New research by a German historian suggests the legendary football game between British troops and Germans in 1914 was marred by poor refereeing decisions. Dieter Schmidt from the University of Berlin has uncovered accounts from soldiers who were there that indicate some of the line calls were dubious at best.
‘There is the famous incident of the controversial goal by the Germans that is well documented in these new letters,’ he said. ‘They show that despite the French referee having a good position to spot any offence, his linesman missed half of the advancing German army being clearly offside.’
The incident in Ypres is just one of several contentious decisions made on the day, including the award of a penalty to Army Group Fabeck, even though the corporal who fell in the penalty area was under no challenge from any member of the British IV corps. ‘What is facinating is discovering the names of the soldiers involved. The german Corporal was one Sigmund Klinsmann, while the British sergeant who saved the spot kick was a Daniel Banks.’
It had been hoped that the friendly game on Christmas Day 1914 might offer a peaceful way forward for countries to resolve their rivalries through sport, and that war might be a thing of the past. However, the players were so angry about the dodgy line-call that a fight broke out after the match, all-out hostilities were resumed, and the war carried on for another four years claiming millions of lives.
‘Still, that’s the thing about World Wars,’ said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. ‘It’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts.’