Football During the WW2 Years.

Last year, my summer reading consisted of an interesting book by Jack Rollin called, ‘Soccer at War’ which is a complete account of football in Britain during WW2. Although the angle is football, it also draws an interesting picture of everyday life during the war years..

When Germany attacked Poland on 1st September 1939, the football season had barely started and the games went ahead as scheduled on Saturday 2nd September, after which the league season was abandoned after only three games into the season. Young men, and football players were no exception, were called into service and the FA announced that as no games would be played for the time being and hence the clubs would not generate any gate money, all salary payments to professional players should stop. In other words, all professional players suddenly found themselves unemployed.

The clubs protested to no avail and some tried to arrange friendlies to keep going. The very first wartime game was in fact at Loftus Road, a behind closed doors match with QPR vs. an Army X1 on 9th September, which Rangers won by 10-0. The identity of the Army players was never revealed due to “security reasons”. Several clubs were forced to discontinue for various reasons. For example, Aston Villa had their ground taken over by the Army and thus were unable to continue until 1942. Ipswich were not able to resume competing until 1945. Many others suffered damage to their grounds during bombings.

After the initial stop, the FA decided to organise some sort of league system on a regional basis and on 21st October 1939, QPR played the first game in what was called the League South B. The league consisted of five teams from the London area plus Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Brighton and Reading. In the end QPR were declared champions, two points ahead of second placed Bournemouth. Our only other success during hostilities was winning the League Cup South group stage in 1943, but QPR lost the final against Arsenal 1-4 in front of 54,000 spectators.

Early on, there were capacity limitations on how many were allowed into the Stands and this, combined with the severity of the situation, lead to a dramatic drop in gate figures. Some people argued that football should have been banned altogether considering the country was at war. This never got enough support and soon the government realised that staging football matches was good for morale and served the purpose of trying to keep life as normal as possible under the difficult circumstances. Gradually these attendance limitations were lifted, especially after the daytime bombings had stopped.

As the clubs were deprived of several regular players, some had difficulties in fielding a competitive side for the games and in an effort to solve the problem, the FA agreed that teams could loan players from other teams when needed. Thus it became customary for teams to try and lure footballers to play for them if they knew that so and so was stationed nearby. The system of using ‘guest players’ was also used frequently by QPR and likewise many QPR players guested for other teams. One player who quite frequently guested for a number of different teams was Billy McEwan. Between 1940 and 1944, he was a guest at no fewer than seven clubs including Birmingham and Blackpool. Ivor Powell made 34 appearances for Blackpool between 1940 and 1943 and even made one appearance for Manchester City. The highest number of guest appearances for any single team during a season was by Arthur Jefferson who made 19 guest appearances for Wrexham during 1944/45. He also played 15 times for them in 1943/44. Our Manager to be, Alec Stock, guested for Bristol City, Crystal Palace, and Clapton Orient. Naturally, it was not uncommon for our players to frequently guest for other London teams like Brentford, Fulham, Chelsea and Millwall as well, but nobody from QPR played for Arsenal, Tottenham or West Ham.

Another player frequently appearing as a guest was Albert Bonass who was something of a ju-jitsu expert. Between 1940 and 1945, he guested for Fulham, Aldershot, Brentford, Watford, Luton, Southampton and York. Unfortunately, Albert was killed in August 1945 when the Stirling bomber he was commissioned to, crashed on a training flight. To the best of my knowledge, he was the only wartime casualty who was on QPR’s books at the time of his death.

Charlie Clark, who had played six league games for QPR from 1936 TO 1938, but was with Luton at the time of his death in March 1943, was another casualty with ties to QPR. The only other known casualty with QPR ties was Alan Fowler, who played a few times as a guest for QPR in 1940/41 and 1943/44, but was actually a Swindon player (Swindon did not compete between 1940-45). Alan lost his life in August 1944. A few others were captured, most notably goalkeeper Reg Allen who was a bren-gun expert and took part in several landings from submarines. He was initially captured in North Africa in 1942 and spent several years in various prison camps, firstly in Italy and, having escaped by jumping off a train and recaptured, the tail end of his imprisonment was in Austria. Reg didn’t return home until 1945. Many teams lost several players as casualties of war so I guess that QPR were one of the more lucky ones.

