The impromptu football matches that took place as part of the spontaneous Christmas Truce that broke out in No Man's Land in the December of 1914, showed precious glimpses of humanity triumphing in times of conflict. and have inspired many over the years.
“A ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came from their side…They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout. I should think there were a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19.
Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us…. There was no referee and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee — nothing like the soccer that you see on television.The boots we wore were a menace — those great big boots we had on — and in those days the balls were made of leather and they soon got very soggy”
No Man's Land - Subbuteo style
To commemorate this poignant event, a Subbuteo pitch was created - with German and British soldiers lining the sides of the pitch, waving scarves and exchanging presents.
“...Suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternizing...
...Later a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots 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.”
(Lieutenant Johannes Niemann)
The pitch first featured in a Lionhearts Old Subbuteo event, which co-incidentally (and fittingly) took place on Remembrance Sunday (11th November 2012).
This picture shows the Olds that attended that day.
From left to right: Subbuteoforever, Donald Crowhurst, Fingers, Howzatt, Maltz, Forfoxsake, Allwrighty, JohnCLU48, Leeski.
From that time onwards, the No Man's Land pitch has been a regular feature in the S-O-S Old Subbuteo Club tournaments and Christmas meets.
The Centenary year
Southend German Club
In the middle of December 2014, the Southend German Club welcomed the No Man's Land pitch to their Christmas event.
Irmgard, in her 86th year, stepped up to take to the field, animated in her recollection of the stories her grandfather told about this event from when he was on the front line in 1914.
It went to penalties and Irmgard settled the game by sending the goalie the wrong way.
German Lutheran Church
On Christmas Eve, 2014, The German Lutheran Church in Cambridge welcomed the No Man's Land pitch to their Christmas Eve Carol Service.
With demand for carol singing being what it is in the Cambridge Lutheran scene, they needed to run two services.
This gave a great opportunity for a game in the break and again after the second service.
This video presentation captures some of the scenes.
The final game was played between two Germans, and an Englishman and an Irishman.
Benfleet, Essex - Christmas Morning
Monika from the Southend German Club invited the No Man's Land Pitch into her home on Christmas morning - a remarkable act of hospitality!
What made this even more special was the participation of her family who really entered into the spirit of the game!
Monika is married to a Scotsman, and her son and English girlfriend were back for Christmas.
So it was game on - team captains were a German mother and Scottish father - just perfect!
“The Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent and crawled forward to watch and listen. And after a while, they began to sing."
"By Christmas morning, the “no man’s land” between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines.
Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with improvised balls."
"According to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, “Tommy and Fritz” kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. “This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter [...] The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.”
The German YMCA in London got involved as well! 😀
Invited by Udo Bauer, the No Man's Pitch made an appearance at their Bring and Buy sale early in the New Year of 2015. The pitch stimulated a few conversations with interested 'Bring and Buyers' and also a couple of games.
Much like the stories of old the actual scores were 'lost' in time, but rumour has it the games ended even, but possibly with the Germans victorious after penalties? 😅
However, meeting up with Udo in 2022, for the first time since this event, it was agreed that whatever the result was, it was a win-win for both teams - with Udo pushing any conjecture about penalties firmly and politely to one side! 😊
The building of the pitch
In the design stage a standard cloth pitch was used. This was then bleached, which took out the colour but left the lines intact. The bleached pitch was then soaked in brown dye, and the No Man's Land pitch was complete.