Ivor Powell’s Wartime Account Of Football In India

The news this week that Ivor Powell had finally decided to retire as probably the world’s oldest football coach at the tender age of 93, reminded me of an article that he wrote for the Rangers 1946-47 handbook. He joined the R’s in September, 1937 and later enlisted into the R.A.F. and served as a physical training instructor. He was posted to India in 1943 and joined the forces’ football team which also included fellow team-mate, Billy McEwan:-

‘Many famous professional footballers travelled with me out to India and they represented nearly every well-known Club in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, One of our first games was between a R.A.F. Professional X1 and an Army Professional X1, and thousands of British soldiers turned up to see their favourite stars in action, whom they had not seen for many a long day. The score was 4-1 in favour of the R.A.F., the goals being netted by Billy McEwan, Wrigglesworth, and myself two, whilst Langton obtained the consolation goal for the losers. The heat was terrific, even to walk about let alone play football. The only consolation we got was that we played half-an-hour each-way instead of forty-five minutes.

Billy McEwan and myself were stationed in Bombay, and our team comprised many stars. The number of matches played probably constituted a record in the annals of football. The first tour commenced in September, 1944, and 27 games were played in 33 days which involved a trip of 7,000 miles. The second tour was a little more active, with 53 games in 73 days, and a mere 10,000 miles covered. The third tour gave us 46 games in 90 days with a mileage of 12,000 miles. With eight days remaining of this tour, seven games had to be played, and even on the Sunday we had to attend a Church parade.

At Razmak, on the North-West frontier, two battalions of Indian troops had to be posted in the hills surrounding the pitch to prevent the local tribesmen getting within shooting distance of the spectators whilst we ourselves were trying to get within shooting distance of the goal posts. Final figures were 29,000 miles and 126 games in 196 days, which even in India is a trifle hot. Many of our games were played against the Indians who played in their bare feet, and I can assure you that to the Indians this was no disadvantage as they could kick just as far and hard as any of us. The Indians are very fast on their feet, especially on a dry ground, and their ball control at times was amazing. In front of goal though, they were hopeless, and although they are used to the heat, their stamina was never equal to ours.

A game that stands out in my mind was when we played the Italian Army eleven at Bangalore. Their team thought themselves unbeatable as they had hardly been beaten, and included several Internationals. We not only trounced them 5-1 but gave them a football lesson at the same time. Our scorers were Lancelotte, three; Duncan, two. As you can imagine, this win highly delighted our soldier spectators. The scores were generally high excepting when we played against other R.A.F. teams, who of course, knew the game and the Indians did not. These experiences cannot be described as “all play” as there was very little pleasure in it, especially when you consider that our tours included India, Burma, Bengal, Assam, Ceylon and the North-West frontier.

Players whose names are household words and with whom Billy McEwan and I had the pleasure of playing included Bernard Harper (Barnsley and England), Nixon (Everton), Delaney, Curtis and Denis Compton (Arsenal and England), O’Boyle (Belfast Celtic), Tom Holley (Leeds and England), Whatley and Ditchburn (Spurs), Ashworth (Blackpool), Wrigglesworth, Pearson (Manchester United), Walker (West Ham), Calvert (Sunderland), Lancelotte (Charlton), Langton (Blackburn Rovers), Milne (Celtic), Tommy Walker (Hearts), Eric Keen (Derby County), Fairhurst (Newcastle). Roy John (Swansea), Ralph Birkett (Newcastle), Morris (Manchester United), Burbanks (Sunderland), McShane (Blackburn Rovers), Lee (Leicester City), Hayward (Blackpool), Edmunds (Swindon Town), Keddie (Hamilton), Gall (Aberdeen), Middleton and Duncan (Hearts), Jones (Tranmere Rovers), Follon (Dundee), Livingstone (Birmingham) and Finch (Preston North End).

Our own Billy McEwan was the star of many a game, and was a favourite wherever we played. We certainly were glad to be back at Loftus Road again, and are able to play a normal game, under normal conditions and to be 100% fit. India is not an ideal place to play the game of soccer, believe me.’

Steve Russell

7 thoughts on “Ivor Powell’s Wartime Account Of Football In India

  1. It had to happen eventually! Ivor was the first Rs international for a great many years post WW2 – possibly even the first since Evelyn Lintott in 1908. A remarkable career. One for the interview list Steve?!

  2. My father Ernest Plackett was WOII in REME seconded to IEME at Delhi HQ in 1944. He was an artist and I have a copy of the pice he drew for ‘contact’ late that year. It lists all British Players, their matches with scores, for the International Soccer Teams All India Tour 1944. It is signed at the foot by Auchinleck CinC, Wavell Viceroy, Commanders of the 14th Army, 404 Army, 35 corps and so on. Teams include 16 English and 16 Scottish well-known players incl. Denis Compton of Arsenal. Is this the tour that is mentioned above? Is anyone interested in this piece of history and can tell me more about it? Please. ‘.JPG’ copy sent to anyone who contacts me.

  3. Thanks for your comment Tony Plackett. Sorry I cant answer your query.

    Your Fathers piece certainly had some famous names of the British High Command sign his work!!

  4. Spent a lot of my youth watching Ivor and Bill play
    at LR, and led us to 2nd Div. Promotion.

    Denis Compton also brilliant cricketer in front of Bill
    Edrich, my summer youth at Lords.

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