75 years since Hatfield Heath were thrashed 11-0 in Boxing Day football match by German, Italian and Austrian prisoners of war
Exactly 75 years ago today Hatfield Heath Football Club crashed to their worst ever defeat – but, unusually, they are going to be celebrating the 11-0 thrashing.
This particular match on Boxing Day 1946 had a historical significance.
The Heath took on a side selected from the prisoner of war camp which was located in the village. They were soundly beaten 11-0 by the “visiting” European team, which was made up of Italians, Austrians and Germans.
On Monday (December 27) players and officials from Hatfield Heath FC will poignantly retrace the steps of the PoWs who were marched at gunpoint across the village to take part in the game.
It may not be as iconic as the Christmas Day 1914 match between German and British soldiers in no-man’s land on the Western Front, but in the Uttlesford village it’s treated with the same respect.
Current club secretary David Pyle, whose grandfather Howard owned the pitch where the match was played, said: “It has to be the most famous match in our history.
“There can’t be many clubs who commemorate their heaviest ever defeat. But it will be an honour for us to do so.”
David lives a stone’s throw away from the old ground.
He said: “I remember my grandad telling me there was a huge column of PoWs who were allowed to watch the game who were marched from the camp to the pitch.
“And they were under strict orders that they had to behave themselves and were only allowed to clap politely.”
Brothers David and John Brown will be taking part in the memorial walk. Their father, club legend George Brown, was in the Heath side that day.
John, 79, said: “I was very young but I do remember being taken to the game and the crowd being three or four deep around the pitch.
“And I can remember the PoWs – all in dark uniforms – who weren’t playing being brought to the pitch.”
David, 75, said: “Dad never really spoke about the game much.
“I think it was one of those occasions that, as time has gone on, it has become more special.”
Neil Jones’ grandfather Fred Bruty was in the side and his great, great-uncle Bill Bruty, who was club chairman at the time, organised the match.
Neil said: “We're so proud to have this history. I’ve still got some of Fred’s medals from his time playing in finals for the Heath but this was possibly his most famous game.”
The last Heath player to take part in the match, Ron “Pudding” Jones, died several years ago.
The club were never able to trace any of the PoW team. Bill Bruty wanted to extend a hand of friendship to the PoWs, all of whom were ordinary working-class men who had been conscripted into their respective countries' armies before being captured.
Those PoWs not selected for the team were marched across the Heath to the pitch at Bentleys.
They were ordered to stand on one side of the pitch and villagers were allowed on the other. The inmates were only allowed to clap when their team scored and were not allowed to cheer.
It’s still unclear what the attendance was but it’s estimated to be between 750 and 1,000.
Most of the Heath’s best players were still away serving their country and their side was made up mainly of reserve team players.
Local historian Mark Ratcliff said: “There were up to 1,000 men in the camp at one stage.
“There is no record anywhere of the match taking place, but obviously the memories of villagers who played or who were at the game have kept it alive.
“The camp opened in 1942 and didn’t close until 1948.”
Developers have recently tried to knock down the remains of the camp and build an exclusive housing estate. A passionate campaign by villagers saw Uttlesford District Council planners refuse permission but its future remains uncertain.
Several of the PoWs stayed in the area after being freed in the ensuing years, marrying local women, but they have all since died.
After the game the village side went back to the camp for “refreshments”.
Local folklore has it that supplies were smuggled out of the village’s four pubs – The Stag, White Horse, Waggon and Horses and Fox and Hounds – so both sets of players could enjoy a few festive drinks together.
It was one day when the result really didn’t matter.
Jones added: “It’s not quite as famous as the match on Christmas Day 1914 in no-man’s land. But it’s our little bit of history and we are all very proud of it.”