Football in World War Two


From the start of the war the Football League were not going to get caught out as they had in 1914. Football was called off immediately with the declaration of war between the UK and Germany on Sunday 3rd September 1939. The Football Association who had started its Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup for 1939-40 on the 2nd September also shut up shop for the duration of the war.

After the league programme had been cancelled there was no professional football played at all. When war was declared many thought that the country would suffer immediate and mass bombing attacks something akin to what had been seen in the 1936 film “Things to Come”, based on HG Wells book “The Shape of Thing to Come”. Another influence on thinking was the comment from the former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that ‘the bomber will always get through’, played into these fears of imminent attack and disaster.

All places of public entertainment were closed including football grounds. Then when the bombers didn’t arrive and the expected 10,000 civilian casualties a week did not appear, slowly and cautiously the Home Office allowed friendly matches to be played, and by Saturday 16th September 29 friendly matches between league clubs had taken place without a problem. These matches were ad hoc friendlies played between local clubs. The public still had a thirst for entertainment and football fitted the bill. Some matches were even broadcast by the BBC as in peace time and a match between Blackpool and Manchester United was one such game. The match was picked up by French radio and relayed to the BEF in France.

The Football League held an emergency meeting at Crewe on Wednesday 20th September 1939. It was at this meeting that the Football League came up with the plan to hold a number of regional league competitions and all the Football League needed was Home Office consent to start. This consent was given with a number of restrictions imposed. These restrictions dictated indirectly where and who would form these regional leagues.

Unlike the previous war, football it was thought would have to contend with the threat of bombing. How bad this bombing would be was unknown. This was one of the main factors in the authority’s reluctance to let league football restart. Having large numbers of people inside a football ground being bombed was the stuff of nightmares. With this in mind the government gave special powers to the police. This meant that arrangements for matches must be reported to the local police. Chief Constables had the power to impose limits on spectator numbers, or request advance bookings (all ticket matches) or even forbid matches taking place at all.

Another difference from the previous war was the playing of wartime internationals. These internationals between the home nations were organised so that after expenses, receipts were donated to the Red Cross. England played five wartime internationals, three against Wales and two against Scotland. A Scotland v England match in May at Hampden Park attracted 75,000, a huge crowd for wartime football.

The Home Office also imposed other restrictions. These restrictions were mostly for evacuation areas, places were children had been evacuated already, which included all the big cities and towns. In these areas all ground capacities were set at 8,000 or half the capacity of the ground whichever is the lowest figure. In exceptional cases the local Chief Constable may forbid the use of the ground or fix a lower crowd limit. For stadiums with a capacity of 60,000 the Chief Constable had the discretion to allow a crowd capacity of 15,000. Once inside the ground spectators had to be evenly distributed in the stands and terraces available. And finally the Home Office ruled that the football season must be finished by the end of April 1940. This last ruling did not on the face of it make life any more difficult for the Football League and passed without much comment.

The Football League had its own restrictions as well. Payments to players were restricted to 30 shillings per match for a maximum of 12 players per side. Registered players could turn out as guests for other clubs if they were stationed nearby. No win or appearance bonuses were allowed and no trophies were to be awarded. The minimum admission charge was set at 1 shilling with exceptions for members of the armed forces, women and boys. Revenue would be shared out according to FA Cup rules with 70% for the home club and 30% for the away club, instead of the usual 75-25 split of the Football League. As in the First World War the original club would keep the players registrations, so when peace returned so would their players.

There was one final rule that determined more than any other the structure of these new leagues and that was the 50 mile travel rule. This meant that clubs could not travel more than 50 miles to fulfil fixtures, this restriction would be relaxed from time to time.

Saturday 21st October 1939 was the scheduled start for the new wartime league season.

Eight leagues were formed from the 88 Football League clubs. The Western League consisted of 12 clubs from south Lancashire, Cheshire, north Staffordshire and north Wales. These were First Division clubs Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Stoke City joined by Second Division club Manchester City. From the Third Division North came Crewe Alexandra, Stockport County, Tranmere Rovers, New Brighton, Chester and Wrexham. And surprisingly from Third Division South came Port Vale. Port Vale played their first league game of the regular, now abandoned season, away to Brighton & Hove Albion on the south coast. It would be 6 years before any ‘northern’ team would visit the south coast again.

The North Western League consisted of 12 clubs. Four First Division clubs Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End. Burnley and Bury from the Second Division, whilst the Third Division North provided Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Carlisle United, Oldham Athletic, and Rochdale & Southport.

The North Eastern League centred on Yorkshire and the north east consisting of eleven clubs. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Middlesbrough from the First Division. Bradford Park Avenue and Newcastle United from the Second Division. Third Division North clubs Bradford City, Darlington, Halifax Town, Hartlepools United, Hull City and York City made up the numbers.

