Football stars that war turned into true heroes


They were football champions in every sense of the word. To the fans who gathered to watch them play on a Saturday, they were sporting icons. To their comrades on the battlefields of two world wars, where many lost their lives, they were true heroes.

Take Bobby Daniel, who, at 16, played for Wales before joining Arsenal. He died for his country five years later when he was on a mission to Berlin as a flight sergeant gunner in a Lancaster bomber, on the night of December 23, 1943. He and the rest of the crew were never found.

The sacrifices made by Daniel and many other professional footballers are celebrated in a new educational website that aims to teach young people about the war and the significance of Remembrance Sunday.

There is the remarkable Walter Tull, who played for Spurs and Northampton Town and was only the second black professional footballer in Britain. As a second lieutenant with the Middlesex Regiment, he was the first black officer to lead white British troops into battle. He was killed when he led his men in an attack on German trenches on March 25, 1918. He was 29.

The website also has details about Hearts, the Scottish team. On November 26, 1914, every member joined the British Army, inspiring many of their fans to sign up too. Seven players were killed. One survivor, Paddy Crossan, was injured and found himself facing a German surgeon. “I need my legs – I’m a footballer,” he pleaded. His leg was saved, but he died from the effects of poison gas after the war.

Peter Francis, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which has created the site ( ), said: “We wanted to show young people that the David Beckhams and Theo Walcotts of 1914 gave everything they had to enlist, with many of them paying the ultimate price and losing their lives.”

Mr Francis said that he hoped the site, which is backed by the Premier League and the Football Association, would help young people to understand that the elderly men they see paying their respects at the Cenotaph are there to remember comrades who were cut down in life as young men.

“Young people don’t always make this connection when they see war veterans. And when you tell them that 1.7 million people from Commonwealth countries died in the war, the number is too vast for them to comprehend. Football is a way of humanising the statistics,” he said.

The site recalls the famous match on Christmas Day, 1914, when German and British troops, who had been shelling one another hours earlier, played football in no man’s land between the trenches, shook hands and swapped souvenirs. It also gives details of the war graves and memorials to the fallen players and recalls the wider contribution of football clubs to the war effort.

During the Second World War, football grounds, especially those in big cities, were put to many uses. The East Stand at White Hart Lane, Totten-ham, was used as a mortuary for victims of the Blitz. Elsewhere in the ground, gas masks were made and people who were evacuated from the area in North London used the buildings to store their furniture. When High-bury was damaged, Spurs opened their doors to arch-rivals Arsenal so that they had somewhere to play matches.

The site also celebrates the women who stepped into the empty boots of serving players during the First World War, ensuring that fans still had a team to follow. Lily Parr captained the Dick Kerr Ladies, a team based at a Preston factory. They played to more than 50,000 fans at Goodison Park, toured in France and the Netherlands and raised money for war charities.

The website also has interactive games, in which users can build a fantasy football team of First and Second World War players, and a quiz.

A spokesman for the Premier League said: “Football holds such a fascination among young people that it has become a great vehicle for educating them about a wide range of subjects. The Glory Days website should provide children with the opportunity to learn through football about a vital part of this country’s history and the sacrifices that many young men and women have made.”

Trench football

— Liverpool right-back Tommy Cooper, an England captain, joined the military police when war broke out. In June 1940 while on army despatch duty he was killed when his motor cycle collided with a bus. Later all army despatch riders were ordered to wear crash helmets.

— Under enemy fire on the Somme on July 1, 1916, Captain Billie Nevill, of the 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, had to send his men “over the top”.

He threw four footballs out and promised to reward the first soldier to score a goal in the enemy trenches.

Many were killed, including Captain Nevill

— Willie Angus played for Celtic, but gave up to enlist. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1915 when he rescued a fellow soldier in the trenches.

He was hit by German fire more than 40 times and lost an eye and had to have a foot amputated so could never play football again Donald Bell was a defender for Bradford Park Avenue FC and joined the Army in November 1914. He won the VC on July 5, 1916, in France, when he filled his pockets with grenades, crept up to a machinegun post and captured it. Five days later he died trying to repeat the feat
In those days they were real heroes & not what we have today.

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