Soccer in the Trenches: Football as a Unifying Force

The Pitch Cut Up Rough

by Richard Bowdery.

As Remembrance Day falls within this week, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the power of football to unite people in even the most hostile of circumstances.

Drama reconstruction of WW1 Christmas TruceChristmas 1914 saw an extraordinary event take place between sworn enemies. British soldiers lined up against their German opponents. But they weren’t pointing guns at each other. They were kicking a pig’s bladder on a surface which was quite cut up, to say the least.

Several games are reported to have taken place on Christmas Day in no-man‘s land and most were just an opportunity to let of steam.

In 1983 Ernie Williams, who served in the 6th Cheshires recounted how he took part in a match against the Germans. He said: “The ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came from their side. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout.

I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee – nothing like the soccer you see on television. The boots we wore were a meance – those great big boots we had on – and in those days the balls were made of leather and they soon got very soggy.”

But there is at least one match where the score was recorded. It took place near Armentieres in France.

1261_pgThe day started with German soldiers placing lit candles on top of their trench. Then they started singing carols. The British joined in and soon soldiers from sides were clambering out of their trenches.

They exchanged cigarettes, swapped momentoes and showed pictures of their families and sweethearts.

Before long a ball was produced and a game of football commenced and would you believe it Germany won 3-2. In the quarter finals of the 1970 World Cup (West) Germany beat England 3-2, so no change there!

All too soon the match was over and hostilities recommenced. But for a short time football had brought a degree of sanity to an insane world.

Many of those soldiers killed in the Great War were professional footballers who played for teams that are still plying their trade at the top echelons of the game today; teams such as Arsenal Southampton, Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday to name but a few.

Indeed famous people such as Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, encouraged them to sign up and fight.

Yes it was an extraordinary event. But as Captain Blackadder famously said: “I can’t believe it! I was never offside!”

Sadly, for the many footballers who fought they would never have the opportunity to be caught offside again.



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