The East Midland League consisted of 11 clubs. Sheffield United and Grimsby Town from the First Division. Barnsley, Chesterfield, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday from the Second Division. Third Division North provided Doncaster Rovers, Lincoln City and Rotherham United and Third Division South provided Mansfield Town and Notts County.

The Midland League of 8 clubs consisted of First Division Wolverhampton Wanderers along with Second Division Birmingham City, Coventry City, Leicester City, Luton Town & West Bromwich Albion. Northampton Town and Walsall from the Third Division South made up the rest.

London and Home Counties clubs were organised into a South A league and South B league consisting on 10 clubs each. Unlike in the First World War London clubs were prepared to play outside of the city itself.

South A consisting of Arsenal and Charlton Athletic from the First Division. Millwall, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United from the Second Division. The rest from the Third Division South were Clapton Orient, Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Southend United and Watford. Surprisingly not Luton Town who were in the Midland League.

The South B league consisted of First Division clubs Brentford, Chelsea and Portsmouth. From the Second Division came Fulham and Southampton. The rest of the league was made up of Third Division South clubs Aldershot, Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic, Brighton & Hove Albion, Queens Park Rangers, and Reading.

Later on in the season these two London leagues would be reorganized into South C and South D leagues of 10 clubs. South C would have all the First and Second Division clubs from A and B, whilst South D contained all the Third Division South clubs.

Unlike in the First World War, Bristol City would not be left out in the cold. A South Western league was set up consisting of 8 clubs. Newport County, Plymouth Argyle and Swansea Town came from the Second Division. The rest of the league was made up by Third Division South clubs Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Cardiff City, Swindon Town and Torquay United.

This left 6 clubs not taking part in wartime football. Of these Aston Villa and Derby County chose not to take part. Gateshead, Ipswich Town and Sunderland also abstained, partly because of geographic isolation. Exeter City could not take part as their ground had been requested for the war effort.

Of the active clubs not all could play at their home grounds. Arsenal had to play their home matches at White Hart Lane as Highbury had been taken over by the Government and used as a
ARP (Air Raid Patrol) first aid post and the site for a barrage balloon. Ironically Spurs had to play home games in the First World War at Highbury. Southend United played all home games at New Whittle Street, Chelmsford as the Greyhound Stadium was too vulnerable to a surprise bombing attack.

Birmingham City had serious problems when it came to fulfilling their fixtures. The Birmingham Chief Constable had ordered the closing all football grounds in the City of Birmingham. Birmingham City were forced to play all their games away from home. This ruling also affected West Bromwich Albion as well. The Hawthorns straddles the boundary between the City of Birmingham and Staffordshire and this meant that Albion could only open turnstiles on the Staffordshire side of the ground.

This strange state of affairs carried on for months. Questions were asked in parliament but to no avail. Birmingham City eventually arranged to play home matches at The Windmill Ground in Royal Leamington Spa. It was March 1940 before the ban was lifted and 13,241 turned up at St Andrew’s to watch Birmingham City beat Walsall 2-1.

The first wartime football weekend was Saturday 28th October 1939. The day passed off without incident. The one exception was Grimsby Town v Mansfield Town were the match was delayed for 30 minutes because of an air raid warning.

The Phoney War, the name given to this period of the war in the UK, did not bring bombing and mass casualties, but what did arrive was a cold snap in late January and early February. Without the option of playing mid-week matches the Football League had to ask the Home Office for an extension of the season. This request was granted, but it was still to be a strictly Saturday only sport. The Home Office did allow some games to be played on days other than Saturday. Christmas Day and Boxing Day saw some matches as did New Year’s Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Another difference from the First World War was the introduction of a cup competition. Football League launched it on Monday the 11th March. The Football League (War) Cup competition was to be played in April, May and June 1940. It was made up of a preliminary round and a two leg first and second rounds. The third and fourth round were to be played on a single tie basis with semi-finals, not necessarily at a neutral venue, followed by a cup final at Wembley Stadium.

The preliminary round was made up of Third Division North & South clubs. To cut down on distances to be travelled the Football League put these clubs into 4 separate pots, North A & B and South A & B. Chester, Crystal Palace and Norwich City were given a bye into the first round. The two leg rounds were drawn out of two north and south pots. The third and fourth rounds were not drawn on a regional basis, but provision was made for extra time to be played if needed in the first tie and if necessary replays. One of the cup-ties with the longest distance to travel involving Huddersfield Town v West Ham United went to extra time and a replay.

The fourth round passed without replays, but now the Football League were stuck with a number of problems. Where to play the two semi-finals? What if there is a draw? And where to hold the final itself? The Football League partly answered one question by stating that 30 minutes of extra time would be played in the event of a draw after 90 minutes and provision for a replay to be played mid-week was made for the semi-finals and final. As for the venue for the final White Hart Lane was first to be considered, but not confirmed.

