WW1 Christmas Truce Commemoration


December 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

In the months leading up to this match our students had been attending a regular conversational German language lesson every Thursday after school. These hugely entertaining lessons led by Herr Robert Neil involved German history, culture and, of course, football. In fact, we all learnt the chant, “Werr nicht hufte, ist eine Kolne!” (a rather unflattering comment aimed at fans of Cologne!). The team took a rare signed picture from the Manchester United legends of the 1960s as a gift and they flew direct to Dusseldorf in December 2015.

Fortuna provided superb hospitality (putting the lads up in a hostel just outside the city in amongst a forest grove). They were provided with a civic reception and they, once again, played Fortuna Monchengladbach. In another close and hard fought match the game ended 4:0 to the Germans (meaning that they won the tie 4:3 on aggregate). The whole project however was much bigger than the football. I’d like to think that we have made some effort at bringing the young people of our countries closer together in the memory of those that gave their lives 100 years ago.



April 12th, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Our original opponents, Fortuna Monchengladbach, have been scheduled to play us in the return leg at Christmas. Unfortunately, many of our players will have left school by then and would not be able to travel to Germany for the second leg. Therefore, we arranged this “practice” fixture. A team in Hannover called “FC Wunstorf” agreed to play us. We set off from Manchester on Thursday 9th April and flew directly to Hannover. At the airport (very exited) we got picked up by the actual “Hannover 96” team bus and were taken through to our hotel. When we arrived, of course, everyone thought that we were professional football players so that was quite an experience!

After a good night’s sleep we took a stroll around the gardens of Heerenhausen (established by the Georgian British Royal Family, when they ruled Britain and also Hannover). The game kicked off at 3pm and we held our own for about 20 minutes. However, the travelling really did take it’s toll and the Germans beat us by a country mile in the end. The game was never about the result but, even so, we all felt pretty dejected after the game. This didn’t last long because we got taken to the Bundesliga match that evening (Hannover vs. Hertha Berlin). The game finished in a draw but it didn’t matter…the atmosphere was amazing! We flew back early the next day having understood a great deal how difficult it is regarding playing away games in Europe!



February 27th, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

An article in the local newspaper caught the eye of Alan Wardle, the Chairman of the “Association of Former Manchester United Players” (or AFMUP). He contacted me to say that they wished to make a donation. We were honoured to have them come into our school and for the organisation to donate £2000 towards our project. Denis Law, Alan Gowling and Wilf McGuinness (all ex Manchester United players) came into the school to make the presentation and to also give some much needed advice on playing games away in Europe. An absolutely fantastic day!



January 31st, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

On Saturday 31st January 2015 I dragged my poor, long suffering teenage daughters along to the National Football Museum in the middle of Manchester to see our artefacts from the football match on display. It’s strange to see objects connected to you behind glass in a museum…but there you go! I was running around like a kid in a sweet shop telling anybody who had the misfortune to pass our display that “that is our trophy and that is my medal!” The good people of the museum are clearly no strangers to nutters accosting passers-by and so they humoured me for a while. The exhibition (called “The Greater Game”) is themed around football in the First World War and it is definitely worth visiting.



January 17th, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

The squad continues to show their commitment towards the return leg in Germany. This last Saturday (17th January) they turned up bright and early at Stretford Tesco in order to raise money by packing bags. They were helpful to the general public and it was an absolute pleasure to be associated with them. After working had for a couple of hours they raised a grand total of £159.04…when added to the Santa Run sponsorship money and the non-uniform day money we now have a grand total of £1000 in the kitty! (and this is before the Manchester United OPUS has been sold!). Well done lads!!!



January 15th, 2015 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Tom Clare sent me a link this morning to the Fortuna Monchengladbach website:


They describe the match as the “highlight of their season”!

Absolutely thrilled that they all enjoyed it so much!



December 19th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Inspired by the events of the weekend the squad took it upon themselves to start raising money for the return leg in Germany. They negotiated a non-uniform day with the school SLT for Friday 19th December 2014 and they raised over £750 in one day as a result (although the enthusiastic money raising very nearly crossed the line between “collection” and “mugging”!).

One final observation this year…each squad player was given a scarf by the Fortuna Monchengladbach squad. Mr Fielding took a picture of the lads in class…they clearly regarded their scarves as items of real pride and value!

Having said that…I got a scarf as well and I’ve worn it every day since I got it!!! It’s like a “scarf of honour”!!!



