On 8 September 1939, the Football Association (FA) declared that all football except that organised by the armed forces was suspended 'until official notice to the contrary'. This was in contrast to 1914, when professional football had continued during the first year of war.

In 1939, the threat of air attack and the introduction of conscription made it impossible for football to continue as before. However, on 21 September, the Home Office agreed to allow a revised programme of football as long as it didn't interfere with national service and industry. Crowds were limited to 8,000 in evacuation areas and 15,000 elsewhere. There was a limited regional league and cup programme. Home internationals and inter-service matches also took place and football remained a popular spectator sport on the home front.

Players were called up into the forces or drafted into war work. Grounds were also badly affected by air raid damage and changes of use. When Arsenal's Highbury ground became an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) centre they had to ground share with North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

In all three services, football was encouraged as a way to keep troops fit, active and entertained.

Art

1. Football was an important form of recreation for soldiers in Britain

A winter's day; a football match in an open field, with cricket screen, trees and buildings behind. A line of soldiers, some wearing grey coats, watches from the near touchline. A few are seated on benches.
© IWM Art.IWM ART LD 46
A winter's day; a football match in an open field, with cricket screen, trees and buildings behind.

Over half of Britain's army - 1.5 million troops - spent most of the Second World War in Britain. 

Watching and playing sport was critical in keeping these troops occupied and entertained.

Football matches also raised money for service charities. In May 1943, a match at Chelsea, attended by a crowd of 55,000, raised £8,000 for the Navy Welfare League.

Photographs

2. Footballers helped support recruitment

Men from Bolton Wanderers Football Club serving together with a battery of artillery (53rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 42 Division, 11 Corps) at Beccles on the east coast of England. Photograph shows: the nine footballers in their football kit standing in line in goal.
© IWM H 7496
Men from Bolton Wanderers Football Club serving together with a battery of artillery (53rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 42 Division, 11 Corps) at Beccles on the east coast of England.

At a match on Easter Saturday 1939, Bolton Wanderers captain Harry Goslin made a speech urging spectators to join up. The following Monday he and the entire first team joined the 53rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Players from a number of other clubs also joined up together, including Liverpool FC, whose players formed a club section in the Kings Regiment. Harry Goslin was killed while serving in Italy in December 1944.

Photographs

3. Many factories set up women's football teams

During a football match between teams from the Fairey and AV Roe aircraft factories, Fairey goal keeper Betty Stanhope destroys any hope of a score for the AV Roe team, as she knocks the ball up to hit the cross bar. The match is taking place on a snow-covered pitch at the Manchester Athletic Club ground at Fallowfield.
© IWM D 23520
During a football match between teams from the Fairey and AV Roe aircraft factories, Fairey goal keeper Betty Stanhope destroys any hope of a score for the AV Roe team, as she knocks the ball up to hit the cross bar.

As in the First World War, many large factories had female as well as male works football teams.

This photograph, dating from 1944, shows goalkeeper Betty Stanhope, representing Fairey Aviation Company, during a match against A V Roe, another local aircraft factory. The Fairey team won the match six nil.

Photographs

4. Football was popular with prisoners of war

Group photograph of the "Aston Villa" football team, made of British POWs, at the Stalag XXID, Poznań (Posen). The name of the team would imply those soldiers came from the Birmingham area.
© IWM HU 9282
Group photograph of the "Aston Villa" football team, made of British POWs, at the Stalag XXID, Poznań (Posen).

Football was a popular form of recreation for British prisoners of war (POWs).

Balls and kits were supplied through the Red Cross and the YMCA. At many large camps, POWs organised leagues. This POW team at Stalag XXID at Poznan in Nazi-occupied Poland have been named 'Aston Villa', presumably reflecting their peacetime support for the Midlands club.

Football was also popular amongst POWs of all nationalities. Manchester City's famous goalkeeper Bert Trautmann came to Britain as a German POW in 1945.

Photographs

5. Football was an important form of recreation for civilians

Boys, including a Boy Scout, enjoy a game of football in the sunshine in Hyde Park. A naval cadet and several other children can be seen in the background, watching from a distance.
© IWM D 2952
A group of boys enjoy a game of football in the sunshine in Hyde Park, 1941.

Playing and watching football remained a popular form of recreation on the home front. Spectators still turned out in good numbers for matches in regional leagues, cup and service competitions and, after the end of the Blitz in May 1941, attendances rose steadily. 

A 'guest player' system meant that spectators were sometimes able to see star players now serving in the armed forces, who would turn out for the nearest club to where they were based.

Photographs

6. Many professional footballers served in the armed forces

Using a chest telephone, Mr P C "Lofty" Austin, former commercial traveller and ex-professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur, reports to the Corps Centre, as Mr E C "Smudge" Smith works the plotting instrument in an ROC post at Kings Langley, Hertfordshire.
© IWM CH 8215
Using a chest telephone, Mr P C "Lofty" Austin, former commercial traveller and ex-professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur, reports to the Corps Centre.

When football was officially suspended in September 1939, all professional footballers had their contracts terminated. 

By April 1940, according to Picture Post magazine, 629 professional footballers had joined the services, 514 in the army, 84 in the RAF and 31 in the Royal Navy. Others went into war work. In 1940, one factory in Oldbury employed 18 West Bromwich Albion players.

Some players and coaches were used by the armed forces as physical training (PT) instructors.

However, 80 professional footballers were killed during the course of the war and many more were injured or became prisoners of war (POWs).

Art

7. Football helped maintain fitness

A football game being played on a dusty pitch in front of a three storey building.
© IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3986
The Final of the Brigade Association Football Cup, 8th January 1944.

Competitive inter-service and inter-unit football matches were encouraged throughout the armed forces.

As well as forging links across units and increasing physical fitness, matches also provided a welcome form of entertainment for other troops stationed in the area.

Posters

8. Football was used to encourage work place productivity

A depiction of a footballer completing a 'loop-the-loop'-style dive to head a football into a goal. The goalkeeper dives to try to stop the ball.
© IWM Art.IWM PST 15263
The poster produced for the Ministry of War Transport depicts a footballer completing a 'loop-the-loop'-style dive to head a football into a goal.

This poster produced for the Ministry of War Transport uses a humorous football themed cartoon to encourage its employees to unload their vehicles more efficiently.

Photographs

9. Football boosted morale

Gunners of 111 Medium Battery, 80th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, playing a game of football near their guns in the Anzio area, Italy.
© IWM NA 11632
Gunners of 111 Medium Battery, 80th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, playing a game of football near their guns in the Anzio area.

Football and other sports were encouraged in all branches of the services to boost morale.

This photograph taken on 31 January 1944 shows gunners of 111 Battery, 80th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery playing football near their guns in the Anzio area of Italy.

Photographs

10. Footballers played in exhibition matches to support the war effort

Flight Lieutenant Ted Drake, who played football for Arsenal from 1934 - 1945, arriving at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris, one of seven airmen to play in a match between British and French forces.
© IWM CL 1270
Flight Lieutenant Ted Drake, who played football for Arsenal from 1934 - 1945, arriving at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris, one of seven airmen to play in a match between British and French forces.

As a professional footballer during the 1930s, Ted Drake played football for Southampton and Arsenal. In September 1944, he was part of an FA Services XI which visited Paris, where they defeated a French team 5-0 and then travelled to Brussels where they beat a Belgian team 3-0.

The latter match took place very soon after the liberation and the terraces had to be cleared of mines before spectators could be admitted.

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