Monday 04 Sep
Updated Thursday 07 Sep 12:26


War-time success



War is declared

The 1939/40 Football League season was only three matches old when everyone’s worst fears were realised – on 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went on the airwaves to announce to the nation that a state of war existed between the country and Germany.

The League programme was immediately abandoned as the Government introduced measures to restrict large gatherings at cinemas, race-tracks and, inevitably, football grounds.

The victories over Plymouth Argyle (3-1) at Home Park, Fulham (2-1) at the Boleyn Ground and a home defeat by Leicester City (0-2) were deleted from the record books.

Regional competitions were set up in place of the Football League, with West Ham United taking on local rivals from across London and the Home Counties between October 1939 and May 1946.

During the conflict many teams were depleted as footballers signed up to fight in the war, with clubs fielding guest players alongside their regular first-teamers, although these war-time appearances did not count towards players’ official records.

War-time football threw up weird and wonderful scorelines, including a 10-3 win at Chelsea in April 1940, an 11-0 home win over Southend United in October of the same year, and a 10-3 home victory over Clapton Orient in January 1943.

The home fixture against Tottenham Hotspur on 7 September 1940 was abandoned after 80 minutes because of an air-raid warning. The result stood, however, and the Hammers lost 4-1.


Football League War Cup winners

West Ham United won the Football League War Cup at Wembley in 1940The Football League War Cup competition was held with the aim of helping to fill the hole left in English football by the suspension of the FA Cup.

Charlie Bicknell became the first West Ham United cup-winning captain at Wembley Stadium after they defeated Blackburn Rovers, with Sam Small scoring the winning goal eleven minutes before half-time.

The Hammers had performed well to reach the first War Cup final on 8 June 1940, beating several teams who had competed in the First Division prior to the suspension of the Football League.

The competition was condensed into seven weeks. The opening two rounds were two-legged affairs against Chelsea and Leicester City, and played on a regional basis.

Trains wait for no man, as Ted Fenton found out when he missed the London to Yorkshire service for the third-round tie against Huddersfield Town!

Birmingham were defeated 4-2 at the quarter-final stage, setting up a Stamford Bridge semi-final against Fulham which kicked-off at 6.40pm to enable Saturday afternoon war workers to attend the match. The Hammers hung on to win a thrilling match 4-3 win to book their ticket to Wembley.

Thousands of fans braved the possibility of a German air-raid to attend the match and see West Ham presented with the trophy by A.V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty.

As the photograph below shows, captain Bicknell was reunited with the War Cup shortly before he died in 1988, aged 88.

After the final, a number of players returned to their service units, while others returned to The Boleyn public house in Green Street for a reception.


Captain Charlie Bicknell holds the Football League War Cup


Boleyn Ground bombed

In August 1944, a German V-1 flying bomb (also known as a doodlebug) hit the south west corner of the pitch.

The bomb destroyed a large amount of the South Bank Terrace (later replaced by The Bobby Moore Stand) and the end of the Main West Stand.

Nobody died, but the damage was significant enough that West Ham were forced to vacate their ground, playing 14 away games in succession while repairs were made, returning to the Boleyn Ground in December 1944.The Hammers managed nine away wins on nine consecutive Saturdays during the time that they were displaced!

The bomb also caused a fire in the Club's offices, which sadly destroyed many historical documents and records.


A bomb damaged the Boleyn Ground during the Second World War