Club historian David Bull reflects on the last time football was suspended and the season ran until June…
Following the decision of the football authorities to put the season on hold, with next to no prospect of completion in May, the game’s historians must be universally thinking of the 1939/40 season when football was last suspended and, after a restart, finished in June.
True, the season was only three games old when war stopped play, but I’m in the fortunate position – thanks to interviews with pertinent ex-players and access to the club’s Minutes – of having learned quite a lot about events of September 3rd and 4th 1939 and 8th June 1940, as they affected Southampton.
On the morning of Sunday 3rd September, the dressing room at The Dell was busy. First-teamers who’d taken a knock, the previous afternoon, in a 3-0 home win vs Bury, had come in for treatment, while some of their teammates had popped in to check the teamsheet for the next match, away to Spurs the following evening, Monday 4th.
But then they gathered round a radio at 11am to listen to the Prime Minister’s announcement that the nation was at war with Germany.
We know, from the autobiography of the then Spurs captain, Ronnie Burgess, that the same thing was happening at White Hart Lane. There was no need to wait for Monday’s telegram from the Football League, saying LEAGUE COMPETITION SUSPENDED: the assembly of crowds had been automatically banned by the declaration of war.
So everybody knew that Monday evening’s game was off. What nobody knew, of course, was that it was being postponed for seven years. Yes, the league fixtures for 1946/47 would replicate almost totally the abandoned list of 1939/40. Spurs would beat the Saints 2-1 on Monday 9th September 1946.
Meanwhile, Monday 4th in 1939 involved a rapid clear-out of personnel. When the Board held an emergency meeting that afternoon, Tom Parker, the manager, reported that he had dismissed all the players that morning, having advised them to “obtain a situation as soon as possible,” as the Minutes book shows:
According to one of his inside-forwards, Eddie Bates (as he was then known), the principal “situation” that Parker had in mind entailed joining the Police War Reserve.
Several players would do so, in common with 11 Tottenham players who enrolled in that Force, Burgess recalled, that very morning. It was boring work, which Bates and his fellow inside-forward, Jack Bradley, would soon leave – to work at Folland Aircraft or to join the RAF, respectively.
The two of them would be the top two scorers in the various substitute competitions that would start up in October and finish with an evening match at home to Charlton on June 8th.
They had a joint engagement that afternoon, when Jack was Eddie’s best man at his marriage to Mary Smith in St James’s Church in Shirley. After which, Jack strolled down to The Dell to score in a 3-1 defeat, while the bride and groom took a taxi to Shirley High Street, so as to have their wedding photo taken.
After which, they would become spectators at the match. “On my wedding night,” chortled Mary, when we talked 50-odd years later. “Going to watch the Saints – pretty novel!”
This story is told more fully in Ted Bates’s biography, Dell Diamond, and more recently in Days Like These. Both books, published by Hagiology Publishing, a Saints historians’ collective, are available online.