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All Over by Christmas (Volume 1)

Colin Payne looks back at a time when the world would change forever.

As the ‘war to end all wars’ broke out, with patriotic men clambering to enlist to play their part in the ensuing heroics, football in the summer of 1914 continued. The Battle of Marne, the clash that was to see the introduction of the trench warfare that would come to typify the conflict, was still two weeks in the future as Watford began their season with a series of friendly ties. For many, the dark clouds, both literal and metaphorical, were still months away; the mass carnage and slaughter that were to follow couldn’t possibly be imagined in the minds of those packing up their troubles in an old kit bag…

So it was that around 1,000 people attended Cassio Road on the 22 August to witness the first footballing action of the 1914/15 season, appropriately enough one of two fund raising practice matches, with proceeds swelling the War Fund. Played out between the ‘Whites’ and ‘Stripes’, both sides were made up of a combination of Watford players and guests, a format which unbeknown to those attending would become a common factor of Watford sides over the next three seasons. The game was to finish 4-2, with goals coming from Smith, Edmonds and a brace from Briscoe for the Whites, and one apiece for Hastings and Ronald clad in stripes.

Such normality was to last just the one season, as the Southern League was suspended the following year and in its place a localised London Combination was created, where the notion of ‘if you turned up you’d get a game’ wasn’t such an exaggeration. However, the Southern League First Division 1914/15 was played out to its conclusion, and in Watford’s case a victorious one, with it being, up to that point, the club’s most successful ever campaign, culminating in Harry Kent’s team winning the League for the first time in the club’s history. Some questioned the achievement, coming as it did during war-time, yet when the guns eventually fell silent, and normal business returned to the footballing world, Harry Kent’s side only missed out on repeating the feat by goal-difference, after finishing level on points with Portsmouth in the 1919/20 season.

Yet the story of this programme was one of hope, the hope that it wouldn’t rain on the day of the game; the hope that success for the local team was just around the corner; and the hope that by the time Portsmouth came to Cassio Road on Christmas Day, this whole war business would be done with.


This article is from Volume 1 of The Watford Treasury, to purchase this publication in all its visual glory, please follow the link below:

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