This next glimpse into the history of White Hart Lane finds us turning our attention to some of the happenings at The Lane during that six year period from September 1939 that covered the Second World War.
As war was declared and football became a secondary consideration we can be forgiven for not thinking of the clubs as businesses who still had bills to met.
The first days of September 1939 saw the new season along with all organized sports suddenly cancelled and the game entered a lull as it reorganized itself. Contracts were made void and many players found their careers disrupted through either injury or just time. While the clubs wondered how or even if they would survive the conflict.
As players turned up for training on Sunday morning on the 3rd September, they had been scheduled for a home game on the Monday evening, they were sent away many returning to their homes around the country or into the services. Club staff boarded up or taped windows in case of explosions and the local brewery sent a lorry to collect the beer barrels that had been delivered for the following evening.
Football re-started in October although in a much reduced format and crowds would be limited by the police. During the First World War, The Lane had been taken over for the war effort. This time it was Highbury’s turn. The Tottenham Directors voted to invite Arsenal to share the ground for the duration. In their words ‘this is the time to bury the Hatchet.’ I expect some fans were happy to suggest exactly that should be.
Although the Directors did appeal to any Spurs fan attending an Arsenal game “to be strictly neutral and polite and if they were to shout they were requested to use their best ‘boat race’ manner.” The picture above is Arsenal V Charlton. At this point crowds were limited to 15,000.
Matters were not helped by the fact that first winter was the coldest recorded since 1894, just a few years after the club had been formed, this led to games being called off, often at very short notice and that first wartime season would not end until the June.
An air raid siren was set up just in front of the Directors Box. At some games I was told by someone who was based in London at that point and managed to attend a number of games that as air raid warnings were sounded the alarms would go off and you could hear the sound spread across the City.
The crowd in an attempt to delay the game being halted would turn up their volume to prevent the ref hearing the approaching sirens. On several occasions the police had to intervene to warn him of impending aircraft overhead. The crowd would then disappear under the stand as planned and await the all-clear. The ground suffered only minor bomb damage unlike Highbury and other grounds which took several hits. A number of the homes of the clubs staff and players did suffer damage during the raids. Later men would be stationed on the roof of the stands. These were known as ‘Jim Crows.’ This practice was later officially banned but a number of clubs continued with the idea. Top picture - Jim Crow on duty at Charlton's The Valley.
Left - Newspaper cutting from 1939 explaining why footballers no longer under contract. although clubs retained their registration could be paid an allowance. They could also claim any expenses but no win bonuses.
The club’s staff keen to ‘do their bit’ started growing vegetables on a piece of ground behind the old treatment room. As part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The site of the clubs old ground at Tottenham Marshes would also be used for allotments. Another government scheme that the Club supported was ‘Fit for Service.’ Several times a week the ground was open to anyone who wanted to come along and try and get fitter. About a hundred people attended the first session and this figure grew as time went on. The volunteers even tried singing during the exercise but this faded away as the exercise took its toil. One of these early sessions was the subject of a radio broadcast when the BBC turned up and recorded a news story about the sessions.
At various times during the war the half time break would see demonstrations by the Civil Defence and other bodies in attempt to recruit members and raise awareness.
Other times there were displays of prize winning vegetables to encourage people to grow their own food.
sorry quality isn't as good as I'd like, but the picture is too good to ignore.
The top tier of the East Stand was converted into a temporary morgue during the blitz when the raids were at their highest. Whilst the people who had been bombed out of their homes stored their property under the stand.
Despite two teams using the same ground William Over the grounds man and the son of John who had first laid out the White Hart Lane pitch was complemented on providing such an excellent playing surface.
Other games played at the ground during the conflict often involved raising funds for the war effort or charities. These took on their own North London derbies whether it be local hospital casualty services or the Civil Defence units. There was the final of Balloon Barrage Cup between the various units based in London as well as the London Fire Brigade Cup and the final of the Tottenham Charity Cup. While our lodgers played a FA XI. Arsenal also played Brentford at the Lane in a London Cup Final, so much for a natural ground.
Left - Fred Sargent, a product from the Northfleet nursery. He scored the only Spurs goal at home in the Football League in season 1939-40, as Spurs only played the one game (1).
It wasn’t just footy the ground hosted, the Australian airman’s rugby team used WHL for their training sessions. There was a ‘Religious and Life Week’. As well as a sports meeting labeled ‘Pre-Entry Services Sports.’ This was for people awaiting their call -up.
Other visitors to the stands at The Lane during those years I found references to are members of the Russian Air Force, senior military commanders, A Turkish Trade delegation and Sir Stanley Rous, the Head of the FA and later FIFA.
Other articles reflecting our famous stadium’s history as we celebrate its transformation into the new stadium can be found at- http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/hotspur-towers-the-archive
They include - The White Harts Ground, The Rowels Park, The High Street Ground, Gilpin Park, Star Billing, The Ring, The Edmonton End, The Marsh Lane End, The East Side,
Hotspur Towers 58, 33, 16 and 5. Hotspur Towers 50 - The Cockerel, Hotspur 46 - Ground Sharing,
Talking Tottenham - At The Lane, White Hot Lane, Come All Ye Faithful,
You may also like - Talking Tottenham, Adventure in N17. There is also a series running throughout the season on Facebook marking the various milestones along the Lane.
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You can my full archive at - View Full Bio
Notes -1- That 1939/40 season lasted just three games. 1-1 draws at home to Birmingham and away to Newport before a 4-3 win at West Brom.
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