Their enthusiastic young faces were beaming with excitement as their new kit for the journey of a lifetime to France were delivered.
An extended squad including the core of the Maitland Magpies under-17 team received their kit and had their first training session last week in preparation for a two-week tour of France and England in November and December to honour Maitland’s World War I heroes.
A century ago the young men of the 34th Battalion “Maitland’s Own” were similarly excited as they tried on their khaki uniforms and unwrapped their rifles before departing for France and the Western Front.
It was hard not to draw parallels between the two groups as the young Magpies prepare to honour the 34th on a tour of France and England, which will feature football matches against French and English teams.
Under-17s coach Ian Mather said the tour had captured the imagination of the Maitland and wider sporting community with sporting giant Puma coming up with specially designed kit for the team.
The tour kit includes a unique emblem incorporating the 34th Battalion colours, the Maitland FC Magpies logo a Digger’s slouch hat and football and had been funded by Oakwood Products, Trendpac and Todd Bowd Electrical.
Mather said a greater majority of the enlisting soldiers in the 34th Battalion came from Maitland and surrounding areas including his great-great uncle Robert Atkinson who was killed in 1917 at Passchendaele in Belgium.
”The 19 players, some direct descendants of those men from the 34th Battalion, travelling to England and France have a unique opportunity to play football matches in England and France,” Maher said.
“At least four of the 14 matches being played on tour will be in the immediate vicinity of where the 34th Battalion trained, fought and played football on sports days in 1917 and 1918.
“These matches will be in Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux against Ligue 2 academy teams Amiens Sporting Club and Olympic Amiens.
“This will be the first time an Australian football team has played either of the clubs.
“It will actually be the first time since 1918 that an Australian football team has played in the area.
“The last time was in 1918 when members of the 34th and 35th battalions played against each other also against the French Aerodrome Team at Amiens.”
The young Magpies will take part in tours of the Imperial War Museum (London), Australian Remembrance Trail (France), Musee Franco-Australien (Villers-Bretonneux) and wreath laying ceremonies in London and Villers Bretonneux.
On the football field they will have three professional training sessions and the opportunity to attend English Premier League matches.
“The boys have a unique opportunity when they will be the first Australian team, and only the second team outside of the EPL structure, to play the Crystal Palace Academy teams (under 16 and 18),” Maher said.
Football sessions are being conducted at Manchester United, Liverpool and Fulham academies as well as tour matches.