The myth of the "Christmas truce" soccer match

The letters written home by British soldiers about the truce do often speak of football games—but they mainly reference rumors of matches that happened elsewhere. Harold Atkins, a soldier with the 1/5th London Rifles, spoke of another regiment that “had a game of football with the enemy opposite them.” Lieutenant-Colonel Diggle, with 8th Division Headquarters, said he heard “that there was a football match between the trenches on one part of the line against the Germans.” A letter about the truce published in the Daily Mail on 6 January 1915 noted that “elsewhere along the line I hear our fellows played the Germans at football on Christmas Day.”

Other soldiers wrote about matches that had been proposed, but never took place. A soldier in the 1/16th Queen’s Westminsters said that the Germans “wanted to play us at football, but unfortunately we hadn’t got one.” Captain Aiden Liddell of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wrote home that the enemy soldiers “were awfully keen to get up a football match against us; whether it will come off or not I don’t know.” (It didn’t.) Another letter in the Daily Mail noted that some British soldiers invited the Germans to play a game of football, but the enemy declined to participate.

The majority of the famous 1914 Christmas Day football matches, it appears, were either third-hand accounts based upon rumors or games that never happened.