December 20, 2012

Did the Germans and the British really play soccer at Christmas in 1914?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, Soccer, WW1 — Tags: — Nicholas @ 11:14

In the Guardian, Scott Murray and John Ashdown discuss the rather amazing events of Christmas Day, 1914 between the combatants in France:

To borrow (and then misuse) one of the oldest football zingers in the book: in the middle of a fight, a football match broke out. A report in the Guardian on Boxing Day 1914 described how in one region “every acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football”. In their letters home, British soldiers told of shaking hands with their German counterparts and swapping cigarettes. A Scottish brigadier described how the Germans “came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.”

While there was undoubtedly continued gunfire along many sections of the front, most soldiers appear to have laid down their arms and called an unofficial truce that day, with fußball uppermost in the minds of many. A letter published on New Year’s Day from a British officer reads: “I hear our fellows played the Germans at football on Christmas Day. Our own pet enemies remarked they would like a game, but as the ground in our part is all root crops and much cut up by ditches, and as, moreover, we had not got a football, we had to call it off.” A letter in the Times, meanwhile, from a major reported that a German regiment “had a football match with the Saxons [regiment], who beat them 3-2”.

One match appears to have started between the Germans and a regiment from Cheshire, one of whom years later explained how a ball suddenly came hurtling over the top from the German side. “I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee — nothing like the soccer you see on television.”

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