BY Vince Cooper

IT is often written that football stopped during World War Two and while it’s true that ‘official matches’  like the Football League and FA Cup were put on hold during the conflict, the game itself carried on at various levels with the government deciding that the continuation of the country’s national sport would prove good for morale.

Many regional leagues and competitions took place and a number of internationals took place but the War Cup was the major trophy, and although none of the matches were classed as ‘official’ they brought some great encounters, as well as superb crowds providing much-needed revenue for the government in the form of entertainment tax and for various charities.

One of the main differences between the War Cup and the FA Cup was that during the conflict, entry was mostly limited to Football League clubs and those who found travel possible.


The first final took place on Saturday 6 June after the competition had been condensed into a seven-week period with the early rounds played over two legs.

The semis, which had taken place just a week earlier, saw Blackburn overcome Newcastle and West Ham stave off a late Fulham comeback.

At Ewood Park, Blackburn knocked out Newcastle by a single goal with Albert Clarke proving the hero.

Albert ‘Nobby’ Clarke

Albert ‘Nobby’ Clarke, a Yorkshireman, began his career with Frickley and is said to have walked, along with teammate Marvin Millington, the 300 miles to Torquay in 1934 to take part in a trial.

Both were successful and Clarke was soon appearing for the first team with his form earning a transfer to Birmingham in 1936 for whom he scored a hat-trick on his reserve team debut in a Central League match against Manchester City.

In 1938 Clarke was on the move again this time joining Blackburn Rovers and proving a key figure in his new club’s 2nd Division title win.

After the war broke out Clarke returned to Torquay where his wife Marjorie’s family was from,  joined the Devonshire Regiment, guested for United and also travelled north to play for Blackburn in Cup matches.

Albert Clarke

In early June 1944, Albert’s regiment was deployed in France as part of the Normandy landings, and he was killed in action on 16 June aged just 27. He is buried at Ranville Cemetery (above) near Caen along with 2,150 other Britons and a total of 2,560 soldiers.

The West Ham v Fulham clash took place at Stamford Bridge with kick-off pushed back to 6:40 to allow war workers to attend. There was a decent crowd of 32,799 present and they saw a thriller.

‘A shot like a bijou catapult’

The Hammers took the lead after just 12 minutes and kept adding. They scored four unanswered goals including one from Len Goulden that was described by former star and now journalist C.B. Fry as; “A shot like a bijou catapult”.

Just when it looked all over Fulham came roaring back, scoring three times but the East Londoners managed to hold on to win a match after which Fry said: “Even in the severest times, football played all out by fine young men is a tonic and an encouragement”.

So Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United contested the final, played at Wembley, which was another evening kick-off. A crowd of just over 43,000 were there, some way short of the 50,000 limit set by police.

The match was a tough encounter with chances few and far between but the goal that won it provided a touch of class. A move that started with the Hammers defending a corner ended with Sam Small cracking home a rebound after Rovers keeper James Barron had parried a shot from George Foreman.

So it was West Ham who claimed the cup and went on the customary lap of honour (below)

West Ham with the trophy

Along with Albert Clarke a second Rovers player from the final lost his life during the conflict when Frank Chivers died in a pit tragedy,


One early round result in 1940-41 showed the somewhat ad-hoc nature of the competition. Grimsby faced Barnsley but two legs plus extra-time failed to separate the pair. With no time to organise and play a replay it was hastily decided that Barnsley would qualify for the next round by virtue of their better league position

By the time of the semi-finals the Tykes were gone from the competition and Preston North End met Newcastle United in one last-four clash whilst the other paired Arsenal with Leicester City.

Shanks on the mark

After a 2-0 home leg win where Bill Shankly scored both goals from the penalty spot, Preston travelled to St James’s Park for the second leg and managed a goalless draw to make it to Wembley.

In the other semi Arsenal overcame Leicester 2-1 at Filbert Street in the second match after a single goal victory in the first encounter at White Hart Lane. Jack Crayston scored in the first match and, along with Leslie Compton, netted when the teams met again.

