Newcastle United have sent a team to Bradford for a friendly game today to honour a hero Donald Bell VC.
The match at the Horsfall Stadium kicks off at 3pm.
Donald Simpson Bell was the first professional footballer to enlist in the Great War and remains the only one ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross, in recognition of his exceptional valour when serving in northern France on 5 July 1916. Just five days later, he was killed during a similar brave attack.
The Newcastle team named today is:
Smith, Satka, Gillesphey, Findlay, Gibson, Bigirimana, Gilliead, Vuckic, Smith, Roberts, Toney
There are five players with first team experience (bear in mind 26 players flew to Ireland yesterday) in this team – Satka, Roberts, Bigirimana, Toney and Vuckic.
Whilst Stuart Findlay who signed on Friday after Celtic failed to offer him a new deal, makes his first appearance in a Newcastle shirt.
We carried an article last month by Martin Scott (read it HERE) which included the following description of his bravery:
‘During one encounter on July 5th 1916, Donald and his battalion were attempting to capture a position called “Horseshoe Trench”, his actions were described as ‘of his own initiative leading two others, he crept up a communication trench and then rushed across open ground under heavy gunfire to attack a hostile machine gun which was holding back the British advance, he managed to make it across and shot the machine gunner with a revolver and destroyed the gun post with a grenade and also throw grenades into a nearby trench killing over 50 enemy soldiers’.
The act was described as a tremendous act of bravery which saved many soldier’s lives. At the time of the event, Donald modestly made light of his achievement, saying his accuracy with the grenades had been a total fluke and he was doing what anyone else would have done to protect his fellow men.’
Donald Bell played five times for Newcastle as an amateur before moving back to his native Yorkshire where he played for Bradford Park Avenue from 1912 until November 1914 when he then enlisted with the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (The Green Howards) going on to serve on the front line in the Battle of the Somme.
Brighton Park Avenue chairman John Dean:
“It is clear that Second Lieutenant Bell was an exceptional man whose conduct on and off the battlefield was exemplary, as well as his skill and integrity on the football pitch.
“He is an important figure in our proud club history but, more than that, he is an enduring role model for today’s players and for all of us in the footballing community.
“The board felt it was fitting to dedicate our entire season to Donald Bell in this centenary year and the match against the Magpies is the first of many activities we’re planning.
“We hope that not only football fans but the whole community will turn out to honour him.”
The match today is attended by army representatives and some of Donald Bell’s descendants.
Donald Bell’s Victoria Cross was bought at auction by the Professional Footballers’ Association for a record price in 2010 and the medal is on display in the Football Museum in Manchester. A permanent memorial stands at the place where Donald was killed and, to this day, the site of his act of bravery is called Bell’s Redoubt in his honour.