Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Why Did Football Continue?
In seeking to answer why this situation continued, we need to look at the League Management Committee’s stance in the early months of the War.
Great Britain’s declaration of War on 4 August, 1914, was barely mentioned at the Committee’s meeting in Blackburn two days later, other than that some concern was expressed that the use of some grounds for mobilisation purposes might impact on the opening games of the season.
Two weeks later, as the reality of the War was gradually beginning to dawn on the British public, league clubs were given permission to play matches in aid of war relief funds. They were also encouraged to be generous to the wives and families of players who had enlisted, even though they were not liable to pay the wages of players who joined up.
Clubs also began to make contingency travel arrangements in case the train bookings they had booked for their away games were prevented by troop movements.
Then, three days before the new season kicked off on 2 September, 1914, the league announced, in no uncertain terms, that despite the horrific loss of life in Belgium and France, failure to continue League Football would be ‘a national calamity’ and that ‘football was a healthy antidote to the war’.
Their statement began by paying tribute ‘to the thousands on thousands of British youth and manhood who, having developed fearless characteristics on the playing field, were now fighting against despotism in the greatest struggle the world has ever known’.
First World War poster
A First World War poster from 1914, captioned 'The Idle, The Idol & The Ideal'.
While acknowledging that ‘every young man who could possibly do so should answer the call for help from the decimated towns of grievously wronged yet heroic Belgium’ the league nevertheless felt that because sport could ‘minimise grief and help the nation bear its sorrow’, it was a great national asset rendering lasting service to the nation.
The League also felt that the armies at the front would gain fresh heart and vitality from reading football reports in newspapers. The league, ‘without the slightest reservation’, appealed to the press to give much prominence to match reports, stating that business should carry on as usual.
The statement concluded by encouraging every club to assist war funds, and every player to train for national service.
The Football League was following the government advice to every organisation to carry on as normally as possible. The committee genuinely saw its role as providing a welcome diversion, in the same way as cinemas and music halls. They also argued that staging games raised large sums for the War effort.
However, this was not a universally held view. Throughout the season, which saw the bloody battles of Mons and Ypres, the feeling was nevertheless growing that it was wrong for footballers to be wearing football kits rather than army uniforms. The poster illustrated above reflects that feeling.
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