This is an online version of my column for the Billericay & Wickford Gazette.
Football is one of the few subjects (along with the weather) that can be used to open up a conversation with a complete stranger – none more so than the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
None of us have any idea how England will perform when they kick off against Iran on 22 November or whether Gareth Southgate’s (controversial) squad will be first round failures or if they will bring home the Jules Rimet trophy to end 56 years of hurt! Wherever we find ourselves, flags are waving, shirts are being worn and talk of Qatar 2022 seems to be everywhere – not always for footballing reasons I hasten to add!
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:
For others, the World Cup will be all consuming, so, I want to offer a few suggestions on how you can survive with your relationships intact!
- Remember it only comes round every four years.
- Don’t accept any joint invitations when a fixture is in the diary.
- Go through the fixture list and be sure to avoid any clashes.
- Pencil in a few jobs around the house when no games are scheduled.
- 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, is not acceptable.
- If you don’t understand the offside rule, or any other rule for that matter, ask for an explanation before or after a game – never during one.
- Have some nibbles available and make sure the fridge is stocked with your partner’s favourite drinks.
- If you’re not interested, suggest your partner gets together with his or her friends to watch a game.
- If England lose, 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.
- If you do all of the above, you will be in serious credit in your relationship.
The most famous footballer in the world, 45 years after he retired from playing, is still Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele. Pele won three World Cup’s with Brazil and scored an amazing 1281 goals (including 92 hat-tricks in 1363 games (an average of .94 per goals a game). Ronaldo and Messi or Neymar and Mbappe 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.”
Like many of you, I’m a footy fan (I still support my home team) and I’ll be watching as many games as my diary allows and, along with many across our nation, I’ll be shouting “Come On England!” at the TV at full volume.
A World Cup 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. But please, spare us another heart-breaking penalty shootout! Amen.