During World War Two, the two rivalling London football clubs had to both use White Hart Lane as their ground. Now an exhibition examines how football continued during wartime, writes Nick Elvin

At the outbreak of World War Two, many professional footballers went off to fight for king and country, some of them never to return.

League football was suspended across Britain, only to be re-instated as The Wartime League, with clubs calling upon guest players – professional footballers serving in the forces who were billeted nearby – to provide much needed entertainment for war-weary fans.

This week, the Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale will unveil its latest temporary display, Tin Hats and Football Boots. The exhibition explores the contribution made by various members of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs to the RAF and ARP (Air Raid Precautions) during the war, through photographs and other artefacts.

In a move that might seem unthinkable today, Tottenham were forced to share their White Hart Lane ground with north London rivals Arsenal – the Gunners’ Highbury stadium having been requisitioned by the government as an ARP centre.

The two neighbouring clubs had to work together to ensure both catered for their fans, and some exciting league games ensued, quite often without the involvement of key players or support staff who had been so central to each team’s success before the war.

Curator of the display, Ellen Soall, says: “It was only while conducting research into local history for a museum project that I realised how integral both clubs were to London’s war effort.”

The Wartime League provided servicemen with an escape from the realities of war, and was played on a regional basis; the southern division was made up of Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham, Millwall, Tottenham and West Ham United.

Sadly Arsenal players Bobby Daniel, Sidney Pugh, Harry Cook and Leslie Lack were among the footballers who lost their lives in the 1939-45 conflict.

It was also a tough time for those living in London, and the exhibition examines how important regular competitive football was to the upkeep of the capital’s morale.

Ellen adds: “For 90 minutes both players and spectators could escape the horror of war and life would, for a brief period, assume an air of normality – all important for maintaining morale and a reminder of more peaceful times.”

Tin Hats and Football Boots runs from Saturday, January 22 until July 4 at the RAF Museum, Grahame Park Way, Colindale. Entry is free. Details: 020 8205 2266, www.rafmuseum.org