December 14th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

We were starting to pinch ourselves at this point…both squads had been invited to watch the Manchester United vs. Liverpool Premier League match on Sunday 14th December 2014 as guests of the club. After spending an hour visiting the National Football Museum in the city centre we were taken to the ground and led to our seats. We watched the first half of an excellent United performance (we were 2 – 0 up at half time!) before witnessing another amazing performance at half time…both squads walked on to the hallowed turf and the trophy was presented to a packed Old Trafford. I was so proud I could have burst at that moment!!!

Once the game had finished (an easy 3 – 0 steamrollering of Liverpool!) we gathered outside of the club shop in the murk and freezing rain of a Manchester Sunday in December. Goodbyes were said and our squad were dismissed from the ground…soon disappearing into the departing match day crowds. I made sure that the Germans got on to their coach and they made their way back to the airport.

Suddenly I was alone. I was soaked to the skin, freezing cold…and still holding “The Sandy Turnbull trophy”. I walked home in the dark and reflected upon what had just happened. It struck me that men, such as Sandy Turnbull, couldn’t possibly have imagined the events of the weekend we had just participated in. As I was carrying the trophy that bore his name through the dark and empty streets of Old Trafford – streets that he would have known well – I wondered what he would have said if he had been walking with me. Sandy Turnbull, by all accounts I have read, was exactly the kind of footballer I would have loved to watch! He was a bustling free scoring centre forward (he scored the first ever goal at Old Trafford in 1909!). He was a bit of a “bad lad” (he was banned for fighting and also for taking payments to supplement the low wages they got at the time). He had joined up at the start of WW1. I read one account that mentioned him in 1916. Sandy Turnbull was clearing the dead off a battlefield when he became aware that the body he was carrying was of a man from Clayton in Manchester. Deeply affected by this he made sure that the man’s personal effects were carefully removed and sent home to his loved ones. Sandy Turnbull was an emotional man who loved football and who was clearly someone who cared about people. He was killed at Arras in 1917. His body was never found. His family (he had a wife and young daughters) continued to live in Manchester for the rest of their lives, but life wasn’t easy without Sandy.

So what would he have made of a team from Manchester playing a team from Germany in his name exactly 100 years later? I’m convinced he would have wanted to join in!



December 13th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

An icy frost had descended over Manchester for our match day. It was Saturday 13th December 2014. I had trouble staying on my feet as I walked up Ayres Road to the Old Trafford ground first thing! We all met up outside of the Museum entrance at 10am. The Germans looked awed at seeing the full majesty of our Old Trafford stadium appear through the freezing fog. Once inside we were given a guided tour of the stadium and thankfully we had Alan Fountain on hand to provide a German translation throughout. In the museum the German squad were shown the Munich exhibits from the air crash. Once again, the history between our two countries brought us together.

After the stadium we walked up Sir Matt Busby Way to Trafford Town Hall for a “Subway” lunch. This was eaten quickly and both squads now boarded the coach for the short trip to Manchester United’s “Cliff” training facility. Tom Clare’s contact (Kevin) had come up trumps with a full blue change kit so we had now avoided the colour clash. Once the scheduled youth training sessions had finished at 2pm everything was quickly prepared for our match. The pitch was prepared and cleared whilst both sides warmed up. Cllr. Jonathan Coupe (who also happens to be a referee) had kindly agreed to officiate. Both squads were lined up for the “Football Remembers” photographs and players were interviewed for the local TV news. John Shiels explained the significance of the event and then we all listened to “Silent night”. This was very moving. The Christmas Truce had originally been sparked 100 years ago by German soldiers singing this carol in their trenches. We didn’t want National Anthems at en event such as this so it felt right to remember those who participated in the truce through singing a carol about peace. Hands were shaken, the coin was tossed…we were ready!

The game was contested with spirit but also with respect and fairness. It was very close but the big difference was our goalkeeper. On five separate occasions in the first half the German forwards broke through our defence only to be denied by a “man of the match” goalkeeping performance from Kaylum Ince. This seemed to break their spirit a little and allowed our midfield to start bossing the game. The end result (3 – 0 to us) was pleasing but it really didn’t reflect how evenly matched both teams were.

Once both squads were suited and booted we headed back to Trafford Town Hall for a glittering civic reception. A meal had been laid on for the players. Guests included Kate Green MP (who had helped us out long ago when we first came up with the idea), the Lord Mayor, the Leader of Trafford Council and various other dignitaries. After listening to the speeches we were entertained by the wonderful folk singer Pete Martin, who performed two songs; “The Green Fields of France” and “Christmas 1914″. They left nobody in any doubt as to the emotions triggered by our match of remembrance. Finally, the medals and trophy were presented. We were honoured that this was done by the descendants of Sandy Turnbull himself! His grandchildren had kindly agreed to come along and represent the memory of their ancestor and we were thrilled to have that family connection present on the night.

