The Football League War Cup was an association football tournament held between 1939 and 1945 which aimed to fill the gaping hole left in English Football by the cancellation of the FA Cup.
Throughout the latter 1930s it was becoming inevitable that a second World War with Germany was coming. On 3 September 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland, Neville Chamberlain announced war on Nazi Germany.
On 14 September 1939, the government announced football games would continue but not under the divisions that the game traditionally held season to season. The Football League survived 18 League matches before it was abandoned. After a fifty mile travelling limit was established, the football association divided the football league into separate regional leagues with reduced attendance numbers. In the interests of public safety, the number of spectators allowed to attend these games was limited to 8,000. These arrangements were later revised, and clubs were allowed gates of 15,000 from tickets purchased on the day of the game through the turnstiles.
Football stadiums during this time were used as military bases. Many footballers during this time left their careers to join the Territorial Army. The lack of numbers in squads saw clubs inviting Guest Players to play. Between September 1939 and the end of the war, 783 footballers joined in the war effort. 91 men joined from Wolverhampton Wanderers, 76 from Liverpool, 65 from Huddersfield Town, 63 from Leicester City, 62 from Charlton, 55 from Preston North End, 52 from Burnley, 50 from Sheffield Wednesday, 44 from Chelsea, and 41 each from Brentford and Southampton, Sunderland and West Ham United.
Each season saw the divisions switched around from region to region. The first season of the Wartime League 1939-40 season, saw ten divisions established, two in the north of England, one in the West Midlands, one in the East Midlands, one in the South West and two in London, which were both played in two sections. The FA Cup was suspended. To substitute for its absence, the Football League War Cup was established.
By May 1940 the Phoney War ended as Hitler ordered his troops to invade Britain and France Fears of Britain's safeties from bombings were increasing, but over 40,000 fans braved the warnings and turned out at Wembley Stadium to see West Ham United lift the Football League War Cup over Blackburn Rovers. On 19 September 1940, soon after the beginning of the Blitz, the Football Association relaxed their ban on Sunday football to provide recreation for war workers.
For the following 2 seasons, the leagues were reduced in numbers to just 3, containing a Northern Regional League, Southern Regional League, and a London League. The London War Cup was introduced.
From 1942-1945 the leagues were continued as 3, now established as League North, League South, League West, and now a League North Cup as oppose to London. The Football League War Cup continued on in these years.
In May 1945, Germany surrendered following the suicide of Adolf Hitler. The Wartime League's structure continued for one more season from 1945-1946. This season however marked the retirement of the Football League War Cup and the return of The FA Cup with a new structure; seeing home and away leg ties for the first time in its history with results being decided on aggregate goals, extra-time and penalty shoot-outs as opposed to several replay matches. The league was then returned to four divisions, Football League North and Football League South and Division 3 return to a north/south split.
The Wartime League produced very few memorable moments for fans of clubs who managed to play. The lack of availability for footballers to participate wore down the league's performance. Despite guest players being introduced, many teams still struggled to produce a full squad and resigned many matches. League table points were often added up by goal difference or appearances as oppose to match results.
Career debutsCentre Forward Jackie Milburn made his career debut in the Wartime Football League for Newcastle United FC in 1943, scoring a total of 38 goals in the next 3 years of the league's life, going on to become a goal-scoring legend for both club and country thereafter.
Welsh winger George Edwards made his professional debut for Birmingham City FC in the Wartime League 1944-45 football season, winning the Football League South championship and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup in the League's final season.
Wartime League HighlightsA Southern Group division in 1939 consisted of Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham, Millwall, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United.
The Blitz was still taking place when the 1941 Football League War Cup Final took place at Wembley on 31 May. Preston North End and Arsenal drew 1-1 in front of a 60,000 crowd. Preston won the replay at Blackburn, 2-1. Robert Beattie got both of Preston's goals.
Wolves won the Football League War Cup in 1942 beating Sunderland 4-1. The team featured a player named Eric Robinson, who was to be killed during a military training exercise soon afterwards.
In the 1940-1941 season Preston North End needed to win their last game against Liverpool to win the North Regional League title. The nineteen year old Andrew McLaren scored all six goals in the 6-1 victory.
The prospect of large gatherings of crowds during the 2nd World War proves to be an incredibly high controversy to this day. During the first season of The Football Wartime League, Britain had not experienced any bombings or military attack by Germany or its allies. Whilst public attendance was reduced, fears of Britain's safety were moderate. However, despite the Phoney War ending and attacks on Britain and France beginning, the games continued and increases in attendance and match fixtures were introduced during the blitz. The government stood by its decision and claimed these games were recreation for war workers.
Many war workers and guest players who played these games however supported the wartime league, claiming it allowed them an outlet from the war.
Player statisticsTotal records of goals and appearances during the Wartime League have been ignored in respective career and league statistics, allowing players post-World War II to go higher than some of them in goal-scoring and appearance rankings.
Many critics do not acknowledge the wartime league as counting for career goals and appearances. The original invention of the Wartime Football League stated that the matches were to be regarded as friendlies. Friendly matches to this day are not included in record terms for any team or player. Despite leagues being established in this time, the amount of Guest players, one-off appearances, resignations of teams from fixtures leading to adding up goal difference and appearances to go up the table, leads to many seeing these records as inaccurate, unfair, or unnecessary. Majority of fan-based arguments debate that a player who exceeds one's record through their wartime matches should nonetheless be seen as the club's highest goal scorer or appearance having been part of the team's squad even if only for a short time.
