Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank watched from the sidelines during a football game over the weekend as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were nowhere to be found and not a single touchdown was scored.
Blank was on hand for a very special football game – or soccer, as we Yanks would say – that commemorated one of the most extraordinary Christmas stories you may never have heard.
Volunteers for Atlanta’s British Consulate took on expat counterparts recruited by Atlanta’s German Consulate in a match at Emory University marking the 100th anniversary of what’s known to history as the Christmas Truce.
“We’re here to celebrate a historic event that represents the best of humankind, when supposed enemies reached out to each other in the spirit of the holiday season through the international game of soccer,” said Blank, who awarded a silver trophy to the winning British team. Blank is bringing Major League Soccer to Atlanta in 2017.
Here’s a video clip showing some of the action:
The friendly game commemorated an act of humanity from one of history’s bleakest chapters. Just before Christmas 1914, at the close of World War I’s first year and after months of unexpectedly brutal fighting, British and German soldiers faced each other in opposite trenches across the bombed out, barbed-wired and corpse-strewn “no-man’s land.”
German troops began singing “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht.”) British soldiers responded. Brave men on both sides scaled the trenches and ventured into no-man’s land. Soon, thousands of British and German enemies were greeting each other, exchanging cigarettes, coffee, and posing for photos. (Yep, vintage wartime selfies!)
Impromptu soccer matches broke out between British and Germans in several spots on the Western Front. This cease fire lasted for days before fighting resumed.
But for a brief time, the spirit of the holiday conquered the spirit of war. It was that spirit of camaraderie in the face of unimaginable misery that was celebrated Saturday in Atlanta. Similar Christmas Truce commemorative soccer matches have been held in three other U.S. cities and others in Europe.
“In the carnage and abysmal violence these supposed enemies met in friendly competition,” Thomas Wulfing, German deputy consul general in Atlanta, said during the opening ceremony.
Wulfing managed the German team and Atlanta’s British consul general, Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, managed his country’s team.
Cameron Young, 9, of DeKalb County was among several hundred spectators. He waved a British flag and wore a Union Jack hoodie, so there was no mystery about which side he was rooting for.
“I was born in Scotland,” he explained.
British fans seemed to dominate, but Paige Stoecker of Alpharetta and her girls, Rachael, 8, and Keely, 6, cheered the German side with gusto. Paige’s husband, Michael, hails from Germany and played in the game.
“We need one more,” she called out as the German team fell behind 2-1.
After trailing 1-0 at the half, the British team rallied to win the First World War Centenary Cup, 4-1. Blank, hoping to build support for Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team, presented the trophy to the victors.
We talked to Darren Eales, left, from Team Great Britain, and Timo Sandritter from Team Germany in this video clip:
Blank joked that Saturday’s match was his opportunity to see if Eales, his new soccer team’s president, could actually play the game.
Eales, a native of England and retired pro player, acquitted himself well. He was, naturally, pleased with the outcome.
“Normally we don’t tend to beat Germany in soccer so we’ve definitely got to make the most of this,” Eales said.
After the game, the players exchanged handshakes and posed for photos together, a British player even holding the German tricolor flag. After all, the day was about much more than who won the game.
Team Germany’s players included Abderrahim Kichetti, Andreas Wagner, Dominik Oergel, Fabian Staudenmeyer, Hauke Meyhöfer, Holger Löwendorf, Leonard Albino, Levin Arnsperger, Maik Friebe, Manuel Valdes, Martin Lita Lina, Michael Schimetzki, Michael Stoeker, Richard Henry, Steffan Pedersen, Thorsten Grossberger, Timo Sandritter, Tobias Richter, Uwe Rotsch and Edin Islamivic.
Team Great Britain’s players included Adrian Powell, AJ Corner, Andrew Galland, Andrew Hingley, Anthony Judge, Anthony Thomas, Ben Butler, Brendin Harris, Darren Carr, Darren Eales, Elliott Fretwell, James Forde, Joe Hall, Kirsten Müller, Michael LaRusso, Paul Truss, Robert Gibbon, Ryan Pollard and Stuart Sharp. Reserve members included Antony Eason, Graham Tutt, Scott O’Moran-Barreiro and Tony Annan.
Wulfing saluted the friendly game’s message of peace and harmony.
“In Europe we have achieved a lot since (the war),” Wulfing said. “We are now the closest friends imaginable.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was written by Buzz intern Charles Gay.