On a foreign field one hundred years ago, Evelyn Lintott heard the whistle blow and gallantly answered his country’s call for the final time.
On the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, England international footballer Lintott led the West Yorkshire Regiment’s 15th Battalion, a so-called Footballers’ Battalion known as the Leeds Pals over the top and into the cauldron of war.
Evelyn Henry Lintott would be one of 19,241 British servicemen to be killed on that day. He was just 33 years of age.
SCHOOL MASTER, SOLDIER, FOOTBALLER
Lintott was a school master first and foremost and an England international footballer second. In an age where the game was making strides into professionalism, his football career followed his teaching duties and he joined clubs close to the schools he taught in.
Born in Godalming, Surrey on November 2nd 1883, Lintott had played as a half-back (a position best described as a cross between a modern-day midfielder and central defender) for local club Woking before moving on to Plymouth Argyle; close to where he undertook teacher training in Exeter.
Upon earning a teaching role in Willesden north-west London, Lintott, who was by this stage already an England Amateur international, joined Southern League Queens Park Rangers. Among his R’s teammates was Fred Pentland, a winger who would later be revered as the legendary bowler-hat wearing coach of Athletic Bilbao.
His time in the Hoops saw him become the first QPR player to win a full England international cap when in 1908 he made his debut in a 3-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. Queens Park Rangers would need to wait 63 years for Rodney Marsh to become their second full international in 1971.
Lintott was by all accounts a cool reader of the game, accomplished captain and a defender known for limpet like close man-marking. Lintott’s international career saw him represent England at Amateur level 5 times as well as winning 7 full international caps. His amateur debut coming in a famous 15-0 drubbing of France.
In one full international match against Wales at Wrexham, Lintott marked football’s early superstar and Manchester United hero Billy Meredith out of the game, leading the original Welsh-wizard to complain;
“For God’s sake, go away. England has got seven goals. How many more do you want? Are you frightened of being beaten now?”
England won the game 7-1.
As so often has been the case, fortune did not favour Queens Park Rangers and despite winning the 1907/08 Southern League Championship, they missed out on election to the Football League as 7th placed Tottenham Hotspur were promoted in their place. By this stage, Rangers had resigned their place in the Southern League and faced the very real prospect of extinction. Legend has it that with Rangers forced to trim their budget and squad, Lintott agreed to sign professional terms with the cash-strapped West London club in order to provide QPR with a much-needed transfer fee before his move to Bradford City.
Although an amateur for much of his career, Lintott served as Chairman of the PFA (then the AFPU Association Football Players’ Union) and along with contemporaries such as Billy Meredith, campaigned for an end to the £4 maximum wage. This show of solidarity with teammates and opponents drew great admiration and helped to strengthen the players union which has lasted more than 100 years through war, peace time and on to prosperity. Without the withdrawal of the wage cap and the efforts of men like Lintott and Meredith, football and some of the great clubs we know today, would look very different indeed.
Having swapped West London for West Yorkshire, Bradford City’s Valley Parade became home for the next three seasons as Lintott established himself in the Bantams’ side. He played more than 50 games in the claret and amber but missed out on a 1911 FA Cup Winners medal due to injury.
As the end of his playing days loomed, Lintott made the short move from Bradford City to Leeds City where he would play 43 times for Herbert Chapman’s Elland Road outfit before the outbreak of war ultimately drew the curtains down on a proud footballing career.
LEEDS PALS AND THE FOOTBALLERS’ BATTALIONS
As Europe’s uneasy peace and alliances between empires and royalty were shattered by a gunshot in Sarajevo, across the British Isles a recruitment drive spun into operation and young men signed up to fight for King and Country.
Military generals saw success in conflict as being a numbers game and the recruitment drive looked for men of all classes to join the war effort.
Some men joined of their own accord, others like Lintott and the Leeds Pals signed up with friends and colleagues to form their own special divisions of the British Army (known as Pals’ Battalions) where friends, neighbours and colleagues who joined together, could fight together rather than being sent to war separately.
