Most organised domestic football may have closed down1 for the duration of the Great War but the troops ensured that the sport continued to thrive. The most famous football match played during the 1st World War took place in the muddied and bloodied fields of No Man’s Land, between the front lines of the Allied Forces and German trenches.
As has been widely reported down the years, a truce was held the length of the 500 mile long Western Front at Christmas 1914. For the lucky ones the silence lasted for several days, but for many there was a break of just one day from the madness and carnage. During the unofficial truce troops on both sides exchanged gifts with the enemy. They also sang together and, most memorably, played a game of football.
The temporary lull in hostilities extended the lives of many of participants for probably no more than a few days and commanders on both sides forbade it from happening again during the subsequent years of the war.
However, football was not restricted to the No Man’s Land match and on the 30th October 1915 the Herts Advertiser published a letter (second below), sent by Corporal Groom, detailing a game in which City player John Rainsden featured. The following July Lance Corpl Rainsden was killed in action.
The letter below, published in the Herts Advertiser on 15thJanuary 1916, talks of two other City players. Peter Walker played all of his three games for the club during the season leading up to the war, while Charlie Paul completed his 25 appearances during the 1919-20 season.
WITH THE 1ST HERTS BATTERY A GAME AT FOOTBALL
The following letter has been received by Mrs Parsons, 36, Alma-road, St. Albans, from her son, A. G. Parsons, of the 1st Herts Battery R.F.A., B.E.F.
“I have plenty to do, as I am Q.M.S. on duty for the Brigade this week. It’s lovely here to-day, quite warm and sunny. As the road is fairly wide here, we have got our horses picketedalong the sides, and it is much better for everyone, as the fields are so wet that you soon get mud up to your knees when the horses have been standing there.”
“You remember Tommy Walker, the old City footballer. He is close here with the Motor Transports; I saw him yesterday. This might interest The Herts Advertiser’. We (the 1stHerts Battery) played the 4thR.A. Ammunition Column last Saturday (at football), and beat them 9 goals to nil, thanks greatly to the brilliant play of two old City players, ‘Peter’ Walker and C. Paul, who shared most of the goals between them. All the Battery are very fit and in the best of spirits.”
A FOOTBALL MATCH BEHIND THE TRENCH LINES
The following is sent from the front by Corpl. Groom, formerly of the Midland Station staff, St Albans.
“A football match took place to-day between a team of the 1stBedfords against a team of the Herts Terriers both of whom are attached to the Entrenching Battalion. The match was watched with great interest, neither teams having been beaten since their arrival. Despite the weather, the troops turned up in good numbers, also the French, who have taken kindly to the game. There was also a good sprinkling of the fair sex.
The Herts won the toss and played up hill, of course, it is not so level as Clarence Park. I must mention that the Beds team was not at full strength. We kicked off at 3pm. Now here is a report on the match from a spectator:
Lieut. Atkin kicked off for the Bedfords, and the ball going out to Pte Rainsden, the old City player, who was playing outside-left, made a fine run, but his centre went abegging. Then the Herts inside-right, Capt. Philips, got away, but was smartly stopped by Corpl. Groom, and he sent to Rainsden, who was like a two-year old on the left wing, and went down, but was checked by the Herts right back. About now the Herts never had a look in, a beautiful bit of combination between Rainsden and Lieut. Atkin resulting in the Herts goalie saving a hot shot from Rainsden. The game continued fast and furious, the Herts goal coming under a heavy bombardment and their goalie saving in a marvellous way when Rainsden got right through. Then came a change in the game. The Herts rallied and played up finely. and seemed to wear the Beds down, and they scored four goals in quick succession. But for all that, the game was very fast, and finished up by the Herts winning 4-1. But the Beds mean to have their own back in a few weeks time.”
In the years following the war George Groom remained involved in football and became chairman of the St Albans Thursday Football Club. The club played its home matches at Clarence Park.
1The Football League and the Southern League did fulfil their commitments for the 1914-15 season. Both were heavily criticised and labelled as unpatriotic in some quarters. Neither League continued during the remaining three years of the war.
The final match played at Clarence Park until 1919 that was open to the public took place on Saturday, 5th September 1914. The game was staged one month after hostilities had begun but a large crowd turned out to see St Albans City defeat Luton Amateurs 4-0, with goals from Hadley, Furnam and Sawyer (2).