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EFL Remembers: Royal British Legion - the story of Allen Foster

10 November 2016

Through November this year, the EFL and all 72 member clubs are uniting.

They will pay tribute to fallen servicemen, women and former players as part of Remembrance Sunday commemorations and the First World War Centenary, with the 18th November marking 100 years since the end of the Battle of the Somme.

Read more: Click here to read more about EFL Remembers

Across all of the 72 member clubs between 12-19th November, there will be a minute's silence and an EFL wreath laid on the pitch prior to kick-off to remember and honour all of those that have fallen in battle.

As part of the commemorations, we have linked up with the Royal British Legion’s ‘Sport Remembers the Somme’ campaign to share just some of the stories of footballers from league clubs who fought in the First World War.

Here, we tell the story of Allen Foster...

The striker who scored a hat-trick against AC Milan

Swashbuckling striker Allen Foster is still remembered at Reading FC for two feats: a giant-killing goal against Aston Villa and a hat-trick against AC Milan. A favourite of the fans for his larger-than-life personality and “caustic tongue”, he was killed in the brutal fighting at Guillemont on the Somme.

Foster, a miner’s son born in 1887 at Rawmarsh, West Yorkshire, kept up his famous wisecracks on the front line. In a letter home after seeing action he wrote: “We made old Fritz hop about! They were running about like lost sheep but we were popping away at him like blazes.”

"The finest foreign team in Italy"

He played for Rotherham Town and Bristol City before transferring to Reading FC in August 1911 for a fee of £75, which was paid in two instalments. The centre forward was a hero at Elm Park: he scored the only goal as Reading knocked mighty Aston Villa out of the FA Cup in 1912 and his hat-trick in an improbable 5-­0 victory against AC Milan.

The result, on a 1913 Italian tour, prompted Milan newspaper Corrière della Sera to report that “without doubt, Reading FC are the finest foreign team seen in Italy”. Foster was top scorer in four seasons with Reading, averaging a goal every other game, and his skills attracted a £750 transfer bid from Villa.

Despite financial troubles, the club turned it down.

"You won't last long out here"

Fighting in France with the 1st Football Battalion, the 17th Middlesex, Foster also told of the darker side of conflict. “It’s very trying to the nerves,” he wrote. “Lots of fellows get what they call shell shock. You won’t last long out here, but there’s no need to worry, I’m A1. I often wonder how long it will be before we are back to the old times again. Sometimes I think it will not last long. We can’t tell, we can only hope and trust it will not be for long.”

Foster was never to come home. Just over a month into the Somme in the bloody fighting at Guillemont, the 29­-year-old private was shot in the thigh, abdomen and arm. Rescued by stretcher bearers, he was expected to survive. But after a 16 ­mile journey by ambulance along dusty, bumpy roads, he died in hospital near Amiens.

"His death is like a thunderclap"

The Guillemont attacks also claimed the lives of footballers Oscar Linkson, William Gerrish and George Scott as well as rugby stars Horace Thomas, John King and Lancelot Slocock.

The Reading Observer reported: “The news of Allen Foster’s death came like a thunderclap and the death roll of Reading Football Club players is slowly mounting up.

“It seems impossible to believe that the fair-haired centre forward with a caustic tongue but lovable disposition would entertain us no more. One’s thoughts instantly flew to the quiet little woman and tiny babe.”

Foster is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension near Amiens. One of nine players associated with Reading who died in the war, his name is also on a memorial at the Madejski Stadium.

Remembering the Somme

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion is calling on communities across the UK to take the time out from their daily lives to honour those who fell. We have created a Somme 100 toolkit which contains everything you need to organise a Remembrance event in your community.

Make your own commemoration to Sergeant Joe Mercer or one of the other casualties of the First World War by simply placing a virtual poppy in their memory on the Every Man Remembered website.

This story is reproduced with thanks to the Royal British Legion – to read more stories like this visit their website here

For more details about Football Remembers and the EFL’s activity commemorating the centenary of the First World War click here or search #FootballRemembers on Twitter.

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