The Wembley final attracted a 60,000 crowd, the maximum gathering allowed by the authorities at the time. Preston and their fans were disappointed that the match wasn’t played nearer their home which would have seen more of their fans attending or that it couldn’t be played over two legs like all the previous rounds. Having won one of their previous round matches 20-2 on aggregate over Tranmere, North End obviously liked the two-legged format!

In the end it was played twice. The match at Wembley ended all square with Leslie Compton spurning an excellent early chance when he saw his penalty saved by Jack Fairbrother. Soon after it was Preston who took the lead as Andy McLaren took a pass from Tom Finney and fired home.

Before half-time the Londoners were level, Denis Compton netting after good work by Cliff Bastin to save his brother’s blushes from earlier in the match. The second half saw Arsenal have the better chances but unable to convert them so a replay was needed.

The second match took place at Blackburn’s Ewood Park with 45,000, another full house, in attendance.

Chances came and went at both ends in a first-half that finished goalless. Four minutes after the interval a shot from Bob Beattie seemed to find Gunners ‘keeper George Marks unsighted and nestled in the net before the custodian had a chance to move.

The match drifted for a while but two goals inside a minute brought it back to life. A free-kick from Bernard Joy was put into his own net by Frank Gallimore to level the score but straight from the kick-off Preston attacked and Beattie got his and Preston’s second to send the trophy to Lancashire (below).

Preston North End


The 1941-42 competition was only competed for by Midland and Northern clubs due to travel restrictions with those in the South busy competing in the London Cup. The early rounds were starting to show the effects of the war effort with Blackpool for instance, eliminated when they couldn’t raise a team for their intended 3rd Round match at Manchester City.

In the matches that were played first as group stages and then over two legs when it reached the knockout stage, there were some thrillers. Sunderland seemed to put themselves in a difficult situation when losing their 3rd Round 1st leg tie 2-1 at home to Bradford but they stormed back to win the 2nd leg 6-4 and come through 7-6 on aggregate. Meanwhile the 1st leg of the Manchester United – Wolves tie saw United win 5-4. The second leg resulted in a 1-0 win for Wolves which sent the tie into extra-time. There, the Molineux men scored the only goal to qualify for the last eight.

The semi-finals saw Sunderland facing Grimsby Town, trying to make amends for the previous seasons unlucky exit, whilst Wolves were given a local derby with West Bromwich Albion.

The first legs didn’t go according to script. West Brom, who had put out hot favourites Everton at the last-eight stage were fancied to beat Wolves but suffered a 4-0 home loss in front of 40,000 fans whilst Sunderland were held to a goalless draw by Grimsby.

Wolves confirmed their superiority in the second leg, winning 3-0 for a 7-0 aggregate success while Sunderland were behind, led, were pegged back and eventually managed a 3-2 win thanks to a Cliff Whitelum goal in an exciting match at Blundell Park to edge past Grimsby whose goals came from guest players Peter Doherty (Manchester City) and Albert Nightingale (Sheffield United).

The Mayor of Preston made the ‘draw’ for the final, which was simply to decide who would play at home first in the two-legged final and Roker Park hosted the opener.

Goal for the Sergeant Pepper man, but Wolves prevail

Both teams had two ‘guests’ in their ranks for the final with Newcastle United’s Albert Stubbins – later to go on to earn a place in history as the only footballer to appear on the cover of The Beatles ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – perhaps the most notable.

A crowd of 35,000 saw Wolves take a somewhat lucky lead when an attempted clearance by goalkeeper Albert Heywood was charged down by Dennis Westcott who followed up to score.

It remained 1-0 to the visitors until half-time but Sunderland fought back strongly in the second period with Raich Carter and Stubbins both netting to give them the lead. However they missed out on the chance of taking an advantage to Molineux when Westcott grabbed his second five minutes from time to leave the teams all square.

