In a nation with many social and cultural differences, football, more especially the World Cup, is a universal religion which acts as a bridge between individuals and communities. Football, almost more than anything else, defines who we are as country. It is one of the few neutral subjects (along with the weather) that we can use to open up a conversation with a total stranger!
I have to say I’m more than disappointed that Sunderland have suffered the humiliation of back-to-back relegations and now find themselves in League One (that’s the old Third Division for those of you old enough to remember). As Victor Meldrew famously remarked: “I don’t believe it!”
A consolation this season has been to enjoy the incredible achievements of our very own treble winning BTFC which has helped to ease the (considerable) pain I feel!
The most famous footballer in the world is still Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele – 47 years after he retired from playing. Pele scored an amazing 1281 goals in 1363 games (that’s an average of .94 per goals per game) with 92 hat-tricks and three World Cup winners medals. Ronaldo and Messi have a long way to go to reach those dizzy heights.
Pele, more than anything, embodied all that was good about fairness and sportsmanship in the way he played ‘The Beautiful Game.’ “God was always important to me” he once said. “All my life I thank God for the gifts he has given me.” Pele, like many sportsmen and women, quotes Philippians 4:13 for inspiration: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Back to the World Cup! As I write, none of us have any idea how England will perform when they kick off in Volgograd on 18 June or whether Gareth Southgate’s (controversial) 23 man squad will be first round failures or if they will bring home the Jules Rimet trophy to end 52 years of hurt!
For all you footballaphobes (yes, there is such a word) there is no escaping the hype. Wherever we find ourselves, flags are waving, shirts are being worn and pub signs, billboards and newspapers are talking about Russia 2018.
Although it’s supposed to bring the nation together, the World Cup can be a divisive event. With that in mind. I want to offer a few suggestions on how you can survive the World Cup with your relationship intact!
1) Remember it is only for one month, once every four years.
2) Do not accept any joint invitations for a fixture which is in the diary.
3) Go through the fixture list and meet up with friends on those dates.
4) Book in a few jobs around the house when no matches are scheduled.
5) If you decide to watch a match with your partner, avoid talking your way through it, commenting on a player’s looks or cheering for the wrong side.
6) If you don’t understand the offside rule, or any other rule for that matter, ask for an explanation before a match, never during one.
7) Make sure the fridge is stocked with some great snacks and your partner’s favourite drinks.
8) Suggest your partner gets together with his or her friends to watch the match when you aren’t around.
9) If England loses a match and your partner is in a foul mood, remember it’s not personal – be sure to steer clear from discussing any contentious issues until they have got over their sulk.
10) If you do all of the above, you will be in serious credit in your relationship.
Some of you simply won’t want to waste time watching 22 blokes kicking around a bag of air and will disagree with former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly when he said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much serious than that.”
The Bible puts sport (and football) into some perspective: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25).”
Having said all this, I’m still a footy fan and I’ll be watching as many games as my diary allows and, along with many of you, I will be shouting “Come On Engerland!” But please, spare us another heart-breaking penalty shootout.
A World Cup Prayer for England
Who played the cosmos into being,
Please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger:
That they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly. PS. Please help us put some pride back into English international football!
This is a copy of my article for the June 2018 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’