Proof that football transcends politics

France, December 24th 1914.

German and British troops begin to sing carols in the trenches of Ypres. Christmas greetings are exchanged. Soon, the troops enter ‘no man’s land’ and begin to share small gifts – whisky, cigars, tobacco.

A game of football is played. Letters home confirm the score of one of these games to be 3 to 2 in favour of Germany. Implacable enemies, for a fleeting passage of time, share peace and joy.

Soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

West Bromwich, 30th September 2006.

It had been one hell of a month for the Watson household. As a treat for Mrs W we attend the home game of West Bromwich Albion against Leeds United. Mrs Watson has been a lifelong supporter of Leeds and had been looking forward to the match since the fixture list was published.

We sit down. I spy the man behind me. It is Mathew Taylor, head of the Downing Street policy unit. A cold chill descends around both of us. For three weeks we have been in our trenches.

32 minutes into the game and the first victim is Albion’s McShane – red carded for a dubious foul in the box. The penalty is saved. There is joy as we jump out of our seats. Taylor and Watson share a slight smile at the heroism of the Albion players. 10 minutes later, with a man down Albion score. More joy. A punch in the air is shared. Another goal. Then another. Albion three nil up against Leeds United with ten men.

Together, with 20,000 others we sing:

“The Lord’s my sheperherd, I’ll not want. He maketh me down to lie”
“Boing boing. Boing boing. Boing boing”

History is being made. If we could have shared whisky and cigars we would have. We didn’t quite hug each other when the match ended 4-2 up but it was close.

And then, when the historic never-to-be forgotten match is over, a polite and frosty goodbye. Back to the trenches.

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