In catching up on some online reading about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I stumbled upon an article in The Guardian about Britain’s plans to commemorate World War I. These plans include nothing other than…a reenactment of a football match that was played between British and German troops on a Belgian battlefield during the Christmas Truce of 1914. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914, only five months into the outbreak of the war in Europe, many British and German troops along the Western Front set down their weapons and came together between the trenches to celebrate the holidays and offer gestures of goodwill, according to history.com. The soldiers “exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs,” and “there was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.” Although the soldiers played on opposing sides, the friendly match showed good-spirited competition transcending enemy lines. The soldiers’ humanity was expressed through sport.
This snapshot of football in history exemplifies World Cup founder Jules Rimet’s vision for soccer as a way to resolve international conflict without the use of violence. When Rimet, assumed the role of president of the Fédération International de Football Association in 1920, he spoke of his hopes that soccer would redirect conflict in the modern world “towards peaceful contests in the stadium, where foundational violence is submitted to discipline and the rules of the game, loyal and wise, and where the benefits of victory are limited to the wild joy of winning” (Dubois, 28). The Christmas Truce soccer match was a merely a casual kickabout, but taken in the context of WWI, it supports Rimet’s belief in the power of soccer to bring seemingly disparate people together in peaceful competition.
Andrew Murrison, the minister in charge of overseeing the WWI commemorations, expressed this sentiment when he told The Guardian that although the football match had no relevance to the outcome of the war, it is something that people “latch on to” at a “deeply, intensely personal level.” Additionally, history.com described the Christmas Truce festivities as “one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare,” adding that “it was never repeated.” Soccer may just be a game, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Spontaneous matches like the Christmas Truce highlight some of the best parts of human nature—sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork, a competitive yet friendly spirit, and the human impulse to joyfully celebrate victory.
Dubois, Laurent. Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Print.