In a nation with many social and cultural differences, football 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! The European Championships is sure to be a cause of heated conversations in the coming weeks.
Football, at the moment, is a bit of a sore point. I’m more than disappointed that Sunderland have suffered the humiliation of another season in League One. As Victor Meldrew famously remarked: “I don’t believe it!” A consolation this season has been the lifting of the Papa John Trophy!
The most famous footballer in the world is still Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele – 50 years after he retired from playing. Pele scored an amazing 1281 goals in 1363 games (an average of .94 per goals a game) with 92 hat-tricks and possesses 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 European Championships – delayed by 12 months because of COVID-19. As I write, none of us have any idea how England will perform when they kick off against Croatia on 13 June (my birthday!). Gareth Southgate has made some controversial picks in his final 26 – do we really need four right backs!?
The so called ‘golden generation’ failed to deliver on the world stage. Will the current crop of youngsters be first round failures or they will bring home the Henri Delaunay Trophy to end 55 years of hurt? (The European Championship trophy is named in honour of Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of UEFA, who came up with the idea of a European Championship in the 1950’s).
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 Euro 2021. Although it’s supposed to bring the nation together, the European Championships could be a divisive event – especially with Scotland and Wales in the finals too.
With that in mind, I want to offer ten suggestions on how you can survive the next few weeks of football 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) Finally, 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:
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.
Well, we may not win Euro 2021, but Southgate is a winner in my eyes with this letter to the nation – it’s well worth a read. Dear England by Gareth Southgate | The Players’ Tribune (theplayerstribune.com)
A European Championships Prayer for England
Heavenly Father, 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! Amen.
Let not the weight of expectation from this glorious nation,
Become a heavy burden upon rigid shoulders:
Shake off the shackles of fear
And stare the gods of immortality directly in their eyes with a focussed concentration.
Now is our time,
This is our moment to shine,
And to stand side by side with the marbles statues of legends
Situated in a golden pantheon of glory.
For every goal that is scored, the three lions will roar;
For each goal we concede, those lions will bleed.
Blood, sweat and tears are temporary
And a small price to pay in comparison to a lifetime of regret.
England is dreaming of victory from the beautiful game.
Be inspired and come alive with imagination;
As a friendly war is fought between nations,
In a carnival of colour and joy;
Let the ball be your ammunition,
And your feet be the weapons of choice.
Let us not dwell on unfulfilled promises,
Of golden generations,
Or of football coming home.
Do it for your country.
Do it for yourselves.
Come on England.