Wartime football could not really justify semi-final games being held at a neutral venue. As luck would have it the two northern clubs Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United were drawn together as were the two London clubs Fulham and West Ham United. The Football League favoured the clubs tossing a coin to decided home advantage for the semi-final.

This sound reasonable enough to Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, but not to the other two clubs. Newcastle United pointed out that the match should be played at St James’ as they had been enjoying bigger gates than had Blackburn and even as the away team Blackburn would probably receive more money from the away clubs cut of gate money at Newcastle, than they would get receiving the home clubs cut of the Ewood Park gate. Blackburn did not fancy this idea at all.

Next Newcastle United proposed that a neutral venue be chosen, they suggested Elland Road, Leeds with the gate being shared. This was a non-starter from the viewpoint of the Football League and the Home Office might object to valuable railway transport being tied up in fans travelling from two perfectly good locations to a third. In the end Blackburn Rovers got their way the coin was tossed and Blackburn won. To add insult to injury for Newcastle United, Blackburn won the match itself 1-0 in front of 14,238 which was less than had watched Newcastle United beat Middlesbrough in the second round.

For the London semi-finalists things were simpler. West Ham United suggested a neutral venue, with a share of the gate receipts. This Fulham accepted and the match was set for Stamford Bridge. Both semi-finals had been set for evening kick offs. 6.30pm at Blackburn and 6.40pm in London to enabling more working men the opportunity of watching. A crowd of 32,799 watched a sterling encounter that saw West Ham United going 4-0 up before Fulham scored 3 late goals to produce a grandstand finish, but no extra goals.

So it would be Blackburn Rovers versus West Ham United in the first War Cup final, but where would it be played? Stamford Bridge was now put up as a possible venue along with White Hart Lane. What was decided was that it would be an evening kick-off again. The final venue was announced on the morning of the day of the semi-finals. Wembley Stadium would be the venue for the final with the capacity limited to 50,000. West Ham won the final 1-0 in front of a crowd of 42,399.

This whole cup semi-final and final saga had taken place at exactly the same time as Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk. The cup final crowd itself was swelled by British troops who had been lifted of the beaches of Dunkirk the previous week. The morale boosting powers of football on the people could not have been a better demonstration than this.

The season was carried off mostly as planned and were attendance numbers were released it showed an average attendance of 4,100 per match, giving a total of 5.4 million spectators.


When the Football League Management Committee met in London on Thursday 29th July 1940, the world looked very different from the emergency meeting in September 1939. France had already fallen and the Battle of Britain had been raging in the skies above the UK for a month. With the enemy only 22 miles away and German fighters and bombers raiding up and down the land, it did not look like the war would end anytime soon, except maybe with invasion and defeat.

With this in mind the Football League decided to simplify the league system. Two massive leagues were set up, the Northern Regional League of 34 clubs and a Southern Regional League also of 34 clubs. Another change in the rules was that league position would be sorted by goal average and not points because it would be impossible to have a symmetrical season where all clubs play each other home and away in such huge leagues and 50 mile travel limit would make that impossible. Additionally because of enemy action some matches might have to be postponed or abandoned, in response to this they ruled that the results of abandoned matches would stand and count towards determining league position.

The idea of having symmetrical football leagues would be abandoned for the rest of the war. The decision to determine league position by goal average was a poor one. For years Rugby League had a better solution to this problem. Up until the 1920’s the Rugby League ran a large 28+ club single league, which was impossible to run symmetrically. Instead they used a percentage system of points gained, against percentage of total possible points from games played to determine league position, this would have been a better solution.

Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers did not join the Northern Regional League till January. Blackpool’s home ground was taken over by the RAF as part of a training establishment and at Bolton Wanderers, the ground was taken over by the education authority, who occupied the club office, whilst stands were used to store food for the Ministry of Supply.

There were two other smaller leagues. Clubs based on the south coast join League South which started in January that would run concurrently with the Southern Regional league with games between clubs counting in both leagues. The League South would use the traditional points system. A Western Regional league was set up in March for Bristol City and Cardiff City along with 4 non-league clubs.

This left 17 clubs not taking part in wartime football for a variety of reasons. Of these Exeter City, Hartlepools United, Swindon Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers could not take part as their grounds had been requested for the war effort. Swindon Town’s ground became a POW detention centre and Wolves ground became a HQ for the National Air Raid Precaution Unit.

In the week before the first games of the new season, there had been heavy air raids on London and Liverpool. Opening day, Saturday on the 31st August, passed uneventfully with the biggest crowds of the day in London (White Hart Lane) and Liverpool (Anfield Road). This though was the quiet before the storm. The next Saturday, the 7th September, would subsequently be known as Black Saturday. On this day London suffered heavy daytime air raids, the heaviest so far during the Blitz. Of the 15 Southern Regional league matches, 6 were brought to an early end because of air raid warnings.

