Monday 16 December 2013
Last week, Under-12 players from two Barclays Premier League clubs travelled to Ypres to join teams from Belgium, Germany and France in the third annual Premier League Christmas Truce tournament. The Academy youngsters were not the only ones to experience the memorable cultural and educational trip as the tournament also featured for the first time an Under-15 community tournament.
Teams from the West Ham United Community Sports Trust and the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation took on two sides from Belgian side KVK Westhoek in a seven-a-side round-robin competition, which was won by West Ham.
"I look now at football as a way to build friendship. Gathering with people from different countries has helped me think that way. Representing Tottenham Hotspur is a big opportunity that many people would like to have and, on behalf of my team mates, I would just like to say that we have so many people looking up to us and we are not only representing Tottenham Hotspur but we are doing it for ourselves individually and for the people who have lost their lives"
Tottenham Hotspur player Nasser Ahmed
The players representing West Ham and Spurs are involved in the Premier League Kicks project, which is funded by the Premier League and Sport England. The programme works in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country and together with the police, uses the power of football and other sports to help turn young people's lives around. The players' selection was a reward for their positive contributions in the community and at school.
The action on the pitch was only part of the story, as the youngsters attended a series of learning activities and events including taking part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, which commemorates 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the First World War, as well as visiting Ypres Museum and the Christmas Truce site, where in 1914 an unofficial truce took place in the trenches which ended up with football match being played in no man's land.
"Winning was nice but learning was the priority," West Ham United Community Sports Trust manager Rashid Abba told whufc.com. "The students came away with an appreciation of what those soldiers did 100 years ago for us to have the freedom we have now.
"They fought for us and the young people will take away respect for their sacrifices. They can forever say, 'I've been there, I've seen it.' It's going to be with them for the rest of their lives."
One of the highlights of the weekend was a presentation dinner, which involved all the players from the Academy and the Community tournaments. The players were mixed up so that they could forge friendships and swap gifts with their counterparts from the Continent in the spirit of the Christmas Truce while the PL Kicks players from Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United were given the honour of hosting each table.
A player from each club was also invited to speak at the dinner about how the experience of the weekend had affected them. Extracts of Nasser Ahmed's speech can be read above.
"Some of the youngsters have decided that their futures are in football, in coaching, teaching or working with young people so this has gone above and beyond all our expectations"
"Having the older boys host a table was a nice way of getting them to interact," Tottenham Hotspur Foundation Community Development Manager Alex White told premierleague.com. "The following day you could see the friendships that had been built from the Saturday evening. It was empowering them to take a leadership role and to demonstrate their maturity.
"Our players came from the Nightingale Academy in Edmonton which is a very deprived part of the Borough of Enfield. The opportunity to represent their school, Tottenham Hotspur, the Premier League and England on an international stage was huge for them. They took so much pride in being selected to do that – it is a huge boost for their confidence and self-esteem.
"We have got huge issues with serious gang violence in this area and people would assume that bringing a team from Tottenham and a tough inner-city estate is going to bring with it a load of other behavioural issues but that did not happen. They were fantastic. The teacher who came out with us was blown away because of the way the youngsters conducted themselves, he took immense pride from that."
The young people may now be back in England but the impact of what they have achieved in earning the right to go on the trip, as well as the experiences they had in Belgium, will live with them for a long time to come. The 10 Spurs players, who were invited to Tottenham Hotspur's UEFA Europa League tie with Anji Makachkala on Thursday night, gave a presentation on the trip to their year group at school in a special assembly while two members of the squad will start work experience placements with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation in January.
"I went back to the school this week and the boys are still buzzing from the trip," White said. "They want to get involved more and more in what the Foundation does. There's a legacy involved in this. Some of the youngsters have decided that their futures are in football, in coaching, teaching or working with young people so this has gone above and beyond all our expectations.
"It gives the boys hope and makes them think that there's more out there for them. It really helped to build their aspirations and it got them to think more about their goals and ambitions. The whole trip was quite astonishing."
Abba praised the conduct of his West Ham players and hopes the trip will help form a long-term relationship with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.
"The attitude of our young people was first class, integrating with Spurs and they made new friends with boys that they’d never met," he said. "We've had this experience but we want to continue working with Spurs in partnership, making sure we continue to work with the young people. Anything we do, we do it together. This journey hasn't ended, it's just beginning."