SOCCER, WAR, AND PEACE
On through the halls of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them
Is but an empty name
True to the land that bore them
The surreys play the game.
“TOUCHSTONE,” a poem that appeared
in Britain’s Daily Mail, inspired by word that
East surry Regiment, Eighth Battalion, dribbled
four soccer balls through no-man’s-land in the
somme ahead of an attack on German posi-
tions, in July 1916
Most nations of the world have two major forms of conflict in common: soccer and, unfortunately, war. International war, civil war, cold war, militarism—all have affected soccer in modern times. Yet the game’s most notable casualty remains the twelve-year gap in World Cups caused by the Second World War.
Imagine yourself an infantryman in northern France during World War I, slogging through the trenches, tensely awaiting the whistle that sends you over the top, then watching helplessly while buddies are mowed down by machine-gun fire. Come Christmas Day, you and your comrades lay down your arms … to play soccer with the enemy.
It happened in 1914, four months into the bloody conflict, near the village of Laventie. Without warning, members of a German company emerged from their icy trenches to greet their Welsh counterparts in no-man’s-land.
“I do remember a whole mass of us just getting up and going out to meet them,” recalled Bertie Felstead, a Royal Welsh Fusilier at the time, in a 1999 interview. “Nothing was planned. It was spontaneous.