A Century Ago

BILL THE BIRO on the First World War and Pools

Last night, along with thousands of people all round the country, I went to the candle-lit event at my local war memorial to commemorate the start of the First World War.

One speaker mentioned that the war had affected every family and every part of British life, and football was no exception. So for anyone who didn't already know, here's a potted history of how the war affected Pools.

Surprisingly, given that the declaration of war coincided with the start of the football season, the football authorities decided to go ahead with the 1914-1915 season, a decision that was not universally well-received. However, when you consider that the popular view was that "it would be over by Christmas", perhaps it was more understandable. Nevertheless there was apprehension that the season may possibly have to end early.

"with many footballers having joined up, and many troops not yet demobilised, clubs found difficulty in raising teams"So Pools found themselves, under their first manager, Fred Priest, starting a new season at the Victoria Ground with gates of around 2000. They were playing in the Northern League, along with South Shields, Hull, Darlington and Carlisle, and, the reserve sides of First Division teams Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough (so perhaps Greg Dyke's B-teams proposal is only history repeating itself!)

The season did continue to its end, but with reality hitting home and many of its target audience going off to war, gates soon halved, and most clubs were struggling to survive. Eventually Pools finished seventh in the 20-team league, but the normal football leagues were then suspended for the duration of the war. The Victoria Ground was then taken over by the military.

1916 saw the main grandstand destroyed by a bomb dropped from a German Zeppelin airship (which was then shot down over Hartlepool Bay by a military plane based at Seaton Carew). With the war ending in November 1918, football started again with a short season of a special Northern Victory League, before normality returned with the 1919-1920 season. I say normality, but with many footballers having joined up, and many troops not yet demobilised, clubs found difficulty in raising teams. Pools were no exception in fielding whatever players they could get, often ones who were still in the military, but billeted locally.

The military were still occupying the Vic, and so Pools had to play their first three home games at an amateur team's ground in Caledonian Road, West Hartlepool, but the club was able to acquire a transportable sectional grandstand which was subsequently relocated to the Vic (where it remained for a further 66 years).

So for Pools the disruption of war finally ended when they played their first match back at the Vic on October 25th 1919. And within two years they had become a Football League club.