25 December 2017

The year was 1914 and all along the Western Front, soldiers huddled for warmth in their trenches, slowly realizing that the First World War would persist through the holiday season. Yet among the dreary conditions of no-man’s land, Captain A D Chater of the British army witnessed what he called “one of the most extraordinary sights anyone has ever seen.”

 

In a letter addressed to his mother, Chater recounted the events of Christmas Day in no-man’s land, where at around 10am in the morning, he saw “a German, waving his arms” who then began walking with another soldier towards British trenches. “We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so then one of our men went to meet them,” Chater wrote, “In about two minutes, the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas.” And what better way to celebrate a brief ceasefire in the midst of hardship? Football, of course! While British and German soldiers sang Christmas carols, took photos together, and chatted about their lives back home, they additionally took part in a series of unofficial football matches over the few days of peace.

 

Through these activities, soldiers from opposing forces came together and celebrated not only the holidays, but their shared humanity. In a time of war, where the enemy was meant to be perceived as less than human, football served as a connecting tunnel between trenches. Through football, the soldiers left their weapons off the pitch and engaged in friendly competition that, rather than further dividing the soldiers, united them in one of their common passions. Beyond bringing rivals onto one pitch, football was a tool that enabled the soldiers to sincerely enjoy one another’s company.

 

Yet all good things must come to an end. When word got out of the unofficial ceasefire in no-man’s land, participants in the friendly matches and holiday activities were threatened by their superiors with accusations of treason. Anyone who defied the orders to return to their trenches and fight faced court martial and execution. Despite the likelihood that each soldier was now even less inclined to fire on their “enemies,” the Christmas Truce came to an end and the war resumed on all fronts. Still, scattered among collections and archives on the events of WWI are the letters and diary entries of soldiers who witnessed first-hand the healing and celebratory aspects of football. One can only imagine their thoughts on the ways football for good has developed through today and continues to grow.

 

This holiday season, the Christmas Truce servesas a reminder that with peace comes football, and with football comes peace. This story is emblematic of streetfootballworld’s belief that beneath the outer surface— whether it’s a uniform or a skin colour— there is a force inside each one of us that longs to play, connect with and understand those around us.

 

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