Remembrance Sunday ...

Remembrance Sunday ...

By Gary Horton
1 November 2018
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... 100th Anniversary


At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the guns fell silent at last. So ended World War One. It will shortly be the 11th November once again and it will have an even greater significance this year, as it is the 100th anniversary of the ending of the so called Great War.

I like the way football comes together on Remembrance Sunday and indeed, many of our own Eldwick Juniors teams will observe a minute silence before their games kick off that day. I honestly think remembrance (but not glorification) is the respectful and right thing to do.

Football is of course, just a game. We should all remember that. It is also, in my opinion, a very general reflection of life. Moments of individual brilliance, teamwork, friendship, leadership and so on. In these terms, football also had a surprising part to play during the First World War.

Firstly, some 300 professional footballers across the UK perished in WW1. Almost every team in existence at that time lost somebody closely connected to their club. It's a sobering statistic.

Many of you will of course be aware of the famous, and unofficial, Christmas truce that took place in 1914 when soldiers from both sides on the Western Front sang carols, emerged from trenches to shake hands, exchanged chocolate and cigarettes ... and when somebody produced a football, it was game on! An impromptu match took place in the mud of no man's land. The following day, the brutal hostilities started over again. It must have been quite surreal.

Not so well known are the soldiers from the Surrey and Manchester regiments who would regularly kick a football towards the enemy when charging their lines. If a soldier fell, another would step up and continue the 'attack'. It was felt that using a football in this way would help to distract the soldiers from the carnage all around and take them all the way to their mission target. Hard to imagine really.

The very first black professional footballer, Walter Tull, was killed in action on 25th March 1918. Walter was a player for Tottenham Hotspur and also Northampton Town, a top club in those days. Football still has its problems with racism, so imagine what it must have been like for Walter back then. Amazingly, his ability and strength of character helped him to overcome the 'battles' on the football field and after volunteering to enlist for the Middlesex 'Football' Battalion, his determination and courage helped him to rise through the ranks to Captain on the field of battle. He also became the first black officer to command white troops. He sadly died fighting a rear guard action during the final unsuccessful German push before the Western Allies were eventually able to turn the tide and go on to win the war.

Perhaps the most famous local footballer who also sadly lost his life in WW1 was Donald Bell. He was born in Harrogate and played for Bradford Park Avenue. Donald was the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross. It was awarded to him for exceptional bravery on two separate occasions during the height of the Battle of the Somme. He died on 10th July 2016.

Whilst football gets a lot wrong, I hope you agree from these brief snippets of history, it sometimes gets it right. If you want to read further about the contribution of footballers during the First World War, I suggest reading 'When the Whistle Blows - The Story of the Football Battalion' written by Andrew Riddoch and John Kemp. It's a fascinating book.

So there you are. I do hope you enjoyed reading this brief article about football and how it relates to Remembrance Sunday and I also hope you will join in and support Eldwick Juniors Football Club and stand silent with our teams at kick off on the 11th November, lest we forget.

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