Amanda Mason
Thursday 11 January 2018

When war was declared on 4 August 1914, it was expected that the Football Association (FA) would follow the example soon set by cricket and cancel all matches. But, despite opposition, matches were played in the Football League throughout the 1914-1915 season and the FA Cup held as normal. For the remainder of the war, the Football League suspended its programme but allowed clubs to organise regional competitions.

Much of the opposition to the continuance of professional football stemmed from the concern that many men preferred to play and watch football rather than join up. However, football was also seen as a useful recruiting tool.

Football was also a popular form of recreation for troops on both sides and could boost morale. On 1 July 1916, men of the East Surrey Regiment, encouraged by Captain ‘Billie’ Nevill even went over the top kicking footballs. This was probably intended as a distraction for nervous young soldiers but was widely reported as a demonstration of British pluck.

Many professional footballers served in the forces. Those killed in action included former Tottenham Hotspur player Walter Tull and Bradford Park Avenue’s Donald Bell – the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

photographs

1. Many Munitions Factories had their Own Women’s Football Teams

photographs

1. Many Munitions Factories had their Own Women’s Football Teams

During the First World War, more than 900,000 women worked in munitions factories. Most factories employed a welfare officer to monitor the health, wellbeing and behaviour of their new female work force. Sport, especially football, was encouraged and many munitions factories developed their own ladies football teams. 

Women munitions workers' football team from the AEC Munitions Factory at Beckton, London.

The most famous of these were Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC in Preston. Founded in 1917, their matches drew large crowds. They continued to enjoy success until women were banned from playing in Football League grounds in 1921. Matches were played between teams from different factories and in north-east England, a cup competition was established. This photograph shows a women's football team from the Associated Equipment Company (AEC) Munitions Factory at Beckton, London.

photographs

2. Football Helped Keep Men Fit and Morale High

photographs

2. Football Helped Keep Men Fit and Morale High

Troops on the Western Front would spend considerable periods of time behind the lines. To keep men fit and active and to maintain morale, sport was encouraged and in many cases officially sanctioned. This photograph, taken September 1916, shows a football match in progress involving the 1st Battalion, the Wiltshire Regiment at Bouzincourt on the Somme.

posters

3. Football was Used as a Recruiting Tool

posters

3. Football was Used as a Recruiting Tool

Football was widely used as a tool for recruiting men for the forces. The text on this poster is a direct appeal from the Secretary of the Football Association for ‘GOOD SPORTSMEN’ to ‘ENLIST NOW and help the other GOOD SPORTSMEN who are so bravely Fighting Britain's Battle against the world's enemy.’ Posters were also produced which appealed directly to supporters of specific clubs.

"AN APPEAL TO GOOD SPORTSMEN" & "THE need for more RECRUITS for our Army is VERY URGENT - appeals should not be necessary. Every man must know his duty to himself and to his country. There are approximately three millions of men with no family responsibilities, I ask these to show that they are GOOD SPORTSMEN and ENLIST NOW and help the other GOOD SPORTSMEN who are so bravely Fighting Britain's Battle against the world's enemy" & "F.J.WALL" & "Secretary, FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION" & "42, Russell Square".
souvenirs and ephemera

4. Prisoners Of War Played Football in Camps

souvenirs and ephemera

4. Prisoners Of War Played Football in Camps

This football was presented in November 1918 to Lieutenant Jack Shaw, who organised games between prisoners at Holzminden camp. It is signed by his fellow officer POWs. Football helped officers and orderlies to keep fit, although the Camp Commandant often stopped or prevented these games taking place. Only nine-a-side matches could be played in the camp due to lack of space. Many of the footballs were sent to POWs via Holland.

souvenirs and ephemera

5. Games Were Used for Propaganda

souvenirs and ephemera

5. Games Were Used for Propaganda

This is a British-made toy football game dating from the First World War. Like many propagandist games of this period it pokes fun at the Kaiser. The aim of the game is to get the ball bearing ‘footballs’ from kick off, through the maze of trenches and into the Kaiser’s mouth.

photographs

6. Football was Played in all Theatres of the War

photographs

6. Football was Played in all Theatres of the War

This photograph shows an officers versus other ranks football match being played by members of the 26th Divisional Ammunition Train near the city of Salonika on Christmas Day 1915. Sports such as football were seen as a good way for officers to develop leadership skills and to forge links with their men.

posters

7. ‘New’ Sports Were Played at British Football Grounds

posters

7. ‘New’ Sports Were Played at British Football Grounds

The arrival in Britain of American and Dominion troops brought new sports such as Baseball and Australian Rules Football to the attention of the British public. This poster is advertising a match in the Anglo-American Baseball League to be held at Arsenal’s football ground at Highbury in North London.

souvenirs and ephemera

8. Troops on Both Sides Played Football during the 1914 Christmas Truce

souvenirs and ephemera

8. Troops on Both Sides Played Football during the 1914 Christmas Truce

Many contemporary letters and diaries describing the truce mention opposing troops kicking around a football. This decorative German bierstein is associated with the Christmas Truce which occurred on the Western Front on 25-26 December 1914. It was presented to Private Bill Tucker of the Army Ordnance Corps in his role as 'captain' of a winning British football team after an impromptu friendly match played against German troops.

souvenirs and ephemera

9. Service Personnel Played Football to Prevent Boredom

souvenirs and ephemera

9. Service Personnel Played Football to Prevent Boredom

This cup was awarded to a football team formed from members of the ship’s company of battleship HMS Dreadnought. Most service personnel had to endure long periods of boredom when they were not in action. Keen to prevent bored seamen becoming restless and unruly, Admiral Jellicoe encouraged the development of sports facilities at Scapa Flow naval base in the Orkney Islands. A football pitch was constructed, although there were complaints that the ground was too boggy.

Related Content

Bolton Wanderers players photographed after joining the army, February 1941.
© IWM (H 7496)
Sports And Entertainment In Wartime
10 Facts About Football In The Second World War
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.
British troops competing in a wheelbarrow race.
First World War
Sports Day In Salonika
Sports Days’ were held to give service personnel a break from their duties. In May 1916, Allied troops stationed near Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece organised a Sports Field Day and officers, soldiers and medical staff were invited to join in.
British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, Front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division.
IWM Q 70074
First World War
The Real Story of the Christmas Truce
The Christmas Truce has become one of the most famous and mythologised events of the First World War. But what was the real story behind the truce? Why did it happen and did British and German soldiers really play football in no-man's land?