Posted by: siday38 | February 27, 2013

Part 4: WWII – Tea Time in London

The 1910 exploits of the USS Idaho and co didn’t ignite an American Football craze in the UK.  In fact, the sport was pretty much forgotten about for almost 30 years.

This isn’t a sentence I use regularly but…luckily, the Second World War happened in 1939.  Lucky because it meant US troops were once again in the UK and once again were playing American Football.  This time there were 3 million of them scattered around the country, plus a further 500,000 Canadian troops.  It wasn’t just American Football that was being played this time.   In 1943, the London International Baseball League was formed and featured a combination of US, Canadian and British military teams.  Soon afterwards, the RACF and Army Athletics Finals attracted a crowd of 32,000.

American Football was played at Army Bases throughout the country, but the biggest encounter of that era took place as a result of a chance meeting in a pub!  Major Denis Whitaker, a former quarterback for the Hamilton Tigers and now a member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry bumped into an American Lieutenant and, as is the way, talk quickly turned to football.   Several drinks later they stumbled upon the idea of having an international match between the Canadian and US armed forces.

Fortunately, Whitaker wasn’t talking to me.  Most of my “great ideas after a few drinks” don’t make it to the next morning.  A couple of years ago, a handful of pints convinced me to announce that I was going to take up crazy golf.  I even cased out the nearest courses, looked up competitions and outlined my plan for (mini) world domination.   However, by the next day, I had completely forgotten about the whole thing and my plans never made it to the first hole.  It was a similar story when I


Whitaker was a far more driven man than me.  He took advantage of the football equipment that had been shipped over to him, contacted a fellow football fan and started to form a team.  He named them the Mustangs and began an “Escape to Victory but not in a POW camp” type hunt for other players in the Forces.  There were a sprinkling of troops with a strong football background and thanks to Lieutenant-General Kenneth Stuart, the Chief-of-Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters, they were given 6 weeks off from service to train for the match.decided to learn an instrument, become an Olympian and write a sitcom.

The venue for this prestigious game was the now demolished White City Stadium in London.  Once again, the British media heavily promoted the game, perhaps due to a lack of sporting events taking place at the time.  It was dubbed the “Tea Bowl”, a North American nod to the UK’s favourite tipple…well, in their eyes anyway.  Presumably, if the game had taken place in the present day, it would be called the Weak Lager Bowl.  In honour of this name, the trophy was a specially crafted 8 inch high silver teapot.

teaIn 1944, the term Blitz had a very different meaning to the football tactic we now know.  Back then, the threat of German bombers meant that Spitfires were deployed to cover the skies around the stadium during the game.  Despite the dangerous circumstances, around 30,000 people attended the game on the 13th February 1944.  The game was even broadcast on British radio, with Captain Edward Leather providing commentary.  To assist the bemused British crowd, the matchday programme provided a guide to how the game worked.  More importantly, alcohol was readily available to ward off the cold and help get everyone enthused with the action.

At the time, there were minor differences between how the sport was played in Canada compared to the US.  As such, it was agreed that the first half would be played with American rules and the second half Canadian rules.  The American rules led to a drab and pointless first half.  The second half was an entirely different affair and the Canadians, led by QB Orville Burke, scored 3 touchdowns and claimed a 16-6 victory.  There was even a 40 touchdown reception for Whitaker.   The game was considered a massive success, not just because of the on field action, but also for the camaraderie and friendliness of the occasion.

As for Whitaker, he survived the War and lived until 2001.  Among the possessions found in his house was a certain 8 inch silver teapot.

Next Time:  Tea Bowl 2 – The Sequel (aka the Coffee Bowl)


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