This is a copy of my article for the JULY 2014 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’

Whether we like it or not, football, almost more than anything else, defines who we are as nation. The heart of England now beats with chants at Wembley rather than prayers at Westminster Abbey. In a nation with many social and cultural differences, football acts as a vital bridge between individuals and communities. It is one of the few neutral subjects (along with our weather) that we can use to open up a conversation with a total stranger! For me, I’m pleased to say that Sunderland have managed to escape relegation from the Premier League – for another season at least – and I look forward to the ‘rollercoaster ride’ that following SAFC brings with it.

As I write, I have no idea how England will perform in Brazil. We could be first round failures or poised for cup winning heroics (there’s nothing wrong with being an optimist!).  However, I recognise there are many people who do not like football and, for those of you who feel that way, there seems to be no escape from the hype. Everywhere we go, flags are waving, shirts are worn and pub signs, billboards and newspapers are talking about Brazil 2014.

A recent Radio 4 programme gave some helpful survival tips for non-footy fans during the World Cup. Their main advice was to escape the TV set by heading into the great outdoors; replacing crowd noise with bird song and enjoying the beauty of trees and sky – surely the most beautiful game of all?  According to The Royal Horticultural Society these two don’t have to be an either/or choice. The RHS have produced a rather amusing guide to the World Cup. Chief horticultural advisor Guy Barter suggests football fans could give their gardens some TLC this summer during half-time and lulls in matches. Tasks like weeding or watering, he says, can be broken into 15 minute segments and before you know it, the jobs are done. He also suggests: “Mowing the lawn can be a good way to vent energy during the tournament”. If the game’s too tense to watch, he advises relieving some adrenaline by “dead-heading flowers”. Guy’s recommendations are amusing, but they also make a relevant point about how we use our spare time.

In the book of Psalms, King David prays: “Teach me to number my days so that I gain a heart of wisdom”. Numbering days and moments, gaining a sense of the priceless value of every second is crucial to making the most of our lives. A few minutes here and there can seem of little worth, but their collective value over months and years demonstrates that they hold vast potential. For example, just 15 minutes a day, over a whole month adds up to seven and a half hours. Over an entire year, that daily block of 15 minutes adds up to 91 hours – that’s almost 4 whole days. I heard of someone who, rather than sitting and whiling away time travelling to work on the Train/Underground, decided to use each journey to begin reading the Old Testament. Within six months, he’d read the entire Bible.

For the many things we want to achieve but feel unable to fit in to our schedule, perhaps using these in-between moments could be a helpful way to start. Every second we’re given on this planet is a precious commodity, far too valuable to lose, dare I say, through watching 22 blokes kicking around a bag of air!  However, having said all that, I’m still a footy fan so, altogether: “Come On Engerland!”

And for those keen gardeners who still do not give two hoots about football, there is always the Hampton Court Flower Show, whose final day coincides with the day of the World Cup Final.