100 years on from the Armistice which ended the First World War, Reading’s Under-12 team gathered in Aldershot to play in the Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament qualifiers and to commemorate those who died in battle a century early.
The annual tournament is conceived from the remarkable spirit of the ‘Christmas truce’ in 1914, when soldiers on either side of their trenches put down their weapons and gathered in no man’s land to play football and take part in other activities.
Reading’s players, along with teams from Derby, Arsenal, Norwich, Leicester, Swansea, Tottenham, Manchester United, West Ham and Watford, convened on Sunday morning at The Military Stadium in Aldershot – a sports complex used by the British Army.
At the same time, two parallel events were held at RAF Cosford and Victory Stadium in Portsmouth – the Armed Forces all represented.
The 2018 U12 @premierleague Truce Tournament in Aldershot commenced with a fitting commemorative Remembrance tribute led by @JamesHFBlair of @ColdstreamGds followed by individual tributes and laying of wreaths from a player from each club. Extremely moving ceremony @GofR2018 pic.twitter.com/5Ey14Gt6Um— Army FA (@Armyfa1888) November 11, 2018
Ahead of the round-robin fixtures, the Ode to Remembrance and the poem In Flanders Fields were read ahead of the sounding of the Last Post and a minute’s silence at 11am.
After the reveille, a contemporary poem by Ian McMillan named ‘The Game: Christmas Day, 1914’ was read aloud – the prose was inspired by ideas, images and lines written by young British footballers from the Premier League Under-12 teams during visits to the Ypres battlefields in November 2014.
It is so cold.
The lines of this poem are sinking
Into the unforgiving mud. No clean sheet.
Dawn on a perishing day. The weapons freeze
In the hands of a flat back four.
The moon hangs in the air like a ball
Skied by a shivering keeper.
All these boys want to do today
Is shoot, and defend, and attack.
Light on a half-raised wave. The trench-faces
Lifted till you see their breath.
A ball flies in the air like a moon
Kicked through the morning mist.
All these boys want to have today
Is a generous amount of extra time.
No strict formations here, this morning;
No 4-4-2 or 4-5-1
No rules, really. Just a kickabout
With nothing to be won
Except respect. We all showed pictures,
I learned his baby’s name.
Now clear the lines of this poem
And let’s get on with the game.
No white penalty spot, this morning,
The players are all unknown.
You can see them in the graveyards
In teams of forgotten stone;
The nets are made of tangled wire,
No Man’s Land is the pitch,
A flare floodlights the moments
Between the dugouts and the ditch.
A hundred winters ago sky opened
To the sunshine of the sun
Shining on these teams of players
And the sounds of this innocent game.
All these boys want to hear today
Is the final whistle. Let them walk away.
It has been so cold. The lines
Of these poems will be found, written
In the unforgotten mud like a team sheet.
Remember them. Read them again.
by Ian McMillan
Then, before the football began, a player from each team read the names of the players who represented Reading and died in conflict before the laying of wreathes around the perimeter of the pitch.
It was a busy weekend for our Under-12s in their involvement in our Remembrance activities. On Saturday, in partnership with the Woodland Trust and National Football Museum’s ‘For Club and Country project’, the young budding footballers helped to plant 15 trees at our new Bearwood training ground complex to create a living legacy to those men and all who fought in the First World War.
The shirts which they wore at Saturday’s tree-planting event at Hogwood – which had the poppy logo on the front and the names of those 15 former Reading players who died in the First World War on the reverse – were the same ones which they wore for their fixtures on Sunday.
In addition they were on hand in the afternoon at Madejski Stadium to take part in our Act of Remembrance, organised by the Supporters' Trust at Reading, where they laid their memorials at the start of the service.
And then they headed inside the stadium bowl a little closer to kick-off, where they waved the Royals flags and welcomed Reading and Ipswich Town onto the pitch ahead of our Sky Bet Championship fixture.
On the experience, Lead Foundation Phase Coach, Jamie Greenwood said: "The planned experiences are all part of the wider educational programme we have here at the Academy. We care passionately about developing not only players for the future game, but also people for the future world.
"The Christmas Truce provides an opportunity for our youngest players to look back at a historical moment in time and understand how football brought people together and how the war shaped the world we live in today.
"A number of players who represented Reading Football Club were involved in the World Wars and part of the experience for our boys is learning about the lives of these individuals and paying our respects to them for the ultimate sacrifice."
Later this month, our Under-12s’ journey of remembrance will take them to Ypres in Belgium, where amongst their planned educational activities includes a visit to the battlefields of the First World War. They will visit various sites around the town to learn about the background to the Christmas Truce and the impact of the First World War.
They will also take part in friendly fixtures against counterpart teams from the continent including the likes of Lille OSC and KRC Genk – all taking place at KVK Westhoek’s Crack Stadion, a floodlit 3G facility which was funded through by the Premier League to create a lasting sporting and cultural experience.