The following Saturday the whole country suffered determined daytime air raids. Of the 12 Southern Regional league matches, 3 were brought to an early end because of air raid warnings and one was stopped for 5 minutes. Every Saturday in September saw heavy German air raids up and down the land.

October saw more of the same. On Saturday 5th October the Germans launched four separate air raids. As luck would have it all the league matches were started and completed between the third and fourth raid. Saturday 12th October saw five raids on the capital and the following week the Spurs v Arsenal derby had to be abandoned. The following Saturday saw day time air raid activity decrease as the Germans switched to night time bombing. Thankfully no bombs were dropped on grounds during a match and this danger retreated into the background when the Germans switched to night time bombing.

Switching to night attacks did not end the problem of lone wolf raids by single German aircraft marauding during the day. Though less likely than in the First World War, there was still the risk that German warships could launch attacks on British coastal towns. In response to this fear Grimsby Town were moved from Blundell Park, a ground easy to find on the coast, to play inland at the Old Showground in Scunthorpe.

Air raids on British cities continued though the autumn and into winter. On the night of the 14/15th November Coventry suffered a serious attack. In view of the damage to the city and Coventry City’s Highfield Road ground, the club decided to withdraw from the Southern Regional League. They hoped that they could make a return later in the season and so they retained their position in the league, but football did not return to Highfield Road till September 1942.

The next club to be bombed out was Sheffield United, whose Bramall Lane ground was badly damaged on the night of the 12/13th December. Unlike Coventry City a club in a one club city, Sheffield United could move to their neighbours ground Hillsborough. Sheffield United did not return to Bramall Lane until September 1941. A similar thing happened to Manchester United who were bombed out of Old Trafford on 7th March. Old Trafford was severely damaged and Manchester United move to Maine Road. They did not return to Old Trafford for nearly eight and a half years.

Unlike 1939-40 Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures were not allowed. Good Friday was also blank on the fixture list. Matches were allowed on Christmas Day and Easter Monday. On Christmas Day a number of matches were allowed to kick-off at 11.00 am and others at 3.15 pm. Some enterprising clubs decided to play two games in one day. Bradford City v Huddersfield Town, Wrexham v Chester, Doncaster Rovers v Lincoln City, Northampton Town v Leicester City, Watford v Luton Town and Rotherham United v Barnsley all kicked off in the morning and then the away club played host to their opponents in the afternoon kick off.

A new development this season was inter-league matches. From January until the end of the season 21 matches involved clubs from the two regional leagues. These games were mostly between midland clubs like Leicester City, Lincoln City, Mansfield Town and Stoke City.

The turning of the New Year brought some rest bite from bombing and the number of abandoned games dropped. It also brought new cup competitions. The London clubs set up their own cup competition. The cup was organised into two groups of 6 clubs each. They would play each other twice for points instead of the hated goal average system. The top 2 would make up a one off semi-final with the group winners playing at home.

The Football League did not sanction this London Cup as the south coast clubs had been cut out. Portsmouth who wanted to play in the London Cup, got nowhere in their appeal to join in. The Football League could do little to help or prevent the competition taking place. A League South was set up for the clubs shut out by the London Cup. Originally only six clubs were invited into this new league, but later Norwich City and Luton Town joined in. On alternate weekends when the cup games were scheduled the League South fixtures would take place giving these clubs a full fixture list. There were now five competitions running at the same time most weekends.

In February the Football League staged the second edition of its Football League (War) Cup. The competition started off with a two leg preliminary round of 8 clubs. These 8 clubs were the bottom 6 from the Northern Regional League on the evening of the 25th January with Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers add as they had just resumed playing in the league. Tranmere Rovers were not included as they did not have a match that Saturday in which it improve their league position.

The new Football League (War) Cup did included the London clubs playing in the London Cup and of course the rest of the Southern Regional League. The cup draw was kept strictly in north and south sections all the way to the final. It was organised along the line of the previous seasons competition, but this time were the aggregate was equal, they had to play two 10 minute halves of extra time and if this did not break the deadlock the match would go on until one side scored. This Golden Goal rule came 50 years before UEFA thought of it.

The War Cup passed without mishap except when Grimsby Town and Barnsley could not be separated in a second round match. After playing 161 minutes, the referee had to abandon the match as he had to return to his duties with the RAF. Barnsley were awarded the tie as they were in a superior league position to Grimsby in the Northern Regional League.

A two leg semi-final was favoured to avoid the problems of the previous season and the final itself was between northerners Preston North End and southerners Arsenal. The final attracted 60,000 people to a capacity limited Wembley Stadium. The final ended in a 1-1 draw and the following Saturday the replay at Ewood Park, Blackburn saw Preston win 2-1 and take the honours.

