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A Real Sporting Tragedy...

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With the European Championships drawing to an unsatisfactory close for England, it is worth reflecting on a football cup final that ended in real tragedy.


In The Tank Museum’s Archive, the match day programme for the 1947/48 Army Challenge Cup Final is a memento of a match that ended in disaster for both the Royal Armoured Corps and their opponents.


bovtm_cup_final.prog.jpgIt is signed by all the RAC players (right), among them a Sergeant Hill, who had been instrumental in getting the team to the final.


The RAC were never really troubled during their six games to the semi-final; a 2-1 victory against the Royal Artillery in the 2nd Round was the only close result, whilst a 12-1 thrashing of the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment the following week showed they had no trouble finding the net.


For the Semi-finals, the Bovington based RAC were drawn against local rivals the Dorset Regiment, with the fixture to be played at nearby Dorchester. Hundreds of locals lined the pitch sporting rosettes in the colours of the County Regiment and perhaps it was this support that resulted in the home side being 3-1 up with only 16 minutes remaining.


With time ticking away and three goals needed to win, it looked like the RAC on their way out of the cup. But Sgt Hill had other ideas. The unlikely comeback started when Garnham headed home to give the away side a vital second goal. When a goal mouth scramble ended with Jackson poking the ball into the net, the home side may have feared the worst.


Then it happened, when Sgt Hill headed in the RAC’s winner and completed a remarkable come-back win which remains “the most exciting Semi-final in Army Cup History”.


Hill’s goal had taken his side to the final, and on the 14th April 1948 12,000 people turned out at the Command Central Ground in Aldershot to watch the RAC take on the Gunners of the 121st Training Regiment.


bovtm_rac_fc.jpgAfter meeting King George VI and the Duke of Gloucester (left), both teams played the full 90 minutes without scoring. Extra time did not bring a conclusive result, and in those happy days before penalty shootouts another date was set aside to replay the fixture.


Both sides returned a week later and by half time it was one-way traffic with the Gunners 2-0 up. However, the skies had been darkening throughout the match and when the teams came out for the second half lightning could be seen in the distance.


As the RAC battled to find a way back into the game, a shaft of lightening hit the pitch and was immediately followed by a tremendous crack of thunder which left the players and a number of the crowd sprawled out on the floor. As the crowd helped one another to their feet they were met with a sight of confusion and panic. A number of the players were still out cold, the officials were calling for help. It took some time for most of the players to get back to their feet and stagger to the side lines. As the situation developed it was evident that two players remained on the ground.


One of them was Sgt Hill of the RAC team, and the other was opposition player Gnr Broadly. Despite on-field attempts to resuscitate them, they had both been killed. This freak tragedy - and genuine sporting disaster - led to the cup being shared by both teams.


The Tank Museum would love to hear from anyone who can identify Sergeant Hill in the image above.


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