Leisure in 1916: Sport

 

The sports column of a hundred years ago has a familiar look to it. Football and rugby are the standard winter fare and most of the club names we know today are present in 1916.

With the suspension for war in 1915 of the Football League, clubs were free to make their own playing arrangements and the London Combination is typical of the temporary regional leagues of the time. Match statistics of this period do not count towards official records; teams often fielded guest players or failed even to muster a full starting eleven, while home advantage conferred nothing more than a choice of ground to play on.

From a local perspective, there is the obvious absence of Charlton Athletic, the club having chosen in 1915 to temporarily dissolve itself. The Arsenal, retaining the definite article until 1919 and going by the nickname of the ‘Reds’[1], were in their third season away from Plumstead; and Millwall were in just their seventh season south of the River.

As the examples in the cuttings show, controversy raged (or perhaps just murmured) then as now on the field, but it was off it where emotions ran highest. Many argued that all those fit enough to play top-flight football ought to be at the Front; the Government, however, saw recruiting possibilities where large groups of competitive young men gathered. In fact, just over half of those playing in the London Combination at this time were ‘in khaki’ and footballers had their fair share of killed, wounded or missing in action[2]. The Government also held that sport kept up working-class morale and, as with fish and chips during food rationing, it escaped serious restriction for this reason.

[1] The exact shade of red of the players’ ‘jerseys’ is the subject of some dispute. The view has grown up in recent years – perhaps fuelled by Arsenal’s distinctive ‘redcurrant’ strip to mark the club’s final season at Highbury in 2006 – that it was plum, as apparently shown in contemporary colour tint photographs. However, amateur Arsenal historians Mark Andrews and Andrew Kelly now argue that such a dark shade owes more to photographic paint than any firm historical evidence, and that the actual colour was always a bright red or the more enigmatic ‘mulberry’. One thing is certain: the iconic white sleeves did not appear until the early 1930’s as an innovation of then manager, Herbert Chapman.
[2] Clapton – now Leyton – Orient provide an interesting example. In 1914, the entire playing staff enlisted en masse into the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, commonly known as ‘the Footballers’ Battalion’. Three of the club’s players were killed at the Somme: one, Company Sergeant Major Richard McFadden, earned the Military Medal for “bravery in the field”, thus cementing his pre-war hero status gained by having rescued a drowning boy in the River Lea and twice rescuing people from burning buildings.

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Articles shown include:

Association Football, London Combination Notes. Kentish Mercury, 29 September 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes. Kentish Mercury, 6 October 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 20 October 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 17 November 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 24 November 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 1 December 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 15 December 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 22 December 1916, p.2

 

Blog Written By: James

Blog Maintained By: Megan

 

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