In autumn 2014 the Poetry Society began an exciting new collaboration with Barclays Premier League to help young footballers mark the hundred-year anniversary of the Christmas truce.
Poets Simon Barraclough, Steve Ely, Chris McCabe, Nick Makoha and Deanna Rodger accompanied Under-12 teams from the Premier League clubs to Ypres, Belgium, where as they took part in an annual football tournament to honour the truce that took place on the Western Front in December 1914. The poets helped the young players to reflect on their visit, and shape these experiences into poems.
All of these poems were then passed on to Ian McMillan, commissioned by the Poetry Society to produce a new poem 'The Game: Christmas Day, 1914' to mark the centenary; based on words, themes and ideas from the young footballers.
In mid-December, two of the English Under-12 teams return to Ypres for an international tournament with youth teams from all of the countries involved in the conflict. Here, the poem will be read out in English, Flemish, French and German, marking the international friendships that the Premier League and its European counterparts are hoping to foster in the young footballers on the centenary of such a remarkable occasion.
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.
A new poem, 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. Commissioned by the Poetry Society and the Premier League.