Football League War Cup

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Football League War Cup
RegionEngland and Wales

The Football League War Cup was an association football tournament held between 1939 and 1945. It aimed to fill the hole left in English football by the cancellation of the FA Cup during the Second World War.


Throughout the latter 1930s it was becoming inevitable that a second World War with Germany was coming. On 3 September 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland, Neville Chamberlain announced war on Nazi Germany.

Shortly after war was declared, most competitions were abandoned as the country's attention turned to the war effort. Over 780 footballers signed up to fight in the war and as a result many of England's best teams were depleted – for example, Liverpool saw 76 players sign up, Wolves saw 91 sign up and Huddersfield, Leicester and Charlton all saw over 60 players sign up for the war. Because of this many teams fielded guest players instead. The FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round was played, but with hostilities declared before replays took place, and a 50-mile travelling limit, that competition too was abandoned. The Football League War Cup was held between 1939 and 1945 in an attempt to fill the gaping hole left in English Football by the cancellation of the FA Cup.


Northern Final[edit]

Winner Finalist
1942–43 Blackpool Sheffield Wednesday
1943–44 Aston Villa Blackpool
1944–45 Bolton Wanderers Manchester United

Southern Final[edit]

Winner Finalist
1942–43 Arsenal Charlton Athletic
1943–44 Charlton Athletic Chelsea
1944–45 Chelsea Millwall

Overall final[edit]

Winner Finalist
1939–40 West Ham United Blackburn Rovers
1940–41 Preston North End Arsenal
1941–42 Wolverhampton Wanderers Sunderland
1942–43 Blackpool Arsenal
1943–44 Charlton Athletic and Aston Villa (shared)
1944–45 Bolton Wanderers Chelsea

Tournament finals[edit]


West Ham United1–0Blackburn Rovers
Sam Small Goal
Wembley, 8 June 1940.
Attendance: 42,399

137 games (including replays) were played to get to the final of the inaugural Football League War Cup. These matches were condensed into just 9 weeks. Despite the fears that London would be bombed by the Luftwaffe fans came in thousands to watch the game at Wembley, despite its obvious danger as a bombing target.


Preston North End1–1Arsenal
Andy McLaren Goal Denis Compton Goal
Wembley, 10 May 1941.
Attendance: 60,000
Preston North End2–1Arsenal
Bobby Beattie GoalGoal Frank Gallimore (OG) Goal
Ewood Park 31 May 1941
Attendance: 45,000

In the nine months leading up to the final, 127 large-scale night-raids had taken place, with London, the home of the final, being a regular target. This threat did not stop 60,000 people turning up to watch the game.

Preston North End beat Bury, Bolton, Tranmere Rovers (12–1), Manchester City and Newcastle (2–0) to reach the final. Andrew McLaren had scored nine goals during the tournament, including five goals in Preston's 12–1 win over Tranmere. Thanks to a late equaliser from Arsenal's Compton in the game at Wembley, this was the first final of the tournament to go to a replay.

The replay was moved away from London to Ewood Park. The win for Preston meant that they had completed the first wartime league and cup double, having also won the Northern Regional League.


Sunderland2–2Wolverhampton Wanderers
Goal 11', Goal 87'
Attendance: 34,776 23 May 1942
Wolverhampton Wanderers4–1Sunderland
Westcott Goal
Broome Goal 51'
Rowley Goal 59', Goal 70'
Carter Goal 58'
Attendance: 43,038 30 May 1942

The third competition in 1942 saw the final switched to a two-legged format with each team playing one leg on their home ground. This was the only time in the tournament's history that the final was decided in such a way.

Eric Robinson of Wolves was to die soon after his team won the tournament, during a military exercise.


Blackpool2–2Sheffield Wednesday
Bloomfield Road 1 May 1943
Attendance: 28,000
Sheffield Wednesday1–2Blackpool
Attendance: 42,657.
Arsenal7–1Charlton Athletic
Attendance: 75,000 1 May 1943
Attendance: 55,195 15 May 1943

In its final three years, the competition was split into north and south halves, with the winners of each section competing in a play-off, staged at Stamford Bridge, to decide the cup winner. The northern winners were decided over two legs, while the southern finalists met in a one-off Wembley final.

The overall final marked the second time Arsenal had got to the final. They would end up being the club who had reached the most Football League War Cup finals, yet did not win once. The final was also notable because both clubs had won their respective wartime divisions.


Blackpool2–1Aston Villa
Attendance: 28,000
Aston Villa4–2Blackpool
Attendance: 54,824
Charlton Athletic3–1Chelsea
Attendance: 85,000
Charlton Athletic1–1Aston Villa
Attendance: 38,540 20 May 1944

With the score in the final tied at 1–1 and, due to transport restrictions and bombing threats, a replay not an option, the game ended a draw. Charlton Athletic and Aston Villa shared the 1944 trophy, an event that had not happened before and did not happen again.


Bolton Wanderers1–0Manchester United
Attendance: 40,000
Manchester United2–2Bolton Wanderers
Attendance: 40,000
Attendance: 90,000
Chelsea1–2Bolton Wanderers
Attendance: 35,000 2 June 1945

See also[edit]