The London Cup final attracted 9,000 to Stamford Bridge to see Reading beat Brentford 3-2. There was another final of sorts. The League South had finished with Brighton & Hove Albion top. Watford disputed this as they claimed to have won the league if you only include the fixtures between the original six clubs. To sort this out a play-off final was staged at the Goldstone Ground which was won 4-1 by Brighton.

The Western Regional League later morphed into the Western Regional Cup which was won by a works team Lovell’s Athletic, who surprisingly completed the double as they had won the league too. Lovell’s Athletic would later become a major force in wartime football, but they are all but forgotten now.

War Cup winners Preston North End also won the Northern Regional League whilst Crystal Palace won the Southern Regional League. England played four wartime internationals the highlight being a 3-2 over Scotland at Hampden Park, Glasgow in front of 78,000 people.

The Football League had managed to keep football alive during this most difficult time for the nation. The consequences of the Blitz were everywhere and no more so than on the football grounds. A number of clubs had been bombed out and Coventry City had quite completely such was the destruction around them.

Where attendances were published 2.8 million people had watched wartime league football this season giving an average attendance of 2,700 down by half on 1939-40. What the future would bring, no one could tell.

The Blitz had come to an end with a final bombing campaign attempting to wreck the port cities of London and Liverpool. As the football season came to a late end in June, the Germans were turned their attention to the Soviet Union.


Football League Management Committee met at the Victoria Station Hotel, Nottingham on 9th June 1941. The war news was as bad as ever and it looked like it would be carrying on for at least another year. British along with Free French forces had invaded Syria and the Battle of Crete had been fought and lost and the British were victories over the Italians in Ethiopia. Exiled former German Kaiser Wilhelm II had died in the Netherlands this week, laying to rest one ghost from the past war, but the Football League now had another ghost to contend with. The London clubs as in the first war, were in open revolt.

Football League announced they would ditch the hated goal average system and go back to the usual points system to determine league position. The league also decided this season would a re-run of previous one. These leagues would run from August till Boxing Day and then restart as the Football League North 2nd Championship scheduled to finish in May. To limit travelling these leagues would be divided into 4 smaller groups of clubs that would play each other home and away and also involve some inter-group games.

Some of these 2nd Championship games would also count towards a qualification league that would run concurrently, but only for the first 10 Saturdays, after which the top 32 clubs in this league would enter the draw for the first round of the War Cup. The remaining clubs would make arrangements amongst themselves and these results would count towards the 2nd Championship as usual. War Cup matches would also count towards the 2nd Championship, but only after 90 minutes. If extra time was need this result would only count towards the War Cup. War Cup ties were over two legs with 30 minutes extra time if and when need.

The London clubs were not happy with this set up. They were unhappy about travelling far out of London during wartime as it involved too much inconvenience. The bulk of the clubs that had set up the London Cup the previous season were again the prime movers this time. They wanted out and by July they had decided they would be splitting from the Football League and organising themselves. Portsmouth this time were allowed to join this breakaway group. The rest of the southern clubs were left to form the Southern Regional League within the Football League structure. Southend United decided it was all too much trouble carrying on and they dropped out completely for the season.

The London clubs that had broken away had their Football League memberships cancelled. This new rebel London League was made up of 16 clubs playing on a home and away basis running from August to May. They also had a London Cup competition that would be very similar to last season.

The biggest factor in the success or failure of this coming season and indeed the war itself happened on Sunday 22nd June. This day saw the final of the German National Football Championship for 1940-41. The Germans continued to hold their regular football competitions apparently impervious to the effects of the war. In the final former Austrian league club Rapid Vienna beat Schalke 04 4-3 in front of 95,000 people in a sweltering Olympic Stadium in Berlin. On the same day as this final, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, an event that would change the course of the war.

The new season got underway without any noteworthy events, neither from enemy action or internal football politics. What did cause problems for football was rationing. Getting new football kit became a real problem because of clothes rationing. Strict petrol rationing also forced clubs travelling to away fixtures to rely on the railway system and other forms of public transport. Another more bizarre problem arose during a London League match between Portsmouth and Aldershot, when a goal post snapped on the 77th minute. Portsmouth had no replacement posts and the match had to be abandoned as a 2-2 draw.

In November the war reached the officers of the Football League itself. The Office of Works requested the league give up their headquarters in Winckley Square, Preston. They moved around the corner to 102 Fishergate.

Christmas brought the end of the Northern and Southern Football League and the start of the Football League North 2nd Championship and the War Cup qualifying league which contained all the clubs from earlier leagues. The next big war event that effected football was the fall of Singapore in February and with it the loss of Malaya. Rubber for new footballs became harder to obtain.

