Ypres is a town forever associated with the misery of war. Like the Somme, its name belongs to the collective historical conscious of British people; no longer a real place but rather an echo from history. Ypres represents the abominable cruelty of the First World War, the murderous division between nations of different languages. Yet there is one shining light in Ypres’ otherwise dark history; the scene of so much hatred and bloodshed, it was also the site of unexpected compassion and unity. On the freezing cold Christmas Eve of 1914, both British and German soldiers began – slowly at first – to emerge from their trenches and walk into No Man’s Land, an act that merely hours ago would have meant certain death. And here, in the spirit of good will to all men that Christmas embodies, they played football.
It was a ramshackle, frantic, poor quality game; officer’s coats marked goal posts, the 11 official players either side multiplied rapidly until over 50 uniformed footballers swarmed the field, and the result changes depending who you ask (both sides claimed a 3-2 victory). But for one night, the divisions of language and conflict were healed by the lingua franca of football.
97 years later, buses bearing the future stars of Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Lens and Genk arrived in Flanders fields to commemorate this sporting truce. The Premier League funded ‘Christmas Truce’ tournament brought these under-12 teams together in celebration of that night where the unifying power of human compassion was expressed through the universal language of football. The final, redolent of that first game a century ago, saw England’s Manchester United facing Germany’s Borussia Dortmund. The goals were made reassuringly of wood, each side kept to its allotted number of substitutions and the result (3-0 to United) was undisputed. The spirit of unity through the love of the game, however, remained undiminished by history.
The tournament, however, concerned far more than just football. Gen Roddy, director of youth development at the Premier League, expressed the educational value in the visit. The event was a challenge to hone football talents, yet Roddy stated that for football’s mission education ‘is vital and this will be a very beneficial cultural experience. One of things that Ofsted highlighted when we got our ‘Outstanding’ rating was that Premier League clubs encourage open minds that accept and welcome other cultures.’
Nowhere was this better expressed than the multilingual services of commemoration. Addressing the teams after the tournament, one official of local side FC Ypres spoke of the ‘absurdity of war’. He did so in German, English and his own mother tongue Flemish. Team members of French club FC Lens followed this by reciting First World War poetry in English, and were joined by a German relating the ‘horrific history’ that surrounded the quiet market town, again in English. It was a fitting tribute, not just to the legendary game of 1914, but to the wonderful power of sport to transcend languages and engage strangers in a universal love of a great game.
At TJC Global we cannot promise a universal language as captivating as competitive sport, and our football team is patchy at best. But we can help overcome the barriers that can occur when languages meet. With expertise in around 180 languages, we can provide professional translation and interpretation for a wide range of fields; from medical to media, via legal, governmental, financial, engineering, business and more. Indeed, this range coupled with excellent customer service accounts for our ever-expanding list of clients from around the world. For further information about what we can offer your organisation, please visit our website at www.tj-oxford.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.