Southampton had been the Empire’s major military embarkation port since the Crimea War (1853-56), so it was braced for the inevitable by August 4th 1914, when trains packed with “dastardly Hun” poured into Belgium. On the 8th the Hampshire Independent reported that the town’s hotels were already “little more than barracks, our streets are thronged with soldiers, huge motor wagons and trolleys laden with military stores are rushing every minute through our streets …”
The Southern League and the Football League kicked-off as usual on September 2nd on the basis that the war kicked-off too late to stop it. Contracts with the players had to be honoured, every club in the country would be bankrupted if the fixtures weren’t fulfilled. As the war dragged on the press – owned in the main by people who regarded footballers and many of their followers as prime cannon fodder – became increasingly critical of the game, the men who played it and the spectators. Curiously, other Saturday diversions such as horse racing and fox hunting continued free of censure.
Professional football was halted in 1915. This heralded a golden age for Saints-Portsmouth derbies. In 1915-16 both clubs played in the South Western Combination, which consisted of Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Swindon Town, Cardiff City and Newport County; just 12 fixtures. Other friendlies were arranged and blank dates filled with Pompey. There were ten derbies that season.
Both clubs competed in the London Combination in 1916-17, but were expelled in 1917. The difficulties of getting in and out of the Solent area, which was choked with military traffic, had proved too tiresome for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and the former Woolwich Arsenal, who were now residing in Islington.
The best Saints and Pompey could do for competitive matches in 1915-16 and ’16-17 was the South Hants War League. Works and military sides complimented the two Southern League clubs. It was a confusing time for diehard Saints supporters as the sides representing local shipyards Harland & Wolf and Thorneycrofts both had Saints players in their ranks. The “Wolves” usually had more pre-war Saints in their XI than Saints did. They piped 1917-18 title holders Pompey for the championship in 1919.
In all, by the time the Southern League recommenced in August 1919, Saints had played Pompey 104 times since Pompey had popped into existence in 1899; and 28 of those games took place while proper, competitive football was suspended for the war.
Aerial view of Southampton in 1917. The jetty on the left was for boat trains shipping munitions and other equipment to France.
Above: Arthur Wood, son of Saints’ legendary skipper Harry Wood. Arthur was a regular in Saints’ goal throughout the war despite being in the Army.
Right: Arthur Dominy: One of Saints’ all time greats, he worked and played most of his soccer for Harland & Wolf during the War.