The season ended in June in a fitting manor with a cup winner’s cup final between the War Cup winners Wolverhampton Wanderers and London Cup winners Brentford meeting at Stamford Bridge. The match ended in a 1-1 draw in front of 20,000 people and the guests of honour were the First Lord of the Admiralty AV Alexander and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound.

Where attendances were published, 4.3 million people had watched wartime league football this season giving an average attendance of 4,500. Without a major German bombing campaign to contend with and the threat of invasion now gone 1941-42 enjoyed a 54% increase in attendance on the previous season.


The war was about to enter its third summer but at the Football League Management Committee meeting at the Victoria Station Hotel, Nottingham on 29th June 1942 peace had broken out. The London clubs had come back into the fold, but they had mostly got what they wanted. The new edition of the London League would now be known as the Football League South with the only change being the addition of Luton Town and Southampton.

The war news had changed from being as bad as ever, to being a different type of news. In December 1941 the Germans had been stopped before Moscow, but by the summer of 1942 they were biting deeper into the Soviet Union again. On the day before the leagues meeting the Germans launched a massive attack into the southern part of the Soviet Union. This offensive would conclude in the Battle of Stalingrad. Roosevelt was meeting with Churchill this very week in Washington, the first of such meetings. Earlier in the month the Americans had defeated the Japanese at the Battle of Midway and in North Africa after everything had looked to be going so well, it turned into going badly again. The end of the war did not look to be in sight just yet.

Rationing brought further restrictions on just about everything at home, but mass German aerial bombing of Britain had not returned. Civilian life was more ordered, but also more restrictive and dull. Entertainments like football became even more important as a diversion from the long hard slog of wartime life.

Bombed out Coventry City returned to league football for the first time since November 1940. The Highfield Road pitch was overgrown and needed attention and it had to be cut and prepared before the start of the season. Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County and Birmingham also returned to playing football this season. New Brighton were out though, the little club on the Wirral, had lost their home ground Sandheys Park to the Ministry of Supply who used it for storage and later by the local council who used it for emergency housing. As it turned out New Brighton would never return to their old ground, it was lost forever.

Three leagues kicked-off the start of the new season. A Football League North of 48 clubs, a Football League South of 18 clubs and the Football League West made up of six clubs, brought back after missing a season. This new Football League West brought in 3 non-league clubs Aberaman Athletic, Bath City and Lovell’s Athletic to join league clubs Bristol City, Cardiff City and Swansea Town. The Football League North and Football League West ran until Christmas, when they were brought together into one league the Football League North 2nd Championship. The War Cup qualifying league was run the same way as last season. The London based Football League South would continue until February.

In March the Football League South would stop and become a four group Football League South Cup. The Football League West clubs also had a minor cup competition of their own. This season the cup winner’s final was between the northern cup winners Blackpool and southern cup winners Arsenal played at Stamford Bridge. Blackpool won the final 4-2 in front of 55,000.

The surprise of the season was the rise of Lovell’s Athletic who finished second in the 2nd Championship to Liverpool. Only in wartime could a sweet factory football team run with the biggest clubs in English football.

Where attendances were published 5.7 million people had watched wartime league football this season giving an average attendance of 5,500 an increase of 32% increase on the previous season.


The war looked very different at the fourth meeting of the Football League Management Committee. The Allies had taken the whole of North Africa, whilst in the North Atlantic German U-boats were having a hard time losing 43 boats in May 1943. The Germans were in retreat on the eastern front and the Japanese were being forced out of New Guinea. An end to the war did not yet look insight, but defeat looked unlikely now.

The fourth summer of the war found the Football League Management Committee meeting at the Holborn Restaurant in London on 28th June 1943. Again the London clubs lead by Arsenal were causing trouble for the Football League. The Football League wanted Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic, Northampton Town or Norwich City to join the Football League South. The London clubs did not want the extra travelling this would entail. In the end the Football League relented, not wanting to cause another break and the season was a re-run of the previous one.

Millwall started the season without a home, being bombed out of The Den. They played the majority of their games at The Valley with a few games at Selhurst Park. Millwall did not return home until February. This season saw success for a second non-league club. The Football League North 2nd Championship was won by Bath City, who finished equal on points with Wrexham, but winning the league on goal average.

The largest wartime club match crowd so far was attracted to the War Cup South final between Charlton Athletic and Chelsea held at Wembley Stadium were 85,000 watched Charlton win 3-1. The guest of honour was the commanding officer of the American forces in Europe, General Eisenhower. This was one of the first times that Eisenhower was introduced to the wider British public.

This wasn’t the only large football crowd of the season, England played in front of two 80,000 gates. The real eye catching attendance of the season though was for the Scotland v England match at Hampden Park. A massive 133,000 people watched England beat Scotland 3-2.

The season finale was a cup winners final between the northern cup winners Aston Villa and southern cup winners Charlton Athletic held at Stamford Bridge. The match ended 1-1 and the trophy was shared as extra time was not allowed.