It had been an amazing day. Our players made their way home whilst he German squad spent the rest of the evening investigating Manchester’s German Christmas markets in the middle of town!!! But another big day was ready to dawn!



December 12th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Friday 12th December 2014 was a totally ordinary day at Stretford High School. Lessons took place as usual. However, as soon as the bell went at 2.40pm the nerves started to kick in. The tracksuits generously supplied by Agecroft Glazing had arrived. They looked great and, just as “England” had promised, they had a little twist. The City fan in him couldn’t resist adding “Love your Glazer!” on the front (and if you need that little pun explaining to you then you are reading the wrong blog!)

The squad got dressed and congregated on the coach at 3pm for the journey up to Manchester Airport. Once there we made our way to arrivals where we met Tom Clare and also Alan Fountain, who had organised the German side of the match. The plane appeared to be a bit late and we soon found out why. It was due to land at 3.35pm but at 3.30pm all airspace over the UK was shut down because of an Air Traffic control problem. The only reason why the plane hadn’t been diverted was because it was on its final approach. That would have been too much for me!!!! After all the effort put in by everybody! Fortunately they were allowed to land and were only about twenty minutes late through customs. When they finally emerged it was actually quite tense. They were much bigger than we were and they all looked very smart in their suits. I think we were a bit nervous of them. Everybody shook hands and we got on the bus.

Next stop…the Trafford Centre! Everybody needed feeding so we had booked Pizza Hut for 5pm. I had ordered 20 pizzas and, as you can imagine, 30 teenage boys made short work of them. Everybody was sat at their own tables at this point and were still sizing each other up. What we needed to do was break the ice…so after dinner we took them to Laser Quest!!!

By this point the barriers were coming down and the squads were mixing well. Once inside the Laser Quest arena and the gloves were off…both teams were playing for pride and playing to win!!! When we were organising this I did wonder if it was “tasteless” to take both sides to Laser Quest, considering what we were commemorating. However, in my head I squared this by rationalising that we were only playing a game…if anything could be considered tasteless it was what was occurring 100 years ago, when these two sets of lads would have been asked to shoot each other for real. Call it progress!

Anyway, all diplomatic niceties out of the way…we beat them!!!

After Laser Quest our squad spent some time showing their squad around the Trafford Centre before we got back on the bus and took them to their accommodation for the night…the Youth Hostel in Castlefield. Once they were settled in there I went home. Tomorrow was going to be a big day!!!



December 11th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Thursday 11th December 2014 was a frantic day…full of last minute problems and the arrival of our mentor from Houston Texas, the football writer Mr Thomas Clare (formerly of this parish).

First of all, the problems! Word had reached us that the Germans had a kit problem. They had ordered a new kit for the visit and had specified it should be black (to avoid a colour clash with our red shirts). Someone at the shirt manufacturers had thought that this must be a mistake (because Fortuna Monchengladbach always play in red) so had made the kit in red. This meant that we had a monster colour clash to deal with!

Also, we didn’t have any tracksuits for our squad. However, Vicky Arrowsmith and Tracey Battersby in the Finance Office contacted Agecroft Glazing for me (they do all the windows at Stretford High and “England”, who works for them, is sports mad and had sponsored teams in the past). Just as they were trying to contact him he walked past me on the corridor on his way to repair a window. I quickly buttonholed him and sold the idea of the entire project to him in two minutes flat (the bell had just gone!). England, however, is a City fan…so he guaranteed a little “twist” in the kit! He then shot off to a supplier to see what he could do. Then everything went quiet as we had a normal school day to get through.

At 3pm Tom Clare arrived with Carl Ward (Manchester United fan also from Houston Texas). Tom spoke to the squad about German football and what to expect. He could clearly give Louis Van Gaal a run for his money because he was very motivating and inspiring (pointing out to the squad that they were representing their school, their city and their country!). After this Mr Fielding led the squad through their last training session. Meanwhile I snuck off to Trafford Town Hall in order to put together 40 bags of snacks for half time on matchday…if I don’t do it today it just will not get done!

Finally, Tom Clare said that he had a mate who might be able to get us a blue Manchester United kit to avoid the colour clash. We could but hope…it was too late to do anything else…the Germans arrive tomorrow!!



