THE CHRISTMAS ADVERT for a popular chain of stores depicts an extraordinary historical event.
A special game of football took place during World War 1 in 1914.
Source: Sainsbury’s Youtube Channel
The day is Christmas Eve, 1914 and the setting is the Western Front of World War 1. It’s often referred to as the Christmas Truce.
The advert begins with soldiers from opposing sides singing a festive hymn in their native tongue. The English fighters give a rendition of ‘Silent Night’ while the Germans join in one voice to sing ‘Stille Nacht.’
They’re in their own separate trenches, miles apart from one another under the falling snow. But the echoes of their song meet somewhere in the sky above, creating a lovely sense of harmony.
The camera then cuts to the following morning, where one of the soldiers from the British side makes a daring gesture. He rises up above the trench unarmed, holding his hat above his head as the Germans frantically grab their firearms in anticipation of a battle.
One of the officers orders them to stand down. He too climbs up to the surface without a weapon while soldiers on either side urge them both to come back.
But they see the peaceful intent in each other and walk across the battleground where they meet and shake hands.
“My name is Jim… My name is Otto.”
The other soldiers soon follow to greet their enemies as military hostilities are put to one side. A game of football soon breaks out. Germany v Britain with nothing at stake.
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The sound of gunfire comes in from off the distance to bring the serenity to a close and the soldiers return to their respective bases.
And so, the fighting resumes. But for the briefest of time, they were all united. They were kicking a football around, using jackets as posts just like when they were children.
Even in a time of war, sport had the power to cut through conflict and unify people.
And it still holds that command over us all today.
Think of any game you ever attended where you found yourself standing beside a stranger. Perhaps you went to the game with a group but the ticket allocation put you beside someone you didn’t know.
You probably didn’t utter a word to each other. You knew nothing about their life; what they stand for, how they vote, whether or not they’re religious.
If you were to find out, you might discover that you object to everything they believe in. But that doesn’t matter.
All you know is that you support the same team and you’re wearing the same jersey. It’s the first and only thing you see of each other as you take your seats.
You might even agree on team selection issues or tactical formations. If it’s a final and there’s title famine on the line, you might even turn to hug one another in relief at the full-time whistle. Or give a nod of disappointment if the result goes the other way.
For the next 60, 70, 80, 90 minutes — depending on the sport — you’re allies. This is particularly true in international sport.
The Ireland women’s hockey team after returning home from the World Cup in 2018.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Think back to when the Ireland Women’s Hockey stunned everyone to win a silver medal at the World Cup in 2018. The nation watched their thrilling penalty shootouts on RTÉ and packed the streets when they came home.
There was widespread despair across the country when Wes Hoolahan fluffed that chance against Italy at Euro 2016, before quickly compensating to whip in a ball and put it on Robbie Brady’s forehead for the winning goal.
Likewise for the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009. 61 years after the previous clean sweep, Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal unified the nation. So many failed attempts gave way to the relief of knowing that it was finally our time again.
Seeing our Olympic athletes bring the Irish tricolour to the podium evokes similar emotions too.
There is nothing else that can equalise us like sport. It’s the one great leveller. You have divisions in politics, religion, issues of social justice and even the arts. One person’s taste in music is another person’s motivation for switching stations on the radio.
Your interests is a personal statement about the things that appeal to you. Sport is about what you belong to; team that you’re born into. It’s in the fabric of your local community.
We couldn’t go to watch games the normal way this year, but even seeing them on television was enough to sustain us during another belt of lockdown misery.
Of course, it’s not perfect, but sport still has the power to be the one true leveller in this world.
Just like it did back in 1914 when Jim and Otta met and had a game of football before the sounds of war forced them to separate. For the briefest moment, they were on the same side.
“Happy Christmas… Frohe Weihnachten.”