Dr Tosh Warwick

Manchester Metropolitan University | Heritage Unlocked

07591093136 | t.warwick@mmu.ac.uk

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On September 1914 Boro fans departed Ayresome Park content following the Boro’s 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. A month later, the men who had stood on the terraces at Ayresome Park were heading off to the continent for a conflict that would be ‘over by Christmas’.

The outbreak of the First World War had a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people across the globe and Middlesbrough was no different. Books such as Robertson’s Middlesbrough’s Effort In The Great War, produced in the aftermath of the conflict, chronicle in detail the mobilisation of the town, whilst more recently Menzies’ Middlesbrough: Remembering 1914-1918 marked the centenary of the war and shed light on aspects discussed by Robertson as well as providing insights into the experience of Middlesbrough’s sporting community.

The footballing truce on Christmas Day between British and German soldiers dominates discussions of the beautiful game in the context of the First World War. A delve into Boro's archives, and specifically the minute books of the club during the war years – some extracts of which are reproduced here for the first time – reveal a different perspective on the war.

From shots at goal to preparing to shoot the enemy

MFC's Minute Book No.4 is particularly revealing of the ways in which the everyday operations of a professional football club combined with the extraordinary circumstances of the First World War. The records provide an insight into the concerns of the directors, the balancing act of organising matches alongside preparations for war and the ways in which the Boro mobilised as part of the town’s efforts to support the various casualties, charitable appeals and crises brought about by conflict on the continent. The war brought about notable changes in the management’s interactions with, and roles within, the wider community.

In June 1914 as the club prepared for the new season the Ayresome Park directors rejected Middlesbrough Rifle Association’s application for financial support. By August, the club had granted permission for the workingmen of the Middlesbrough Rifle Club to use the range at Ayresome Park. In September arrangements were made for the Rifle Club to use the ground on Sundays and other convenient days for the ‘purpose of military drilling, shooting etc.’, with access extended as conditions in Europe deteriorated. By the end of September, Middlesbrough players had been trained in the use of the Lee Enfield Rifle under the instruction of Inspector Seymour.

Orders from the Football Association

Support for the war was advocated, and often dictated, by the Football Association. The meeting of the directors at Ayresome Park on August 17 1914 reported the receipt of a letter from the Football Association declaring:

I am instructed to inform you that consent is given for the August Practice Matches being played ON and AFTER the 15th instant, upon the condition that the Gross Receipts of the Matches are paid to the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund.

The following week Boro’s secretary read a letter from the FA confirming that future practice match receipts could now be given to the Prince of Wales Fund, local funds or charities. A couple of days later a friendly was arranged with Hartlepools United in aid of the War Fund, with receipts divided between the two towns. The war however, had a detrimental impact on some fundraising efforts locally, with the ongoing conflict seeing the Medical Charities cancel a proposed fireworks display at Ayresome in September 1914. 

By October, the Boro were supporting the town’s wider efforts to support the Belgian Relief Fund by allowing a collection and sale of Belgian flags on October 17th at the 1-1 draw Tees Tyne derby against Newcastle United, whilst the club also announced a donation to the fund at the Allied Sportsmen’s meeting. Beyond Boro matches, Ayresome Park was also used for charitable efforts of various causes, including the O’Mara Opera Company using the ground for a charity match. 

The Middlesbrough Ambulance in the great crisis

As recorded in Menzies’ book, the efforts of Boro chairman Phil Bach and former chairman Alf Mattison on the Western Front manning the Middlesbrough Ambulance are detailed in the club’s minutes. They record donations for soldiers’ clothing and the directors’ proposing that:

The heartiest appreciation be extended to Mr Phil Bach, Chairman, and to Alderman Alf Mattison, an ex-chairman of this club, on the honourable duty they have undertaken in giving their assistance to the Red Cross Section of the Allied Forces on the Continent. We instruct our Secretary to convey to them our heartfelt wishes for their safe return from their labours in this great crisis.

Recruitment and a sign of changing times

As well as assisting fundraising, the Middlesbrough directors supported calls from the FA and War Office ‘desiring clubs to do all they can to help recruiting etc.’. The club agreed to ‘give every facility and assistance to recruiting at our matches and also to any speakers who may care to attend’. Special provision was made for soldiers attending matches at Ayresome Park and by November 1914 the club were in receipt of recruiting posters issued by the FA to member clubs.

Despite the clear changes that occurred following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, it would be misleading to suggest war conditions meant all normality had disappeared. The minutes still record the day-to-day operations of the club including reports on players, finances, injuries, transfers and even dealing with disciplinary issues in the Boro dressing room including bad language! Yet, the final note in the club’s minute book for 1914 was a sign of more notable changes to come:

Secretary intimated his desire to join Teesside Battalion of Kitchener’s Army and after discussion it was decided to offer him, provided he joined, one half salary and the situation to be kept open for him on his return.

Tom McIntosh would ultimately return to Teesside to manage the Boro before enjoying trophy success with Everton. However, many associated with the club would not be so fortunate…