When war was declared on Germany on 3 September 1939, all Football League matches for the 1939-40 season, the 65th season of competitive football in England, were cancelled.
Clapton Orient played three league games at home to Ipswich Town, 2-2 on 26/8/1939, a 0-0 home draw against Southend United on 31/8/1939 and finally a 1-1 draw at Watford on 2/9/1939. These results were all expunged from the record books.
Once it was safe to commence outdoor activities, some sort of regional football was started on 21 October 1939 and O’s started off with a 2-1 win over Watford with Bob Shankly hitting the opener and Charlie Fletcher bagging the winner.
O’s had the benefit of fielding some of the first team players from the previous season. Also, a number of well-known guest players in later seasons like Dai Astley, Hugh Cumner, and the great Trevor Ford, appeared over the following years, however they also had to field a number of unknown amateurs in times of emergency.
The only official records of appearances is that of team sheets supplied by the clubs, unfortunately in many instances the clubs did not know who was turning up to play, so they listed a position as A.N. OTHER (another player) or in some instances S. O. ELSE (someone else)!
Orient had to ‘borrow’, from time to time, players from other clubs, when players just did not turn-up, either because of doing national service or missing transport to get to games, so the reason for a large number players listed as making just a single wartime appearance for O’s and in some instances, they fielded less than eleven players in a match.
The records show that the O’s fielded 285 first team players over this period, for example Crystal Palace fielded 186 different players.
Most of these ‘guest’ players are profiled below with their record in these matches for O’s between 1939 and 1946. Some older O’s fans may recall that before some home matches an appeal was made over the loudspeaker for anyone who could “play a bit” to report to the home dressing room to see the manager in order to get a game, so quite a number of amateur and junior players from the local leagues were played and first names and profile details were not always available.
In later seasons players could play for clubs stationed near their base and often played the odd game here and there for numerous clubs around the country. Some of O’s results were quite farcical like a 16-1 defeat at Portsmouth on 28 February 1942. Pompey inside forward Andy Black netted 8 of their goals that day, a 15-2 defeat at Arsenal on 8 February 1941 (having drawn 3-3 at home a week earlier).
In the match at Highbury full-back Leslie Compton (brother of Dennis) scored a remarkable 10 (ten) goals, six through headers, a match played at White Hart Lane, and a 10-3 defeat at West Ham United on 2nd January 1943.
Les Compton said in the press at the time: ‘Well the O’s goalie was rather raw and inexperienced, most of the shots and headers he missed.”
The highest of O’s victories during seven years of wartime football were three 5-1 wins all in the 1939-40 season against Southend United (twice) and Brighton & Hove Albion.
They also recorded an exciting 5-4 win over Fulham on 25 March 1944. Seven different players recorded eight hat-tricks during the period –Robert Shankly (twice), Harold M. Smith, James McNeil, Matthew Armstrong, Trevor Ford, Alex Younger and Albert Robson, with one player, John Hewitt bagging 4 goals versus Fulham in 1942.
On 5 October 1940, the match against Brentford before 1100 fans was stopped when the warning siren sounded, the match was allowed to re-start again after ten minutes with the fans hold up in a nearby shelter, they returned to see O’s run out 1-0 winners.
The total records of appearances and goals during wartime football has been ignored in respect of players’ career and league statistics. Many football historians do not even acknowledge the wartime leagues as counting towards players’ career statistics.
The Football Association originally stated that wartime football matches should be regarded as merely friendlies, because of the number of ‘guest’ players used by clubs’.
Due to a shortage of funds in September 1945, O’s used a second-hand motor coach to transport the players for the away visit to Norwich, however it broke down four times, the first time the players had to push it to the nearest garage.
They arrived over one hour late. At half time, the O’s were drawing 0-0 but their stamina ran out and ended up losing 4-0.
The full profiles of all those wartime players, as compiled by Club Historian Neil Kaufman, can be downloaded here as a PDF.
The PDF spans over 100 pages, and gives in-depth profiles never before shown to the public on those players that represented the O’s from (1939-1945).