Heart of Midlothian is the first football club from Scotland to be invited to the prestigious Christmas Truce International Tournament in Ypres.
A century ago this month on Flanders Fields in Belgium, soldiers from England, Scotland, Germany, France, Belgium and Austria took part in one of the most iconic events in history, the 1914 Christmas Truce football matches. Next weekend on football fields in Ypres their spirit will be celebrated as football teams from those same countries come to compete in the 2014 Christmas Truce International Tournament.
The Christmas Truce International Tournament will take place from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 December at the home of KVK Westhoek in Ypres on a new football pitch donated to the city by the Premier League. The ten teams who will compete in this most unique of events are:
· Premier League - Chelsea, Liverpool
· Scottish Professional Football League - Heart of Midlothian
· German Bundesliga – Borussia Moenchengladbach, Schalke 04
· Belgian Pro League – Anderlecht, Club Brugge
· French Ligue 1 - Paris Saint-Germain, Valenciennes
· Austrian Bundesliga - Rapid Vienna
To honour the sacrifices of Commonwealth soldiers there will also be a community tournament made up of U16 male and U18 female players from Premier League Kicks projects at home and abroad. Four Indian players from the League’s Kolkata Goalz project are playing, as well as players from Millwall, Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
The young footballers will come to play football, but they will also have a rich cultural and educational experience. One of the highlights of the weekend is a Saturday night banquet where the players swap gifts like the soldiers did in 1914. Over the weekend the players will 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.
For one group of players there is to be a special pilgrimage. The inclusion of Hearts in the 2014 Christmas Truce International Tournament is a poignant one. Sixteen of their first-team players volunteered to fight in the First World War and seven made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. On Friday morning the young players from Hearts will pay their respects to one of those men. 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 swap a football pitch for a different kind of front line after learning of the battles raging around Ypres. He was killed at Loos in September 1915 aged 21, his body never found.
Hearts Academy Manager Roger Arnott said: “It will be an absolute honour to become the first Scottish team to play in the Christmas Truce Tournament. 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.”
Borussia Moenchengladbach have won the 2012 and 2013 Christmas Truce International Tournament 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. 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.”
The Christmas Truce International Tournament is all about celebrating the spirit of the First World War soldiers who laid down their arms on Christmas Day 1914. The Tournament was first held in 2011 with four teams. It doubled in size for 2012, and in 2013 the Premier League not only added a community tournament for older children, it committed to build a 3G pitch for the city of Ypres. On 14 November 2014 the League official opened this living memorial that will ensure young people from Britain and Europe will continue to come to Ypres and learn about the Christmas Truce.
There are also notable guests attending the event over the weekend. Relatives of those who witnessed the Christmas Truce will meet the players. Former Premier League referee Howard Webb will officiate at the Tournament, while musicians The Farm will perform their peace song All Together Now. The track has been re-recorded and features a backing choir of 60 U12 footballers: 38 from Premier League clubs and 22 from German clubs. Seven of those boys are taking part in the Tournament.
The tournament and the pitch donation are part of 'Football Remembers Week’, a collaboration between the Premier League, The FA, the Football League and the British Council, with the aim of engaging football fans about what took place on Christmas Day 1914.
Football Remembers Week kicks off this weekend with the launch of ‘A Moment in History’, a mass participation photographic event via social media. Anyone playing football across the country is asked to upload their pre-match photo to social media with the hashtag #FootballRemembers. Pictures will appear on the site www.FootballRemembers.com. Professional clubs are kicking off this activity. Prior to the matches that take place in the Premier League, the Championship and The FA Cup Second Round between 5-8 December 2014, there will be a mixed team photo before kick-off. Other Leagues taking part in ‘A Moment in History ‘include the Scottish Professional Football League’s, the Conference and the Welsh Premier League.
The pitch will be collaboratively used by the city of Ypres and its football team, as well as the Premier League. Local schools and community groups in the city of Ypres will use the pitch on weekdays, while on evenings and weekends it will be used by the various clubs of KVK Westhoek, who are currently in the Belgian fourth division.
The Premier League will remain connected to the facility as it has use of it for a number of weeks a year. Not only will this mean that Christmas Truce Tournament will continue to take place in Ypres, but it will also be shared by teams connected to Premier League clubs. The League also aims for the facility to be available to other relevant football and sporting organisations throughout Europe to come and enjoy it in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.