A CENTURY since the 1914 Christmas Truce took place, football players and managers have recited a special poem to remember the fallen.
The video brings to a close Football Remembers, the series of programmes and events delivered jointly by the Premier League, The Football Association and the Football League, in partnership with the British Council, to commemorate the First World War.
The poem will be posted alongside the 11,000 pre-match team photos that have been uploaded to FootballRemembers.com during December. The pictures and poem recital will be handed to the British Library as a record of football in 2014, 100 years on from the Christmas Truce.
The video features football people from the Premier League, The FA, and the Football League, including Sunderland’s John O’Shea and Newcastle’s Steven Taylor.
In total, there are 17 footballers, coaches, managers and referees who deliver stanzas from the poem.
Work on it started in mid-November during the Christmas Truce National Tournament held in Ypres, Belgium. The Poetry Society and Premier League worked together to enhance the educational aspect of the trip for the 320 young footballers representing all 20 Premier League clubs taking part in the tournament.
Leading poets accompanied the Under 12s as they visited British and Commonwealth and German cemeteries, memorials and the graves of former footballers. They helped them produce their own poems inspired by their visit. These explored their feelings about the First World War, the Christmas Day Truce of 1914 and its fabled football matches.
Their poems were then distilled into the final piece written by leading poet Ian McMillan called ‘The Game: Christmas Day 1914’. It received its premiere in the Houses of Parliament on December 9 when it was read by two under-12 Liverpool players.
The full list of those speaking in the poem [in order of appearance]:
• Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
• Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal
• Charlie Austin, Queens Park Rangers
• John O’Shea, Sunderland
• Matt Bloomfield, Wycombe Wanderers
• Sir Trevor Brooking
• Gary Neville, England
• Howard Webb, Professional Game Match Officials Limited
• Steve McClaren, Derby County
• Steven Taylor, Newcastle United
• Jack Butland, Stoke City
• Ashley Williams, Swansea City
• Alan Irvine, West Bromwich Albion
• Ian Holloway, Millwall
• Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton
• Mark Schwarzer, Chelsea
The poem reading appropriately opens with a verse from Belgian and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany. It concludes with Chelsea and Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, whose involvement brings the programme full circle.
Schwarzer’s Chelsea team-mate Eden Hazard kicked off Football Remembers in May 2014 when the partners launched a Football Remembers education pack that was sent to more than 30,000 schools across the UK. Since then there have been an array of legacy projects that ensure young people will continue to learn about the First World War for decades to come.
A new permanent memorial to the Christmas Truce has been erected at the National Memorial Arboretum; the Premier League has gifted a 3G pitch to the city of Ypres as a ‘living memorial’; 60 Under 12 footballers from England and Germany formed the backing choir for a re-recording of All Together Now by the Peace Collective; two Under 12 Christmas Truce Tournaments took place in Ypres, one in November for all 20 Premier League clubs and one in December for six international nations; historic matches were played between England and Germany’s women’s teams and the British Army FA and the German Army; tens of thousands of professional and grassroots footballers took part in joint team-photos for FootballRemembers.com.
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.
© Ian McMillan