBN 1-85983-499-X.
  15. ^ "William Baker". Greens on Screen. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  16. ^ "Casualty details". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 10 September 2010.
  17. ^ "League Honours War Dead". The Football League Official Site. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  18. ^ "Footballers' Battalion remembered on Somme battlefield – Telegraph". London: Henry Winter, The Daily Telegraph. 21 October 2010.
  19. ^