STARK memories of the First World War were stirred by an event in Manchester to commemorate professional football players who died in one of the deadliest conflicts of all time.
The Club and Country project was run at the Etihad Stadium in partnership with the national Football Museum in Manchester, and the Woodlands Trust.
The event was curated by students of UFCB, a higher education institution which offers executive education in the football business. Students from schools and colleges in Salford were invited to attend the event to learn more about the history of Football in World War I.
Phil Stant, a former professional footballer, whose career spanned over two decades including a spell at Bury, was a guest speaker at the event. Stant, scored 193 goals in 500 appearances as a striker and served in the Falklands War before becoming a professional football player, he said: “I made my debut playing for Reading when I was stationed at Aldershot. I definitely changed after that.
“You have to grow up very quickly. When I left the army and become a professional football player. I had this focus, and a lot young soldiers nowadays don’t have something to focus on – but mine was football.
“I certainly look at things differently, I work for the football league now and it’s a crisis if they run out of paper clips. There’s one fundamental difference between being a professional footballer and being in the services.
“As a professional footballer, you’re very selfish. We had a saying in the dressing room, which was ‘don’t let yourself down’, but in the army the saying is I don’t want to let my mates down or my team down.”
The For Club and Country project – a living and digital platform – has the backing of former England football legend Sir Trevor Brooking.
The Woodlands Trust is raising money to plant trees at the charity’s First World War Centenary Wood in memory of those who lost their lives. Whilst the museum has prepared an exhibit with memorabilia from the Great War.
The event was aptly hosted in the festive period, as we approach Christmas, the date of the Christmas truce – where British and German soldiers played football together on Christmas Day.
Another guest speakers at the event included Leicester City FC’s club historian, John Hutchinson, he went through a brief history of the players who had served in the Great War, added: ” I think events like this are important. I think you can learn an awful lot from history.
“If you have an awareness of history, it gives you an extra texture of your life, you are aware of how the past has informed the future.
“It’s quite humbling really to consider the life of footballers a hundred years ago, which was tough, and then they went to war, which is also tough – in the privileged state we live in, I think it’s good for us.”
Daniel Routt, the fundraising manager from the National Football Museum, believes it is vitally important to remember the people who served, he added: “We wouldn’t have the freedoms would do today, if it wasn’t for the brave men and women in the First World War and Second World War.
“I think the story of football in the First World War is just incredible really. Until you actually unearth and read things about it, you don’t realise how big and important it was. Not only for keeping up morale, but a kicking a ball over the trench to walk to your death basically.”
One of the artefacts on display was the Victoria Cross awarded to Donald Simpson Bell who was playing football for Bradford Park Avenue. Loaned to the National Football Museum by the PFA, Simpson Bell who crossed ‘No Mans Land to destroy an enemy machine gun position is the only professional football player to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Donations for the Club and Country project run by the Woodlands Group and National Football Museum can be made here.