The return attracted 43,030 fans to Molineux and they saw Wolves take a first-half lead when Westcott struck again.

The second period saw Wolves double their advantage when guesting Aston Villa winger Frank Broome scored. Carter pulled one back but a brace from another guest, former Wolves trainee Jack Rowley saw the Midland team home 6-3 on aggregate.

The Brentford players meet the First Lord of the Admitslty

Gunner Smith fires home

On the same day there were 72,000 at Wembley, including First Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander, to watch Brentford’s skipperJoe James take the London War Cup  with a 2-0 win over Portsmouth with both goals coming from Leslie Smith, given time-off from his role as a rear gunner in the R.A.F to take part.

Brentford skipper Joe James with the cup

Wolves and Brentford met at Stamford Bridge in early June for the ‘Cup Winners Cup’ but the two couldn’t be separated.

After a goalless first half Jimmy Mullen fired Wolves ahead but Arsenal man Ernie Collett – guesting for Brentford – equalised soon after and with the match played in blazing heat and both teams exhausted it was decided not to play extra-time so the trophy was shared.

Eric Robinson

Playing for Wolves throughout their cup run was promising right-half Eric Robinson. Tragically, the Stamford Bridge match would prove to be his final appearance.

Eric Robinson

The 23-year-old had already enlisted in the Army and was serving in the East Lancashire Regiment. On September 1942 Robinson drowned whilst taking part in military exercises in the River Derwent.


For the ‘42-‘43 tournament there were still differences between the two competitions with the North going for two-legged matches whilst the South started with groups and finished with a one-off Wembley final.

With more players now serving abroad and undertaking the more serious business of winning the war there was an increase in guest players and this produced plenty of lop-sided results none more than North holders Wolves’ 10-5 aggregate defeat to Aston Villa.

Seasiders turnaround

In the North’s 2nd Round Blackpool looked in trouble when losing 3-1 at Liverpool and seemed to be even direr straits when the return was goalless after 75 minutes with many of the 25,000 crowd leaving early confident that the team from Merseyside were through. But five goals in those final 15 minutes produced a tremendous turnaround and it was the Seasiders who progressed with a 6-3 aggregate win.

The last four matchups in the North saw Blackpool paired with Aston Villa whilst Sheffield Wednesday were up against surprise packets York City. The four groups in the South went to Arsenal, featuring ten internationals, who were drawn to meet Queen’s Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge whilst Reading who topped a group including Spurs and Chelsea would play Charlton Athletic at White Hart Lane.

In the Arsenal line-up was goalkeeper George Marks who had ten years with the Highbury men having joined in 1936 but made only two ‘official’ appearances with most of his time spent understudying George Swindin and Alex Wilson. He played for England in eight wartime internationals whilst serving in the R.A.F. and was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £5,000 in 1946.

Shanks a Gunner

The two-legged Northern clashes resulted in wins for Blackpool, 4-3 on aggregate  and Sheffield Wednesday who won their tie 4-2 whilst in the South, Charlton beat Reading 2-1. Arsenal, whose match was delayed a week because the Compton brothers were helping England beat Scotland 4-0, hammered QPR 4-1 in front of 54,000 fans with Bill Shankly among the guests playing for the Gunners.

There were 75,000 at Wembley for the South final and they saw an Arsenal masterclass.

Denis Compton

Reg Lewis scored four times, Ted Drake got two and Denis Compton one with the only Charlton reply coming from the penalty spot. The result sent Gunners skipper George Male up the famous Wembley steps received the trophy from the Duchess of Gloucester.

The first leg of the Northern final took place at Bloomfield Road and finished all square at 2-2. In the second leg Jock Dodds – who served in the R.A.F. driving a tanker lorry during the hostilities – gave Blackpool a first-half lead at Hillsborough in front of a wartime record crowd for the ground of 47,657 and they went on to win 2-1.

The final, which took place at Stamford Bridge, gave both teams the opportunity to complete the ‘double’ as each had won their respective wartime leagues earlier in the season.

