Boys from Premier League Academies experienced a special weekend earlier this month, learning about the First World War and the importance of making new friends while also testing their football abilities in a tournament.
The annual Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament featured six clubs' Under-12 teams and a further six Under-13 sides at St George's Park, the home of England's national football teams.
"One of our main principles around youth development is the holistic approach," said David Rainford, the Premier League's Head of Education. "It's a very special tournament because not only does it have football development outcomes, but we also have the opportunity for real educational and learning experiences around the historic Christmas Truce."
The tournament's focus is the Christmas Day Truce of 1914, where amid the horrors of the First World War, soldiers on opposing sides laid down their weapons on 25 December to play football and exchange gifts on the battlefield.
All the U13s and two of the U12 teams qualified for the tournament via an educational challenge, having done projects on the First World War and how players from their clubs and local areas were affected.
During the Truce Tournament weekend, the boys visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to learn about the sacrifices soldiers made in the Great War, visiting trenches and trying on the old army uniforms.
They also gave readings in a Remembrance service and exchanged gifts with players from opposing teams, in the same way the English and German soldiers did more than a century ago.
"It's important to know why we're free now"
The boys were moved by the bravery of soldiers who were only a few years older than them when they went to war.
"It was quite surreal, really, to see people over 100 years ago now, how they live and how they had to work," Norwich City player Archi said. "It's important to know why we're free now."
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Truce Tournament was held in England this year instead of the traditional location of Ypres, Belgium.
Enriched by the experience at the Arboretum, the boys then turned their focus to two days of matches.
"Better people simply make better players, so the energy that goes on off the pitch is just as important," said Simon Knight, Chelsea's Head of Education for Under-9s to Under-16s, who saw his Under-12s win their tournament. Tottenham Hotspur were crowned Under-13 champions.
Rainford added: "It's really important you create memories and experiences that the boys can take away with them and they'll remember. I think this weekend has done that."