Is the legendary no-man’s-land football match fact or fiction?

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It is considered a historical fact that during Christmas 1914 – the first Christmas of the First World War – extensive ceasefire took place across the western front.

After five months of fighting, hostilities calmed down, French, German and British soldiers laid down their arms, crossed trenches and met in no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to talk, exchange presents and take photographs.

A story that, however, has become hazy in the mists of time is the one about the football match on Christmas Day between the British and the Germans.

An Artist’s Impression of the Armistice: “British and German Soldiers’ Arm-in-Arm Exchange Headgear: A Christmas Truce Between Opposing Trenches”.

– Parliament Punk (@parliamentpunk_) December 23, 2018

It’s a romantic, healthy story – but did it actually happen?

It was the first Christmas of the war and the soldiers were exhausted. They were homesick and upset by everything they had seen. Many had expected to be home for Christmas.

Through testimony, what is considered a fact is that the British expeditionary force late on Christmas Eve heard German troops in the trenches opposite singing songs. The Germans had lined their trenches with spruce and candles, and the British returned with some of their own songs.

The troops then ventured into no man’s land, shook hands and changed everything from buttons to cigarettes, alcohol to hats. A Briton even cut a German.

The famous football match “Christmas Day ceasefire” from WW1 between British and German soldiers on the western front? ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/cLvr365eEe

– Pengam Primary (@PengamPrimary) November 12, 2014

However, there is not much symbolism or romance associated with hairdressing. Too bad, because it would have made a much simpler Sainsbury’s ad.

What really touches my heart is the beautiful game, and legend has it that a full-fledged football match was organized; Great Britain against Germany, international matches for goal posts and a real football. The match is said to have ended 3-2 to the Germans.

Such a story has largely been dismissed by historians – in part because the bitterly harsh winter ground, barbed wire and bomb craters would have made a round of organized football unlikely.

But testimonies from the first place indicate that a series of small-scale kickabouts – perhaps with a bully beef jar instead of a football – were held between soldiers. Again, whether these troops involved were from the same or conflicting sides has been erased by time.

Football continues to remember those who lost their lives in World War I / Julian Finney / Getty Images

“The most extraordinary incident … the Germans started shouting at us to ‘get out’ and ‘have a drink’ and even climb around the trenches,” wrote Lieutenant Charles Brockbank, a member of the 6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, in his diary [via These Football Times].

“One of them came out in front without a rifle or arms, because one of ours went out as well. A huge crowd was formed. We had found a small rubber ball so it was of course a football match and we changed different things.”

Lieutenant Johannes Niemann also gives a detailed account from the German side – albeit in an interview conducted in the 60s – which reports that the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment played a match against Scottish troops.

Just before and on Christmas Day 1914, there were a number of unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front. This was known as Christmas Truce and it saw the French, British and Germans cross no man’s land to exchange gifts, talk, exchange prisoners, play football and sing songs. pic.twitter.com/zDD4dW9bct

– The Great War (@ WW1_Series) December 25, 2017

“The Scots marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours,” Niemann recalled. “It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued and strictly adhered to the rules, even though it only lasted for an hour and we had no referees.

“Very many of the passes went wide, but all the amateur football players, even though they have been very tired, played with enormous enthusiasm … but after an hour of play, when our commander heard about it, he sent an order that we must stop for it.”

Although the truth behind the football match on Christmas Day has been discussed and questioned – from the size of the game to the presence of a real football, to whether it really took place at all – what can not be done wrong is the occurrence of 1914 Christmas. The ceasefire itself.

It was a demonstration of peace before conflicts, solidarity before tragedy, hope before despair.

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