photo (4)

In 1940 the Second World War was going very badly for Britain and her allies as Nazi forces spread out across Europe like a plague. In June of that year thousands of allied soldiers had piled onto the beaches of Dunkirk looking to escape the advancing German army.

Alongside the thousands of British soldiers rescued from the beaches thousands of other foreign troops were saved from nations such as France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the preceding months after Dunkirk the country was full of soldiers waiting for the German invasion and their orders.

One such group were what remained of the Czech army who found themselves in the sleepy Cheshire countryside in July 1940. Three thousand Czech soldiers were sent to Cholmondeley Castle were they waited for orders.

With hundreds of thousands of troops dotted across the country the British Government struggled to manage the troops effectively and most spent the summer of 1940 twiddling their thumbs or as in the Czech army’s case fighting pretend invasions…..without any weapons.

In an attempt to give the Czech soldiers something to do they were asked to play Chester in a friendly football match. One man in attendance at the game was Tranmere’s Chairman R S Trueman who arranged for the Czechs to come to Prenton Park. The game was billed as a charity match to raise funds for the struggling Mayor’s Spitfire Fund.

The Czech manager Prcek had a very mixed team at his disposal with international players such as Hajda, Zivela, Mestanek, Nagy and Staffel with the rest being very much amateurs.

The game was given the hype of a league game with the spectacle of foreign players being the biggest draw. Mestanek was a top class Czech keeper and the Birkenhead Advertiser stated ‘His acrobatics alone are worth the price of admission.’ The other main incentive to come was that Everton’s Tommy Lawton was likely to be in the Rover’s team.

When the match day came the Czechoslovakian flag was flown over Prenton Park to welcome Britain’s allies. However the game was a disappointment before the first ball was kicked as the attendance was extremely low due to vital war effort work which wasn’t uncommon.

The Czech players were in high spirits though and in their white shirts, red shorts and blue socks they entered Prenton Park. Tranmere however did not rate the Czech team and fielded seven amateurs but also Tommy Lawton.

The skills and techniques of each team differed greatly and the Birkenhead News did not rate the Czechs ‘They have not the guile and ball control of the English League players, but they step in first time, absolutely fearless and hit the ball about.’

Lawton was leading the attack for Rovers and after fifteen minutes opened the scoring for the home side. Kasper for the Czech’s nearly equalised but missed a golden opportunity on the edge of the box.

Soon after Kasper’s attempt Ronnie Hodgson scored a second for Rovers. The Czech’s didn’t get back into the game again until just before half time as Hajda made a cracking run down the line and crossed the ball into the box and after a scramble the ball hit the back of the net making the score 2-1 at half time.

The Czech’s must have felt they were still in the game as they came out for the second half but sadly Saunders scored for Rovers straight after the interval. Hodgson got the fourth (and his second) whilst Anderson scored the fifth from a penalty.

The Czech’s had had their chance and Hajda hit the woodwork three times in the second half. Nagy was the only other stand out Czech player and he scored a final consolation goal through Teasdale legs.

The game finished 5-2 and as the war effort moved on the game was quickly forgot.

In 1942 Czech soldiers from Cheshire were involved in Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Rienhard Heydrich, one of the darkest men of the Nazi Party who master minded the Jewish Final Solution policy. The rest of the troops found themselves involved in the retaking of Dunkirk in 1944. The soldiers returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945 as heroes.

Although the game was forgotten the sacrifice of the foreign forces who defended this country, whether they were Polish, Czech, French or Zimbabwean should never be forgotten.