Il battaglione dei calciatori

Andrew Riddoch, John Kemp
When the whistle blows.
The story of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War 
Sparkford, Haynes Publications, 2008

With a campaign underway for a memorial to recognise the sacrifices of the two Footballers' Battalions who fought in the Great War, the history of one of those Battalions - the 17th Middlesex - is issued in paperback. Published to acclaim in 2008, When the Whistle Blows tells the moving story of how a band of footballers more used to fighting their cause on a pitch, won and lost on the battlefields of the First World War. 

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, a heated debate took place about the continuation of professional football during a national crisis. In response to claims that footballers were not 'doing their bit', William Joynson-Hicks MP raised the 'Footballers' Battalion' in December 1914 with 35 professional players enlisting on the spot. It was not long before the 17th Middlesex became a who's who of the professional game, with the Battalion's numbers being bolstered by amateur players, officials and football fans eager to serve alongside their favourite players. 

Based on extensive original research, Andrew Riddoch and John Kemp draw on many previously unpublished letters, personal accounts and photographs to paint a vivid portrait of this legendary British Army battalion. These men may have come to war belatedly but their subsequent courage in some of the fiercest battles of the Great War - including the Somme, Arras and Cambrai - where many lost their lives, is recorded in this fascinating book. 

The Battalion included players with connections to over 70 current Football League clubs, with many stars of the day joining the ranks like Frank Buckley, Walter Tull and Joe Mercer. Some managed to survive the war, though injuries prevented them from playing again at the highest level. Others did return to football, either as players, like Fred Keenor, who led an unfancied Cardiff City side to FA Cup glory in 1927, or found other roles such as the legendary Wolves manager, Frank Buckley. 

But it was not all about the war. Football was encouraged during breaks from the fighting and numerous army teams would line up against the 17th Middlesex team in the hope of causing an upset. When The Whistle Blows is a fascinating and unusual book about the Great War, the authors show how this remarkable battalion helped shape football, as well as military history. 

Recensione: Harry Pearson ("When Saturday Comes", 2009)