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When the Whistle Blows by Andrew Riddoch & John Kemp

Release date: 11th July, 2009
Publisher: Haynes Publishing

List Price: £18.99
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When The Whistle Blows:
The Story of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War
Andrew Riddoch & John Kemp
Haynes Publishing

Sports Book of the Month .com price: £13.99, saving 30% on rrp

In a week when English cricket supporters delighted in achieving a rare Lord's victory over Australia, many references were made to the last man to lead England to an Ashes Test victory at cricket's HQ. Hedley Verity, who finished with 15 for 104 in the second Ashes Test of 1934, successfully captained England, though few present as the Aussies lost by an innings would have believed it would take 75 years before England beat the baggy greens again.

Hedley became a captain in the Green Howards, but did not survive the Second World War. He was hit in the chest as he led an attack in Sicily and died of his wounds as a prisoner-of-war. His death puts cricketing success into context.

Almost thirty years prior to Verity's untimely death, the 17th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment was established specifically for high-profile footballers of the day to join the fight against Imperial Germany. When the regiment was raised in December 1914, Athletic News reported that "Every man can help in keeping the Teutonic team as far away as possible from our goal area. Forwards are required as well as backs."

According to this fascinatingly detailed book, around thirty professional footballers enlisted at the battalion's first meeting in Fulham Town Hall. Eventually, they were joined by players with connections to more than 70 present-day clubs and the battalion's strength was boosted by amateurs, referees and supporters keen to serve alongside their football heroes.

At several points throughout this thought-provoking text, the reader is invariably left wondering what would happen today if the fit and able men of the Premier League were called upon to serve Queen and CountryÖ

Back in 1914 however, the call to arms was not met with a gung-ho enthusiastic response across the football sector. When war broke out, the Football League was allowed to complete the season that was already under way and the FA Cup, the preliminary rounds of which had already been played, was permitted to continue.

This arrangement was not universally well received and several commentators questioned the patriotism of football administrators who had ensured the season continued as though the nation was not at war, and of the footballers who continued to play.

The turning point came in November 1914 when The Times published a letter from AH Pollard, who wrote: "Every club that employs a professional football player is bribing a much-needed recruit away from enlistment and every spectator who pays his gate money is contributing so much towards a German victory."

It was in direct response to questions regarding footballers' patriotic duty that William Joynson-Hicks MP made it his duty to raise a battalion of soldiers from the game.

Almost as soon as they arrived in France in November 1915, the battalion suffered casualties, though over the next three years, they did manage to carve out time for some football and not surprisingly, finished the war with an impressive playing record. As with Verity's victory over Australia in 1934 however, their on-field success was as nothing compared to the sacrifice these brave men were to make

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