As the day of the final dawned it was announced that Arsenal inside-right Ted Drake had decided to spurn the opportunity to play cricket for the Bomber Command team at Lords in order to take part in the big match.

Denis Compton’s goal

‘I thought I would need a cash register to tot up Arsenal’s goals’

Just over 55,000 attended the match and they had barely settled down before finding the all-star Gunners two goals to the good. With five minutes played Reg Lewis fired home a 20 yard shot which, according to one report, ‘did everything but talk’ and two minutes later Denis Compton capped a fine individual run with a shot that doubled the advantage (above). “After seven minutes”, wrote John Ross in the Daily Mirror, “I thought I would need a cash register to tot up Arsenal’s goals”.

Blackpool regrouped and, with Stanley Matthews – still officially a Stoke player but guesting for the Seasiders – starting to weave some magic, worked their way into the game.

‘It might have brought a plane down if the net hadn’t been in the way’ Dix goal sparks Tangerine fightback

Spurs player Ronnie Dix, guesting for the Seasiders pulled it back to 2-1 with a rising shot from 20 yards which, said Ross, “Might have brought a plane down if the net hadn’t been in the way”.

Although they were now on top it wasn’t until the 75th minute that Blackpool equalised when another guest player, Sunderland’s left-winger Eddie Burbanks beat George Marks with a low shot.

Bobby Finan

With Arsenal’s attentions focused on right-winger Matthews, Burbanks on the other flank came into his own in the closing stages and set up goals for Scots Jock Dodds and Bobby Finan to see the Tangerines home 4-2 thereby chalking up another win for the North.


With it now looking only a matter of time until the Allies forced the Axis forces to surrender, crowds at football matches were growing larger. And so were some of the results…

The 1st Round of the 1943-44 Northern competition was something of a goal-fest. Holders Blackpool’s all-star forward line put seven past Everton at home and added three more in the second leg while Liverpool went one better scoring eight times against Oldham Athletic and there was an exciting game at the Victoria Ground with Aston Villa coming through with a 5-4 win over Stoke City.

Blackpool continued to rattle in the goals with an 8-0 home win over Rochdale in the second-round and they also got one in the return to bring their total to 19 in two ties. The second leg of the match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Anfield lasted 118 minutes with the teams playing ‘to a finish’ after ending up all square over the two matches. City eventually got the winner.

The Group stage format was used again in the South with Arsenal failing in their attempt to retain the Cup finishing only 4th in their section which was won by Reading.

The other group winners were Chelsea who were drawn to play the Biscuitmen at White Hart Lane in the semis. Charlton and Spurs, who came through thanks to a 2-0 win over Aldershot in their final match, who would meet at Stamford Bridge.

‘Ten-goal’ Payne gets two for Blues

The Stamford Bridge Southern semi saw Charlton comfortably get the better of Spurs but Chelsea’s match with Reading went to extra-time before the Blues edged home 3-2 with two of their goals coming from former Luton star Joe ‘Ten-Goal’ Payne.

The semi-finals in the North saw holders Blackpool matched with Manchester City whilst Aston Villa who had edged past a Bath City team made up almost exclusively of guests (how did they get in the ‘North’ Cup anyway?) would take on Sheffield United.

At Villa Park in the first leg, 40,000 fans saw Sheffield United lose young centre-forward Dennis Thompson to a broken leg after 25 minutes and fall 3-0 behind at the interval but within the last six minutes the Blades scored twice through Hagan and Collindridge to give themselves hope.

United were without star man Hagan who was playing for England against Scotland in front of 133,000 fans at Hampden Park, for the second leg. They put up a brave fight but a 2-2 draw saw Villa reach the final 5-4 on aggregate.

In the other semi Blackpool took the lead at home to Manchester City through the prolific Jock Dodds but Peter Doherty equalised for the visitors to send the teams to Maine Road all square.

