Sometimes you think you have read so much about war and memorials that you have developed a numbness, and then along comes a little paragraph that hits you hard and makes you realise that this is not so:
"In the first months of the war football was used as an incentive to enlistenment; the war, it was claimed, offered the chance to play ‘the greatest game of all.’ By the end of 1914 an estimated 500,000 men had enlisted at football matches. By the following spring, professional football had been banned: matches, it was feared, were so popular that ( a reversal of the initial strategy) they deterred men from enlisting.
At the front the enthusiasm for the game continued unabated. Whether a match actually took place in No Man’s Land between German and English troops on Christmas day 1914 is doubtful; even if it did not, it is entirely appropriate that the day’s events should have generated the myth of a football match as the embodiment of fraternization.
The most famous footballing episode was Captain Nevill’s kicking a ball into No Man’s Land on the first day of the Somme. A prize was offered to the first man to dribble the ball into the German trenches; Nevill himself scrambled out of the trench in pursuit of his goal and was cut down immediately. (perhaps the Somme was not only an indictment of military strategy but also of the British propensity for the long-ball game.) Lawrence’s admonition – that tragedy ought to be a great big kick at misery – could not have been fulfilled more literally."- Geoff Dyer: The Missing of the Somme.