SkyBet Championship club Newcastle United will visit Bradford Park Avenue for a friendly in July to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Donald Bell VC.
The match at the Horsfall Stadium will be played on Sunday July 10, the exact date of Bell’s death 100 years ago. It will kick 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, which recognised his exceptional valour during service in the trenches in northern France on 5 July 1916.
Just five days later, without even knowing he was to receive the nation’s highest military honour, he was fatally shot in the head during a similar brave attack that saved the day for his comrades.
A full back during his playing career, Bell played for Avenue from 1912 until November 1914 when he enlisted with the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (The Green Howards) and went to serve on the front line in the Battle of the Somme.
Earlier in his career he represented the Magpies and Crystal Palace as an amateur.
In honour of the centenary of the hero’s death, Newcastle United have agreed to travel to Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium for a pre-season friendly.
Avenue chairman John Dean told the official website “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.”
His athletic prowess was to play an important part in his act of bravery on 5 July 1916. He was second in command of his bombing unit and, as his senior officer was knocked out, he took command.
His unit was under heavy fire from a German machine gun post and Donald ran out, bullets whining around his head, in to No Man’s Land with an armful of Mill’s Bombs, the forerunners of today’s hand grenades.
He attacked the machine gun, killing the firer with his revolver and blowing up the gun and other soldiers with a well-aimed grenade thrown from about 20 yards out.
His brave act saved many British lives and ensured the success of the attack.
Donald was characteristically modest about his extraordinary achievement.
In a letter to his mother, he described it as a “fluke”, but this was protested later by many of his fellow soldiers in letters to Harrogate’s local newspaper as they described his skill and athleticism.
His Commanding Officer, Lt Col H G Holmes, in a letter of condolence to Donald’s parents, described him as one of the finest officers he had ever seen.
Donald’s Victoria Cross – which, like all of these rare medals is cast in bronze from Russian cannons captured at Sevastopol in the Crimean War – was bought at auction by the Professional Footballers’ Association for a record price in 2010.
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.
In a statement on there website Avenue explained “The match against Newcastle will not be just about the football. It will be a very special day, attended by army representatives and some of Donald Bell’s descendants.
Further details of the day, and the reduced gate prices, will be announced over the next few weeks”