Soccer and Society: South Wales, 1900-1939

By Martin Johnes | Go to book overview

II
THE PROFESSIONAL GAME, 1914–1939

It is unimaginable that people could look on at a game of football and
forgot themselves in the ecstasy of a winning goal at the moment when
their comrades, maybe brothers, are making gallant and stupendous efforts
at the front, even sacrificing their lives for the life of the nation.

Letter to South Wales Daily News, 3 September 1914

In August 1914 war broke out in Europe, driving Britain into a patriotic frenzy.1 Within days, all rugby matches in England and Wales were suspended to help the nation to concentrate on the push for victory. There was no similar official suspension in junior soccer but, with so many players joining up, many competitions were abandoned anyway. By December 1914 1,217 players affiliated to the SWMFA had enlisted and nearly a hundred clubs had disbanded. At the end of the season, there were just seventy affiliated clubs still active, 325 fewer than the previous year.2 The press looked to professional soccer’s authorities to follow rugby’s moral lead but, fearing financial losses and expecting it all to be over by Christmas, the FA and Football League decided to play on. The FAW followed this lead, with its president claiming that to interfere with football would be nothing short of ‘panic legislation’. He argued that soccer fulfilled a large place in the organized life of the nation and that its discontinuation would only produce undesirable results.3 Although many professional players had already enlisted, and some of the smaller professional teams disbanded, those clubs that did play on faced a battle of their own.4

The government and the War Office may have supported the continuation of professional soccer, but elements of the public

1 For an account of Wales and the first World War. see Angela Gaffney, Aftermath: Remembering the Great War in Wales (Cardiff, 1998), ch. 1.

2SWDN, 4 December 1914; SWMFA Annual Reports, 1914–15.

3SWDN, 20 August 1914.

4 For example, seven Cardiff City players enlisted immediately, and Risca District FC! disbanded in 1914. ‘Citizen’, A Short History of Cardiff City (Cardiff, 1952 edn). p. 2; PRO. BT31/20119/116760.

-50-

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