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The (ex) Revís Christmas message 2018: Christmas Peace

Filed: Monday, 24th December 2018
By: Elwin Cockett

The story of British and German soldiers playing football together in No Manís Land on Christmas Day, 1914 has become part of the folklore of the First World War. As I recounted in a matchday programme article some years ago, this famous football match did really happen, with the Tommies losing 3-2.

A German officer wrote: ďOn Christmas Day, I saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy. Later a British soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway.

"They marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and that we had no referee. A great many of the passes went wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired, played with huge enthusiasm.Ē

100 years later, many of us remember family members who served in that war. My grandfather was one of many lads from east London who fought and lived to tell the tale, but his brother-in-law was not so lucky, and never made it back from the trenches.

Those who experienced the carnage often struggled to describe it. The Christmas Day truce was said by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to be just "one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of the war". As a German commentator put it, "It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not decisive peace."

In the 100 years since, life has changed in so many ways. That in 1914 some thousands of those men waging a bitter war met and shook hands between their trenches strikes a powerful and appealing note.

Yet, in our own time, there are some issues, not least Brexit, that have split families, ended friendships and divided the nation very deeply. Which, of course, is one reason why holding out a hand of peace to others at Christmas, and getting things into perspective, are as important as ever.

Donít get me wrong. We can wear claret and blue with pride and enjoy a bit of banter with that family member who insists on wearing his blue and white Spurs shirt, but we know, too, that some things matter more, whatever Bill Shankly said.

When Mark Noble carried seriously-ill, three-year-old Isla Caton onto the pitch before the Bournemouth game she was wearing a shirt carrying the text ĎCancer has no coloursí, and fans of both sides dug deep to support her treatment for Neuroblastoma. In the end, people matter and things Ė including football Ė donít.

I have been reading Robert Banksís brilliant book, ĎAn Irrational Hatred of Everythingí. Itís a superb account of what it has meant to be a West Ham fan in recent years. Letís face it; it has been tough. But we donít face trench warfare today, and among our fans there are plenty who will be facing their own personal battles at the moment or during the months ahead that put football in the shade.

Whatever the challenges we face in 2019, and wherever they take us, my prayer is that we may all know what it is to enjoy real peace this Christmas, to be able to reach out to those around us, whatever our differences, and to work for a better New Year for everyone, whatever colours we wear.

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