Mike Foster (Director of Football, Premier League), Andy Williamson (Chief Operating Officer, The Football League) and Greg Dyke (Chairman, The FA) at the Footballers' Battalions Memorial in Longueval in the Somme. Image courtesy of The Football League

English football chiefs visit France to remember the dead of the First World War

Posted on centenarynews.com on 01 April 2014
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Senior representatives of English football have visited Northern France to pay tribute to the players, officials and fans who fought and died in the First World War.

The Football League brought together those involved in the game for a tour of battlefields and cemeteries holding special significance for football.

The group laid a wreath at the Footballers' Battalions memorial on the Somme and honoured Donald Bell, taking the player's Victoria Cross to his graveside for the first time.

Second Lieutenant Bell, who played for Bradford Park Avenue, was awarded the VC for destroying an enemy machine gun post while under heavy fire during the opening days of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. Within a week, he was killed in action. 

                 

 Donald Bell's Victoria Cross, bought by the Professional Footballers' Association at auction in 2010, at his grave on the Somme

The Football League's Chairman, Greg Clarke said: "The aim of the trip has been to raise our collective understanding, as a game, of the sacrifices made by those connected to football during the Great War."

"It is important to ensure that their efforts are never forgotten and I hope that others who love our game will also visit these very special places during the forthcoming centenary period.

The League's guests included the Chairman of the Football Association, Greg Dyke; Premier League Director of Football, Mike Foster; Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers' Association; Richard Bevan, Chief Executive of the League Managers Association; and Major General Malcolm Wood of the Army FA.

The party visited many of the sites associated with the Footballers' Battalions, units formed of players, referees, officials and fans in 1914 and 1915. The 17th and 23rd Middlesex saw action in some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Among those who served was Walter Tull, the Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town player who became the first black officer in the British Army. He was killed in action in France in 1918.

The FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, took part in laying a wreath made of poppies in the colours of the 92 league clubs at the memorial to the Footballers' Battalions in the village of Longueval. 

Paying tribute to those who'd made the ultimate sacrifice, he said: "I still find it shocking that hundreds upon hundreds of people were being killed regularly. Thousands died on the first day of the Somme. It is very hard to believe in this day and age."

The Football League organised the visit to France as the opening event in the English game's commemoration of the First World War. Further initiatives will be announced later in 2014.

Source: The Football League

Date of news release: 23rd March 2014

Images courtesy of The Football League

Posted by Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News