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May Document of the Month: ‘The greatest Match the world has ever seen’

May Document of the Month: ‘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.

This example from PRONI’s collection, LA/20/50/GA/5, is an interesting example of recruitment literature, which was issued to entice individuals into the armed forces during the First World War. In a bid to attract individuals with sporting interests, the Army designed a poster in the style of a football match-day programme for what it calls, “The greatest Match the world has ever seen”. Describing the War as a “Grand International Match”, the programme sets out the opponents, the setting, “somewhere in Germany”, and the rules, “Unlimited number of players on both sides.”

Gavin McMahon, who chose the poster said, “As a passionate football fan, and also someone interested in military history, this poster absolutely fascinated me.”

May Document of the Month: ‘The greatest Match the world has ever seen’
illustrates the innocent glamour and excitement that idealised the early stages of the First World War, which the Authorities clearly hoped to capitalise on. Sadly, as is well known, such notions of adventure would be wiped out by later bloody losses at the likes of Gallipoli and the Somme.”

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

The date of the document was early 1915 and hostilities in the First World War 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, Allied Forces were desperately in need of greater manpower.

Conscription would not be introduced to the British mainland until 1916. In Ireland, with its delicate political situation, it was never imposed. Instead, the Military Authorities had to rely on volunteers to help bolster their reserves. To their credit, the Authorities were often creative in how they tried to attract recruits, often producing colourful posters and literature which combined themes of heroism, local folklore and bravery. In total, 210,000 from Ireland were to volunteer over the course of the War.

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PRONI is a partner in the First World War Centenary Partnership. For the latest news and commemorative events surrounding the centenary, check out the following link.

Story by Garth Stewart

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