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England Wartime & Victory Internationals

I’ve previously written a few words about Sheffield United football legend Jimmy Hagan here on footysphere. More recently he’s been the subject of an excellent article on Les Rosbifs. Notwithstanding his amazing managerial record the one thing that stands out about his career for me is his fabulous scoring record for England in the wartime & victory Internationals held between 1939 and 1946. He managed to bag 13 goals in 16 appearances and wondering whether this was the best strike rate achieved by any England player during this period I began to have a look into these unofficial international matches & the players who represented their country.

The England wartime & victory internationals are all unofficial games. The first was played in November 1939 away against Wales at Ninian Park and the last was in May 1946 against the French in Paris at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. In total England played 36 wartime internationals in this period and due to their unofficial nature the results, team line-ups, goalscorers, attendances and venues aren’t included in any official England national team statistics. These 36 games are officially recognised as being unofficial England international games but just to muddy the waters a little there are a number of unofficial ‘wartime internationals’ that aren’t even included within the official unofficial records. Confused? Yes. 

These unofficial unofficial games comprised all England players but they were played under the banner of an FA or Combined Services Select XI rather than an national England representative side. There were seven of these games played and for the purposes of this article they aren’t included amongst the statistics.

So let’s have a look at a few stats from these 36 games. A total of 80 players from 34 different clubs represented England in these wartime internationals. The top 4 clubs in terms of players supplied were Arsenal 8 players, Wolves 7 players with both Charlton Athletic & Newcastle United providing 6 each. 

The highest number of wartime caps was won by Stanley Matthews (Stoke City) with 29. Next up were Joe Mercer (Everton) 27, Tommy Lawton (Chelsea) 23, Stan Cullis (Wolves) 20, Horatio Carter (Sunderland) & George Hardwick (Middlesboro) got 17 each with Jimmy Hagan (Sheffield Utd) and Laurence SCott (Arsenal) on 16 caps each.

Five players captained their country. These were Eddie Hapgood (Arsenal) on 13 occasions, Stan Cullis 10 times, Joe Mercer 9 times, Tommy Lawton thrice and Henry Goslin (Bolton Wanderers) once. 

Moving onto goalscoring I was surprised to discover that Hagan’s 13 from 16 wasn’t the best goalscoring ratio. Other player outdid his goalscoring feats most notably Tommy Lawton who managed a quite magnificent 24 goals from his 23 appearances. Horatio Carter also had an awesome strike rate. He bagged 18 goals in his 17 appearances. Then comes Hagan with his 13 goals closely followed by Don Welsh (Charlton Athletic) who with 12 goals in his 8 appearances had the best goalscoring ratio of all.

These internationals threw up a few oddities. For example the last amateur to represent England turned out in a wartime international. Lester Finch of Athenian League Barnet FC was selected to play in the fixture away to Wales at Ninian Park in 1941. Finch, who had represented Great Britain at the 1936 Summer Olympics, however is not officially recognised as the last amateur to represent England. Due to the unofficial nature of the wartime games the last amateur player to officially represent England was Bernard Joy who whilst playing for non-league Casuals FC was selected to play for England in a 1936 game against Belgium. Incidentally Joy had been the GB captain for the 1936 Olympics and whilst with Arsenal he earned an unofficial cap for England when he played in a 1944 6-2 victory over Scotland at Wembley.

Then there’s the tale of the Scottish midfielder who made his international debut for England. This was Tommy Pearson of Newcastle Utd who was in the crowd at St James Park for the England v Scotland fixture of December 1939. An pre-match injury to an English player left the English short so Pearson agreed to turn out for England against his home country. He went on to earn two full caps for Scotland after the war giving him what’s got to be a unique place in English & Scottish football.

Finally, for this post is starting to get a bit long, we can’t forget the mercurial Stan Mortensen who had a fantastic England international scoring record. He actually made his international debut in a wartime international but for .. Wales. He was named as English substitute in the home game v Wales in September 1943 but ended up replacing an injured Welsh player. Fortunately for England he didn’t have much of an impact as the English went on to win the game 8-3.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back in time to look at these unofficial England wartime games. There’s a couple more posts to come on a similar theme where I’ll look at results, venues attendances as well as some of the wonderful characters who turned out for their country in these difficult wartime years. It’s a shame they don’t have ‘full’ recognition, indeed it’s something of a travesty.

I am indebted to the wonderful rsssf.com for all the data on these games. Any errors in the post above are mine & mine alone. If you do spot something that needs correcting please shout up using the comments section below. Thanks for reading. 

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