Barrow AFC – the previous seasons
As they prepared for the 1914/15 season Barrow AFC had good reason to think their future in the top division of the Lancaster Combination would be a bright one.
The 1912/13 season saw the club reach the first round proper of the FA cup for the first time. They played Bradford Park Avenue in Bradford and a draw entitled them to a replay at home. However the club accepted a considerable financial incentive of £650 for the replay to be played in Bradford. As total gate receipts for the 1912/13 season were reputed to be £2725 and club’s wages bill exceeded £1000 for the first time, this was a very considerable inducement by the Yorkshire team. Barrow lost the match, 1 - 0.
The cup run was followed in 1913/14 with a successful season in the Lancashire Combination First Division. Barrow finished second to champions Tranmere Rovers – a team whom they had ‘done the double over’ that season.
However the bright future was note to be. Several players left the club during the summer of 1914 with more leaving during the first part of the season. There were no summer wages at this time and so the club had no hold on their players. Unfortunately such departures frequently meant no transfer fees either.
Following the outbreak of war in August 1914 both Rugby Union and Cricket cancelled their official seasons. This led to much comment in both the local and national press as to whether the football season should continue given the deteriorating situation on the content.
The Football Association were widely criticised for permitting the English cup competition to run its course. The Dean of Lincoln, in a letter to the Times, wrote disparagingly of ‘onlookers who, while so many of their fellow men are giving themselves in their country’s peril, still go gazing at football’ .
The comparison to Rugby was unfair. Professional footballers at this time tended to be working class men with little social opportunity or peer pressure to be army reservists. In contrast rugby union players were amateurs and given their backgrounds more likely to be army reservists. Links between the sport and the army were close and Rugby Union had long been the game of choice for the establishment.
Most footballers had a contract for one season which they would have signed prior to the outbreak of war and they could only join the Armed Forces if the clubs agreed to cancel their contracts. In addition the prevailing sentiment at this time was that of ‘it will all be over by Christmas’, and so it was understandable that they were not among the first to enlist.
On 30 November 1914 the News reprinted a poem describing the football kit as being ‘garments of shame’. The poem was by E Phillips Oppenheimer , a successful novelist of the time, and had first been published in the Daily Express, a major national newspaper of the time.
On 1 December 1914 the FA announced that the season was to continue and the League agreed that no good purpose would be served by stopping the game. An ‘observer’ commented in the News on 5 December 1914 reflecting that football should of course cease if it was interfering with recruitment or national propaganda. However it seemed clear to him that, particularly in Barrow, where ‘thousands of men…are doing equally patriotic and essential service at home in the making of the wherewithal to carry on the war …..there can be no harm if they choose to witness a game of football.’
However it should be noted that as 1915 dawned many footballers did enlist, often several from one team would join the same regiment and many were lost.
For more information on football and the first world war:
Pendleton, David: Beginning of the Fall, Glorious 1911
Fortunes of Barrow AFC
Following the departure of some many players Barrow struggled in the early part of the 1914 season. Many of those players who remained worked at Vickers and in other factories in reserved occupations and so were working long hours. Their lack of fitness and finesse was attributed by the local press to insufficient training due to work and clearly this took its toll on results. Furthermore the lack of success on the field was followed by a severe financial crisis. Supporters were also working long hours or enlisting and the gates fell dramatically - often less than £20 was taken at a match which would not even pay the wages bill for the week. The observer from the 5th December article supporting the continuation of football , was very conscious of this and felt that the cancellation of the season may well relieve anxiety for the club officials.
Barrow finished the season just 5th from the bottom of the division and in July 1915 the Football Association suspended all league football for the rest of the war.
References and for more information on Barrow AFC:
The News, Saturday 5 December 1914, Should Football Continue
Michael Gardner. The Definitive Barrow AFC
Darren Gardner Barrow AFC – the match
Darren Gardner, Phillip Yelland, T McWilliams: Barrow AFC – the first 100years