As Britain shaped for war, enlistment was seen as a moral duty. In the City of London, a Stockbrokers Battalion raised 1600 men. Rugby Union players joined in their droves and footballers were initially seen as lacking moral fibre and slow to join the cause.
Appealing directly to Britain’s young sportsmen, Arthur Conan Doyle implored;
“There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, and there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle.”
Soon 2000 of Britain’s 5000 professional footballers had enlisted and football league clubs were seen as ideal recruitment grounds in the fight for King and Country. The Times reported that as many as 100,000 men had signed up through football based recruitment drives. Allegiance to King and Country is one thing, allegiance to one’s friends and football club seemingly an altogether greater draw.
Among the first to answer his country’s call to arms was Evelyn Lintott who joined the 15th (Service) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, better known at the 1st Leeds Pals, on 14 September 1914.
Admired as a leader off the pitch as well as on it, Lintott was soon promoted to sergeant and is believed to be the first footballer to have earned a commission when he later rose to the rank of lieutenant.
Lt Lintott left for Egypt in December 1915 where he and the Leeds Pals spent three months guarding the Suez Canal before finally leaving for France to help halt the feared German march on Paris in March 1916 .
After acclimatisation on the Western Front, the Leeds Pals were given the task of capturing the heavily fortified village of Serre on the 1st of July, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. On the previous night, commanders believing they had found a kink in the German defences, signposted a route through the barbed wire to enemy positions. It was to be a deadly mistake as wave after wave of soldiers were mown down by German machine gun fire, with 2000 men killed by 8am.
Among those killed in the futile conquest at Serre was Lieutenant Evelyn Henry Lintott.
A letter in the Yorkshire Post described his final moments:
“Lt. Lintott’s end was particularly gallant. Tragically, he was killed leading his platoon of the 15th West Yorkshire Regiment, ‘The Leeds Pals’, over the top.”
“He led his men with great dash and when hit the first time declined to take the count. Instead, he drew his revolver and called for further effort. Again he was hit but struggled on but a third shot finally bowled him over.”
Lintott’s death was officially reported by Private David Spink, who wrote;
‘Lt. Lintott killed by machine gun at 3pm in the advance. He was struck in the chest.’
The tactical response was to send for more men.
Lintott’s body was lost to the mud and was never recovered. His sacrifice is commemorated along with the souls of 72,195 British and South African casualties of the Somme at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France.
In the cauldron of conflict, many souls were lost on each side of no man’s land. With many expecting the conflict to be over by Christmas 1914, the continued slaughter of young life for apparently little gain devastated communities as telegrams returned home to advise that those friends who had left their homes together and fought together had tragically died together.
After the war, Lintott’s final club, Leeds City became embroiled in one of the game’s worst ever scandals when they were accused of illegal wartime payments to players. City would be forced to withdraw from the Football League with Port Vale taking their place. From the ashes of Leeds City, a new club rose and Leeds United were born.
LIFE AND DEATH
Occasionally, we bypass the hyperbole and vitriol that tells us football is more important than life or death and are reminded that in the scheme of things, football, however beautiful; really is only a game. A metaphor for life, an international language, a worthy pastime, a way to instill values in young and a way to connect fathers to sons and generations to their past.
The centenary of the Battle of the Somme will fall with England’s footballers hoping to be in France for the latter stages of Euro 2016. As we approach the centenary of the sacrifice made by Lintott’s generation and the slaughter of the Somme, football connects us to our history.
Evelyn Lintott was of course not alone in the list of sporting casualties of the First World War. Notably, Clapton Orient, Heart of Midlothian, West Bromwich Albion suffered heavy losses and many members of the England Rugby Union squad of the day were lost to the war effort.
One hundred years after his death at the Battle of the Somme, a plaque of remembrance has been unveiled at his first club Woking’s ground to commemorate the only Cardinals player to have played for England.
Evelyn Lintott is remembered fondly at former clubs Plymouth Argyle, Queens Park Rangers, Bradford City and Leeds United.
Evelyn Henry Lintott. 2 November 1883 – 1 July 1916
Lest we forget.