December 10th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Since January 2014 I had attended over twenty meetings with the WW1 football match committee. This was our last meeting, held at Trafford Town Hall on Wednesday 10th December 2014 (4pm). Pictured here are John Shiels and Tom Jones (from the MUFC Foundation) and Sioned Darney from Trafford Council. Without them we would not have been able to do this at all. They had put a great deal of work into making the match a reality. We are really happy in this picture because we had just taken delivery of “The Sandy Turnbull Trophy” and the medals that had been made for those participating in the match. They looked stunning! Special thanks to Matt Dearden and Helen Adshead at Stretford High School for designing such fantastic artefacts! Also thanks to Ace Trophies for making them!



December 7th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

We didn’t want the squad to feel that everything was being given to them…we wanted them to work at making these events happen. They agreed to participate in two fund raising events and this was the first one. On Sunday 7th December 2014 we took part in the sponsored Manchester United “Santa Run”. This involved meeting at Old Trafford at 10am and receiving our costumes and numbers. It was a stormy and cold day so it took (according to our modern standards) some fortitude to get out of bed and make our way in to the stadium (although we were more than aware of what soldiers 100 years ago had to put up with, which kind of stopped us moaning!). Of course, this was a 5k run…which is a doddle for a 16 year old football player. I, on the other hand, am a 43 year old fat dad. Therefore, I had been “in training” for five weeks prior to this. There was no way I was going to be left either miles behind or unable to complete the circuit so I had been going out around Seymour Park (after dark, so no-one could see me) and jogging around the park trying to get myself ready for the day. However, once the race started I saw the squad (and Mr Fielding) rapidly fade into the distance…so much for my planning! Anyway, everybody finished and we had set all squad players the task of raising £25 each! Job done!

Only one more week to the match! Getting nervous now!



December 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

The Army (specifically Capt. Knight) invited us to Preston Army barracks in order to put our squad through an “Army” experience for the day. So, on Tuesday 2nd December (which was a very clear and VERY cold day!) we arrived at Preston barracks at 1000hrs exactly. I had never been to Preston barracks before but they date back about 200 years and history seeps out of the blackened stone from which they had been constructed. There are murals on the wall dating back 150 years showing new recruits how to wield a sword! We were immediately taken to the army assault course where the squad were given expert tuition in how to complete each obstacle before they got to do them all against the clock. After this experience (which was a major challenge to some of our smaller squad members!) we were fed very well in the canteen. After this…a surprise was in store! From the far side of a very forbidding drill square came the sound of hobnailed boots on chilled flags. A blurred khaki figure came into focus as a drill sergeant dressed in complete World War One outfit. I didn’t know what the army had arranged for us but I soon found out. We were all (myself and Mr Fielding included) lined up in three rows. We had to dress the rows and we were marched up and down the square whilst being authentically “square bashed” throughout. After half an hour with the merciless Lancastrian air chilling us to the bone we were marched indoors where all the squad signed their “affirmations” to join the army in 1914!!! They were then introduced to their kit and weapons (given instruction on grenades, rifles, machine guns, gas masks and field cookery and medicine!) Following this sobering lesson we were escorted through the museum to view artefacts from the regiments battles over the last 200 years. The army provided the squad with an insight into what young people faced 100 years ago. For that we are very grateful to them. Once again we were able to place our efforts into a wider context!



November 9th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

The act of remembrance was essentially what our Football match was all about. Therefore it was important that we took part in the official Remembrance day activities. All the squad were briefed that they had to be at Trafford Town Hall on Sunday 9th November 2014 at 10am sharp in their full school uniforms. They were all there on time and looking rather nervous because they had never attended a service like this before. Surrounding us were soldiers, police officers, fire officers and the Mayor…all in their uniforms. We were walked up Chester Road to the Cenotaph. All traffic on Chester Road had been diverted and it was strange to see peace and quiet descend on what is usually one of the busiest roads in Manchester. The squad captain was briefed on what was expected of him and the lads were lined up next to all of the other groups who were due to place a wreath. It was a cold but clear morning…crisp and Autumnal. The quiet was broken by the very moving music provided by a marching band as we all sang hymns of remembrance. Once the wreaths were placed we made our way back to Trafford Town Hall where a separate ceremony took place in the Italian Gardens. A plaque was unveiled to the memory of Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury, an Altrincham resident who won the VC in 1914. The whole morning was very moving and, once again, it placed our efforts into a wider context. Only five weeks to go now to our Football match!