Where attendances were published 8.4 million people had watched wartime league football this season giving an average attendance of 7,200 an increase of 47% increase on the previous season.


The fifth wartime meeting of the Football League Management Committee was held at Blackpool on the 17th June. Basically the meeting rubber stamped the plan for the previous two seasons being repeated. The Football League North and the Football League North 2nd Championship had grown into massive leagues. Last season they were made up of 50 and 56 clubs respectively. This season both leagues were made up of 54 clubs and 60 clubs.

In June 1944 the war did not look like it was going to end soon. D-Day and Normandy had taken place and heavy fighting was still going on. The Germans were finally pushed out of the Soviet Union and in the Far East the Americans had destroyed Japanese naval aviation during the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’.

The Football League Committee had a few new threats to factor in. The first was the German V-1 flying bomb attack that had been launched on London on 13th June. These V-1 doodlebug attacks slacked off in September when allied troops over run the launch sites in France. Though V-1 attacks launched from the Netherlands carried on until the 29th March 1945. There was then a second German weapon to worry about, the V-2 missile that arrived unannounced and at supersonic speed. The first V-2 arrived on Friday 8th September, but these seemingly random explosions were blamed on defective gas mains by the British Government in an attempt to prevent a public panic. An increasingly suspicious public called these random explosions ‘flying gas mains’ as people knew something was going on, but not exactly what it was. It wasn’t until the Germans announced and then the British Government confirmed what they were, that the public had the chance not to panic. Thankfully none of these V-weapons landed on a football ground during a match.

West Ham United started the season bombed out of their home at Upton Park. They played all their fixtures as away games until they returned home in December. Highlights of the season were two 90,000 crowds at Wembley, the first was to see England beat Scotland 6-2 and the second was a War Cup South Final tie which Chelsea beat Millwall 2-0.

The season progressed unremarkably at the same time as tremendous events were taking place in Europe. Arnhem, the Battle of the Bulge, the British Army crossing the Rhine, and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp all came and went. The death of Hitler and the fall of Berlin signalled the end of the war in Europe.

The last Saturday of the war in Europe, the 5th May, saw Wales lose 3-2 to England at Cardiff and the first leg of the War Cup North semi-finals. Manchester United drew 1-1 with Chesterfield at Maine Road and Wolverhampton Wanderers drew 2-2 with Bolton Wanderers at Molineux.

The Football League Management Committee called an Extraordinary General meeting at Manchester on Monday 7th May 1945 in anticipation of victory in Europe and what if anything football could do to take advantage of the changed situation. The idea of playing a regular season with peace time rules and regulations was rejected as Japan had yet to be defeated. The clubs themselves were in no position to play a regular season as their players were still in the armed forces scatted across the world and some were in the Far East fighting the Japanese or were expecting to take part in the planned invasion of Japan.

Arsenal chairman George Allison carried the day with his plan for the coming season. His proposal was that the First and Second Division clubs be separated from the rest and then split north and south into two 22 club symmetrical leagues.

Third Division North was split east west into two 10 club leagues, Third Division North West and Third Division North East. Both Hull City and New Brighton were without home grounds and would have to sit this season out. The Third Division South was split into two leagues, north of the Thames and south of the Thames. The non-league clubs were out, they would not be taking part in any of the new leagues.

Tuesday 8th May was declared VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). The Government made it a bank holiday so people could celebrate.  Only one game was played on the actual day a Football League North 2nd Championship match at Oakwell that saw Huddersfield Town beat Barnsley 4-2 in front of a disappointing crowd of 527 people. The next day VE Day+1 saw nine games arranged in a hurry to celebrate the victory. Derby County v Nottingham Forest game was amongst these fixtures as was a Sheffield Derby. No derby games have been played with such feelings of bonhomie amongst the players and crowd or with such massive hangovers. The biggest gate of the day was at Anfield Road where 32,000 watched Liverpool beat Preston North End 5-1.

The season finale was the cup winners final between the northern cup winners Bolton Wanderers and southern cup winners Chelsea held at Stamford Bridge. Being at home for this one off final did not help Chelsea as they lost 2-1 in front of 45,000.

Where attendances were published 10.3 million people had watched wartime league football this season giving an average attendance of 8,000 an increase of 22% increase on the previous season.


The last wartime football season got underway very much how it had been outlined in the May meeting. The Football League held their annual meeting in London on Monday 23rd July with most of the decisions already taken. The lack of fixtures for the Third Division clubs was sorted out. After they had played out their league games to a finish the extra dates would be filled with further internal league cup competitions.

What was news was that the FA Cup was back. It was decided that when the league clubs joined the competition in the first round all games would be played over two leg. Clubs were desperate for revenue. They had no idea that football would experience a boom the like of which they had never seen before.

