Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Biting Back: Remembering football on the Western Front

Niall Crozier
Niall Crozier

Last night saw the end of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Today marks the centenary of the start of the Great War which was to have ended all wars. Alas, it didn't; look no further than Gaza, Ukraine or Syria.

In 1583, English puritan Philip Stubbs published his Anatomie of Abuses, a vitriolic outburst against English habits in dress, food, drink, games and sex.

Among his conclusions: "Footeball causeth fighting, brawling, contention, quarrel-picking, murder, homicide and great effusion of bloode, as daily experience teacheth."

I attended a Rangers-Celtic Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park some 394 years after Stubbs' anti-sport tirade and yes, it was close to what he had described. However the hatred I witnessed was caused by bigotry, not football.

As the curtain came down on the 2014 CGs at the same stadium, I recalled the words of Jesse Owens, the black athlete who won gold in the men's 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, thereby making a nonsense of Adolf Hitler's master-race rantings.

Forty years later, Owens again stole the show at the Montreal Olympics by saying: "This is the only body in the world that can bring together the youth of the world in friendly competition.

"You've the United Nations and they haven't solved a damned thing. But you do solve something here. You solve the championship of the world and you're not breaking heads, you're breaking records."

And today, as we mark the outbreak of WW1, let's remember too that a rare spark of humanity on the Western Front came on Christmas Eve 1914 when British and German soldiers played football. Together.

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