The Christmas truce match provides one of the most evocative and lasting images of football during wartime. However, contrary to popular belief, there was never a single organised football match between German and British troops. The war was supposed to have been over by Christmas but the fighting and bloodshed were farther away from a speedy conclusion than ever.
As darkness fell late on Christmas Eve 1914 men of the British Expeditionary Force heard German troops singing carols and could see lanterns and small fir trees along the German trenches. The following day messages began to be shouted between the trenches and British and German soldiers agreed to meet in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and take photographs, during these unauthorised truces some impromptu games of football broke out. These games were no more than kickabouts but there were a welcome distraction from the carnage that the men had been witness to. However, the truce that took place in some parts of No Man’s Land were not replicated elsewhere along the Western Front where, far from being peaceful, fierce fighting and bloodshed continued without abating.
The British High Command feared the longer-term impact of such activity and issued strict orders that officers should be vigilant and should regard such contact between the two sides as an act of treason. The small truces of 1914 never happened again. Despite the best efforts of the military top brass and authorities, the story was in the public domain. A story that caught the imagination of the common man, a story that has been re-told and embellished many times in the century that has followed.
In 2014, to commemorate the centenary of the ‘match’ taking place, Ian McMillan wrote the following poem.
The Game: Christmas Day 1914
It is so cold.
The lines of this poem are sinking
Into the unforgiving mud. No clean sheet.
Dawn on a perishing day. The weapons freeze
In the hands of a flat back four.
The moon hangs in the air like a ball
Skied by a shivering keeper.
All these boys want to do today
Is shoot, and defend, and attack.
Light on a half-raised wave. The trench-faces
Lifted till you see their breath.
A ball flies in the air like a moon
Kicked through the morning mist.
All these boys want to have today
Is a generous amount of extra time.
No strict formations here, this morning;
No 4-4-2 or 4-5-1
No rules, really. Just a kickabout
With nothing to be won
Except respect. We all showed pictures,
I learned his baby’s name.
Now clear the lines of this poem
And let’s get on with the game.
No white penalty spot, this morning,
The players are all unknown.
You can see them in the graveyards
In teams of forgotten stone;
The nets are made of tangled wire,
No Man’s Land is the pitch,
A flare floodlights the moments
Between the dugouts and the ditch.
A hundred winters ago sky opened
To the sunshine of the sun
Shining on these teams of players
And the sounds of this innocent game.
All these boys want to hear today
Is the final whistle. Let them walk away.
It has been so cold. The lines
Of these poems will be found, written
In the unforgotten mud like a team sheet.
Remember them. Read them again.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
This season Newport Pagnell Town FC, Swan Confidential matchday programme and The View From The Shed are proud to support 4 year old Jaycee May O’Connor, a local girl who has Rett Syndrome.
The rare condition, that predominantly affects girls, stunts development of the brain and leads to rapid regression and a loss of skills such as crawling or sitting.
This means that Jaycee May is unable to talk and she also has regular seizures.
Her family are trying to raise funds to buy life changing Tobii Eyegaze technology, the equipment that will finally give Jaycee May a voice and enable her to communicate with others, something that we all take for granted.
For more information on Rett Syndrome and how you can help improve Jaycee May’s quality of life please follow the links below:
Artwork courtesy of Bravo Sierra Designs.
Photograph of Jaycee May courtesy of Rebecca Hall.
‘The Game: Christmas Day 1914’ by Ian McMillan.
Originally published in ‘Swans Confidential’ the official matchday programme of Newport Pagnell Town Football Club.
NPTFC v Harborough Town POSTPONED
United Counties League Premier
7th November 2015
© Andy Gunn