The Importance of Football during World War 1

  Video for All Together Now by The Farm.

 Image from the Christmas Day Truce Football Match 1914.

All football fans today know how important football is to their lives. It is what they eat, breathe, sleep and dream. But there was in fact a time when football in fact united the whole war effort on both sides. For one day, there was no fighting, the only arguments or challenges being put in place was on No Mans Land, but with a difference. For one day, the allies and the enemies both linked up to play the beautiful game. For one day, politics was forgotten, enemies became team mates, the beautiful game worked its magic.

But it wasn’t just on the Front Line where football was evidently important and useful to the war effort. Back on the Home Front, football united a nation, and acted not only as a method of conscription, but it helped to entertain the people, as well as boosting the role of women within the community.

Interview from the BBC on the St Helen’s Football Team and a picture of the team below:

Unknown to me but learnt whilst during this blog post, the First World War saw a greater interest in Women’s Football, with the munitions workers carrying out charity matches until the Football Association banned football for women in 1921. To the country, it provided the entertainment that was so badly missing during the War effort. The war completely shook the football world, which completely shook up teams through the fact that most of the good players were either being killed in action or too severely injured that they could never play again.

Interview from the BBC of the Blyth Spartans Ladies football club in Newcastle, Bella Reay, top scorer with 133 goals in one season, picture below,

With the men away, there was an opening for women to come into the game. It started to kick off really when women in the munitions factories during their breaks wanted to get out in the fresh air, and would start a kick around amongst themselves and boys too young to go to war. With this being a good way to not only take a break from the risks in the factories, it turned out to provide entertainment. This in turn led to a Munitions League, where the different sectors within the factories played themselves as well as other factories. Due to there being a gap in the footballing lives of those who didn’t go to war, these games were very well attended. For the Blyth Spartans, one game against their Middlesbrough rivals recorded a crowd of 22,000 illustrating just how important and popular Women’s Football was proving to be on the Home Front.

WW1 Munitions Factory Women in a WW1 munition factory.

To Britain’s war effort, football although may not have seen as important, did in fact help them to forget the current political climate of the world for 90 minutes, and all that would matter would be whether your team got the ball in the net more than the other team. It’s just amazing how a game like football can just take everyone’s minds off the common affairs. Sure there would have been the obvious difference that it hadn’t been men that was playing, but even so for the games to get people coming in their thousands just emphasises how important it was for morale on the Home Front.


Image that would be found on the Home Front, using the beautiful game to get soldiers.

After watching Jeremy Paxman’s documentary ‘Britain’s Great War’, it made me realise just how much football played an integral part in providing troops on the Front Line. During the War, not only could a stadium provide the home for entertainment, but it helped to provide a recruitment drive as well. Of the 5,000 professional players that were on the British Football Associations books, 2,000 of them joined the Armed Forces. Although to begin with these professionals were not originally called up and had they wages halved, but in the end they were helping to fight for their country. One of the most famous examples if Sir George McCrae’s Hearts Battalion, or the 16th Battalion of Royal Scots as they were also known. McCrae himself announced to the government that he would and could raise his own Battalion, and did so, starting with 16 Hearts players, as well as other teams such as Raith Rovers, Hibernian, Falkirk and Dunfermline allowing their own players to join the cause.

Picture of the Hearts team of 1914, in France in 1916.

But McCrae didn’t just stop here at the players. At one Hearts match in particular, the Football Battalion included 600 Hearts fan after McCrae had rallied to get his troops. It was a similar story although Great Britain and not just in Scotland, with all teams releasing their players off their one year contracts so that they could fight for their country. Hearts themselves in the 1914 season were at the top of the tree in the Scottish league, they were willing to give up everything just to fight for what was right. It illustrates just how important football was to the War effort, due to the fact that it wasn’t just the entertainment value on the pitch which kept the morale high: they help to recruit men to fight for their country.

Image of Sir George McCrae, the man who lead the 16th Battalion of Royal Scots.

Although to many people in the world, football may not be the sport of their choice: to them, its just 22 overpaid men running around falling over as soon as they get touched, making a meal out of everything. But nobody in their right mind can deny the risk that these men took. Sure, everyone across the whole country had to give their lives for it. But what you can’t deny is just how important football had been, not only through raising morale amongst the country, but helping to rally troops, through players and fans, and improving the status of women in doing so. Football was certainly effected through the war, but how it responded was so important. It stood up with Britain to the enemy threat, and gave all its resources to help try and halt them. The Hearts War Memorial.

With this year being the 100 year anniversary since the beginning of World War 1, we will never forget those brave people, the players, the fans, the ordinary people, who gave their lives for their country. The amount of families broken up: the children that grew up not knowing their fathers, the wives who had their hearts broken, the mothers who lost their sons. It was deemed as the Great War, the War that would end all Wars, but as we know this was not true. These men should have been allowed to come home in one piece, and not left those around them in pieces. But we will never ever forget them, take advantage over the fact that their fought for our futures. Although every November 11th we gather together to remember the men who did fight for us, we should be thanking them daily. Without them fighting for our freedom, our lives could have been awfully different or in fact non-existent. We will never forget them, lest we forget.

 Poppy Field.




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