Out of office: From the football pitch to the trenches

By Guest, 26 February 2014 - 5:04pm

In this special guest blog, Chelsea FC historian Rick Glanvill tells the fascinating story of a football match played between two families 100 years ago today...

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Rick Glanvill
Read more blogs

Stumbling across this photograph in a copy of the Daily Mirror from February 1914 was what started Rick Glanvill's research journey

Today marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most unusual and poignant events you have never heard of.

I am a writer, researcher and family historian. I am also the official historian of a larger family – Chelsea Football Club – and it was while browsing old sports news pages that something caught my eye.

Above a photograph of a football team lined up in front of a goal was the irresistible headline ‘BROTHERS MEET BROTHERS AT HULL’. It soon became clear that a highly unusual, possibly unique, football match had once taken place between two teams comprised entirely of brothers from two families: the Charlesworth boys on one side of the pitch, Coverdales on t’other.

So far, so curious. When I looked at the newspaper date, though, a chill ran down my spine: February 1914. How on earth did 22 men – of football-playing age – fare in the war that was about to engulf the country? From brothers on the field of play one day, were they all brothers in arms a few months later? These were questions I set out to answer.

The article gave basic names and places for me to follow up: the Charlesworths of Scunthorpe and the Coverdales of Hollym. The GENUKI website advised me Hollym was “a parish in the wapentake and liberty of Holderness” in Yorkshire’s East Riding and “pleasantly situated on a small eminence”.

That was in the 1820s: modern Google satellite mapping revealed the eminence to be a crooked claw of land extending east over the Humber estuary, still obviously unspoilt. The Coverdales were men of the land.

In contrast, ‘Scunny’ was a small, booming industrial town in Lincolnshire with major ironworks that in 1914, GENUKI tells me, had recently benefited from new gasworks, a light railway service and a Free Library. The Charlesworths were townies.

The two families were 40 miles apart across the Humber Bridge, making sense of them using Hull City’s pitch at Anlaby Road. Ominously, much of that ground was destroyed by fire two months later on Easter Monday, but the Tigers’ present KC Stadium is on the roughly the same spot.

Local newspaper reports of the match provided several more useful names as well as evocative images of bygone days. I learned that the two fathers took turns to kick-off – Charlie Charlesworth the first half, Tom Coverdale the second. Victory belonged to the Coverdales, by three goals to nil, with centre-forward Frank Coverdale scoring twice and brother Ted once.

The adjacent page of the newspaper featured a picture of the Coverdale brothers with their father

There was a carnival atmosphere among supporters too. When the Charlesworth siblings appeared to be slacking, wags in the crowd called out, “Hey up, yer father’s coming!” To Charlie Charlesworth himself, they directed comically ambiguous cries of, “Ey, look at your kid!”

The Coverdales even brought a mascot with them: a very tall man in a boiler suit in their team colours, with a long bat decked out the same. Around 1,000 people watched this unique football match, with the £51 raised split between local charities for orphans and hardship funds.

I could not find mention of this remarkable match anywhere. At Who Do You Think You Are? Live in 2012 there were local history groups from both areas, but no one had heard the story.

The next step was to identify the remaining family members. The 1911 census returns for Charles Solomon Charlesworth and Thomas Charles Coverdale both produced a number of the sons’ names as well as numbers of children born and living.

As any family historian knows, broods were bigger in Victorian times, for all sorts of reasons – though creating a football team was not usually among them. Charles and his wife Mary Ann had produced 15 children, two of whom had died. Thomas and Emily Coverdale weighed in with 17, 14 alive in 1911.

Older census returns filled in blanks of those who had left home and set up their own families. They also provided addresses, directed searches for baptism and marriage records and revealed that just three Coverdale children were girls. Virtually all the Scunthorpe lads owed their living to the ironworks, while the Charlesworths’ livelihood centred around Church Farm, Hollym.

Knowing all names and places informed my next step which was to investigate the military careers of the footballing brothers. A good place to start when researching the First World War is the card index of medals which Army servicemen and women were entitled to claim, viewable through the The National Archives (online or at Kew) or by visiting Ancestry.co.uk.

Fewer service and pension records survive from 1914-18, but several names did crop up here too. I found evidence that nearly all the footballers volunteered (some with their sons), in a variety of corps and with very different experiences. Some survived only after suffering physical and mental injuries that would change their lives forever.

Rick managed to find this entry regarding the death of Charles Thomas Coverdale by searching the British Commonwealth Graves Register

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website records events of a grimmer nature and unfortunately the toll on our two footballing families was appalling. At least six of the 22 men died.

Four Charlesworth boys – Herbert, Charles, Alfred and Fred – had been killed before the end of 1915. Leonard Coverdale was lost on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916 – the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. His brother Charles died in the Battle of St Quentin, 21 March 1918, most likely in the early hours during the biggest barrage of the whole war.

Happier to look at was the experience of goal scorer Frank Coverdale, who emigrated to Perth a few days after the match, joined the Australian Light Horse, survived Egypt and France, married a London girl and later died in Devon aged 68.

I am now on the search for living descendants with whom to share this touching, forgotten story.

Rick Glanvill is the official club historian of Chelsea FC and a keen genealogist. You can read his own blog at thecheapsidestandard.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @RickGlanvill


From the office: Add your WW1 project to our map!
previous blog Article
10 tips for tracing East London ancestors
next blog Article
From the office: Add your WW1 project to our map!
previous blog Article
10 tips for tracing East London ancestors
next blog Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here