when the whistle blows


When The Whistle Blows by Andrew Riddoch & John Kemp
Haynes Publishing
ISBN : 978 1 84425 656 3

When the Whistle Blows is the first book to tell the story of the 17th Battalion the Middlesex Regiment – the ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ – and their experiences on the pitch and in the trenches of the Great War.  

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, a heated debate took place about whether professional football should continue during a time of national crisis. In response to claims that footballers were 'not doing their bit’, William Joynson-Hicks MP raised the ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ in December 1914 with some 35 professional players enlisting at the inaugural meeting in Fulham Town Hall. Professional footballers, with connections to over 70 present-day League clubs, lost little time in following their lead, the Battalion being brought up to strength by amateur players, officials and football fans eager to serve alongside their favourite players. 

Based on extensive original research, authors, Andrew Riddoch and John Kemp, draw on many previously unpublished letters, personal accounts and photographs to paint a vivid portrait of a remarkable battalion that fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Great War. The result is a book that is a significant addition to the literature of football and that of the Great War. 

Football historians will be pleased to see the roles played by such legends as Frank Buckley, the famous Wolves manager; Vivian Woodward, the ‘Tom Finney’ of his day; Joe Mercer, who obviously passed on his qualities and courage to his son, the England and Manchester City manager; the remarkable achievement of Walter Tull, only the second black man to play in the First Division of the Football League and who later received a commission; and one of the greatest ever Welsh footballers, Fred Keenor, who despite being badly wounded on the Somme recovered to lead Cardiff City to FA Cup glory in 1927 – the only occasion on which the FA Cup has ever left England.  

Historian and broadcaster, Richard Holmes, writes in the Foreword: In their skilful interweaving of the story of professional football in Britain they have produced not only a beautifully-researched history of a fine battalion, but a lasting tribute to men who remained true to their salt when the whistle blew, not on manicured greensward, but in a muddy trench. 

More praise for When the Whistle Blows comes from Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers' Association. He says: "I am very pleased to recommend Andrew Riddoch’s and John Kemp's book, which gives a fascinating insight into the contribution of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War and their remarkable courage and bravery."


Back to homepage