80 years ago this month, international football resumed after the horrors of the Great War. We take a look back through the UFWC archives.
IRELAND 1-1 ENGLAND, 25 October 1919
British Home Championships, Windsor Park, Belfast
Scorers: Ferris (Ireland); Cock (England)
The first proper international match played after the Great War was this game between UFWC champions Ireland and challengers England. The war had put an end to international football fixtures for five and a half years, and stole the lives and careers of many of the era’s best footballers.
Lord Kitchener’s recruitment drive saw more than 500,000 men enlist by the end of September, but initially there were few footballers among them. However, after an appeal led by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and with more volunteers needed to replace the casualties lost in early battles, footballers began to sign up. ‘There was a time for games,’ said Conan Doyle, ‘but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle.’
At first, only amateurs were allowed to sign up but, under pressure to allow all footballers to fight for their country, the Football Association eventually called for professionals to be released by their clubs.
England centre-half Frank Buckley, who played in his country’s 1914 UFWC match against Ireland, was one of the first footballers to sign up, and he was charged with leading the 17th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, which became known as the Football Battalion. Almost a quarter of the battalion’s 600 men were footballers. Among them were former England captain and centre forward Vivian Woodward, and right-half Evelyn Lintott, both of whom played in the 1909 UFWC win over Hungary.
Woodward was one of the Football Battalion’s first casualties, being hit by a grenade and suffering a serious leg injury. Lintott was transferred to the West Yorkshire Regiment, and was killed leading his platoon ‘over the top’ at the Somme. Then Frank Buckley was hit in the chest by shrapnel, suffering lung damage. Comrades doubted their critically injured Major would make it to the casualty station, but he recovered, and returned to the front line six months later, only to suffer further lung damage in a poison gas attack. Another England player from the 1914 Ireland match, Edwin Latherton of Blackburn Rovers, was killed while serving with the Royal Field Artillery on the Western Front. Latherton had scored 94 goals in 258 games for Rovers.
Finally, at 11am on 11 November 1918, Armistice was declared. Many footballers had lost their lives or suffered career-ending injuries. Major Buckley estimated that 500 of the original 600 members of the Football Battalion had been killed.
A series of ‘Victory Internationals’ were played after Armistice was declared, but none of them stand in the record books as full internationals. These morale-boosting games offered a chance for football to rebuild itself after the sport had been dismantled by the war.
Ireland had played two Victory Internationals against Scotland, losing the first and drawing the second, but the UFWC title was not at stake. Although most friendly matches can count as a UFWC title matches, games in which National Associations do not field their first national representative team do not count. So the first full international did not take place until October 1919, as part of the first post-war football season.
Both Ireland and England fielded much-changed line-ups for this game, with only two players remaining in each side from their last pre-war UFWC matches. Michael Hamill and Bill Lacey remained for Ireland, and Sam Hardy and Bill Watson for England. While some stars had been killed or injured, others simply had their international careers cut short by the five and a half year war interruption. Ireland forward Frank Thompson and England captain Bob Crompton, who had won 41 caps, were among the pre-war stars who never played for their countries again.
New players had emerged, some having starred in the Victory Internationals, and the mood was one of excitement for a new beginning for international football. 30,000 spectators packed Windsor Park to see the two sides play out a 1-1 draw.
It was a decorated World War hero who opened the scoring – Jack Cock putting England ahead after just 30 seconds. Prolific striker Cock had just signed for Chelsea from Huddersfield Town, going on to score 47 goals in 99 appearances for the Blues.
Jimmy Ferris equalised for Ireland after 70 minutes. Ferris was with Belfast Celtic, but he signed for Chelsea in 1920, and played alongside Cock. His career was cut short by a heart condition, and he died in 1932 aged just 37.
Ireland retained the UFWC title, but soccer was the real winner. After a period of terrible darkness, international football was back.