Under-12 academy players representing all 20 top-flight clubs are in Ypres this weekend to compete in a special edition of the Christmas Truce National Tournament, which will also mark the opening by the Premier League of a new 3G pitch in the Belgian city.
Over three days of competition, the 20 teams will aim to be one of two sides to qualify for this year’s Premier League Christmas Truce International Tournament, which takes place on 13-14 December, also in Ypres, and will also feature teams from Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and Scotland.
The Premier League Christmas Truce International tournament has been running since 2011 and brings together youngsters from across Europe in a weekend of football competition and cultural activities conducted in the spirit of the Christmas Truce, when troops in the First World War ceased fighting on Christmas Day in 1914 and exchanged gifts, sang carols and played impromptu games of football in no-man’s land.
National qualifying, which normally takes place in England, has been moved to Belgium to commemorate the centenary of the Christmas Truce. The 20 teams will be split into four groups of five (see below) with the two finalists returning to Ypres next month for the International Tournament.
The action began at 9am (GMT) on Friday morning, with the final taking place at 2.15pm on Sunday afternoon.
Half the matches this weekend will take place on the new 3G facility, which will be formally opened on Friday afternoon by Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore and Jan Durnez, the Mayor of Ypres. The pitch is a symbol of the Premier League’s commitment to the Christmas Truce tournament and the city of Ypres, with which it has formed a special bond over the years. The floodlit facility, situated at KVK Westhoek’s Crack Stadion, will be used by various teams at the club and by numerous schools and community groups in the local area.
As well as the football on the pitch this weekend, the young players will be involved in a variety of educational activities which will expand their knowledge of World War I, while they will also pay their respects to those who lost their lives.
The teams will visit Langemarck German Military Cemetery; Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world and Dochy Farm New British Cemetery, where they will learn about the story of Jimmy Speirs, who captained Bradford City in the 1911 FA Cup final and is buried at the cemetery.
On Friday, all the players and coaching staff will attend the nightly Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, where one youngster from each club, along with Scudamore, will lay a wreath as a mark of respect to the 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient in the First World War and whose graves are unknown.