The 20th Century began with a gruesome war that shook the world in its wake. Art and entertainment was a luxury that nobody could afford, but these little pleasures were doors to the joys of life during such dark times.
Though football tournaments had to be put on hold, the game still played an important role during the First World War.
One of the most prominent roles was that it kept a strong bond amongst themselves during a time when unity was most crucial. Football had let them run free for a while and keep good relations. Troops in the Western front played football by splitting the teams by their ranks and conducted friendly matches to boost morale as well as to stay fit.
Another interesting thing was that football was used to recruit men to join the army. Football helped evaluate their overall fitness and kinesthetic techniques, which in fact the associations took the responsibility of.
However, association football had an immensely negative impact due to the war since most of the players joined the army. It resulted in the deaths of many players all across the world and led to the loss of a number of prodigies. Anyone who stayed back, especially Jimmy Hogan who’d gone off to Europe, was heavily criticised for not taking part in supporting their own country.
The Football League and FA Cup were suspended, and regional tournaments were held in the meantime as a small enjoyment, in which players who appeared in these matches were not officially recorded.
Even though some leagues, like the Swiss League, were not suspended, there were little to no players left as 5,800 out of 8,500 players signed up for war. On top of that, most of the football fields were destroyed and turned into potato fields.
The author, Arthur Conan Doyle, directly approached the footballers and formed a Football Battalion whose members volunteered for service as part of the Middlesex Regiment. The battalion was led by Frank Buckley, a famous footballer and coach of the time, and consisted of more than 600 footballers with 500 of whom died in battle.
The World War had gone on bitterly for days. On Christmas Eve of 1914, the soldiers on the Western Front in Germany had spent the cold evening in their camps and what happened next was and still is a moment of wonder. The British on one side and the Germans on the other had spent months fighting each other. The Germans, on Christmas Eve, were singing carols and making merry when all of a sudden, one of them invited them to step over. The British and Germans agreed to meet in between at No Man’s Land. The only courtesy that had been extended before that time was to occasionally let the soldiers bring the dead without damage to their side of the battleground. However, there were now greetings, and the soldiers slowly began to fraternise.
Communication was a challenge as only a few of the Germans spoke English while little to none of the British spoke German. But what they did share in common, however, happened to be their love for football. Hence, out of nowhere, the soldiers produced a ball and began to kick it about from one end to the other. Soon, they set about a goal and played a match between the two armies. There are records of the Germans claiming that they played a brilliant match and won against the British by 3-2. Though some historians debate on the exact details on the accounts of what took place on the Western Front, and a lot of the lieutenants were not thrilled about this truce as it was illicit and unexpected. However, there are first-hand narrations given by the soldiers present at the Christmas Truce who’ve written about the Eve of Christmas in 1914. It is said that almost a couple of hundred soldiers took part in this truce and the football matches.
This kind of truce, though attempted, was never recreated by the British or the Germans. The incident was one of a kind. It was an event that showcased the capability of football to unify nations across the world. One of the British soldiers befriended a German soldier who could speak English, and this German went about to say “Today we have peace. Tomorrow, you fight for your country, and I fight for mine. Good luck.”
And in the passing of Christmas, the war recommenced.
Written by Vaishnavi Lingsur
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