Other notable and honorary mentions of QPR players in service include the following:Alec Stock, with the rank of captain, commanded a tank crew in Caen, France and received shrapnel wounds in his back, but was soon playing again. Ernie Shepherd, the Fulham winger and later at QPR from 1950 to 1956, was in the RAF and he was in Malta during the prolonged day and night raids there. Danny Boxshall won the Military Medal (awarded to personnel below commissioned rank for bravery in battle on land) when in charge of a bren-gun crew. Albert Smith received the BEM (the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service, usually known as the British Empire Medal – awarded for acts of bravery) in Italy.

It was not uncommon that teams were short of players as kick-off approached and there were several instances where they had to announce if anybody from the crowd fancied a game. There are stories of young men taking their football boots with them every time they went to a game in case there was a call for help ! Getting referees to games was sometimes just as difficult as fielding a full strength side. There’s even a story of a Cup game being abandoned due to the fact that the ref had to leave early to report back to the barracks on time. Due to travel restrictions and petrol rationing, no replays were allowed and as the game was still tied 1-1, the tie was awarded to the other team on the basis of their higher position in the league table !

In another instance, a game was suddenly stopped as a German bomber appeared in the sky and everybody rushed to the shelter except for the ref who was an air gunner and he sprang to his anti-aircraft gun near-by, to shoot at the plane in his referee outfit plus his helmet ! In general, the sound of air raid sirens was the most common cause for games being abandoned or at least stopped until the all-clear was sounded.

Despite the difficult circumstances, QPR were able to compete all through the war years. As the war in Europe ended in May 1945, there was not enough time to return to normal league football, so the 1945/46 season was still a transitional season and normality resumed in August 1946. In the final provisional season of 1945/46, QPR managed to win both the Division 3 South (North Region) and the Division 3 South (North) Cup – sounds very clear, doesn’t it ?

Lastly, one can also mention the visit of Dynamo Moscow in November 1945. They played several friendlies in Britain, including a game against Arsenal. The Arsenal keeper, Griffiths, was kicked in the head and staggered around until half time when he had to be replaced. A call went around the ground for another goalkeeper and QPR’s Harry Brown arrived in the dressing room just before Sam Bartram of Charlton. On a different note, the Russians jettisoned the half time tea provided for them and had vodka instead !

In conclusion, the total number of guest appearances by QPR players season by season was as follows:

1. 1939/40 – 15 different QPR players made a total of 73 appearances and scored 10 goals
2. 1940/41 – 7 players made 16 guest appearances, scoring 2 goals
3. 1941/42 – 8 players made 35 guest appearances, scoring 2 goals
4. 1942/43 – 12 players made 60 guest appearances, scoring 3 goals
5. 1943/44 – 8 players made 26 guest appearances and scored 4 goals
6. 1944/45 – 8 players made 30 appearances, but no goals were scored.
7. 1945/46 – 3 players made 18 guest appearances and scored 11 goals including 5 by Alec Stock for Clapton Orient

In total, 26 different QPR players made 258 appearances and scored 32 goals as guests for other teams between 1939 and 1946.

The book is excellent reading for anybody interested in wartime football and it is highly recommended. I purchased a copy through and got it mailed to me.

Kenneth Westerberg

(The legendary Reg Allen is pictured above)

14 thoughts on “Football During the WW2 Years.

  1. Fascinating stuff, Kenneth, I’ve never read any of that in the QPR history books. Thanks for putting it up.

  2. ‘In another instance, a game was suddenly stopped as a German bomber appeared in the sky and everybody rushed to the shelter except for the ref who was an air gunner and he sprang to his anti-aircraft gun near-by, to shoot at the plane in his referee outfit plus his helmet !’