Despite being without Dodds – busy scoring for Scotland against England – Blackpool turned things around in the second leg with a 2-1 win to reach the final for the second year in succession.

Jock Dodds

Jock Dodds strikes again – and again

Dodds was back for the final and scored both goals as Blackpool took a 2-1 lead. There were 55,000 at Villa Park for the second leg and they saw Villa fight back with a 4-2 win to take the cup 5-4 on aggregate.

A record war-time crowd of 85,000 people – including Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D Eisenhower and hundreds of American servicemen were at Wembley for the South final. Gate receipts were £26,000 with £12,000 being collected in Entertainment Tax.

Charlton skipper Don Welsh receives the trophy from General Eisenhower

A Chelsea side featuring no fewer than seven guests went in front when Joe Payne’s shot on goal was handled and he put away the resulting penalty, but within three minutes Charlton were level through Charlie Revell then before the interval two goals in a minute, from skipper Don Welsh and Revell again gave the men from The Valley an unassailable lead.

So it was Welsh who went up to collect the trophy from General Eisenhower who had been given advice on the finer points of the game by Arsenal manager George Allison, sat at his side during the match.

£5 Savings Certificate for the winners

The successful Charlton players each got a £5 Savings Certificate as a reward for their efforts whilst those from Chelsea had to make do with £3 worth of the same certificates.

The Cup Winners match took place two weeks later at Stamford Bridge with 38,500 present. After a goalless first half Villa took the lead through veteran Eric Houghton but Charlton equalised through Charlie Revell and with no further score the match was drawn and – with D-Day just three weeks away – the competition was shared with both teams given a trophy.


With the conflict drawing to a close the ‘44-‘45 competition proved to be the final staging of the War Cup.

The Southern section was again split into four groups. By the time of the last round of matches Arsenal had already qualified for the last four and wins for Millwall and Chelsea enabled them to join the Gunners.

A White Horse

Group Four came down to a final-day winner-takes-all clash between West Ham United and Queen’s Park Rangers and, perhaps inspired by the sighting of a policeman on a white horse outside Upton Park, the Hammers romped to a 5-0 win.

Arsenal and Millwall met at Stamford Bridge in front of a record crowd for War Time football at a club ground of 49,513. Centre-forward Sgt Jimmy Jinks, who had been a part of the force defending Malta earlier in the War gave the Lions an early lead.

In the last 15 minutes Arsenal were awarded two penalties. Guest Stan Mortensen brought a superb save from another guest Sam Bartram with the first and the second was taken by yet another guest, Fred Hall of Blackburn Rovers who sent his effort soaring over the bar so the Lions took a surprise win.

The West Ham – Chelsea clash took place at White Hart Lane and guest players played a prominent role in Chelsea’s 2-1 win with the goals coming from Exeter City’s George Wardle and Bradford City’s Alf Whittingham.

‘Rarely has there been such an atrocious display of football at Wembley’

The Southern final drew a whopping crowd of 90,000 to Wembley and both teams were frantically searching for players in the week leading up to the match, which may have had something to do with Tom Morgan in The People claiming; “Rarely has there been such an atrocious display of football at Wembley”.

King George VI meets the Millwall players

After a dire first half a Chelsea team featuring 8 guest players: “must have spent the break reading the latest book on ‘How to Play Football’ “ according to Morgan and were much improved in the second period scoring twice through Wardle and Bournemouth’s Jack McDonald.

The view from the back at Wembley

Morgan wrote that: “People were streaming out 20 minutes from the end”, so many less than the 90,000 were left when Blues skipper John Harris (wearing Red as both teams wore their change colours) went up to collect the cup from King George VI.

Whilst the South final was played on 8 April, the Northern competition ran considerably later and by this time they were only just starting the 2nd Round

The 1st Round draw had thrown up a Merseyside derby and it was Liverpool who proved successful, Billy Liddell scoring the only goal in both the first and second legs.

