Sunderland's footballing role in the First World War featured in new book

It’s the national game and millions love it – but how many of you knew about its role in the First World War?

Saturday, 19th March 2022, 4:55 am

A new book, written by an author with links to the region, studies how the game on the Home Front had a huge impact and Sunderland, as well as other parts of the North East, was right at the forefront of it all.

The book, called Football’s Great War, was written by Alexander Jackson and published this month at £20.

The 384-page publication looks at issues such as how amateur footballers across Durham and Northumberland responded en masse for the war effort and volunteered for military service, according to the minute books of the Durham FA and the Northumberland FA.

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The new book which examines football and its role in the First World War.

Meanwhile, fans of Newcastle United and Sunderland found their favourite club out of action during the war years so they turned to smaller clubs in the region for entertainment.

The North East also became known as the most popular area for women’s wartime football in England.

The book also tells how Sunderland released two young players – who had volunteered in 1915 and served on the Western Front – and yet overcame this rejection to win FA Cups, League titles and international caps.

There are many more local links and the book also looks at how the game filled an important gap in wartime sport and civilian life.

Servicemen were an important and vocal part of the wartime crowd. Photo: Nicholas Turner.

Football’s Great War explores how the game experienced, reacted to and was shaped by the first great national crisis to profoundly affect it. The very structure and fabric of the game were challenged with fundamental questions asked about its place and value in society.

In 1915, the FA banned the payment of players, reopening a decades-old dispute between the game's early amateur values and its modern links to the world of capital and lucrative entertainment.

Wartime football forced supporters to consider whether the game should continue, and if so, in what form? Using an array of previously unused sources and images, this book explores how players, administrators and fans grappled with these questions as daily life was continually reshaped by the demands of total war.

The book is published by Pen and Sword and Dr Jackson, although born in Sheffield, has inherited the family allegiance to Newcastle United.

The emergence of wartime women’s football in the autumn of 1916. Photo: The National Football Museum.

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Many women’s teams were connected to munitions factories. Skirts and other adaptations of regulation kit were not uncommon. Photo: The National Football Museum.

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Clubs who rejected competitive tournaments found themselves attacked for not helping the war effort. The Aston Villa figure sports a moustache like the Kaiser’s. (Alexander Jackson)
The front cover of the book.