November 11 marks the end of the first Great War in 1918, but two decades later the Second World War brought with it unparalleled loss and misery. At such times, people will cling to any semblance of normality in order to help them through, and football has played its part.
For the duration of the Great War of 1914-1918, competitive football in England was brought to a halt, and the War Office commandeered the FA's official space at 42 Russell Square in London. Middle-class opinion at the time was that working-class sport, such as football, should be called off altogether in the name of patriotism, although they could do little to stop spontaneous outbreaks of fervour.
A metaphorical link between football and war has always existed. Historian Richard Holt maintains in Sport and the British that boys at Marlborough school considered the war to be "a glorified football match", while public schoolmen "with their ideals of service seemed to positively relish the prospect of 'a good game' with Germany". Indeed, while the official eyes viewed the sport as 'faintly immoral' and 'a potential hindrance to the war effort', stories of football breaking in the trenches continued to surface.
Such tales, like that of Captain Nevill of the East Surrey regiment climbing over the top to attack the enemy and kicking a ball towards the German line at the Battle of the Somme, were used, according to historian David Goldblatt in The Ball is Round, as "a journalistic frame of reference that could transmute the insane slaughter on the Western Front into a kickabout".
With the reality of war being fully realised within a year - alongside the ten million dead - the metaphor ceased to resonate quite so freely. Instead, Goldblatt claims, "the enduring memory of football imagery from the war is of the game as a peacemaker", with Christmas 1914 and the short truce that followed resulting in a game in No-Man's Land between opposing forces that showed that sport could briefly transcend hostility. But, after that, football disappeared from the front line until the guns fell silent in 1918.
Just over two decades later, in 1939, the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis brought a second Great War, but both the nature of warfare and the social significance of football had changed. The game had become the leading spectator sport by some distance and governments were keen to harness this power for propaganda in the face of a newer, more terrifying warfare.
With the threat gathering pace, Harry Goslin, the Bolton team captain, spoke to the crowd ahead of a game against Sunderland in April 1939, saying: "We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met, if everybody keeps a cool head, and knows what to do. This is something you can't leave to the other fellow - everybody has a share to do."
Goslin, sadly killed fighting in Italy in 1943, was one of 32 Bolton players to join up and, along with many other footballers, devoted himself to his country's cause.
One the best young prospects in the game, Everton's Tommy Lawton, remembered in his autobiography: "Then came the war and, with it, the end of my career, or so I felt. Surely there couldn't be room for a professional footballer in a world gone crazy? I, of course, being a young, fit man of approaching twenty would go into the services. Meanwhile, in the leisure time I had left I wound up my personal affairs, cursed Hitler and all his rats and occasionally sat down to think of what had been and what might have been."
Germany's invasion of Poland in early September saw war declared and the Football League was brought to a halt after three games. The British Government soon allowed friendly games to be played, but put a cap on the numbers of spectators (8,000) in the interests of public safety.
Andrew Ward and John Williams write in their book Football Nation that "wartime matches were almost all friendlies played on a regional basis - even international matches were unofficial - and there was no relegation or promotion. Players were often servicemen from other clubs who happened to be stationed nearby, and they received thirty shilling (£1.50) a match".
While football was removed from frontline duty, the benefit of having it on the 'Home Front' campaign soon became apparent. Despite a 50-mile limit on travel, matches were arranged with geography as the primary concern; a new competition entitled the Football League War Cup was begun - with 137 games condensed into just nine weeks - and, although Arsenal's Denis Compton, who also excelled at cricket, revealed that "games followed one of top of the other in a seemingly endless stream", there was plenty of interest from the fans.
Records show that over 444,000 attended games across the land on Boxing Day in 1943 (after the rules on the numbers of spectators had been relaxed somewhat) and, ultimately, football during wartime was largely more entertaining. The removal of the fear of relegation in particular allowed a more open game and goalscoring feats became something of the norm with Newcastle United's Albert Stubbins netting 230 times during the war to surpass the more celebrated likes of Lawton, Stan Cullis and Joe Mercer.
As a tool for building morale, the British Army invited some of the best footballers who had not been sent abroad to become Physical Training instructors at Aldershot camp. Those who accepted the offer included Matt Busby, Don Welsh and Billy Cook, and Holt asserts: "Instead of snuffing out 'the people's game' the more imaginative officials and politicians of [Winston] Churchill's Britain used football as a useful prop for national morale and as a source of army physical-education instructors."
Football's impact on the war was not confined merely to Britain though. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union - described as the "decisive act of the conflict" by author Simon Kuper - and 90,000 spectators watched the German league final in Berlin on the same day. The Italian public were no different as they flocked to see Bologna race to the title throughout 1940 and 1941 at the same time as their army was attempting to invade Albania and Greece.
Functioning as a cipher for normality on both sides, football was a rare respite from the psychological trauma of war - in the words of one veteran it "not only kept us sane but gave us a few laughs as well".
When war was finally ended in 1945, Europe would need to be restored politically, economically and emotionally. As Ward and Williams wrote: "Towns and cities had to rebuild and one way to do so was symbolically, through support for local football teams." While it would take time for normality to return and for the scars to heal, the game had played its part in helping the world through one of its darkest times.
What happened next? The professional game in England had been chaotic for six years: some club grounds had been bombed or requisitioned, several clubs had been disbanded for a year or more, and players were returning from the fields of battle where many of their colleagues were not so lucky. But soon, life in the football world began to return to normality as people looked to rebuild its damaged infrastructure alongside their own lives. On the continent, the immediate post-war era saw record attendances, where the most striking example was the Norwegian Cup final that attracted 158,000 applications for just 35,000 seats to see Fredrikstad take on Lyn.
In 1946, the FA Cup was restored to the English calendar and 98,000 turned up at Wembley to watch Derby beat Charlton 4-1. League North and League South were created in the midst of a brutally harsh winter that saw frequent game postponements and, as they struggled for stability, seven different clubs won the Championship in the following ten years. The 1950s brought new innovation with the introduction of floodlights and a renewed passion for the game that would continue to develop with the spectre of war gone but not forgotten.