Hackney Gazette archives shed light on war’s soccer stars

Clapton Orient

Clapton Orient - Credit: Archant

The stories of a group of footballers who served in the First World War are being brought to life by researchers who are scouring old editions of the Hackney Gazette.

Dick Upex

Dick Upex - Credit: Archant

The footballers, who played for Clapton Orient before departing for the trenches of northern France in 1915, are being researched as part of They Took the Lead, which aims to tell the story of the 41 former players and staff who served in the Great War to a wider audience.

Since the launch of the project, led by Leyton Orient Trust and research charity Eastside Community Heritage last April – which coincided with the 100th anniversary of the players leaving to join the war effort – a group of 30 local volunteers between the ages of 17 and 75 have been busy uncovering their backgrounds using records held at the Hackney Archive in Dalston’s CLR James Library and by delving into copies of the Gazette from the time.

Lifelong Orient supporter Alan Thomas, from Hackney, has been researching three of the players.One, Dick Upex, returned from the trenches several times to play for the club and became a successful businessman after also playing for Tottenham Hotspur and Charlton Athletic.

Mr Thomas, 75, said: “As genealogy and supporting Leyton Orient are two of my favourite pastimes I jumped at the chance to join the project when it advertised for volunteer researchers.

“The First World War is now at least three generations ago so I wanted to make a small contribution to ensuring current generations remain aware of it.

“Using football is a good way to do it. Finding Dick’s grandchildren and speaking to them to get to know more about him has been a real highlight so far.”

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The research will be turned into a touring exhibition and workshops will be run in Hackney schools later this year, alongside a website featuring stories about the players and the club, who were based in Hackney between 1881 and 1937.

The group of younger volunteers, all college students, are also making a short film about the project.

Paul Beard, projects manager at Eastside Community Heritage, added: “Going through old editions of the Hackney Gazette has given us a fascinating insight into the lives of footballers and the people living in Hackney during the Great War. “Hackney has such a rich sporting history and Clapton Orient, who were based in the borough at the time, are a key part of that history.”

The group wants to hear from anyone who has a story to share about the club’s involvement in the First World War or football in Hackney during that time. Email paul@ech.org.uk.