World War 2 - Football History - 1939-45

On 15th March 1939, Adolph Hitler ordered the German army to invade Czechoslovakia.  Then, on 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  On 3rd September, Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.  But a war was not fought until 12th May 1940, when Hitler sent his troops into France. Between March 1939 and May 1940, thousands of young men enlisted for the war effort, but during this period, known as The Phoney War, no fighting took place and people were unsure of the future.   Many footballers numbered amongst the enlisted.

The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment was sent to help the French, as soon as Adolph Hitler ordered the invasion of France, but immediately came under attack from German tanks, the Panzer division.  Harry Goslin, the captain of Bolton Wanderers FC, famous for his speech before the final game before the war, against Sunderland, "We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met, if everybody keeps a cool head, and knows what to do. This is something you can't leave to the other fellow, everybody has a share to do". He was credited with destroying four enemy tanks and was promoted to Lieutenant as a result.

Goslin, along with other household names, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Hurst and Stan Hanson, were lucky to find their way to Dunkirk, along with 338,000 other British and French people, where the Little Ships evacuated them.

The management of the Football League passed a resolution, instructing all Football Clubs to pay their players, regardless of whether they played, or not.  West Ham United FC had been the influence for this decision, paying all their players 30/= (£1.50) a week.  Even players who had enlisted in the war effort were paid.  It is interesting to note, that many professional football players enlisted as Training Instructors and did not see much action during the war.  No Football Medals for them!


Major Frank Buckley, featured in our history (above) of the First World War, who had been a senior officer of The Football Battalion, attempted to re-join the British Army in 1939.  He was turned down, due to his age (56).  He was manager of Wolves FC at that time and encouraged all his players to join up, 91 of whom did.  His enthusiasm must have spread, because Liverpool FC saw 76 men join up and hundreds more from other top clubs of that time.

Some football games took place, the government first allowing friendly matches, providing the crowd did not exceed 8,000.  Later. they relaxed this rule to 15,000, providing all tickets were bought on the day, at the gate.  Bear in mind that league games had started previously, on 26th August, with gates of over 60,000.

With the permission of the government, the Football League started a competition named The Football League War Cup.  137 games were played inside 9 weeks, but before the final could be played, the invasion of France had begun.  The final was held on 8th June 1940 at Wembley and West Ham FC beat Blackburn Rovers FC 1-0, the winning goal scored by Sam Small.  Despite the now real threat of the Luftwaffe bombing London, over 42,000 supporters attended the match.

The first bombs fell on London on 10th July 1940 and the Battle of Britain had begun.  Despite which, football was still played by a few clubs.  The FA relaxed their rules regarding Sunday playing and this allowed some recreation for war workers.  Winston Churchill was very much in favour because he appreciated that football was "good for the morale of the nation".

The Luftwaffe made 127 night raids on Britain between September 1940 and May 1941, 71 of which were on London. 1,200,000 houses in London were destroyed.  800,000 houses were destroyed in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheffield & Southampton.  60,000 people lost their lives and 87,000 were seriously injured, the majority in London.



Program, including Air Raid Precaution warning

Unofficial international games continued to take place during the war.  England played Scotland at Hampden Park, Glasgow, watched by 90,000 supporters during the Blitz of 1944. View Video

Vivian Woodward, featured in our history (above) of the First World War, who had been an officer of The Football Battalion, was an Air Raid Warden during the 2nd World War.  In 1949, he was taken ill and spent the rest of his years in a nursing home in Ealing.  A journalist, Bruce Harris reported in 1953 that he had visited Woodward and that he was "bedridden, paralysed and infirm beyond his 74 years".  Woodward complained "no one, who used to be with me in football, has been to see me for two years".  Vivian Woodward died in the nursing home on 6th February 1954.

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