September 19, 2019
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UK soccer side Hearts lost 13 players to war in one season

By Remei Calabuig

Edinburgh, UK, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- On the brink of World War One British football club Heart of Midlothian was having its best season when 13 of its players enlisted in the army, crushing any chances of bagging a trophy.

"A War of Two Halves", one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, looks back at this historic event in 1914 that sealed the fate of the budding young stars in the Edinburgh team.

The theatre production, which is based on the true story of the George McCrae Battalion that fought in France, explores the moment when these players, represented by six actors, decided to voluntarily leave the Hearts and abandon their ambitions of winning the Scottish league of which they had won 19 of the 21 matches they had played.

Alfie Briggs, the main character, takes the audience back in time as he narrates the heart-wrenching story.

The former player and soldier, one of the few survivors of the team, had to deal with the trauma of the harrowing experiences he witnessed during the bloody conflict.

Written by Tim Barrow and Paul Beeson and directed by Bruce Strachan, the show is much more than a story about football.

As fans of the Hearts, Barrow and his colleagues wanted to highlight this part of the club's history and chose an unbeatable setting for it, the team's home ground Tynecastle Park stadium.

"It's about the story of what is known as 'the bravest team', this is the Heart's football team of 1914-1915, who were a very talented group of individuals who were molded together by a man named John McCartney who was a manager at the time", Barrow, who plays Mccartney, told Efe.

The show begins at the stadium bar when Briggs appears onstage visibly devastated because it is the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, in which the majority of the McCrae Battalion died.

Briggs' narration is accompanied by a violin playing in the background.

Spectators continue upstairs where they walk past the footballers at a training session unaware of how their lives will be rocked by future events.

From the euphoria of one league victory after another, the atmosphere takes a gloomy turn when one of the footballer's shares his desire to enlist with the army.

The scene unfolds in the team's changing rooms when the conversation takes place.

Several other players admit they have also considered joining the British army and that they had not said anything sooner because their contracts prevented it.

The team coach was encouraged to let his players go by an army general who said wars need soldiers and a group of players enlisting could encourage many young people to follow their example and increase the chances of the United Kingdom.

And with that MacCartney gave up any hopes of winning the Scottish title which Celtic later secured.

An especially moving moment unfurls in one of the stadium's hallways. The six players sing while they part with their sports equipment to put on their military uniform and to bid their trainer farewell, in some cases for the last time.

For Barrow, McCartney's story is sad because this was his only chance to win something with a team and he was very close to doing so.

"We talk about him as the father figure for the team and this idea of allowing his boys go off to war, even though he knows that is the right thing to do and it's the duty it's very hard for him to just allow them to go," Barrow added.

For the scriptwriter, the fact that the scenery is the stadium itself provides "an unmatched value to the production", since the boundaries between the stage and the audience are not defined and the latter feels like an added element of the production.

This feeling of blurring borders is enhanced in one of the last scenes when, from a trench, the players now soldiers represent the harsh reality of war.

The outcome of the conflict is revealed in a poignant last scene set in the Garden of Memory.

The show has been well received and tickets were almost sold out for the three daily shows with the last one on 26 August.

"The people that we are getting through the door tend to be football fans who don't really go to the theatre," Barrow continued.

"So for us, it's great because we have a whole new audience of people coming to see theatre which is live and these characters which are really close and characters talk to the audience," he added.

Almost three-quarters of the battalion under the orders of George McCrae lost their lives on the battlefield, including several members of the Hearts and other football clubs with many unable to return home to see their teams play again. EFE-EPA

rc/ch/rb

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