24th August 1949. Return of the Red Devils.

In World War II travel for teams in the Football League was restricted to 50 miles with fixtures arranged into seven zones.

Bomb damage

Bomb damage at Old Trafford, Manchester, 1941.

Better days

Better days, pre-war.

Today in 1949 Manchester United played at Old Trafford for the first time in 10 years, after being bombed-out in the war.

A crowd of 41,748 saw United beat Bolton Wanderers 3-0.

It was in March 1941 when German bombers looking for the Ford Factory making Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and Vickers Munitions Works, that the ground, with its Archibald Leith designed Stand, was badly damaged.(1)

At the beginning of World War II, football had been hit by the same closures as theatre and cinemas. The Football Association then announced at the end of September that regional leagues would be set up with matches only on Saturdays and public holidays.


Crowd scene pre-war: how they packed them in.

Crowd numbers were restricted to 8,000 or 15,000 for grounds with a capacity of 60,000. There was no promotion or relegation and no FA Cup for the ‘duration’, leaving Portsmouth, the 1939 winners, to retain the cup.

Attendances were low; on December 23rd one of the larger crowds of just 5,000, saw Leeds beat Middlesbrough 3-1 in the North-Eastern League.

On Christmas Day 1940 just fourteen clubs played Home and Away fixtures, one game in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

The clubs to introduce this novelty were Watford and Luton inspired by the need to make up for the serious financial loss on the season.

Among those who played twice were stars Tommy Lawton and Len Shackleton; unusual in that they each played for two different teams that day: Lawton for Everton and Tranmere and Shackleton for Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City.

Brighton and Hove Albion could only muster five players for their away match against Norwich, so their team was supplemented by Norwich Reserves and even some supporters. Norwich won 18-0.

By Christmas Day 1941 attendances were up and a local derby saw Manchester Utd and Manchester City draw 2-2.

The match was unusual in that both teams were playing at ‘Home’ as United’s ground had been bombed in March, and City had allowed them to play at Maine Road, which would continue until 1949.

One game involving Bristol City playing at Southampton, saw them travel in three cars owing to transport difficulties. Two of the cars arrived late so the match kicked off after an hour’s delay with Bristol’s two players supplemented by five Southampton players, the Southampton trainer and three spectators.

By Boxing Day 1942, over 300,000 watched the opening Football War Cup qualifying matches paying of 1s 3d (old money) to get in.

As in many activities in the war, with football, it was ‘get by as best you can for the duration’. Many like Stan Matthews and Matt Busby became PT Instructors, and returned safely, sadly many didn’t.

After six years of regionalized football, the League resumed on 2nd September 1946, with total attendances near a million, representing some kind of football golden-age, certainly an exciting time for the Author.

(1) Bombed on 11th March 1941.

Pic of bomb-damage/ontd-football.liveforum.com.

Pic of general stadium view/ pinterest .com.

Pic. of crush in stadium/history of Man Utd/1910-30/ manutd.com.

Ref: dailytelegraph.uk/article/ 7.2.2008.Robert Philip.

Ref: the guardian.com/sport. Memories of blitz bombers and a damaging time for sport. Frank Keating, Wednesday 10th November, 2010.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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