Academy: U12s Visit Ypres
Watch a video from the Academy's trip to Ypres above, or read on below.
Since 2014 The Premier League have organised an Under-12 Tournament in Ypres, Belgium, known as the Truce Tournament.
It takes place in a very significant part of Europe where during the First World War at Christmas in 1914, there was the only ever cease-fire or truce. Troops from both sides came out of their trenches and exchanged rations and a game, or several games of football broke out.
Watford's Under-12s went over to take part in this tournament after winning a competition where the boys had to put together a project on Walter Tull, a soldier, footballer, and also the first black officer to ever lead white soldiers into battle. He died in 1918.
Watch the Walter Tull video via the Hornets' official YouTube channel, below.
The Academy were keen to make this a cultural and historic knowledge trip as well as a football tournament. So, instead of the normal first night team meeting they had an open discussion about Walter, trench warfare and explained the full meaning of the 1914 Truce football match and talked about the impact it had on the First World War and ever since.
Barry Quin, the Head of Academy - Coaching and Development - said he was immensely proud of the boys' sensitivity and curiosity about events that happened 100 years ago.
“Our boys asked some very good questions [at that first meeting] and I answered as best I could,” said Quin. “As we went around the museums, reconstructed trenches and the war graves, they engaged with our tour guide and he later said that he was very impressed with them.
“We all took part in the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony which happens every evening at 8.00 pm and has done so every night since the end of the First World War, apart from while World War II was on.
“It was just one of the times I was very proud of our Academy boys as I watched them lay a wreath during the ceremony. They took part in another presentation of their work to the Mayor, Chairman of the Local Football Team, Premier League officials and Ypres guests. They impressed our hosts and I heard praise for them many times.
“We then took part in two days of tournament football and came just above half way overall. This was no mean feat when we only qualified through the excellent work of Nathan Marshall, our media team and of course the real stars, the Under-12 players.”
In Ypres, they also visited trenches, cemeteries, and shared gifts with their foreign counterparts, like the enemy soldiers did when they put down their weapons to play football on Christmas Day in 1914.
The club’s Academy players had won their place at the tournament thanks to their studies on the conflict and, through a visit to cemeteries and trenches, they experienced at first-hand what men not much older than them endured 100 years ago.
“To think that only two years older than me they got let out of school, and six years older than me, when they were 18, they were recruited for war, makes me feel uncomfortable if that ever happened again,” Dominic, one of the Watford Under-12 players, said.
“When we were walking through the trenches, it was damp, it was wet, some of the floors were unstable and it just made me feel uneasy being there for five minutes.
“I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable they must have felt being in there for so many years.”
Along with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford qualified for the finals thanks to an outstanding educational project on Walter Tull, a professional footballer and the first man of black heritage to become an officer and lead men into battle in the British Army.
Before they competed on the pitch against fellow English clubs and those from Belgium, France and Germany, the boys’ got to see where soldiers fought for their countries and commemorated where they died.
“It’s important to remember these people because they fought, and they've given their lives and they've given everything, and they really deserve the credit because they're the heroes for our country,” Amar said while visiting the Tyne Cot Memorial.
“From this visit I think I'll learn that so many people have given their lives, and this is a really good place to remember them and remember what they have done for the country.”