ENGLAND: 2 WARTIME CAPS
V Wales, Cardiff, 6th May 1944
V Scotland, Hampden Park, 13th April 1946
Understandably, football was not the most important thing on the nation’s agenda back in the early 1940s, an era when players genuinely were troops and found themselves stuck in the trenches, phrases we use all too glibly today.
Even so, football played a big part in the war effort, keeping people entertained on the home front and, at times, abroad, the authorities recognising what a big part it could play in raising morale among players and spectators alike. Club football continued, albeit in truncated fashion, but so too did representative matches, although for some reason, we never played the Germans.
Many careers that might have otherwise been more glittering still were deeply affected by the war. Of course, some were affected in the most devastating ways possible, with footballers not escaping the general carnage that raged around the planet, many becoming casualties of war, fatalities or badly injured.
Others survived the conflict physically unscathed but nevertheless lost huge chunks of their careers, the peak years for very many, including a man who was an Albion stalwart the years either side of the war, Billy Elliott. A dynamic outside right, Elliott had joined the Throstles in December 1938, coming from Bournemouth, a far cry from his native Cumberland. It was actually a return to this part of the world, the club from Staffordshire having rejected him as a 16 year old.
Elliott’s great strength was remarkable close control, but the quality of his crossing was top class as well, that blossoming in the post-war period when he and centre-forward Dave Walsh struck up a ruthless partnership that racked up so many goals for the club.
Elliott appeared in 17 league games and scored three goals before Hitler nipped his career in the bud and by the time league football returned properly in 1946/47, Elliott was 26, having lost a swathe of his best years. And there’s no question that he was good during those missing years. Very good, good enough to play for his country.
Elliott did not strictly represent club and country because his two appearances for England do not appear as full internationals in the official record books. Perhaps that’s understandable in terms of his first game, a 2-0 win for England over Wales at Ninian Park just a month before D Day and a full year before VE day heralded the beginning of the end of the war – not that that was any consolation to those troops still getting shot at in the “forgotten war” in the far east mind you.
Quite why his second appearance was not deemed worthy of full status is altogether more perplexing though, given that it was against the old enemy, Scotland, and at Hampden Park almost a year after the hostilities had ceased, on 13th April 1946, England losing to the only goal of the game.
Elliott continued to perform at a high level for the Throstles after the war, eventually accumulating a career record of 40 goals in 182 games – how much more impressive would that have sounded if he could have had those seven seasons of football?
Ultimately, Elliott was denied official international status in the post-war games because he really was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, what hope did you have of playing on the right wing for England when there was Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney in the queue in front of you?