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The Ruhleben Football Association: How Steve Bloomer's Footballers Survived a First World War Prison Camp By Paul Brown

Release date: 19th February, 2020
Publisher: Goal Post

List Price: 9.99
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Born in 1874, Derby County’s record goalscorer Steve Bloomer (291 goals in 473 matches) also made 23 England appearances, scoring 28 times, a phenomenal record which, if replicated today, would value him in stratospheric terms.

Pride Park regulars are familiar with the pre-match anthem which remembers their prolific frontman and following publication of Paul Brown’s engrossing The Ruhleben Football Association , a wider audience will soon become familiar with Bloomer’s remarkable career, in particular the time he spent as a prisoner of war.

During his time at Derby and later at Middlesbrough, Bloomer became one of the first footballers to endorse football kit: his boots were sold under the banner: “the boot that never fails to score” a line likely to cause palpitations amongst today’s Advertising Standards folk.

He returned to Derby for a second spell before retiring in 1914 to become a coach in Germany; but unlike his touch in front of goal, his timing let him down badly. Once the Great War broke out later in 1914, Bloomer was interred in a civilian camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin.

Though Ruhleben was a civilian camp, it was patrolled by armed guards and conditions there were harsh, its daily rations meagre at best.

Bloomer already knew a number of his fellow prisoners as they were prominent footballers. Fred Pentland and Sam Wolstenholme were England internationals, while Jack Cameron had been capped by Scotland. In addition, Jack Brearley played for both Spurs and Everton; Percy Hartley was a player at Preston and Huddersfield, while Walter ‘Wattie’ Campbell had also played for Everton.

After managing to get their hands on some footballs and marking out the interior of the former horse racing track as a football pitch (the 4,500 prisoners were housed in the track’s 11 stables), this unusually large coterie of professional footballers, driven by Bloomer’s enthusiasm and positivity, formed the Ruhleben Football Association.

Bloomer formed a Ruhleben league; a knock-out cup competition soon followed. Matches were watched by thousands, including prison guards. As the Great War raged beyond the prison’s fencing, Bloomer and his colleagues established some form of order to disrupted lives; some men even used matches as the perfect diversion to launch their escape.

Described by one critic as ‘the real Escape To Victory, it’s actually much better. A riveting tale that deserves the widest possible audience, a reminder of why Derby fans hail the bust of Bloomer (next to the home dugout) at every home match.

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