Thursday 29 November 2012
This weekend the Premier League will again hold its annual Christmas Truce Tournament, a unique international youth development competition to honour the sacrifice made by previous generations of footballers in the First World War.
"The tournament can foster closer relationships between European clubs and develop greater understanding of the importance of shared histories" Ged Roddy
So well received was the inaugural 2011 tournament that it was decided to double the size of this year's competition, which brings together some of the best Under-12 players born from England, Belgium, France and Germany in the town of Ypres.
The Premier League will be represented by Manchester United – who return as reigning champions – and West Bromwich Albion, who qualified from a six-team play-off tournament in November.
The Belgian Pro League has three teams taking part this year in Anderlecht, Beerschot and Club Brugge, while the Bundesliga is represented by FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Moenchengladbach. One of the oldest teams in French football, Valenciennes, will be flying the flag for Ligue 1.
The tournament has two key objectives: player development and education. In line with the principles of the Premier League’s new Youth Development System, this is an opportunity for the most promising U12 players in Britain to further their development by challenging themselves against the best players in Europe.
"We got a fantastic reaction from the town of Ypres and the teams that took part in the 2011 tournament," said Ged Roddy, Director of Youth at the Premier League. "We are expressing our commitment to the competition by doubling it in size this year.
"By the time of the 2014 commemorations we hope that the Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament will be recognised as an established cultural event. The Christmas Truce Tournament brings education to life. An important job for the Premier League Education Department is to help clubs develop more rounded young men.
"Our work in this area has already been highlighted by Ofsted when we got our 'Outstanding' rating; they recognised that Premier League clubs encourage open minds that accept and welcome other cultures.
"An important job for the Premier League Education Department is to help clubs develop more rounded young men"
"We are using the Christmas Truce Tournament to not only foster the development of closer relationships between European clubs but develop greater understanding of the importance of shared histories."
The tournament also has a wide-ranging educational purpose. The UK Government recently announced that sport will play an important part in the centenary commemorations of the First World War and the Premier League is guaranteeing its commitment by ensuring that the Christmas Truce Tournament will run until at least 2014.
The Great War is often part of the curriculum for Year 7 children and the Christmas Truce Tournament is a unique hands-on learning experience for them. The boys recognise the role of professional football players, alongside millions of others, in the war and commemorate the sacrifice they made.
A number of cultural events will take place over the weekend. On Friday 30 November both English teams will visit the Christmas Truce site and tour Ypres Museum.
At 8pm Manchester United and West Brom will be joined by Anderlecht and Beerschot to lay wreaths at the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial as part of the Last Post ceremony.
"The Christmas Truce Tournament brings education to life"
This event has special significance for West Brom. Harold Bache, a former player at the club, died at Ypres and is commemorated on the Menin Gate along with 57,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of the First World War.
On Saturday evening there will be a dinner for the eight teams to recreate the spirit of the Christmas Truce. During the war, an unofficial truce took place on 24 December 1914 in the trenches around Ypres. It started with German soldiers putting decorations around their trenches and singing Christmas carols. The British soldiers responded by singing English-language carols.
The soldiers on both sides responded by shouting Christmas greetings and a suggestion of a meeting in No Man's Land. Once there, a gift exchange began and there were reports of a football match being played.
At the dinner the boys from the clubs will exchange gifts just as the troops did in 1914. The dinner will be attended by dignitaries from the British Legion, UK Government and Ypres.
Paul Breyne, the Commissioner-General in charge of the Belgian federal coordination of ceremonies for the commemoration of the First World War, and Katrina Johnson, Deputy UK Ambassador in Belgium, will also attend.