When the teams reached the last eight in the North, Liverpool were still there and indeed, were favourites to win the tournament. But they were shocked by Chesterfield, losing 1-0 over the two legs.

Chesterfield were joined in the last four by Manchester United, who they would face next, Wolves and Bolton Wanderers for whom 19-year-old Nat Lofthouse was proving particularly effective in front of goal.

Wally Sidebottom

Lofthouse had signed for Wanderers the day after war broke out when he was just 14. He made his debut a year later and in the early part of the conflict formed a formidable strike-force with Wally Sidebottom, three years his senior with both players tipped for future England honours.

Sidebottom was offered a Physical Training post in Rochdale but turned it down instead, joining the Royal Navy, signing up for the armed forces along with his five brothers.

He was serving on HMS Charybdis in 1943 when it was sunk by a torpedo in the English Channel and tragically lost his life.

In the semis both of the first matches were drawn but in the second legs a reported 32,000 fans at Saltergate saw Chesterfield’s fine run come to an end with a 1-0 loss to Manchester United whilst Bolton edged past Wolves with a 2-1 at Burnden Park.

There were 40,000 at Burnden Park for the first leg of the final and they saw the prolific Lofthouse bundle both ball and goalkeeper Jack  Crompton into the net for the only goal to give Wanderers slender lead to take to Maine Road for the second leg.

58,470 were at Maine Road for the second leg and they witnessed a thriller.

Pre-match ‘entertainment’ included a one-legged man in red-shirt and white shorts hopping around the pitch, apparently to indicate that the home team could beat their rivals on one leg.

Left winger Billy Wrigglesworth struck first for United but Malcolm Barrass pegged them back just before the interval. Bill Bryant restored United’s lead, and levelled things on aggregate but Wanderers peppered the home goal with shots and got their reward with just seconds remaining when Barrass scored again to level the match and give Bolton a 3-2 aggregate win.

The Cup-Winners Cup match took place at Stamford Bridge but home advantage meant little to a Chelsea team that featured seven guests and lost 2-1 to a Wanderers side including none.

The home team scored first, through Fulham’s Ronnie Rooke who was set up by West Ham’s Len Goulden.and they held the advantage until ten minutes from time.

Hamlett gives Wanderers the edge

Lol Hamlett

Former Spurs and Arsenal striker George Hunt, known as ‘The Chesterfield Tough’, equalised soon after returning to the pitch after having a protruding nail removed from his boot. Four minutes later The Trotters were awarded a penalty and centre-half Lol Hamlett stepped up to fire home and give his team the trophy which was followed a few days later by a parade in their home town.

The closing stages of the match provided probably the first incident of hooliganism at Stamford Bridge. Close to the end, over-enthusiastic youngsters came over the wall and started watching the match from directly behind the goals. When the ball went out of play they refused to give it back and after a Bolton player went to collect it they started to fight among themselves.

Bolton’s victory parade

In the 1945-46 season football got halfway back to normal. There was no league competition until the following year but the FA Cup was back with all matches until the semi final played over two legs and with huge crowds at many of the ties. In fact there were too many at Burnden Park for the 6th Round clash between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City where 33 fans tragically lost their lives.

There is no doubt that football had a major impact on morale during the war. The opportunity to go to a match gave football-lovers a chance to forget about the horrors that were happening around the world, at least for 90 minutes.

‘Heavy bombing interfered with our reception’

And it wasn’t just at home that the game had a positive impact. In 1942 Reuters received a telegram from Malta which read: ‘please repeat Saturday’s football results – heavy bombing interfered with our reception’.

There was also a financial boost on the war effort with entertainment taxes collected and many charities also benefitting. The 1945 Cup Winners Cup raised £6,000 for the King George’s Fund for Sailors.

So the fact that none of the results ‘count’ officially should taken nothing away from the importance of football – and all sports – to the good of the nation, both in terms of morale and in more practical terms.

The War Cup matches kept both the game and the country going during difficult times – as well as providing some top-class entertainment and much-needed revenue.