Watch as SAFC’s academy players come top of the Premier League class to secure place at prestigious European tournament

Players from SAFC’s academy were “buzzing” after learning they’d won a place at the Premier League’s prestigious Christmas Truce football tournament in Belgium, where they will get to play against top European opposition.

Only this time it wasn’t the Academy Under 12 team’s undoubted prowess on the football pitch which scored them a place at the coveted tournament, but their talents in the classroom, after coming top of the class in the Premier League’s Christmas Truce WW1 Project.

The tournament will feature some of the Premier League’s top teams as well as opposition from Europe, including Hertha Berlin from Germany, Lille from France, and RSC Anderlecht and Club Bruge from Belgium.

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While teams were able to achieve a place from competing in a qualifying tournament, there were also three places available based on the quality of the project work submitted, with SAFC’s “excellent submission” proving a hit with the judges.

While in Ypres, as well as playing in the tournament, the youngsters will visit the WW1 battlefields, experience what life was like in the trenches, and visit the WW1 military cemeteries, where they will face the challenge of locating the gravestone of former player Jack Huggins, as well as any of their own family who fought in the Great War.

The team will also attend a ceremony at Menin Gate memorial where they will lay a wreath on behalf of the club.

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Head of Education Don Peattie said: “The Premier League said they had the most number of entries ever and the standard was outstanding, so I’m really proud of what the lads have achieved to be selected.

SAFC Academy's U12 team jump for joy after securing a place at the Premier League's prestigious Christmas Day Truce football tournament.

"This is a massive opportunity, both in terms of their football and academic education. Due to Covid, it has been a long time since we had the opportunity to play European opposition and so this will be a good test for the team.

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"It will also hopefully bring to life some of the things we’ve been learning about and be an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

In the run-up to Armistice Day, the players designed their own poppies, researched former SAFC players who sadly perished in No Mans Land, and created their own additional verse to the classic war poem In Flanders Fields, which they recited at the Commonwealth war graves in Mere Knolls Cemetery in Sunderland.

The players also created displays about local volunteers who signed up to help the war effort.

Academy of Light youngsters Chris Chitedze, Michael Howe and Olly New give the thumbs up to their trip to Belgium where they will visit the WW1 battlefields.
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Right-back Olly New, 11, said: “I really enjoyed the project and I was buzzing when I found out we’d won a place. I’m really excited to play against different teams, but it will also be good to visit the war graves and I’m hoping to find the headstone of my great, great, great grandfather, Matty Taylor.”

While in Ypres, left-back Chris Chitedze and central midfielder Micheal Howe will also be delivering a presentation about the project to the city’s mayor.

Chris, 11, said: “I’m looking forward to speaking with the mayor and it will be good to play against teams from abroad.”

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SAFC's U12s players took part in a WW1 project at the Academy of Light.

Michael, 11, added: “I enjoyed the project, particularly the poem, In Flanders Field. Visiting Ypres and the battlefields is much better than learning about the war from a book.”

The youngsters depart for the four day trip on Thursday December 8.