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Football By Decade: 1940s

Scandal, war, growth and radical. Perhaps the four words to best describe the four decades preceding the 1940s. Of course the 1940s would at first bring about the unfortunate relapse of battle in the Second World War and the loss of an estimated 60 million lives, both militant and civilian alike. However the 1940s can also be remembered as the turning point in football. Following the Second World War, where once again footballers too found themselves at the frontline of conflict, the game began to change into what we see on our TVs today. 

Although starting in 1939, the Second World War would spread until 1945, suspending leagues around the globe as nations began entering what is now described as a 'Total War'. Like 1914-1918 conscription was introduced to the British Army meaning even footballers, who were even then held in high esteem and watched by crowds as large as today, were not immune to the effects of warfare. Football would not stop completely during the War, as leagues in Spain and Italy would continue as well as frequent Charity matches played to boost public morale. In a previous blog we have acknowledged a great number of players who fought, for Britain, Germany, USSR and others alike.

As previously mentioned, the main source of football for players and fans alike throughout the War was from charity matches. Despite many professionals still being owned by their respective clubs, it was not uncommon for a player to play for a rival in wartime. Billy Liddell, Liverpool and Scotland forward actually turned out for an English XI, a Football Association XI and the Royal Air Force XI before even appearing as a guest for Chelsea. Rivalries however, were for the most part forgotten for the six years of war, as footballers, so often in the modern game called selfish and naive, knew the role they would have to take.


Billy Liddell
The war ended on 2nd September 1945 with an estimated loss of 40-60 million lives, a staggering number which today seems almost unbelievable. The United Kindgom lost 450,900 lives as a direct cause of war, including a number of football players like former England International Tom Cooper, Bolton's Harry Goslin and Arsenal youngster Bobby Daniell. By 1946 however the Football League was resumed and continued it's rapid growth into a game more and more similar to what we currently see.

The first post-war league season was won by Liverpool, a team including future manager Bob Paisley. The 1946/47 season in fact was recently written about in +FourFourTwo, a month-by-month account of the season in which people attempted to get back to reality after the catastrophic war which had led to the league's 7-year-hiatus. The 1946-47 season was one to forget for Leeds fans, after the club went the whole season collecting just 18 points, and losing 20/21 fixtures away from Elland Road.

The two other league seasons in the 1940s were won by Arsenal - the dominant force of the previous decade and Portsmouth. It was a less than successful three league seasons for Manchester United, who strangely finished as runners-up for three consecutive years, albeit with an FA Cup triumph to soften the blow in 1948. The lower leagues saw Second Division victories for Manchester City, Birmingham and Fulham respectively. Cardiff City were promoted to the second tier in 1947 following a Third Division South title to be put alongside their 1927 FA Cup in the club's trophy cabinet. In fact, the South Wales club came close to promotion in 1948 and even nearer the following season.

Internationally, the 1940s provides very little to really talk about, the absence of a World Cup makes it difficult to discuss. However, the end of war did see more local international rivalries be reformed. The 'Home Internationals' resumed in 1946 with England emerging victorious in 1946-7 and 1947-8 as Scotland took England's place at the helm of British football. England's first international after the War came against the Netherlands resulting in a fairly comprehensive 8-2 victory. The English record between 1946-49 makes for impressive viewing as the Three Lions only suffered defeat four times out of twenty-six fixtures, even beating Portugal 10-0 away in Lisbon.
England, 1949
Elsewhere across Europe saw football resume in all corners of the newly divided continent. For Germany, a nation itself divided into four zones, the first National Championship took place in 1948 in which winners and runners-up from each occupied area would meet in a knockout tournament. FC Nuremberg of the United States' zone were first to win the cup. Nuremberg, was in fact a controversial winner due to its less than glorious previous 15 years being the main vocal point for many of Adolf Hitler's early rallies. Its team however, did include Max Morlock a player who six-years later would become a national hero following "Das wunder von Bern". The following year in 1949 VFR Mannheim defeated Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in Stuttgart to register a first German title.

Italy also left the war as somewhat a villain in European eyes, despite the death of Mussolini and finishing the war as an "ally" the nation's general ambiguity of their allegiance led to much distrust. Amazingly Serie A continued for much of the war, only coming to a stop when the allied victory over the Italians was all but complete in 1943. Modern day powerhouse AS Roma won their first league title in 1942, a club controversially founded by the National Fascist Party's secretary Italo Foschi in 1927.

Torino were to dominate Italian football for the post-war seasons, the influential Valentino Mazzola firing them to Scudetto victories in 1943 and then from 1946-49, thus propelling them to be regarded as one of the greatest teams of all-time. In 1947-48 Torino won the league scoring 125 goals and amassing a staggering +92 goal difference. According to FourFourTwo, Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo picked all of Torino's outfield players to play against future Magical Magyars, Hungary. With an innovative 4-2-4 formation they took Italian football by storm. Tragically, at the height of their dominance, eighteen players, including Valentino Mazzola, as well as club officials and journalists were killed in the Superga Air Disaster. The disaster came as an immense shock to the footballing world and halted perhaps the greatest team ever assembled from going on to even better things.
Grande Torino, 1947
Although officially neutral throughout the Second World War, Spain was to remain under fascist control after 1945. La Liga had in fact been one of the only leagues to run right the way through the decade which had only stopped once before due to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. The however had brought with it a rivalry which has gone down as perhaps the greatest in history - El Clasico, Real Madrid vs Barcelona. Despite Franco's resentment towards Catalonia, even banning the use of the flag, it was the Catalan region which dominated Spanish football. Valencia and Barcelona both winning the league three times each over the 1940s.

In terms of international tournaments, the 1948 "Austerity Olympics" in London provided the major source of wider football competition. It was the first Olympics since the Berlin Nazi games of 1936 and dubbed the "Austerity Games" due to the fact rationing was still taking place in the United Kingdom. However, football
 would still take place and Sweden would win the gold medal after a goal-laden journey to the final including a 12-0 victory of South Korea, who soon enough would be entering their own civil conflict. The newly formed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would gain the silver and Denmark the bronze. Britain? Fourth place, following a 5-3 defeat to the Danes in front of 50,000 at Wembley.
Team GB
Finally our match of the decade is, for the first time, a game which took place outside of the British Isles. The match was El Clasico in 1943 and the final score Real Madrid 11-1 Barcelona. Despite the enormous scoreline it is the story behind it which is most interesting. Before the game, a Copa Del Rey encounter (renamed Copa Del Generalissimo under Franco), the Blaugrana had been leading their rivals 3-0 on aggregate, but a pre-match dressing room visit from the regime's director of state security which reminded the Barca players that they were only playing due to the 'generosity of the regime' subsequently led to the game being practically thrown away to eventual cup winners Madrid.
1943 was a sign of things to come!

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