Brighton & Hove Albion's Under-12s had an experience they will never forget as they joined 11 other academy teams at the 2022 Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament last month in Ypres, Belgium.
The competition'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.
The Brighton boys were one of the teams who qualified for the 11th edition of the tournament through their educational project around Remembrance, rather than through their performances in the qualifiers.
They had cleared up rubbish on the Sussex beach and used it to commemorate the sacrifices made by soldiers in the First World War.
In Ypres, they as well as Academy teams from Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Norwich City and Sunderland were joined by Club Brugge, Hertha Berlin, Lille and Anderlecht, clubs from the other nations whose soldiers sacrificed their lives in the Great War.
They learnt the importance of friendship as they shared experiences with their counterparts from the overseas clubs and, like the soldiers in 1914, exchanged gifts with their opponents.
The boys from the English clubs saw first-hand the graves of the soldiers who died in the war and paid tribute to them by laying wreaths during the nightly ceremony for the war dead held at the Menin Gate.
Brighton player Aiden felt the ensuing tournament took on new meaning. "We're not just playing it for football, we’re also playing it for all the people that died for us," he said.
Inspired by their experiences, Brighton finished in third position, with Chelsea beating Man City in the final.
"To get third out of all the countries considering we got here on education [merit] is unbelievable," said Brighton player Ollie. "To go overseas with a club is a very privileged moment and very exciting as well."
Brighton U12 coach Kieran Weekes added: "It was a good lesson for the kids, to show the value of education and that things might not always work out on the football pitch but if you persevere and do good work, you can be rewarded for different things as well."