October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

So, once the squad was formed it was important that we place the game into a historical context for the lads taking part. We are fortunate, at Stretford High School, in having the very wonderful Imperial War Museum on our doorstep. They very kindly invited us over for an “artifact handling” session on Wednesday 22nd October 2014. Whilst there we heard the stories of soldiers from Old Trafford and Stretford during World War One. We also looked at the impact that the war had on our local community (including such oddities as the trench periscope, which was manufactured in Old Trafford by Duerr’s jams on Prestage Street!). We handled personal items from soldiers, including a letter written by a soldier only a couple of years older than our students, who was killed on the same day that he wrote the letter. The visit allowed our team to put names and faces to actual stories. By humanising those who take part in war we can finally see the massive impact that it had at the time. Thank you Imperial War Museum!



October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Chris Hirst

Picture this: a cold January in 2014. Mr Fielding and I are sat in the Busby office at Stretford High School suffering post-Christmas Blues. We look at the calendar and see that there isn’t much coming up. Sighing deeply we start a conversation that meanders over the centenary of the First World War. An idea sparks and suddenly we are planning a match against a team from Germany in order to remember those that played in the famous Christmas truce of 1914 – an event in history unprecedented – a spontaneous outbreak of peace in the middle of war. Initial emails out suggest that many people like the idea. A meeting is soon held with Kate Green MP, who directs us helpfully in the direction of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The day after this I attend the first of about 30 meetings held with John Shiels (from the Manchester United Foundation) and Sioned Darney from Trafford Council. In this first meeting we laughably suggest that we should have everything planned by March (laughably because, as I write this three days before the Germans are due to arrive, we are still planning the match!).

Finding a team to play in Germany proved very hard. Attitudes towards remembering the First World War differ very much between Germany and Britain. The impression that we got was that the Germans didn’t want to commemorate the centenary. It looked like we had fallen at the first. Fortunately, there are many involved in this project who are made of sterner stuff. The legend that is Tom Clare (Houston based Manchester United football writer) said that he had been based in Germany when he was in the army and he had contacts there. So when Tom came to Manchester in early May for the annual 606 dinner he brought his mate Alan Fountain (German football commentator) with him. We met in the Cresta Court in Altrincham (along with Carl Ward, another Houston Red) and, over many ciders, managed to outline the actual project that emerged. Alan Fountain went back to Germany and he managed to persuade Fortuna Monchengladbach to agree to play us. We were on our way!

Next step…funding. I contacted the Heritage Lottery Fund who said that they loved the idea and would provide us with loads of money to make it happen (or something like that). I filled in the “pre application” form and left for the school Summer holidays with everything all set up for a September launch. Then….disaster! The Heritage Lottery Fund contacted me and said that, because of unprecedented demand to fund trips abroad, they were unable to fund any more. This meant that we now had no money. The main committee (John Shiels, Sioned and I) met at Trafford Town Hall over the holidays and the smell of defeat was in the air. I couldn’t see us being able to continue without the key funding. I felt like suggesting that we call it all off…but this didn’t seem to fit in with what we were trying to remember. The men who fought in WW1 didn’t give in easily…they just got on with it. It seemed right and proper that our project be beset with difficulties…it wouldn’t have felt right if everything had come to us too easily. John Shiels said that he could donate an OPUS book to us to raise funds. This kept the project alive (but it certainly wasn’t well). Sioned and I filled in an HLF grant for some funding to run the Manchester leg (but we didn’t think, in our heart of hearts, that we would be successful).

September, the month that we were supposed to form our team, came and went without anything really happening. We had no funding and we couldn’t even agree on dates to run the match. It looked grim.

John Shiels, perhaps sensing that we were losing heart, donated 40 match day tickets for us to attend the Manchester United vs Liverpool Premier League match on December 14th. This meant that we now had a definite date. Unfortunately, Alan Fountain emailed back to say that we hadn’t given the German side enough time to organise anything at their end (a very fair point). They were angry and about to drop out. Dejected, I walked into the Head’s office and slumped in a chair next to Helen Adshead (the Head’s PA) before telling her that the game was off. She made me a cup of tea and suggested that I make one last attempt…instead of us travelling over to Germany in December to play the first leg before they came over to us, why not delay our trip until March, giving the Germans time to organise their leg of the match? I didn’t hold out much hope but I said I would try. I finished my tea and wrote the email to Alan. The next two hours were like some kind of weird whirlwind. Within ten minutes Alan had emailed back to say that the Germans had said “Yes” and that they had booked their flights. This meant that I had to get in my car and drive over to the Youth Hostel in Castlefield to book rooms before they sold out. I did this with my fingers crossed because we hadn’t yet got the HLF funding we had applied for But naive optimistic bravado won through…we got our HLF funding and this meant that we could then form the squad.