Football League WW1 Ambulance

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: The Last Fixtures

The Football League programme for the final day of the 1914/15 season went ahead as scheduled on 24 April, 1915 despite the fact that, just across the North Sea, the German Fourth Army had launched a massive offensive against the Allies in the Second Battle of Ypres two days earlier.
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By the time Leicester Fosse kicked off against Clapton Orient 48 hours into the battle, the British and Canadians had stemmed the German advance, but were completely overwhelmed by concentrated machine gun and artillery fire. Casualties were enormous.

The contrast between the front page and the sports page of the Leicester Daily Mercury on 24 April could not have been more marked.

Under a headline 'The Heroes of Hill 60' (near Ypres), the front page reported that in the early hours of that morning, 130 wounded British soldiers, 80 of whom were suffering from serious injuries, had arrived by train in Leicester. They were a mixture of regular soldiers and territorials and most were infantry men.

They were described as being ‘rough and unkempt in their muddy boots and stained and worn clothing’. One of the wounded men described the hellish conditions in the battle for Hill 60, saying that none of the men expected to survive. Other pages in the newspaper were full of reports of the fighting and of casualties from Leicestershire. 

In an almost surreal juxtaposition, while the wounded soldiers were arriving in the city, Leicester Fosse Football Club left by rail for their game at Clapton.

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Clapton Orient vs. Leicester Fosse programme
Clapton Orient vs. Leicester Fosse programme

This was the match programme from Fosse's fixture against Clapton.

Even more surprisingly, the sports page of the same edition gave a very detailed report of Fosse’s 2-0 defeat by Orient at their Homerton Ground.

There was no reference whatsoever to the War, or to the fact that after the game, Clapton players marched in full army uniform around the pitch having just enlisted in the Footballers’ Battalion (the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment). 

Elsewhere, in the Leicester Daily Mercury, ‘Old Fossil’ in his regular column wrote that statements from football officials led him to think that there would be no League or cup football the following season, despite some protests being made against this point of view.

‘Old Fossil’ felt that: ‘There are four months to go before the next season and unless, in that time, the war comes to an end, there will be no football. It is extremely improbable that Germany will give in, in that time. Of course the Kaiser might throw in the towel but there is no sign of him doing so yet’.

He was correct. League and cup football was suspended for the duration of the War, although regional competitions did continue. Leicester Fosse’s game against Clapton Orient at Homerton on 24 April, 1915 was the last Football League game ever to be played by the Fossils. The Football League had finally decided it should do more than donate ambulances like the one pictured.




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