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West Ham youngsters learn valuable lessons

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 December 2016

West Ham under-12s lay a wreath at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins)

West Ham under-12s lay a wreath at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins)

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Under-12s compete at Truce Tournament in Belgium

West Ham under-12s in action against Paris Saint-Germain at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins) West Ham under-12s in action against Paris Saint-Germain at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins)

West Ham United under-12s were one of four British clubs to compete in the Premier League Truce Tournament in Ypres, Belgium at the weekend.

Academy teams from Crystal Palace, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City alsotravelled to the World War One battle site to play against opposition from France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The young Hammers progressed to the semi-finals, after finishing second in a group which included Blackburn, Paris Saint-Germain and Club Brugge, before losing to eventual runners-up Manchester City, who were beaten by Anderlecht in the final.

And the players Aalso completed an educational field trip to Plugstreet Wood, the site of the Christmas Truce of 1914, which saw fighting temporarily cease as troops played football in No Man’s Land and exchanged gifts.

West Ham under-12s in action against Blackburn at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins) West Ham under-12s in action against Blackburn at the Truce Tournament in Belgium (pic Steve Hawkins)

They also explored a replica British trench and bunker system at the Passchendaele 1917 Memorial Museum and visited the Tyne Cot War Cemetery which houses 11,954 graves of fallen soldiers and the Langemarck German Cemetery, where 44,000 soldiers are interred.

Squads also visited the Menin Gate memorial to the missing, where respects were paid with wreath laying and a Last Post ceremony.

Martyn Heather, the Premier League’s head of education, said: “We’ve always been very keen to develop holistically rounded people and I think that developing their skills off the pitch, as well as on it, is crucial.

“Tournaments like this are not just about the football, they’re about taking the players out of their comfort zone. They can see the horrors that men not much older than themselves faced in the First World War just over 100 years ago.

“What was quite pertinent was players visiting the graves of former players from their respective club, it just made it so much more relatable.

“The reason we centre the tournament around the Christmas Truce is because we want the players to understand that football is a universal language, and despite the aggression and horrors of war, on December 25, 1914, that was put aside, and we want to learn from that and instil those qualities in these young players.”

Dave Johnson, West Ham United’s head of coaching for under-nines to under-14s, added: “For us, the educational element of the trip has been just as important as the football, in fact maybe more so.

“We’ve had a fantastic insight into what life was like as a soldier, and the hardships that they faced to survive. It’s really struck a chord with our lads and that’s what we wanted.

“Every headstone we looked at had a different story. There were fallen soldiers from South Africa, Canada and Australia, soldiers from different religions and different beliefs and it just underlined the scale of the conflict.

“Our philosophy at West Ham is, of course, about creating good players, and we have a good history of that, but we also want to create good people, educated people, who understand their history.”

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