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Accrington Stanley Football Halted By WWII: A Historical Account

Dick Webster, Accrington Stanley, wartime great

Accrington kicked off the season of 1939-40 in trepidation both on and off the field. For the past two seasons the club had been rooted to foot of the table and forced to apply for re-election to the Third Division North, while the threat of World War II loomed large over the country, not least Accrington who had suffered horrendous casualties from the previous war.

Manager John Hacking still had credit due to the two successful seasons prior to the slump, when the reds had earned highly credible finishes in the league and had knocked their illustrious neighbours Blackburn Rovers out of the 1937 FA Cup.

The Opening Match Of The Season

The first match of the season saw Stanley make the trip to Bradford City on the 26th August with the Accrington Observer noting that football was helping to take people’s minds away from the forthcoming events in Europe. This is reinforced by the fact that two special trains were commissioned to take supporters across the Pennines while many more made the trip by road.

The Stanley fans were not disappointed as Robbins and Conroy gave Accrington a 2-0 win against City. Another away trip was next, just two days later at Barrow and another win, this time by a margin of 2-1 in front of almost six thousand at Holker Street.

Two away wins from two games, ensured a large crowd of 5,427 came to Peel Park for the first home game of the season. At this stage war was imminent due to Germany’s invasion of Poland and the game against Oldham Athletic proved to be the last game at national level for seven years. The reds again triumphed with another 2-0 win.

The Football League Terminates The Season

The Football League terminated the season which had promised so much and regional football was introduced. A number of the players remained and played games against the likes of Blackburn, Preston and Burnley, although interest was understandably diluted.

As the War commenced, players around the country inevitably went back to their own regions as many players were drafted into the Armed Forces and two players who had moved on to larger clubs from Stanley made the return to Peel Park.

As a teenager, Dick Webster had moved to Sheffield United for a fee of £1,000 after coming through the ranks at Stanley. Dick was only twenty years of age when war broke out and he was certainly robbed of his best years in the game. He continued to ‘guest’ for the reds through the war years and eventually made the move permanent for a then record fee of £800, which took Dick back to Peel Park until retirement from the game in 1951.

Promising Footballing Careers Are Lost To The War

Another promising player to return was Maurice Reeday, who had left Stanley for Leicester City for £1,200 in March 1937. Maurice was 28 years old when he made the switch to Filbert Street and made 74 appearances at full-back, earning excellent reviews along the way, noting how he had shackled the great Stanley Mathews in one particular game. Following the end of the war, it was too late for Maurice to resume his professional career and returned to his home town club of Darwen to become Player Coach.

Incredibly three members of the 1939 team Sydney Francis Kearney, Richard Maurice Conroy and Ronald Morgan returned to Peel Park, firstly in the preparation season of 1945-46 and then the return to league action, ironically again at Bradford City for the first game. Seven years had now passed since the 1939 encounter, however Syd along with fellow survivors Conroy and Morgan walked out at Valley Parade. Kearney got Stanley’s goal in a 3-1 defeat and by January had left for Bristol City, going on to play at Ashton Gate for the next three and a half years.

Please find a list of players used in the football league season of 1939-40

  1. Clifford Lewis Owen
  2. John William Ash
  3. Sidney Alan Swinden
  4. Tom Edward Dooley
  5. John Charles Johnson
  6. W.S. Smith, G. Hall and A. Sams
  7. Richard Maurice Conroy
  8. Patick Robbins
  9. Ronald Morgan
  10. Sydney Francis Kearney
  11. Robert Mauchline

Notes: From the original squad which started the season, post war information can be found on the majority, however no information can be found on Owen, Johnson, Smith, Hall and Sams.

Information has proved difficult to retrieve given the passing of over seventy years, and it is unclear is some of these players returned home from serving in World War II.

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