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    In memorey of the fallen footballers



    In memorey of the fallen footballers

    Post by Guest on Sat Oct 23 2010, 00:02

    Footballers' Battalions remembered on Somme battlefield

    The mournful strains of The Last Post still floated in the air on Thursday as Gareth Ainsworth, the Wycombe Wanderers player, stepped forward on a foreign field that will be forever England's.

    By Henry Winter at the Somme
    Published: 9:43PM BST 21 Oct 2010

    Fitting tribute: Gareth Ainsworth (left) and Phil Stant during the Footballers' Battalions memorial unveiling at Longueval, France Photo: PA

    Ainsworth delivered a short blast on his whistle and a hush fell across the assembled throng, paying silent tribute to the Footballers' Battalions, who lost so many on the killing fields of the Somme.

    More than 8,000 officers and men of the 17th and 23rd Middlesex were engaged in some of the darkest days of the First World War, including players from West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Clapton (now Leyton) Orient and stars such as Frank Buckley, the Bradford City player who became Wolves manager.

    There was the celebrated amateur Vivian Woodward, a prolific scorer for England, Spurs' Walter Tull and Fred Keenor, who made light of shrapnel in the knee to lead Cardiff City to victory in the 1927 FA Cup final.
    Many relatives of these brave-footballers-turned-fighters, real heroes such as Manchester United's Oscar Linkson, also gathered in the hamlet of Longueval, adjacent to the muddy trenches and forbidding foliage of Delville Wood.
    Also at the dedication of a memorial to the Footballers' Battalions were representatives of more than 20 clubs and members of the Football Supporters' Federation, reflecting the hard work put in by fund-raising fans.
    The driving force behind these moving, sunlit events was Phil Stant, currently of the Football League Trust and a respected pro from Hereford United to Bury, Lincoln City to Cardiff City. As a former member of the SAS, who saw service in the Falklands, Stant can keep football in its proper perspective.
    "When I went to war for me it was an adventure,'' said Stant. "June 8, 1982, was the day I grew up. The Sir Galahad got blown up when we were 100 metres away. The terrible injuries, the attack that came in from the Argentinian jets, were frightening. When you've seen sights like that, people with their legs blown off, it's something you'll always live with. That's why this memorial is so important, for those guys who are still buried out there.''
    Stories of gallantry were legion. Joe Smith, the Chesterfield left-half, was badly wounded but carried on attacking. William Gerrish, the Aston Villa inside forward, was shot in the legs. Grimsby Town captain Sid Wheelhouse succumbed to gas. His team-mates wrote sorrowfully to the club secretary, Mr Hickson, about their vainful attempts to reach his grave.
    On Thursday, Ainsworth walked slowly, respectfully through the war cemetery at Delville Wood. "It's really important we never forget,'' he said.
    "Every footballer would be humbled by this place. I was told they chose me because I have connections throughout the game from non-league to Premier League.
    "There's no Premier League, no League Two out here, all these lads fought side by side. That's humbling. To be the person asked to blow the whistle for the two-minute silence was a massive honour. That was the signal to go over the top and on the first day of battle thousands were wiped out.''
    Reading's Allen Foster was cut down by machine gun fire. Plymouth Argyle's James McCormick had his head blown open, skin peeling down, obscuring his vision so he staggered on into German hands. Captain Edward Bell, of Portsmouth and Southampton, won an MC for conspicuous gallantry.
    Their stories are recounted by the author, Andrew Riddoch, an eloquent guide of Delville Wood. Co-written with John Kemp, Riddoch's account of the Footballers' Battalion entitled When The Whistle Blows cries out to be turned into a documentary.
    Moved by the myriad reminiscing, Stant would love clubs to bring academy kids out "to pay their respects'' to the Somme. "It's a different type of player coming through now, brought up a different way and a lot of them haven't experienced hardship,'' said Stant. "Some don't appreciate how lucky they are. I've taken them on one side and said there's a real world out there.''
    Out in the real world in 1916, one of the 17th Middlesex heroes was the keen sportsman Captain Ernest Parfitt, whose grandson John Matthews skirted Delville Wood, clutching a letter of Parfitt's to his wife.
    Matthews read as he walked: "We succeeded in taking a wood which is nicknamed Devil's Wood, and I can assure you that the name is very appropriate. We held the wood until yesterday, when we were relieved'.''
    Matthews shook his head in admiration. "I think of all the shelling he'd been through, the whole maelstrom, and his handwriting is so good.''
    Stories were everywhere. William Jonas, a popular forward of Clapton Orient, left a note declaring "special love to my sweetheart Mary Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient''. He was killed the moment he went over the top.
    "In football, someone gets injured or wants a transfer and we treat it like a big deal,'' said Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football League.
    "I'd support bringing young footballers out here, to give them a sense of perspective on what true sacrifice is all about. This is the most rewarding day I've had in the job.
    "Walking around those graves, seeing people aged 17, 18, who ran into a wood with shells raining down on them and with people holding bayonets at them, screaming at them. They kept going, they never gave up, and that's truly humbling.
    "My grandfather was left for dead on the Somme battlefield. He was carried off by the Germans, who took him to hospital, fixed him, and he was a POW for the rest of the war. Three of his brothers were killed. Most of his mates were killed. He survived.''
    As the gathering broke up, the exhortation read by John Matthews remained with all privileged to salute the Footballers' Battalions on Thursday: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left to grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    "At the going down of the sun and in the morning; We will remember them.''
    War hero had pockets stuffed with grenades
    Two English footballers won the Victoria Cross for their bravery in the First World War – Donald Bell, a defender with Bradford City, and Bernard Vann, who had a short career as a centre-forward at Derby County.
    Bell was the first professional footballer to join the British Army after the outbreak of the First World War.
    On July 10 1916 at Contalmaison on the Somme he stuffed his pockets with grenades and attacked, successfully, an enemy machine-gun post. He was killed attempting to repeat his attack five days later and was awarded the VC posthumously. The position where he was killed was later named Bell’s Redoubt.
    Vann, a schoolteacher who played three times for Derby as an amateur, rose swiftly up the military ranks and won the Military Cross during the Battle of Loos in 1915.
    He was awarded the VC in 1918 after he led his battalion across the Canal du Nord through thick fog into machine gun fire. In October of the same year he was shot through the heart by a sniper’s bullet.

