WWI footballers remembered

Donald Bell, the first professional  English footballer to enlist into the British Army and the only one to be awarded the Victoria Cross. EMN-161007-210736001
Donald Bell, the first professional English footballer to enlist into the British Army and the only one to be awarded the Victoria Cross. EMN-161007-210736001

Some of the more unlikely heroes of the First World War were the footballers of the time, who bravely joined up and went off to war.

As they left the hallowed turf of professional football pitches for the trenches of the front line in the First World War, football was changed forever.

Almost every team in the league today sent players to the front between 1914 and 1918 and many never returned. Those that did were never the same again.

Spearheaded by Sir Trevor Brooking, the National Football Museum and the Woodland Trust are launching a project to remember and commemorate these players.

Every team and supporter in the English football league is being offered the chance to dedicate trees in team groves at the Woodland Trust’s First World War centenary wood at Langley Vale in Epsom.

Everyone who does will be remembered in a roll of honour and each team will have a plaque at its grove at the site.

One player being remembered is Bradford Park Avenue player Donald Bell, who was the first professional English footballer to enlist into the British Army – and the only one to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

He was rapidly promoted to Lance Corporal and then was commissioned into the 9th Battalion, The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment) in 1915.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 5 July 1916 at Horseshoe Trench, Somme, France. He was killed in action on 10 July 1916.

England and West Ham legend, Sir Trevor Brooking, CBE said: “The Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum’s For Club and Country project is the perfect way to commemorate football’s important role in the First World War.

“By planting groves of trees for every club whose players bravely fought for their country we are creating something beautiful and long lasting for future generations.

“Every football fan needs to get involved and make sure their club is remembered in the football groves at Langley Vale Wood.

“If you love football as much as I do, please get your team represented and see your own name listed on the supporters’ roll of honour. Thank you.”

The project will create a lasting living legacy but also a digital legacy, with everyone who has donated or been involved appearing in a digital ‘Roll of honour’.

Dr Kevin Moore, Director of the National Football Museum, said: “The partnership between the National Football Museum and the Woodland Trust will give football supporters across the country the opportunity to learn more about their own club’s First World War history, plant trees in commemoration and by doing so be part of the supporter’s roll of honour.

“We feel passionately that football’s involvement in the First World War is remembered by today’s generation.”

People who want to get involved or find out more about the project can visit www.forclubandcountry.org.uk