Today, 21 September, is UN International Day of Peace. One of the Football Makes History developers Ernie Brennan is head of the Children’s Football Alliance which for years connects football and non-formal education to peace. In their programme Football and Peace his organisation looks at the core of the work is to strip away the many layers of professionalised and organised football, and look at the very core of football: a game.
Considering the game of football as the essential element, people might remember their childhood, playing a game of football without lines, adults, referees, financial interests and the fear of winning at all costs. The essence of football can be found in childhood memories: making friends, scoring your first ever goal, great saves and not forgetting, the feel-good factor.
The Christmas truces
One of the unique moments in history when this was briefly rediscovered was during the First World War. The space was “No Man’s Land”, the time 24th December 1914 and the place, Flanders Field, Mesen, Belgium. In an act of insubordination, Allied and German soldiers fraternized during a truce where they exchanged gifts and played games of football. A truce in the First World War was an opportunity to collect the bodies. Amongst the blood, mud and poetry, this extraordinary act remains timeless when people of all ages, faiths and cultures visit and pay homage, at the site of the 1914 Christmas Truces.
Coming together around the truce
The National Children’s Football Alliance’s Global Peace Games (GPGs), facilitated at the Peace Village, Messines, Belgium, site of the 1914 Christmas Truces, effort to carry on the meaning of peace. Through public funding, young mixed ability and mixed gender people, come together from diverse communities to participate through playing games of football, in a week long peace education programme: refugees, migrants, immigrants, public, private, state, special needs, and referral children, all experience the power of football. The GPGs create peace makers for the future by exploring the value of playing football in its many different forms in a location where tens of thousands of men and women died in conflict.
Working with young people
Young people connect with the environment and contextualise their own life experiences with that of the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, from over 100 years ago. Many of the children come from war torn countries, poverty stricken areas, communities of high deprivation, gangland neighbourhoods and many of the children come from: more affluent, inner cities and rural communities. The key to the GPGs is social inclusion and not social selection. Participants speak different languages. However, it is the universal language football that breaks down barriers and builds lifelong friendships. The game is the teacher and the historical location is the learning environment. A blend that connects, humanitarianism, creativity, confidence and fun.
Methodology for game and play for learning
The essence of the game is best observed in primary school children when loosely supervised. Children will work out amongst themselves how to contribute in a game of football. If it is not a level playing field in terms of equality, children will find a way to work it out. The GPGs refers to this methodology and trusts the game of football to be the learning tool. Reminiscent of children’s playground football (e.g. clothes as goalposts) loosely supervised games provide an opportunity for young people to reclaim their game. No association rules, no brands, no great expectations and most importantly, no win at all costs. It is important to add that the games are not less competitive from an athletic point of view, however, they are noticeably creative, inventive and explorative, just like the football games were at primary school age.
Many young people have the ability to contextualise their experiences from home with those young men and women of over 100 years ago. Some young people can connect to conflict at home, in school or in their communities with the humanitarian act witness at the 1914 Christmas Truces. They empathise with the soldiers’ fraternization, exchanging gifts and playing games of football. It is the game of football that connects childhood with adulthood. It is the game that metaphorically levels the playing field. In a state of war, these soldiers reverted back to childhood to momentarily escape the horror of war by playing a game of football. As a GPG participant in Pankaj, India said: “When I feel sad, frightened and emotional, I play football to help me forget”.