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Football's Role in Wartime

William Buckingham Beatton
William Beatton CREDIT: Eastern Daily Press
poster Sportsmen
1914 poster Sportsmen CREDIT: IWM
Football Tea
Football Tea
football tea ad
football tea ad CREDIT 1914 Postcard

#LowestoftDaysOfChristmas 6th day.. Many professional footballers served in the forces. Those killed in action included Lowestoft's own Ivan Flowers who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Mansfield Town. At a local level Abiah Sabberton (who also took part in tug of war), Thomas Chenery were both in the Great Eastern Railway football team. In 1898 Lowestoft football team captain, William Beatton, so impressed the opposing team Aston Villa (FA Cup winners and officially the best team in England) that they asked him to join them! He declined but then lead Lowestoft to win the very first Norfolk and Suffolk League championship.

We also note that John Breach (58 Salisbury Road), a Private with the 5th Dragoon Guards, was "a keen footballer, and an expert cricketer". Even in the midst of battle we have Arthur Hall (90 Cambridge Road) and Edward Gravells (13 Clemence Street) who were involved in an Army vs. Navy football match at the Connaught Barracks Sports Ground, near Dover Castle. A lone German aircraft dropped ten bombs in the Castle area killing them and two others. All the local men mentioned above are featured as part of the OurFallen Project, where we aim to celebrate their lives not just record their deaths (link below)

In the WWI, Football was widely used as a tool for recruiting men for the forces. The text on this poster (attached) 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.

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 Christmas Day 1914 , initially with uncertainty and trepidation, soldiers from both sides ventured into no-man’s land in order to meet their enemy. Gifts, such as chocolate and cigarettes, were exchanged; photographs taken. Bullets and bayonets gave way to handshakes and even football. 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. 

As can be seen in the final two photos there is also a link between football and Lowestoft tea, with the sports themed beverage being advertised in 1914 on the side of 127 High Street (Devereux building as seen from Triangle Market) which we are currently lobbying to be restored/ sympathetically recreated summer 2024 (if we get enough public support  ;-) CREDIT: Joe Thompson and IWM…




Diane Backhouse (not verified) Mon, 18/12/2023 - 11:05

My husband's uncle Din Regan was in the East Surrey regiment, in WW1, under the command of a Captain Neville and they were all known as Captain Nevilles Footballers, the Captain took loads of football's with him and the men kicked the balls when going over the top of the trenches, they ran into a barbwire fence, which no one in authority told them about, all just mowed down by the enemy, it was the first day of the Somme!!

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