Chelsea and Liverpool Academy players are preparing to take on sides from across Europe next week as they compete in the Premier League Christmas Truce International Tournament in Belgium for the first time.
Chelsea and Liverpool Under-12 players, who made it through from last month’s Premier League qualifying tournament, will line-up with teams from Hearts (Scotland) Rapid Vienna (Austria), Paris St Germain, Valenciennes (both France), Anderlecht, Club Brugge (both Belgium), Borussia Moenchengladbach and Schalke (both Germany) in the city of Ypres.
The Christmas Truce tournament will take place from 12-14 December at KVK Westhoek, on a new 3G pitch donated to the city by the Premier League, and will involve competition on the pitch as well as a cultural and educational experience off it.
“The sacrifice made by so many Heart of Midlothian players – and thousands of others – in the First World War should never be forgotten and events such as this will help ensure their legacy will live on”
To honour the sacrifices of Commonwealth soldiers in the war there will also be a community tournament made up of Under-16 male and Under-18 female players from Premier League Kicks projects at home and abroad. Four Indian players from the Premier League’s Kolkata Goalz project will be there, as well as players from Millwall, Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United.
The inclusion of Hearts in the 2014 Christmas Truce International Tournament is poignant because 16 of their first-team players volunteered to fight in the First World War and seven made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
On the morning of 12 December the academy players from Hearts will pay their respects to one of those who died. They will visit Dud Corner Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, where the name of James Speedie is remembered. James was the first Hearts player to join the front line after learning of the battles raging around Ypres. He was killed at Loos in September 1915 aged 21. His body was never found.
“It will be an absolute honour to become the first Scottish team to play in the Christmas Truce Tournament,” Arnott said. “The Heart of Midlothian players will wear their strips with pride at such a prestigious event, which not only focuses on football but more importantly incorporates the historical and cultural significance of what happened 100 year ago.
“The sacrifice made by so many Heart of Midlothian players – and thousands of others – in the First World War should never be forgotten and events such as this will help ensure their legacy will live on. Lest we forget.”
The 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.
Former Premier League and FIFA 2010 World Cup final referee Howard Webb will officiate at the tournament while The Farm will perform their peace song All Together Now, which has been re-recorded to mark the centenary of the Christmas Truce matches and features boys who are taking part in the tournament.
“We always found the weekend to be not only a fantastic football experience, but also a very worthwhile cultural event”
Moenchengladbach U12 coach Felix Galli
The tournament is part of “Football Remembers Week”, a collaboration between the Premier League, The FA, the Football League and the British Council.
The Christmas Truce tournament first involved four teams, doubling in size for 2012. Last year it expanded again with the inclusion of a community tournament for older children. Moenchengladbach won the 2012 and 2013 tournaments and their U12 coach Felix Galli is looking forward to bringing his team to Ypres again.
“We are very excited to be playing again in the Christmas Truce International Tournament,” he said. “We always found the weekend to be not only a fantastic football experience, but also a very worthwhile cultural event.
“There is a wonderful spirit of peace and reconciliation. What better way to celebrate the spirit of the Christmas Truce matches of 1914 than by bringing together young footballers from Germany, England, Austria, Belgium, France and Scotland to the place where these matches took place 100 years on.”
As well as the football on the pitch, players will have educational activities to expand their knowledge of the First World War, and will pay their respects to those who lost their lives in the war.
On the Saturday night there will be a banquet, where the players will swap gifts like the soldiers did in 1914 while they will also visit the site of one of the Christmas Truce football matches, go to war graves and memorials, learn what life was like in the trenches and attend the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony, laying wreaths on behalf of their clubs.