The Unknown Warriors

Famous Sportsmen & Commentators who Served during WW2


Growing up my grandpa sometimes used to tell me about his days during the war in the Army Physical Training Corp. Initally he had been called up and was put in an Ack Ack gun team during the Blitz on Portsmouth. He was then selected to go into this popular section of the British Army. They were tasked  with getting the troops 'fighting fit'.  He used to teach silent killing to commandos, SOE etc in various locations and also spent some time training the first Parachute Regiment at the Ringway, which is now Manchester International Airport. Before the war he had played for Gateshead, Blyth Spartans, and had a successful trial for West Bromwich and was football mad. I remember he used to reel of names, one of which I think was Dixie Dean, all were pro footballers who were in the APTC  or other sections of the armed forces and there used to be regular inter service football matches. So I thought with the World Cup on, I'd create a page with details off some famous  football and sport stars, commentators and their wartime service.



Matt Busby (Sir, CBE) (1909-1994) had his football career interupted by the war. Sir Matt played a total of 351 games for Liverpool and Manchester United. He joined the Kings Regiment and then became a football coach in the Army Physical Training Corp. He played as a guest at a number of clubs during the war and represented Scotland in unofficial wartime games against England. After the war he became manager of Manchester United and won the league 5 times, the FA Cup 2 times and the European Cup in 1967/68

William 'Dixie' Dean (1907-1980)- Legendary pre war Everton and England forward. In 1940 he joined the Kings Regiment and played in football games to entertain the troops. View Youtube  clip HERE

Tom Finney (Sir, OBE) Now aged 88 in 2010, he was called up into the Royal Armoured Corp in 1942 and saw action as a Desert Rat and in Italy. He was a member of the 8th Army football team. He made 433 appearances for Preston north End and was capped 76 times for England. Position striker/outside right.

Tommy Lawton (1919-1996) - Prolific goalscorer for clubs such as Everton and Chelsea. The war interrupted his playing career and he spent 6 years in the Army Physical Training Corp. 231 goals in 390 league games. Played for England 23 times and scored 22 international goals. View Youtube clip HERE

Wilf Mannion (1918-2000) was evacuated from Dunkirk and served in the same battalion of the Green Howards as my great uncle and the other lads on the front cover of The Unknown Warriors. He went with the battalion up through Sicily & Italy eventually being withdrawn due to such heavy losses. He played for Middlesborough 368 times and won 26 England caps and played in the 1950 World Cup.

Stanley Matthews (1915-2000) (Sir, CBE) capped 54 times for England. He retired aged 50 after 795 club appearances, mostly for Stoke and Blackpool. The war came mid career and he served as a corporal in the RAF and made guest appearances in wartime games across the country.

Stan Mortensen (1921-1991) was a wireless operator in the RAF. His bomber crashed and he was the only surviving member of the crew. After overcoming injuries he went on to play for Blackpool and scored a hat-trick for them in the 1953 FA Cup final, which they won. He was also the first ever England player to score a goal in the FIFA world Cup qualifying rounds and final tournament.

Alf Ramsey (1920-1999) (Sir) played for his army regiment team and Portsmouth during the war and in peacetime played for Tottenham Hotspur. He was a defender and played in the 1950 World Cup for England and won 32 caps. He led England to World Cup victory as manager in 1966.

Bill Shankly (1913-1981) (OBE) best years in football were lost to WW2. He was playing for Preston North End when the war started. He served in the RAF and played in wartime games around the country. He won 5 caps for Scotland and in later years became the much loved manager of Liverpool between 1959 and 1974.

Bert Williams At 90 year old at the start of the 2010 World Cup it was announced in the Queens Birthday Honours list that he was to be awarded an OBE. Ex England goalkeeper from the 1950 World Cup. During WW2 he was a physical training instructor in the RAF.

Kenneth Wolstenholme (1920-2002)- Will always be famous for commentating on the 1966 World Cup Final and his immortal words "There is people on the pitch, they think it's all over... it is now!". What is less well known is that during WW2 he was a RAF pilot in Bomber Command, Pathfinder Squadron. He flew over 100 perilous nightime raids over Germany and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar. View Youtube clip HERE