Modern Non-League History
1945-49 Post War Football in the Forties
Football is Welcomed back after the War
As competitive football spread across the country, would the strong pre-war clubs still be a power in the new football world? Would new clubs spring up throughout the non-league competitions? Would the amateur leagues be as powerful as they were in the traditional pre-war football world?
Football Pools Coupons had opened up a new world for me as a seven year old living in Whitchurch, a little village outside Tavistock in Devon. Dad loved working out systems and permutations in the hope of finding eight draws and winning a fortune.
I loved the names of the clubs on his coupons who conjured up a mystical world in which Queens Park Rangers and Preston North End were a bit special and there were plenty of Rovers, Rangers, Citys and Uniteds scattered throughout the fixtures. W.H.U. and W.B.A. were also mystical letters with Hartlepools United and Halifax Town two more favourites.
When my father had the chance of a new job in Birmingham, I was certainly excited by all the magical football names in the Midlands. Aston Villa and BIrmingham City were definitely nearby and was W.B.A. a midland club? And how far away were the wonderful Wanderers of Wolverhampton and where was Walsall?
I obviously knew little about the state of non-league football, but it’s interesting to see the names featured in the 1946-1947 League Tables. The Isthmian and Athenian Leagues were respected as the senior competitions. Both contained some of the big name clubs in Amateur Football and The England Amateur team was usually selected from them, despite the constant reminders from Northern League giants Bishop Auckland and Crook Town in The FA Amateur Cup. It’s interesting to see which leagues and clubs have survived since those early post war days.
Non-League Football was settling down again with a number of new clubs formed and a fresh enthusiasm for the game throughout the country, as competitive football took the pressure off the desperate worries and legacies of wartime.
It soon became apparent that all over the country, new clubs and some new regional leagues were enjoying the return of competitive football. Enthusiasm was plentiful on and off the field, so clubs all over the country welcomed potential players, officials and supporters.
WOULD IT HAPPEN TODAY?
Children were expected to attend school whatever the weather - snow or the midlands smog (a mixture of fog and industrial midlands smoke from the factories) may have prevented the buses from running, but didn’t give children the excuse for missing a day at school. What a fuss the terrifying Mr Rigby (my headmaster) made when boys used the elements as an excuse for absence!
Parents seemed to be happy to allow children of ten years old upwards to use public transport on their own, and many would go to football matches with friends but not necessarily adults. We were at least two bus journeys away from all the big football grounds but as it took me an hour and two buses to get to school, the football grounds didn’t appear to be a problem. The majority of boys in the area would also be happy to kick a ball around on the village pitch all day. There was very little else to do and certainly no technology to attract us.
Football crowds, the majority of whom stood on packed terraces, always ensured the youngsters could see and sometimes the lads would be passed over the heads of the crowd down to the front - just a little bit scary!
Publications & Articles
With the wartime depression lifted and the excitement of competitive football available to everyone, it was not surprising that football publications were even covering the amateur game. The state of the game can be imagined through the editorials in these publications. The Football Association published its annual Yearbook which was considered the most authentic record of the national winter game at International, Professional and Senior Amateur levels. Many of our Representative and FA Cup statistics have been gleaned from the excellent FA Year Books. Some national newspapers also produced football yearbooks with The News Chronicle leading the way and the publishing house 'Playfair’ were building a fine reputation for sports annuals.
An excellent annual was published by ‘The Newservice’ a sports agency which featured a special ‘Amateur Football Year Book‘ including a message from Stanley Rous, a very well respected real ‘football man’ who was Secretary of the FA at the time. The editorial written by David Williams (Daily Herald) was also impressive in an excellent publication.
Interesting to note that the pools and betting fraternity also had their own little pocked publication - The Racing & Football Outlook’s Annual for just 3d and weekly publications included ’All Football’, a newspaper at 2d which did incorporate Greyhound Outlook & Sports Pictures’, The Sporting Mirror (Soccer Edition) which included a good balance of features, statistics and photos for 6d and the well established ‘Sport’ magazine (also 6d) was a sixteen page magazine that covered all sports including all round football coverage.
THE FA CUP
The return of the football fans favourite competition, The FA Challenge Cup was welcomed in 1945 and immediately the media were looking for surprise results and goalscoring heroes helping their clubs to giant killing feats. We have highlighted some of those cup
runs that brought such excitement to the loyal fans of those little clubs
Competitive Football had been organized throughout The Second World War with regional leagues and The League War Cup was contested by the majority of League clubs, most of whom fielded players who were living,or posted in the services, near to their home ground.
In the 1945-1946 season, The FA Cup returned and was contested on a two legged basis up to the Sixth Round, before Charlton Athletic beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Villa Park and Derby County beat Birmingham City 4-0 at Maine Road after a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough. The Cup Final was won 4-2 by Derby County in front of 98,215 at Wembley.
It was difficult for a non-league club to beat a League club over two legs, but Newport from the Isle of Wight, a member of the Hampshire league, celebrated a 3-2 victory over Clapton Orient who were in the Third Division South at the time. Incidentally five members of the southern half of The Third Division lost to non-league clubs in the first two seasons after the war.
Colchester United were in the Southern League so their cup results did no harm at all to their ambitions for The Football League. To claim three scalps in one season was outstanding and to include one Second and One First Division club showed real quality.
For Colchester United and Yeovil Town, both from The Southern League, to reach the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in consecutive seasons was certainly a bit special and just look at the contribution of their ace marksmen, both of whom scored seven goals in six cup ties!
Gillingham and Scunthorpe United also enjoyed the cup headlines and they, along with Colchester, were elected to The Football League in 1950. While Yeovil Town were to develop into one the most famous FA Cup giant killers in the history of the famous competition, with their defeat of First Division Sunderland really putting the little Somerset club on the map, as the Teeside club appeared to be the country’s big spenders and, of course, they had the famous entertainer Len Shackleton.
FA AMATEUR CUP
THE RETURN of THE AMATEUR CUP
Non-league football certainly benefitted from a tremendous surge of enthusiasm and The F.A.Amateur Cup competition had returned in 1945-1946 when Barnet beat Bishop Auckland 3-2 in the Final watched by 53,832 at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. The Bishops’ had won the last competition played before the war and had beaten fellow Northern League members Willington at Roker Park with an attendance of 25,064. From 1949, the Cup Final was played at Wembley Stadium giving The Amateurs an exciting and well supported climax to the season.
In the 1948-49 campaign The FA Amateur Cup Final was played at Wembley for the first time when Bromley beat Romford 1-0 in front of 93,000. The following season I can remember visiting a friend to watch Willington beat Bishop Auckland 4-0 in a ‘North East derby’ final, televised for the first time, but still attracting a superb 88,000 attendance.
The FA Amateur Cup competition returned in 1945-1946 after the Second world war and immediately the traditional amateur football North v South rivalry became obvious. Barnet (Athenian League) beating Bishop Auckland (Northern League) 3-2 in a thrilling final played at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
In the five Cup Finals in the ‘forties’ the Home Counties produced three winners and two came all the way down from the North East to win the cup. The Cup finals were always played in London, but in 1949 after Leytonstone triumphs at Highbury and Stamford Bridge, the Final was the first to be held at Wembley and was suitably contested by Bromley and Romford, two ‘local’ clubs!
Leytonstone’s successes were not surprising as every member of their squad had earned Representative honours, with five full Amateur Internationals. In 1948 The Essex club also won The London Senior Cup, The Essex Senior Cup and The Isthmian Championship.
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