MANCHESTER —- Today [Friday, April 24] marks the centenary of one of football’s most significant and controversial Cup Finals; the ‘Khaki Cup Final’, played on April, 24, 1915.
The only FA Cup Final to be played during wartime marked the end of a season that had seen football and its fans used and targeted for propaganda, as the full extent of World War One was realised by the British public.
The game, played at Old Trafford, was won 3-0 by Sheffield United against Chelsea.
But it was the overwhelming presence of military uniform in the 50,000 crowd that was to be the defining characteristic of a game which marked the end of competitive football in England for over 4 years.
The game is one of the key moments in The Greater Game: Football & The First World War, an exhibition at the National Football Museum which tells the story of fans, players and the game itself during the bloody conflict.
Head of Creative Programmes at the museum, Andy Pearce, explains more about the mood and significance of the game.
“Football fans and players had been targeted for recruitment to the military since the start of the season. By the time of the cup final there is a sense that the game really is up.
“The crowd is largely from the Manchester area, with many already in military uniform, who are either on leave or in training. Many had signed up as part of ‘Pals’ battalions.’”
The game itself was played at Old Trafford as the regular FA Cup final venue at the Crystal Palace had already been requisitioned for military training, and travel restrictions in the capital made an alternative London venue impractical.
Collections Officer Dr Alexander Jackson explains further about the crowd: “At the end of the game, Lord Derby, who was there to present the trophy, addressed the fans suggesting that, with the Cup now won, the time for games was over, and that anyone not yet in uniform should now sign up to do his duty.
“Anti-football feeling in many sections of the press had reached its peak before the game. Within months many of the crowd, and the players, would be in the trenches.”
The Greater Game: Football & The First World War includes a very rare programme from the game, with a detailed look at the rise in popularity of the game before the war, the propaganda battle during the season, and the role the game played in fitness and morale at the front.
On Saturday [April 25] members of the Manchester 1914-18 Living History Regiment will be at the National Football Museum to commemorate the final – with period uniform, weapons and kit they will provide visitors with an insight into what awaited the thousands of ‘Pals’ Battalion’ volunteers who attended the historic final.
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