Premier League to hold "Christmas Truce" tournament in memory of Great War
Children representing teams from England, France, Germany and Belgium compete
FC Schalke 04,Borussia Moenchengladbach, Manchester United all in attendance
Manchester United won the inaugural tournament in 2011
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. (Laurence Binyon 1869-1943)
Nearly a century might have passed – but the memory of one of the most famous football matches to have ever taken place remains as strong as ever.
Some 98 years have elapsed since British and German troops on the front line emerged from their trenches on that fateful Christmas Day in 1914.
While the Germans lined their trenches with decorations and sang carols, the British responded by running onto no man’s land with a ball at their feet and a “Christmas truce” was born.
The two sides, both enduring its first winter of combat, decided an impromptu football match would be one way to create some camaraderie.
It is an event which is still fondly remembered today with the English Premier League’s Christmas Truce Tournament bringing the story to the next generation.
This weekend, teams from Belgium, France, Germany and England will take part in a competition to honor those who fell in the Great War.
The tournament will see some of the best players under the age of 12 compete in the Flemish town of Ypres in Belgium, one of the areas to be decimated by fighting and bloodshed.
Football made its own sacrifice to the Great War where more than 8,000 officers and men from the 17th and 23rd Middlesex perished at the Somme alone.
The “Footballers Battalion” as it was known, included players from a whole host of clubs ranging from Chelsea and West Ham to Clapton Orient, now Leyton Orient.
Tottenham’s Walter Tull, the first black outfield player to star in the top flight and the first black infantry officer in the British Army, also lost his life.
While such facts are hard to comprehend for most adults, these 12-year-old children are given an insight into a time where evil plagued the earth and some 20 million lost their lives.
The Premier League has two objectives for the project – player development and education.
“We got a fantastic reaction from the town of Ypres and the teams that took part in the 2011 tournament,” said Ged Roddy, Director of Youth at the Premier League.
“We are expressing our commitment to the competition by doubling it in size this year.
“By the time of the 2014 commemorations we hope that the Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament will be recognized as an established cultural event.
“The Christmas Truce Tournament brings education to life. Our work in this area has already been highlighted by Ofsted when we got our ‘Outstanding’ rating; they recognized that Premier League clubs encourage open minds that accept and welcome other cultures.
“An important job for the Premier League Education Department is to help clubs develop more rounded young men.
“We are using the Christmas Truce Tournament to not only foster the development of closer relationships between European clubs but develop greater understanding of the importance of shared histories.”
This year, reigning champion Manchester United returns with West Bromwich Albion, while FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Moenchengladbach represent Germany.
Anderlecht, Beerschot and Club Brugge provide Belgian representation with Valenciennes flying the flag for France.
For West Bromwich Albion, this tournament is rather poignant.
Harold Bache, a former player at the club, died at Ypres and is commemorated on the Menin Gate along with 57,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of the First World War.
On Friday night, West Brom’s players, including a child who attends the same school as Bache studied at, will lay a wreath at the Menin Gate along with players from Manchester United, West Brom, Anderlecht and Beerschot.
That will be followed on the Saturday by a dinner, which will be attended by dignitaries from the British Legion, UK Government and Ypres.
And after the games have been played and the final whistle blown, perhaps these children will have learned a lesson – and a story to tell their children one day in the future.