"Evelyn Lintott lies dead in France, a victim of the great offensive, a hero still, a greater hero by far than ever he was in the days gone by. He has died the death of a soldier and a man; he has died for his country and for those he loved and those who loved him.”

Frederick Lintott, Yorkshire Sports, 15 July, 1916

The death of England international Evelyn Lintott on 1 July, 1916, was national news. Many newspapers carried reports of his death in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, but none was more heartfelt than that written by his brother Frederick, the sports editor of the Bradford Telegraph. In a series of articles, he wrote his brother’s life story, explaining that “among my readers will be many who liked and admired him. They will be interested I believe, and it is for them that I write”.

A notable talent

The brother whose life he detailed had claim to be one of the most notable players of the Edwardian era. Born in Godalming, Surrey, Evelyn’s exceptional skills first emerged when he trained as a teacher at St. Luke’s College, Exeter. A defender, he played as an amateur for Plymouth Argyle and then Queens Park Rangers. The 1907/08 season was undoubtedly Evelyn’s most successful. He was capped five times for the England amateur team and three times for the full England side, going on to earn seven caps in total. The defender then became a professional with Bradford City, before moving to Leeds City – the forerunner to Leeds United. A highly respected figure, Evelyn took a leading role in the Players Union, becoming its chairman between 1910 and 1911.

Throughout his football career, Evelyn remained a school teacher. Frederick described a man who did not have a natural passion for study, but, “came to love his work for its own sake”. Moreover, he had a “splendid influence” over the young boys in his charge and a “natural gift for their management”.

To war

In September 1914, Evelyn joined the 15th West Yorkshire Regiment, better known as the ‘Leeds Pals’. According to Frederick, he made this choice because a number of his friends at the Ravenscliffe Golf Club intended to join the same battalion. Evelyn was immediately promoted to sergeant and, by December 1914, had been made an officer, the first professional footballer to attain this rank.

In becoming an officer in an infantry unit, Evelyn would occupy one of the most dangerous posts in the army. Expected to lead from the front, he was open about the risks when talking to his brother on his final leave home. Evelyn discussed the high possibility of being wounded or killed, but professed himself lucky not to suffer from nerves, comparing the feeling of going out into no man’s land to that felt before a big cup-tie.

The Somme

Evelyn’s last journey over the top was on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In their attack on the village of Serre, the Leeds Pals suffered the loss of 528 men who were killed, wounded or missing.

The final section of Frederick’s obituary provides an insight into the pain relatives felt in trying to understand the loss of a loved one based on just fragments of information:

“For the last scene we have little save our imaginations upon to which to reply. I have heard nothing, absolutely nothing, of his last hours save the letter from an officer in another battalion who wrote that lieutenant Lintott’s death was particularly gallant, that he was shot three times before he went down and out.

“We can believe, however, that there was no one more ready for that hurricane attack than he, no one more quickly over the parapet, no one more heroically leading on his men – temporarily he was in command of his company. But one bullet could not stop the British athlete in the full pride of health and strength. He still goes on. A second bullet, but still he presses on.

“And then the third. He stumbles and falls, and, as he falls, the light of life dies out of those clear blue eyes which he had been wont to look so fearlessly out on life. The wave of battle rolls forward, but Evelyn Lintott lies there on the ground.”

Grief and pride

In closing the life story of his brother, Frederick reflected on the mixture of grief and pride that his family and friends felt:

“Mourn him we may and must, but already our pride in him is even greater than our grief, for indeed he was a gallant gentleman.”

His last letter - left behind when he led his men out of the trenches - was written in just the vein Evelyn’s family would have expected. It stated: “If you get this, it will mean that I have given all I could. Don’t grieve, I would not for a moment have it otherwise. I am going into battle happy, confident and real proud to be in command of the best men I’ve ever met.” Such a man was Evelyn Lintott.

Remember them

Help remember the many footballers, officials and fans who, like Evelyn Lintott, fought and died during the First World War. Donate today to fund the planting of trees that will serve as a long-lasting memorial to football’s contribution to the conflict.