Major Frank Buckley

Buckley, a stern disciplinarian throughout his career, earned devotion and affection, not least because he was also a 'tracksuit' manager. He brought in Jack Charlton, who had this to say about him.

"Unlike the pros, we got just two weeks' holidays in the summer, and while they were away our job was to remove the weeds from the pitch and replace them with grass seed.  I remember being sat out there one day with Keith Ripley, another ground staff boy, when Major Buckley came over to us.  We must have looked pretty forlorn, the two of us, and to gee us up he said he'd give us five shillings for every bucket we filled with weeds. Now that was an offer we couldn't refuse.  By the time we were finished, we had filled six buckets, and, cheeky bugger that I was, I marched straight up to the Major's office.  And when he asked what I wanted, I told him I was there to claim my thirty bob for the weeds.  He nearly blew a bloody gasket! 'Get out of here!' he bellowed. 'You're already getting paid to do that work - don't ever let me see you up here again with your buckets.'

Yet beneath the gruff exterior, he was a kind man, as he demonstrated once when I met him.  My shoes must have been a sight, for when he looked down at them he asked me if they were the only pair I had.  I nodded.  The next morning, he summoned me to his office and handed me a pair of Irish brogues, the strongest, most beautiful shoes I'd ever seen and I had them for years”.

Buckley went to war with the 17th Middlesex Regiment (where he commanded the Football Battalion) seeing action and receiving wounds to his lung and shoulder in the Battle of the Somme and rose to the rank of Major. On his return, he was appointed manager of Norwich City.  The Canaries had been so debt-ridden that the receivers had wound the club up, but following an extraordinary general meeting, the club was resurrected and Buckley was placed in charge in February 1919 and returned the club to Southern League football.  The Football Battalion never played at Flanders Field where the poppy grew long before becoming a symbol of remembrance. But the professionals and supporters who joined the 17th Service (Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, to use its full name, lost a lot more than a game at the Somme.

The 17th Middlesex (Football Battalion) on the Somme

First Football', as the battalion became known, was formed on December 12 1914, by William Joynson-Hicks, later a post-war Home Secretary. England centre half Frank Buckley, better known as 'Major Frank Buckley', who played for a host of clubs, including both Manchester teams and Birmingham City, was the first to join.

There had been an initial slowness among the professionals to enlist. Contracts were said to be the problem, with clubs keen to keep playing to offer a release for the general public from the daily horrific tales from the front line. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stepped in with an appeal.   'If a footballer has strength of limb, let them serve and march in the field of battle,' he declared. And they did. By March 1915, 122 professional footballers had joined the regiment, including the entire Clapton (now Leyton) Orient team.

Officers & men of the 17th Middlesex Regiment

Back Row (L-R)
Sgt. Percy Barnfather, Billy Jones (The Tipton Smasher), William Booth, George Beech, Tommy Lonsdale, Sgt. Joseph Smith, Sgt. Yeoval, Francis Martin, John Sheldon

Front Row (L-R)
Pat Gallacher, Capt. Edward Bell, Lt. Vivian Woodward, Major Frank Buckley,
Sidney Wheelhouse, Tommy Barker, Lance Corporal Frederick Bullock

Major Buckley later wrote that by the mid-1930s more than 500 of the original 600 men in the Football Battalion were dead, either killed in action or dying from wounds suffered during the fighting.

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