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PFA remembers WWI heroes

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The 4th August 2014 marks the centenary of the First World War. 100 years on, the PFA remembers some of the early members who in their hundreds answered the call of King and Country and swapped the life of a professional footballer for the unspeakable horrors of the Western Front during the Great War.

The outbreak of war in 1914 saw men in their droves enlist in the forces, including many Players' Union committee men. In fact it was an ex-chairman of the PFA Evelyn Lintott who would be the first professional footballer to earn a commission, Colin Veitch joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a private and other committee men like Tim Coleman of Everton fought with distinction in France.

Professional players served alongside officials, fans and amateur players as part of the Footballers' Battalions during the Great War, while many more players were part of other battalions. These are brief summaries of the reported stories of just a few of those men:

Walter Tull

Walter Tull

Growing up playing for his Bethnal Green orphanage side, football was always Walter Tull's first love. He was one of the first black men to play professional football in the Football League. After success with local amateur side Clapton as an inside forward, Tull joined the 17th Middlesex when the war broke out and his leadership qualities were quickly recognised. He later received a commission and became the first black officer in the British Army. Tull was killed on the Western Front at the head of his men while trying to stem the German Spring Offensive. His body was never recovered. He was 29 years old.

Donald Bell

Donald Bell

Perhaps the man that best encapsulated the selfless nature and incredibly courageous character of all that served was Donald Bell. He was one of the first footballers to join up and left a burgeoning career at Bradford Park Avenue to lead his men into battle. As an Officer in The Yorkshire Regiment he demonstrated a fearless and unrestrained degree of courage. One such act of incredible bravery saw him win the Victoria Cross during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 when he stormed a machine gun post and put it out of action. He would die before he received his medal, killed in action just five days later on 10th July 1916 while performing a similar attack. Bell was just 25. He is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery. Donald Bell would never again grace the sporting field but his sacrifice on the battlefield ensured that his memory would live on and always be an important part of the PFA's heritage.

Tim Coleman

Tim Coleman

Capped by England, roving inside-right Coleman's clubs included Northampton Town, Woolwich, Arsenal, Everton, Sunderland, Fulham and Nottingham Forest. 1909 while with Everton, Coleman was involved in the PFA's fight for recognition with the FA. When war broke out his professional football career ended and he joined the Footballer's Battalion. He found himself on the Western Front in the run-up to the Somme where he won the Military Medal for Bravery. Known as 'the life and soul of the dressing room wherever he went.' He later became respected coach in Holland.

Evelyn Lintott

Evelyn Lintott

Evelyn Lintott was a PFA Chairman and England international who played as a half back for Plymouth Argyle and Queens Park Rangers in the Southern League and Bradford City and Leeds City in The Football League. He was one of the first players to sign up after war was declared and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment's 15th Battalion known as the Leeds Pals. He was promoted to lieutenant and became the first professional footballer to hold a commission. Lintott was killed in action on 1 July 1916, the first day of what was to become known as the Battle of the Somme, aged just 32.

A report on his death said: 'Linott killed by machine gun at 3pm in the advance. He was struck in the chest.' A letter to the Yorkshire Post described his last moments: 'Lt. Lintott's end was particularly gallant. Tragically,  he was killed leading his platoon of the 15th West Yorkshire Regiment, The Leeds Pals, over the top. He led his men with great dash and when hit the first time declined to take the count. Instead, he drew his revolver and called for further effort. Again he was hit but struggled on but a third shot finally bowled him over.' Lintott's body was never found, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

John Borthwick

John Borthwick

John 'Jack' Borthwick played for Everton before moving to Millwall, and served in the war with the 17th Middlesex. At Delville Wood on 28th July 1916 he sustained serious head injuries and was fortunate to survive. After leaving hospital in Rouen to return to recuperate in Belmont Hospital in Liverpool, Borthwick wrote to Millwall manager Bert Lipsham to say: 'I am glad to say that my wound is going on all right, but I am afraid I am finished with football. I feel rather sorry as I am sure the army training had done me a lot of good. I was looking forward to coming home and making good. However, I must be thankful I am alive. My head has been trepanned, as the skull was knocked in. The cut extends from nearly the top of my head down too my eyebrow. It was a near thing of my losing my right eye. I left on 19 August (hospital in Rouen) and had the good fortune to get to Liverpool. This is worse than a whole season of cup ties.'


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