The Second World War officially came to an end on Sunday 2nd September 1945 in Tokyo Bay where the Japanese surrender was signed. Japan had actually communicated that it would cease fighting on the 15th August. So before the start of the new season the war was over. The wartime restrictions on petrol and travelling were relaxed, whilst food and other rationing carried on as before.

The football authorities would operate under two different rules for this season. Wartime rules for the league matches, but the stricter peace time rules would apply for the FA Cup. November brought the first round of the FA Cup and the Russian Champions Dynamo Moscow.

On a Tuesday afternoon 74,000 came to see the mysterious Russians draw 3-3 with a Chelsea XI at Stamford Bridge. This was the largest mid-week attendance ever seen in English football. On the following Saturday, the same day as the 1st leg of the first round of the FA Cup, Dynamo Moscow outclassed a Cardiff City XI 10-1 at Ninian Park in front of 31,000. Another bumper crowd of 54,500 was drawn to White Hart Lane the following Wednesday to watch an Arsenal XI play the Russians. This time the Russian champions won 4-3.They then moved onto Scotland and drew 2-2 with Rangers before leaving Britain, a country now less sure of its pre-eminence in the football world.

Having a two leg FA Cup was not the only unusual thing about this season’s competition. All the cup draws up to and including the fourth round were done on a regional basis to cut down travelling. The third round of the FA Cup brought Lovell’s Athletic back into the limelight. They had a creditable 4-2 loss to First Division Wolverhampton Wanderers at home in the first leg. Wolves won the second leg 8-1 and 12-3 on aggregate.

This new format FA Cup was judged to be a success and apart from some replays, abandoned games and the crowd breaking down the gates at Bramall Lane, it had been trouble free and very successful with the public thus far. It was during the sixth round second leg games that disaster struck.

At Burnden Park Bolton Wanderers were looking to protect a 1-0 first leg win against Stoke City. A big crowd of 52,000 came to see if the Wanderers could do it and get to the first post war cup semi-final. At the Railway End of the ground a crush developed and the match was stopped after 30 minutes. Two barriers had collapsed and a police officer came onto the pitch to inform the referee that there had been fatalities. The players left the pitch and the dead were taken from the stand and laid along the side of the pitch covered in coats. A new sawdust line was laid out separating the dead from the narrower playing area. The players came out completed the first-half and immediately changed ends and played the second-half to a finish. Having a match, in which 33 people died and a further 400 were injured, completed instead of being abandoned seems very strange now, but after 6 years of war, human life had been cheapened.

The FA Cup final, between Charlton Athletic and Derby County, highlighted that though the war was over things were not back to normal. The match ball burst near the end of normal time. Vital resources like rubber were reserved for export industries and not for footballs. Due to a shortage of gold, both winners and runner-up medals were made of bronze. When gold became available later in the year, the winners received their proper gold medals.

To cap off a season that saw everyone reaching for and wanting a return to normality, England played a war international in continental Europe itself. England lost 2-1 to France at Stade Colombes, Paris in front of 58,000.

Where attendances were published 21.3 million people had watched wartime league football this season, giving an average attendance of 14,200 an increase of 106% increase on the previous season. Significantly this was 5.8 million more people watching wartime football than watched the previous regular 1938-39 season.

The season had been a success and the future looked bright, the war was over and now the Football League had the task of getting back to normal, or rather the new normal whatever that would turn out to be.


Early on, very early on in fact the decision had been taken to re-run the abandoned 1939-40 season with the same fixtures arrangements, just the dates and years different. There were a few changers from 1939. Manchester United were still bombed out of Old Trafford and playing their matches at Maine Road. Hull City had a new ground, having moved to a new build stadium Boothferry Park. New Brighton had saved themselves from likely oblivion by moving to an old league ground and signing a complete set of new players. They had lost their old ground Sandheys Park to prefabs, but managed to move to the Tower Athletic Ground the former home of defunct league club New Brighton Tower. Arsenal were back at Highbury and more radical than any other change Clapton Orient after 3 home games changed their name to Leyton Orient and the name of the ground from Osborne Road to Brisbane Road. The first that Orient fans knew about this change was when they bought their match programme for their home game against Crystal Palace.

On Saturday 2nd September 1939 the most northern of Third Division South clubs Port Vale had visited the south coast and Brighton & Hove Albion. The match at the Goldstone Ground had ended in a nil-nil draw in front of 8,172 people, and now after 6 years of war, playing in the northern section of wartime football, Port Vale had made the long journey back to the south coast and the Goldstone Ground for the opening fixture of the 1946-47 season. Again the match ended in a nil-nil draw, but this time in front of 11,412 people a 40% increase on the 1939 gate. This one match highlighted a greater truth, football was back and it was about to enjoy a boom time.