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First World War's footballing heroes remembered in centenary wood

As football fans head to Boxing Day matches, people are being urged to remember the sport's heroes who went to fight in the First World War.

Supporters and clubs from throughout the English league are being given the chance to dedicate trees in "team groves" at the Woodland Trust's First World War centenary wood at Langley Vale in Epsom, Surrey.

Spearheaded by footballing legend Sir Trevor Brooking and involving the National Football Museum, the scheme aims to create a "beautiful and long lasting" memorial to players sent to the front between 1914 and 1918, many of whom never came home.

Other footballing greats backing the scheme include former Manchester United and England star Sir Bobby Charlton, who urged people to keep the legacy of the footballing heroes of the war alive.

Everyone who donates to ensure their club is commemorated in the remembrance grove will have their name included in a supporters' roll of honour as part of the "For Club and Country" project.

Football was important on the front, not just for professional players, as a welcome distraction, an encouragement for men to go over the top by following a ball kicked into battle and most famously in the Christmas Day match in no-man's land.

But on the home front, women also played a role in the beautiful game in the First World War, taking on traditional male jobs in munitions factories, farms and forests - and on the pitch, where they drew large crowds to watch their matches.

Women from munitions factories played football to boost morale at home, with the Lancashire United Transport Company forming a women's team as early as 1915, and the most famous, Dick Kerr Ladies of Preston, beginning to play seriously in 1916.

The men's professional teams had initially continued to play after war was declared in 1914, but as fighting continued, footballers were encouraged to join up.

Among those who went to war and never came home were Bradford Park Avenue's Donald Bell, the first professional English footballer to enlist in the British Army, and the only one to be awarded the Victoria Cross, who died on the Somme in 1916.

Tottenham and Northampton's Walter Tull, the first black officer to lead white troops into battle, was killed in action in March 1918, while James "Jimmy" Revill was shot during the Battle of Arras and later died from his wounds - the only Sheffield United player who didn't come home.

Sir Bobby said brave young footballers, staff and supporters from Manchester United had made the "ultimate sacrifice for all of us today".

"Together with the National Football Museum and Woodland Trust we will commemorate this great club's involvement in the First World War.

"Please get involved to keep the legacy of these heroes alive, and your name will appear alongside mine on the supporter's roll of honour," he said.

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