Football League honours members of Footballers' Battalions
Walter Tull, the first black outfield player in England, was amongst the ex-servicemen from the Footballers’ Battalions remembered by the Football League at The Somme yesterday (21 October).
In remembrance of the soldiers of the 17th and 23rd Footballers’ Battalions, more than 100 people gathered in Longueval on Thursday morning to attend the unveiling of a memorial.
Football League chairman Greg Clarke was there, as was the Mayor of Longueval and numerous other dignitaries, club representatives and supporters. Father Owen Beament, chaplain to Millwall FC from whom many soldiers enlisted, conducted the service.
Gareth Ainsworth, currently at Wycombe but a veteran of numerous clubs, blew the whistle that sounded a two-minute silence, while Andrew Riddoch, co-author of When the Whistle Blows, spoke eloquently about the courage, suffering and hardship the men had suffered as they fought in the trenches.
The armed forces were represented at the ceremony as were, perhaps more pertinently, the relatives of several soldiers from the Footballers’ Battalions.
“This has been the most rewarding day since I took this job,” said Clarke afterwards.
The Footballers’ Battalions were formed partly in response to criticism that the 1914-15 league season had not been cancelled despite the outbreak of war, with many arguing players should be concentrating on winning the greater game instead of playing football.
The 17th Middlesex were the first to be formed, in December 1914, while the 23rd arrived on the Western Front in May 1916.
Tull, who played for Northampton Town and Tottenham Hotspur, was killed on 25 March 1918 while serving with the 23rd Middlesex.
Approximately 300 players from the 4,500 who served in the 17th Middlesex came from the professional ranks. Just 30 were still serving when the battalion was disbanded in February 1918 as a consequence of manpower shortages. An estimated 900-1,000 who served in the 17th lost their lives while about 2,000 suffered casualties.
From BBC Sport
To find out more about the Footballers’ Battalions, please click here.