LONDON/YPRES:  The Premier League is to build a floodlit third generation artificial pitch in the Belgian city of Ypres as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

The English league has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with both the City of Ypres and KVK Westhoek, Ypres main football club. It will seek to build the all-weather pitch by November 2014.

English and Welsh school, community and Youth Development teams will share the facility with teams from Belgium and around the world. The Premier League will continue to stage its annual Christmas Truce Tournament in Ypres and will host a major international Christmas Truce Tournament in December 2014 to inaugurate the new pitch and mark the Truce centenary.

It will also make the pitch available to clubs during English school half-terms, Easter holidays, during the summer for pre-season tours and competitions, and ad-hoc weekends throughout the year.

The League also aims for the facility to be available to other relevant football and sporting organisations throughout Europe to come and enjoy it in a spirit of peace and reconciliation, especially for young people visiting the First World War battlefields.

Training resource

When unused by visiting teams, the facilities will be open to local schools, community groups and clubs during the day, while in the evening’s local club KVK Westhoek will run training and competitive football for all its sides, including all its 25 junior teams from Under 6 to Under 21 level.

The City of Ypres and Club will be responsible for its ongoing upkeep once built and will develop an affordable pricing structure for its use.

The Premier League has been running the Christmas Truce Tournament since 2011, bringing together Under 12 teams from England, Belgium, France and Germany.

The tournament honours a unique piece of sporting history and one of the most famous moments of the First World War, the Christmas Truce, where British and German footballers stopped fighting each other on Christmas Day 1914 and played football in no-man’s land.

The troops posed together for pictures and swapped gifts.

Ged Roddy, Premier League Director of Youth, said: “The Premier League has developed a wonderful bond with the City of Ypres since we first came here in 2011. The Centenary of the First World War has given us a unique opportunity to build a lasting sporting and cultural experience.

Peace and goodwill

“This new 3G pitch that we will build represents a fantastic opportunity to continue the messages of peace and understanding associated with the original Christmas Truce match of 1914.

“It will also provide a high quality football facility for young people, linking the history of what happened in Ypres to their education. This will help those visiting from England and Wales to enjoy their trip and to understand football’s place in the history of the First World War.

“It will also help the Premier League and the City of Ypres to further build relationships with other communities and organisations across Europe for many years to come.”

Jan Durnez, Mayor of Ypres, said: “In the whole of our First World War centenary, the opening of this Premier League pitch will be one of our most high profile events. This is an important development for the City of Ypres because of the impact it will have on young people both today and tomorrow.

“It will be up to future generations to take on the spirit of peace and reconciliation that was at the heart of the Christmas Truce in 1914.

“This pitch is central to that because it will bring in many young people so that they understand what happened here in Ypres and continue that process of commemoration.”

History recalled

The announcement of the pitch being built was made by Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who in 2005 became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross for valour in over 30 years. He said: “The Christmas Truce Tournament is wonderful way of bringing history to life. By coming here to the City of Ypres and seeing the names of the 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers on the Menin Gate, many of them footballers, they can appreciate the scale of war.

“But Ypres, being the site of the Christmas Truce, is also a place where they can understand how sport can bring out the humanity in people. It’s a very noble gesture by the Premier League to build a pitch here and ensure that thousands of young people can come and continue to remember the courage and sacrifices of those from the armed forces.”

This weekend of the 2013 Christmas Truce Tournament has seen the Premier League bring over four sides from England: two U12 football sides from Manchester City and Arsenal, who will be representing the Premier League in an elite competition against U12 teams from Belgium, France and Germany, and two U15 teams from Premier League Kicks, a programme which focuses on providing sporting and personal development opportunities for young people in disadvantaged areas.

These two teams from Tottenham Hotspur Foundation and West Ham United Community Sports Trust will be competing in a tournament against two local teams from KVK Westhoek in Ypres.

The Tournament has two key objectives: the education of young people and player development. An important part of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), this is an opportunity for the most promising young players under the age of 12 to further their development by challenging themselves against the best players in Europe.

Community link

This year’s tournament also sees the introduction of U15 teams drawn from the Premier League’s community programmes.

All four English teams have taken part in a range of range of educational experiences including visits to the trenches, the site of the original Christmas Truce match and the War Graves. There was also a trip to Flanders Museum and a classroom history session.

On Friday evening the players attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate with Lance Corporal Beharry and laid wreaths on behalf of their clubs and the League.