May 2014: The greatest match the world has ever seen

PRONI’s Document of the Month for May has a football flavour, but one which comes with a strong helping of pathos.

PRONI’S Gavin McMahon, who chose the document said,

“As a passionate football fan with a keen interest in military history, I am both fascinated and horrified by this army recruitment poster which is styled as a football match-day programme for “The greatest Match the world has ever seen”.

Describing the War as a “Grand International Match”, the programme (PRONI ref LA/20/50/GA/5) identifies the opponents, the setting, “somewhere in Germany”, and the rules, “Unlimited number of players on both sides".

Poster of football match 1915:  Great Britain, Ireland and allies verus Germany, Austria and allies Gavin explained

“The poster dates from early 1915, when hostilities were entering a new phase. Stung by the strength of the German Army and plagued by new threats such as coastal shelling and Zeppelin raids, the Allied Forces were desperately in need of greater manpower.

The Military Authorities had to rely on volunteers to help bolster their reserves. They were creative in how they tried to entice recruits, often producing colourful posters and literature which combined themes of heroism, local folklore and bravery.

This poster capitalises on the innocent glamour and excitement that idealised the early stages of the First World War Sadly, such notions of adventure would be wiped out by later bloody losses at Gallipoli and the Somme. In total, 210,000 from Ireland were to volunteer over the course of the War

With the World Cup, the greatest sporting occasion in the world, almost upon us,  it’s poignant to remember that football-fever was a fixture of life one hundred years ago. As a poster, this is a classic example of contemporary understatement”.

In June, PRONI will publish a guide to the sources it holds about the First World War; from August, PRONI will put online previously unpublished First World War material, including letters and diary entries.

PRONI is a partner in the First World War Centenary Partnership.

The First World War Centenary logo

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