Saturday 07 December 2013

Premier League to mark Christmas Truce with 3G pitch in Ypres

Centenary of First World War to be marked with new pitch to help Ypres community

  • Victoria Cross winner Johnson Beharry meets representatives from Arsenal and Man City

  • Beharry with players from each of the teams at the start of the Christmas Truce Tournament

Since 2011 the Premier League has come to the Belgian city of Ypres for its Christmas Truce Tournament Finals.

The tournament brings together Under-12 teams from England, Belgium, France and Germany to honour one of the most famous moments of the First World War, the Christmas Truce, where British and German footballers stopped fighting each other on Christmas Day 1914 and played football in no-man’s land and posed together for pictures and swapped gifts.

"This new 3G pitch that we will build represents a fantastic opportunity to continue the messages of peace and understanding associated with the original Christmas Truce match of 1914"
Ged Roddy

As part of the Premier League’s commitment to the tournament and to the city of Ypres, the League is to build a floodlit third-generation artificial pitch as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

A Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Ypres and KVK Westhoek, the city’s main football club has been signed by the League with the aim of having the all-weather pitch ready by November 2014 with an inauguration to take place when the Truce Tournament marks the centenary of the war.

As well as being used by local schools, community groups and clubs the pitch will be shared by teams from English and Welsh schools, the community and youth development teams belonging 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, especially for young people visiting the First World War battlefields.

"The Premier League has developed a wonderful bond with the City of Ypres since we first came here in 2011," Ged Roddy, Premier League Director of Youth, said. "The Centenary of the First World War has given us a unique opportunity to build a lasting sporting and cultural experience.

"This new 3G pitch that we will build represents a fantastic opportunity to continue the messages of peace and understanding associated with the original Christmas Truce match of 1914.

"It will also provide a high-quality football facility for young people, linking the history of what happened in Ypres to their education. This will help those visiting from England and Wales to enjoy their trip and to understand football's place in the history of the First World War.

"It will also help the Premier League and the City of Ypres to build relationships further with other communities and organisations across Europe for many years to come.”

Pitch to have social benefit to Ypres

Jan Durnez, the Mayor of Ypres, called the opening of the pitch "one of highest-profile events" to mark the war's centenary. He also highlighted the social benefit the pitch will have on the city.

"This is an important development for the City of Ypres because of the impact it will have on young people both today and tomorrow," Durnez said. "It will be up to future generations to take on the spirit of peace and reconciliation that was at the heart of the Christmas Truce in 1914.

"This pitch is central to that because it will bring in many young people so that they understand what happened here in Ypres and continue that process of commemoration."

The announcement of the pitch being built was made by Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who in 2005 became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross for valour in over 30 years.

"The Christmas Truce Tournament is wonderful way of bringing history to life," he said. "By coming here to the City of Ypres and seeing the names of the 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers on the Menin Gate, many of them footballers, they can appreciate the scale of war.

'Noble gesture'

"But Ypres, being the site of the Christmas Truce, is also a place where they can understand how sport can bring out the humanity in people. It's a very noble gesture by the Premier League to build a pitch here and ensure that thousands of young people can come and continue to remember the courage and sacrifices of those from the armed forces."

UK Sports Minister Helen Grant praised the news highlighting how football helps to bring people from all backgrounds together. 

"Ypres is a place where the kids can understand how sport can bring out the humanity in people"
Johnson Beharry

"As we count down to the start of our First World War commemorations the Premier League's initiative will see football used to help forge lasting links and bonds of friendship as we come together to remember, and I warmly commend the Premier League for their imagination, generosity and determination in making it happen," she said.

The announcement came on the day the 2013 tournament started with eight teams, four from each nation: Arsenal, Manchester City, Borussia Moenchengladbach, the defending champions, Schalke, Paris Saint-German, Valenciennes, Club Brugge and Anderlecht.

In addition to the U12s tournament for the first time, this year's event has expanded to include two Under-15 sides drawn from U15 teams from Premier League Kicks, a programme which focuses on providing sporting and personal development opportunities for young people in disadvantaged areas. These teams from Tottenham Hotspur Foundation and West Ham United Community Sports Trust will be competing in a parallel tournament against two local teams from KVK Westhoek in Ypres.

The selected players are being rewarded for their commitment and positive involvement in their community and, as they are a little older than the academy players, will also be involved in leadership activities over the course of the weekend.

U12 teams from Premier League clubs and from Belgium, France and Germany compete in Ypres while learning about significance of WW1 (Dec 2012)

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Key Points

  • Premier League to build 3G pitch in Ypres as part of ceremonies marking centenary of WW1
  • Inauguration due to take place at next year's Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament Finals
  • The aim is for the facility to be available to other relevant football and sporting organisations throughout Europe