The most recent argument relates to the goal-difference between Jackie Milburn's and Alan Shearer's Newcastle United goal-scoring records. When counting Jackie's wartime matches, he scored a total of 238 professional goals for Newcastle United FC. In May 2005, Alan Shearer finished his career at 206 goals. He has since been defined as the club's highest ever goal scorer. The wartime league's exclusion from Jackie's United record sees him taken down to 200 goals. It has been debated among the Newcastle United fans that Shearer should be quoted as 2nd to Milburn in this respect. NUFC.com acknowledges Milburn's war record of an additional 38 goals, but his family have publicly supported Shearer's status and have not debated his achievement.
As You Read The Match Reports Below You Will See That Watching Football During The Blitz Was Pretty Dangerous But The Crowds in London Showed Their Blitz Spirit and Turned Out in Their Thousands!
Meanwhile in Germany......
The 1939-40 season started in August 1939, but with the outbreak of the Second World War shortly after, league football was suspended. It only resumed at the end of October, with a number of local city-championships having been played to bridge the gap. As the war progressed, top-division football became more regionalised. It also expanded into occupied territories, some of them annexed into Greater Germany, increasing the number of tier-one Gauligas considerably from the original 16 in 1933. The last German championship was played in 1944 and won by Dresdner SC, but the last official league game was played as late as 23 April 1945, being the FC Bayern Munich versus TSV 1860 Munich derby in the Gauliga Oberbayern, ending 3-2. The final years of league football saw the rise of military teams, like LSV Hamburg, who reached the 1944 German championship final, since most top-players were drafted into the German armed forces and ended up playing for these sides. Representative teams like the Rote Jäger also had a number of German internationals playing for them.
With the end of the war, ethnic German football clubs in the parts of Germany that were awarded to Poland and the Soviet Union disappeared. Clubs like VfB Königsberg and Vorwärts-Rasensport Gleiwitz, who had successfully competed in the German championship on quite a number of occasions disappeared for good. In Czechoslovakia, where the ethnic German minority in the Sudetenland was forced to leave the country, clubs experienced the same fate. A few, like BSK Neugablonz, where reformed by these refugees in West Germany.
Some of the events of the war continue to affect German football today. Within the first couple of weeks of the re-development of the Mercedes-Benz Arena in 2009, home of the VfB Stuttgart, 18 undetonated bombs left over from air raids on Stuttgart during the Second World War were found on the construction site. The stadium was originally built, like so many others in Germany, on rubble left over from the war.
Photos and NewsReels
The King Meets Chelsea's 1945 War Cup Final Team
Actual NewsReel Footage of This Event Click Here
1945 Cup Final Programme
Chelsea v Millwall
Millwall Final Lapel Badge
NewsReel of a Post War Final But really Gives the Sense of Atmosphere in Wembley Click Here
Football League War Cup Honours and Match Reports
|Final.||West Ham United||1–0||Blackburn Rovers||Wembley, 8th of June, 1940. |
|Final.||Preston North End||1–1||Arsenal||Wembley, 10th of May 1941. |
|Andrew McLaren||Denis Compton|
|Replay.||Preston North End||2–1||Arsenal||Ewood Park 31st of May 1941 |
|Robert Beattie||Report||Frank Gallimore (OG)|
Preston North End beat Bury, Bolton, Tranmere Rovers (12-1), Manchester City and Newcastle (2-0) to reach the final. Andrew McLaren had scored nine goals during the tournament, including five goals in Preston's 12-1 win over Tranmere. Thanks to a late equaliser from Arsenal's Compton in the game at Wembley, this was the first final of the tournament to go to a replay.
The replay was moved away from London to Ewood Park. The win for Preston meant that they had completed the first wartime league and cup double, having also won the Northern Regional League.
|Final, first leg||Sunderland||2–2||Wolverhampton Wanderers||Roker Park, Sunderland |
Attendance: 34,776 Saturday 23rd of May 19421
|Carter 54' |
|Westcott 11', 87'|
|Final, second leg||Wolverhampton Wanderers||4–1||Sunderland||Molineux, Wolverhampton |
Attendance: 43,038 Saturday 30th of May 1942
Rowley 59', 70'
Eric Robinson of Wolves was to die soon after his team won the tournament, during a military exercise.
|North Final, first leg.||Blackpool||2–2||Sheffield Wednesday||Bloomfield Road 1st of May 1943 |
|Second leg.||Sheffield Wednesday||1–2||Blackpool||Hillsborough Stadium 8th of May 1943 |
|South final||Arsenal||7–1||Charlton Athletic||Wembley |
Attendance: 75,000 1st of May 1943
|Final||Arsenal||2–4||Blackpool||Stamford Bridge |
Attendance: 55,195 15th of May 1943
The overall final marked the second time Arsenal had got to the final. They would end up being the club who had reached the most Football League War Cup finals, yet did not win once. The final was also notable because both clubs had won their respective wartime divisions.
|North final, first leg.||Blackpool||2–1||Aston Villa||Bloomfield Road |
|Second leg.||Aston Villa||4–2||Blackpool||Villa Park |
|South final.||Charlton Athletic||3–1||Chelsea||Wembley |
|Final.||Charlton Athletic||1–1||Aston Villa||Stamford Bridge |
Attendance: 38,540 Saturday 20th of May 1944
|North final first leg||Bolton Wanderers||1–0||Manchester United||Burnden Park |
|Second leg||Manchester United||2–2||Bolton Wanderers||Maine Road |
|South Final||Chelsea||2–0||Millwall||Wembley |
|Final||Chelsea||1–2||Bolton Wanderers||Stamford Bridge|
Attendance: 35,000 2nd of June 1945