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11 Nov 2010

Football and War

On the 11th day of the 11th month, on the 11th hour of 1918, the Great War came to and end. Millions had died and millions more would carry the battle-scars for the rest of their lives.

For many of the young soldiers, football was a large part of life pre-1914. The sport had just begun to take off into the international sport it is today. The war forced all of that to come to a halt. Many footballers signed up to join the army, even whole teams would sign up together. Eventually, the Army formed the 'Football Battalion.' The Battalion of 600 of Britain's footballers fought alongside each other in Europe.

500 of them died.

There were around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK at the beginning of WW1, it is not known how many died. Celtic FC lost 7 of it's best 11 players, Brechin City lost 6. Bradford City lost 7 of their best 11 too. Almost every club in Britain was affected by the fighting in one form or another.

Football was not just a casualty, it provided one of the most memorable and beautiful moments of the war. On Christmas Eve, 1914, the guns along the trenches in Northern France and Belgium stopped firing for the first time since the war began.

The Germans began singing Carols during the evening while attempting to decorate their trenches as best they could. The British could hear these, and decided to "Fight back" by singing their own. Eventually, Germans and British were singing Silent Night (Stille Nachte) to each other across the divide. Both nations singing the same Carol in the middle of the bloodiest war.

On Christmas morning, 100,000 soldiers dropped their guns and went out to meet each other in the middle of mess and the blood of No Man's Land. Enemies and friends ate Christmas 'dinner' together, they sang carols, held Christmas Services and had a chance to bury their dead in proper funerals.

“Soon most of our company (‘A’ Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us... What a sight—little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn’t talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”

Then, from somewhere, a FOOTBALL was produced. And a mass game took place between two bitter rivals:
“...from somewhere, a football bounced across the frozen mud... Immediately a vast, fast and furious football match was underway. Goals were marked by caps... Apart from that, it was wonderfully disorganised, part-football, part ice-skating, with unknown numbers on each team. No referee, no account of score. It was just terrific to be no longer an army of moles, but up and running on top of the ground that had threatened to entomb them for so long...”

On December 27th, the soldiers shouted warnings to each other, and the guns came back to life. In other parts, the celebrations lasted right through until New Years Day.

In 2008, Ancestors of soldiers who took part in the games played a match on the same spot, 94 years later. Germany won 2-1.

In 2005, the last known survivor of the Great Football Game that Christmas Day, died. He was 109 years old.

In Remembrance of every soldier killed from the Great War to the present day. Long may we remember how they gave up their own lives so that we may live in peace and freedom today.

Never Forgotten.


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