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The Football League War Cup was an association football tournament held between 1939 and 1945 which aimed to fill the gaping hole left in English Football by the cancellation of the FA Cup.


Throughout the latter 1930s it was becoming inevitable that a 2nd World War with Germany was coming. On 3 September 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland, Neville Chamberlain announced war on Nazi Germany.

Shortly after war was declared, most competitions were abandoned as the country's attention turned to the war effort. Over 780 footballers signed up to fight in the war and as a result many of England's best teams were depleted - for example, Liverpool saw 76 players sign up, Wolves saw 91 sign up and Huddersfield, Leicester and Charlton all saw over 60 players sign up for the war. Because of this many teams fielded guest players instead. The FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round was played, but with hostilities declared before replays took place, and a 50-mile travelling limit, that competition too was abandoned. The Football League War Cup was held between 1939 and 1945 in an attempt to fill the gaping hole left in English Football by the cancellation of the FA Cup.

In May 1945, Germany surrendered following the suicide of Adolf Hitler. 1945-1946 marked the retirement of the Football League War Cup and the return of The FA Cup with a new structure; seeing home and away leg ties for the first time in its history with results being decided on aggregate goals, extra-time and penalty shoot-outs as oppose to several replay matches.


Appearances and goals in the FLWCup do not count in players' official records. However, this does not make Preston NE's Andrew McLaren's exploits any less impressive. En route to the final in 1941 McLaren scored eight goals, including five goals in Preston's 12-1 win over Tranmere. He also scored in the first leg of the final, bringing his total tally for the tournament to nine.)

Northern Final

Winner Finalist
1942-1943 Blackpool Sheffield W.
1943-1944 Aston V. Blackpool
1944-1945 Bolton Manchester U

Southern Final

Winner Finalist
1942-1943 Arsenal Charlton
1943-1944 Charlton Chelsea
1944-1945 Chelsea Millwall

Overall final

Winner Finalist
1939-1940 West Ham Blackburnmarker
1940-1941 Preston NE Arsenal
1941-1942 Wolves Sunderland
1942-1943 Blackpool Arsenal
1943-1944 Shared between Charlton & Aston V.
1944-1945 Bolton Chelsea

Tournament finals


137 games (including replays) were played to get to the final of the inaugural Football League War Cup. These matches were condensed into just 9 weeks. Despite the fears that London would be bombed by the Luftwaffe fans came in thousands to watch the game at Wembleymarker, despite its obvious danger as a bombing target.


In the nine months leading up to the final, 127 large-scale night-raids had taken place, with London, the home of the final, being a regular target. This threat did not stop 60,000 people turning up to watch the game.

Preston North End beat Bury, Bolton, Tranmere Rovers (12-1), Manchester City and Newcastle (2-0) to reach the final. Andrew McLaren had scored nine goals during the tournament, including five goals in Preston's 12-1 win over Tranmere). Thanks to a late equaliser from Arsenal's Compton in the game at Wembleymarker, this was the first final of the tournament to go to a replay.

The replay was moved away from London to Ewood Parkmarker. The win for Preston meant that they had completed the first wartime league and cup double, having also won the Northern Regional League.


The third competition in 1942 saw the final switched to a two-legged format with each team playing one leg on their home ground. This was the only time in the tournament's history that the final was decided in such a way.

Eric Robinson of Wolves was to tragically die soon after his team won the tournament, during a military exercise.


In its final three years, the competition was split into north and south halves, with the winners of each section competing in a play-off, staged at Stamford Bridge, to decide the cup winner. The northern winners were decided over two legs, while the southern finalists met in a one-off Wembley final.

The overall final marked the second time Arsenal had got to the final. They would end up being the club who had reached the most Football League War Cup finals, yet did not win once. The final was also notable because both clubs had won their respective wartime divisions.


With the score in the final tied at 1-1 and, due to transport restrictions and bombing threats, a replay not an option, the game ended a draw. Charlton and Villa shared the 1944 trophy, an event that had not happened before and did not happen again.


See also



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