    Re: In memorey of the fallen footballers

    Post by BazSpur on Sat Oct 23 2010, 00:37

    Tears in my eyes now after reading that moving but also harrowing account of the horrors of that god awful pointless war. Those poor young men going over the top must have been scared witless but if they stopped running forward or ran back they were shot or bayoneted under orders from the war crazy generals who sent those young men into battle. And for what? In most cases a little strip of land was occupied so the Germans couldn't get it. It sometimes took days to take just a few yards and all the time the body count on both sides was stacking up. Pointless, absolutely pointless and it makes me so mad and sad reading the accounts of those dark days. There is a quote below that puts it better than I can. I am not sure who said it but I think it may have been Churchill.

    "The only thing we learn from war, is we learn nothing from war."

    Rep for that vis.




    "When it is played at its best, football remains the greatest game of all.
    And Tottenham, so close to my heart, is still to me the greatest club." - Bill Nicholson

    'Hoddle a luxury? It's the bad players who are a luxury.'

    'If Ossie Ardiles had gone to Arsenal, they would have had him marking the goalkeeper or something.' Danny Blanchflower


    Re: In memorey of the fallen footballers

    Post by Guest on Sun Oct 24 2010, 06:03

    Thanx for the rep Baz. Yup a very poignant article, thought it showed the gulf from brave young men of yester-year with no special privliges as footballers to today's overpaid, over indulged, pampered modern player. The article says about all young players visiting the site and I reckon they should . . . . . .

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    Re: In memorey of the fallen footballers

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