I was going to write about the Australian cricket team’s series defeat to India – their first series defeat since the infamous 2005 Ashes series. I was going to write about how maybe Australian cricket is just not that good anymore. I was going to write about the ridiculous notion (currently permeating through the Aussie media) that the slow over rate on the final day of the final Test ‘allowed’ the Indians to win , when in fact it was their superiority over the course of the series that delivered them their victory. I was going to write about how we Aussies really are quite bad losers (when it sometimes happens).
But it’s Armistice Day, just past the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month here in London. And Australia losing some cricket series just doesn’t feel important. What feels important is The Great War. And the part of The Great War I’m thinking about now is that almost mythological game of football played in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day in 1914.
So, five months into the most grievously heinous conflict in human history, the soldiers who would spend the days and nights trying to blow each other up came out to shake hands and say ‘merry Christmas’ to each other. And they said it with a game of footy.
Part of me wonders what the result was; what the tackles were like (meaty yet good-spirited or spiteful and late?); who they picked to play in goals; whether they had rolling subs. All the kind of variables you tweak every time you get an impromptu game of football together.
The other part of me simply marvels at the fact that sport (in this case football but it may have been cricket or hockey or even marbles), was the best way these young men knew how to share Christmas with each other. Sport was the way they took a break from trying to kill each other. Sport was the only thing the British, French, Belgians and Germans had in common at that point in time. Sport was the original Armistice.
It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote of the Christmas Day Game as ‘the one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of the war.’ And that’s why sport is important. It is the fundamentally human pursuit. Sport is not trivial or silly. It is what brings mankind together. It can even compel soldiers to stop launching cannons and going over the top to play 4-4-2 on No Man’s Land.