Leicester City In The Second World War: Wartime & Victory International Matches
International football also had to adjust. The last peacetime international matches featuring the Home Countries had been played in March 1939 by Northern Ireland, in April 1939 by Scotland and in May 1939 by England and Wales.
During the next seven seasons, the Home Countries played a series of Wartime International matches, but these were not recognised as full internationals, despite featuring the game’s biggest stars, some of whom, as we have seen, featured as guest players for Leicester in the Wartime Regional Leagues.
The main venues for the Wartime Internationals were Wembley, Hampden Park and Ninian Park. Internationals were also played at St. James’ Park, St. Andrew's, Villa Park, Anfield, Molineux, Maine Road, Stamford Bridge and Windsor Park.
Star players appearing for their countries included; Tommy Lawton, (who had played for City as a guest in 1939,) Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Neil Franklin, Wilf Mannion, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Stan Cullis - and Billy Wright and Jimmy Mullen - who both spent a season as guest players at Filbert Street.
Some of the crowds at these Wartime Internationals were enormous.
A crowd of 139, 468 packed into Scotland's Hampden Park in 1946.
Up to 133,000 saw England beat Scotland 3-2 at Hampden Park in April 1944 and even this was surpassed two years later when a Hampden crowd of nearly 140,000 witnessed Scotland beat England 1-0.
Wembley crowds of between 80,000-90,000 were there, too, as England beat Scotland 8-3 and 6-2 in 1943 and 1944 respectively. There were other big crowds at the provincial grounds as well, as was the case at Maine Road in October 1943 when over 60,000 saw England defeat Scotland 8-0.
The Wartime Internationals were seen by the Government as a useful vehicle for raising funds for charities supporting the war effort. This was emphasised by the presence of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill at the match between England and Scotland in October 1941.
The proceeds of £1,406 from England’s first Wartime International in November 1939 went to the Red Cross and St. Johns. After Russia was invaded by Adolf Hitler in 1941, money raised at games went to Mrs. Churchill’s ‘Aid to Russia Fund’.
Other charitable funds to benefit were ‘Wings for Victory’ (which was part of a plan to save and invest money ‘to fill the sky with planes and show gratitude to the RAF’), and the Red Cross Prisoner of War Fund. Some international matches were billed as War Charity Internationals.
England vs. Scotland, October 1941
England tackle Scotland in a Wartime International fixture on 4 October, 1941.
Matchday programmes surviving from Wartime Internationals are quite rare. As the war progressed, there was a paper shortage. Programmes shrank to single folded sheets. They were also recycled.
In October 1942, the single sheet programme for an England game against Scotland carried an announcement which said: ‘Waste Paper Salvage [...] Clean waste paper is a sinew of war and your cooperation will be appreciated’.
The opportunity was also taken at these matches to convey important information to the large crowds. At Hampden Park in 1944, an RAF officer addressed a crowd of over 130,000 to ask for men between the ages 17¼ and 39 to volunteer for flying duties.
Programme announcements also conveyed instructions to the fans about what to do if there was an air raid, by stating that in the event of an air raid warning, ‘those wishing to leave the ground to go home may do so but they should not use the street shelters in the vicinity of the ground'.
On 5 May, 1945, England defeated Wales 3-2 at Ninian Park. The war in Europe was nearly over. Hitler had taken his life the previous week. Berlin had fallen to the Russians and Germany’s unconditional surrender was imminent.
An announcement in the programme said: ‘This War Charity International will see the end of Wartime Internationals. Should VE Day be proclaimed on or before today, it will also be a milestone to mark the end of the European War.’
In fact, VE Day was three days later. Japan surrendered on 15 August, 1945.
During the 1945/46 transition season, a series of Victory Internationals took place to celebrate the success of the Allied Powers.
Another enormous crowd inside Wembley Stadium in 1944.
These were distinct from the Wartime Internationals, which were played during the course of the conflict. As was the case with the Wartime Internationals, the Victory Internationals are not regarded as full internationals.
The first Victory International was England’s fixture against France at Wembley only 18 days after VE Day. England then played Belgium at Wembley in January 1946, and Switzerland at Stamford Bridge in May 1946.
The 1945/46 British Home Championships involving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were also classed as Victory Internationals. The final Victory International was between England and France in Paris on 19 May 1946. Peacetime football was fully restored in time for the 1946/47 season.
The Football League reinstated the 1939/40 fixture list, without alteration, across all four divisions. This meant that Leicester City, under their new manager Johnny Duncan, continued to play in the Second Division.
The Club’s directors, meanwhile, were planning for the post-war era. After seven years of wartime football, a completely new phase in the history of the Club was about to begin.
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