    Absolutely brilliant. What a picture that would make! Thanks.

  3. Would commment on Indyrs of which I am a member but have been locked out and
    cannot get back in.

    I saw many of these matches,have autographs, saw Swinfell before he was killed, Reg Allen was always huge in goal even after serving as a P,O,W, Harry Brown, Arthur Jefferson Alf Ridyard. Ted Reay, Danny boxshall, did not see the ref and the Ack ack gun (probably target was the bridge)?!. The planes we were hit with were Junkers 88
    or Fokke-Wolf, which we often dodged on High St. Harlesden, as they were going at wilesden Junction station. Met Reg on a 662 Trolley, he liked to shop.

    So if anyone can help me get back on Indyrs I would appreciate it,


  4. Great bit of history there.

    You wonder how on earth football carried on in those circumstances!

    I did see Harry Brown(keeper) play at LR…but he was in goal for Plymouth in a Div 3 south match against us in early 1957. R’s won 1-0

  5. I saw many of these guys play and well remember poor Reg Allen a great goalie -he dropped a ‘howler ‘ on his first return match – I understand he went to Man, U.
    Harry Brown was great too and I also saw many of the others . Good stuff -standing in the mud on what is now the Sth Africa Rd side. Bill Doran

  6. Good write up Kenneth. Another book that would interest you if you don’t have it already is “Gas Masks for Goal Posts: Football in Britain During the Second World War” by Anton Rippon. One of my father’s first matches after he returned home after 3.5 years as a POW working on the Burma Railway was the Chelsea v Moscow Dynamo game. The official attendance was 80,000 but he reckoned there were over 100,000 there and, judging by the photos I have seen of people on the roof of the stands and around the touchline, I suspect he was right. His first Rangers game was the FA Cup 1st round game away at Barnet – the only season where FA Cup ties were all two legged home and away games.

    A fantastic story was told on BBC tv last year during the 70th anniversary of the Blitz about Billy Birrell (Chelsea’s Scottish Manager and ex Rs). Just after an early bombing raid in 1940, with a match due to be played the next day, an unexploded bomb was found on the terrace at Stamford Bridge. The Bomb Disposal unit were called. They told the club they had hundreds of other bombs to deal with and Chelsea were not a priority. Birrell went out and defused it!

    Let’s hope the book on Reg Allen by Vic Gibbons gets a publication – should be a great read

  7. Martin..Yes that Gas Masks for goalposts is a good read…Essex UR’s aka Colin Woodley gave Steve Russell and myself a Copy last year.

    QPR FC feature on a number of pages.

  8. Bernard: Yes Colin kindly sent me a copy of that excellent book. I’m going to feature parts of it from time to time with some of the war time programmes from my collection.

  9. Might as well get in on the act! Fascinating period and the Gas Masks paperback is a great read.
    Particularly funny was the way teams managed to undertake travel to matches which was a non-essential act with petrol shortage. I will not spoil the subject as Steve will probably tell all!

  10. Thanks for the positive comments.
    I did get a copy of Anton Rippons book as well after I read Rollins’ book. Equally recommendable, although one has to be aware that some of the contents is overlapping so having read one of them you get into a “I already read that in the other book” feeling. This is no critisism of either book, just a statement. Rollin has more statistics, like complete appearance details of every team, Rippon is more narrative.
    Both books are highly recommendable if you are interested in reading about WW2 football or want to bring back memories of players from those years.

  11. Awesome article on an excellent Goalkeeper. Thank you very much Kenneth.

    I have been looking forward to reading Vic’s book when it comes out. He’s spent a lot of time researching as well as drawing from his own memories. I believe Vic’s first games in attendance were in the 1946 season.

    Perhaps Vic would like to correct my information and or update us on the books progress? I sincerely hope so. I know I want to buy a copy!

  12. My great, great uncle is mentioned here! Ted Reay was the brother of my grandfather. It’s great to see him mentioned.

    Thank you for allowing me to see this!

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