Football


After a depressing week in politics, at last some good news to put everything else into perspective:

Cantona

I understand that a Brazilian has something to do with a close shave. (And that's as far as I am going with that one.) The World Cup semi-final last night between Brazil and Germany was anything but. Brazil was slaughtered. And it was the abject manner of the destruction that shocked: the boys from Brazil put up almost no resistance and, although wanting Germany to win, I found myself hoping they wouldn't push it into double figures. Defeat is one thing; humiliation is another.

I am a lousy prophet when it comes to the footie, but I tipped Germany to win the competition in Brazil all along. The sheer discipline and efficiency is set off by a ruthless opportunism that sees this as the team likely to dominate world football for a decade. It is not so much a joy to watch as terrifying to behold.

But, it is still only a game – albeit a very expensive and industrial one. I watched the match after hosting a dinner for a visiting bishop from Sudan. Bishop Ismail is the Bishop of El-Obeid, but frequently heads into the dangerous areas of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in order to visit the Christians there, pray with them and assure them they are not forgotten. This unassuming man sat and told us stories of his long ministry, perhaps unwittingly exposing a raw courage and sense of focused adventure that I found arresting.

Faced with death, imprisonment, war and oppression for thirty years, this puts the misery of highly-paid Brazilian footballers into perspective. Defeat might hurt, but it won't kill them. And I guess the pay cheque will still come into the bank despite abject performances.

When the World Cup is over Brazilian football will need to start re-building for the next twenty years. And when the naysayers about the South Americans' ability to run a global tournament such as this have reluctantly admitted that it was a great event – and almost no match was missable – attention will turn back to the massive problems of the poor of this growing country. Poverty is not displaced by spectacle.

But, before we turn our attention back to the corruptions and problems of other places, we might ask – along with the Bishop of Durham – why England is to have an inquiry into institutional child abuse that is not judge-led and has no teeth.

(And I hope Germany beats the Netherlands in the final…)

 

So, the 2014 World Cup has kicked off. The Church of England published my five prayers yesterday and the response has been mixed. Anyone with half a sense of humour is OK with them.

I actually wrote them four years ago for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Only two were written before the tournament began, and the shortest one was written part-way through the competition when England were sliding out. Context is everything.

But, why write new ones when the last lot still have life (despite miserable pedants). After all, prayer is about expressing our real feelings and desires to God, not about having to justify them ethically first.

Here they are:

Prayer 1 : A Prayer for the World Cup

Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being, guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup. May all find in this competition a source of celebration, an experience of common humanity and a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others. Amen.

Prayer 2 : A Prayer for Brazil

God of the nations, who has always called his people to be a blessing for the world, bless all who take part in the World Cup. Smile on Brazil in her hosting, on the nations represented in competition and on those who travel to join in the party. Amen.

Prayer 3 : A prayer for those simply not interested

Lord, as all around are gripped with World Cup fever, bless us with understanding, strengthen us with patience and grant us the gift of sympathy if needed. Amen.

Prayer 4 : Prayers for the England Football team

Oh God…

Prayer 5

God, 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. Amen.

I am about to depart for a break. The timing is terrible. The new Premier League season begins on 17 August, my fantasy league squad is ready, and… er… I won’t be here.

So, in order to distract me from Luis Suarez’s shameful behaviour at a club that has nurtured and defended him despite at least 18 games missed by ‘bad behaviour’ bans, here is a video I have only come across (courtesy of a friend in the USA) after everybody else.

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the fire that killed 56 and injured over 265 people during a football match in Bradford. The city marks the event each year, led by the Cathedral.

These sorts of scars remain for generations. I remember coming back to Bradford for a six-week parish placement at the end of my first year at theological college in 1985. There were men in the church who had to go to Pinderfields Hospital almost daily to get their burns treated – one of them whose head had been 'melted' by dripping bitumen from the roof.

I had studied modern languages at Bradford University from 1976-80, so knew the city well. I had come from Liverpool where, later, another stadium disaster would scar a city and the nation. In 1989 96 people were crushed to death in the now infamous (and ongoing) Hillsborough debacle. Only now is justice beginning to be done, whilst the families see some light at the end of a cruel and unnecessarily long tunnel.

Both these disasters led to radical re-thinking about the design and construction of football stadia. Safety became the priority – which makes it boggling that the well-being of the paying customers had not been previously. Going to a game in England these days is a totally different experience from thirty years ago. OK, I still miss being able to stand on the Kop at Anfield (rather than sit, that is), but you generally feel safe and that the signage, etc has been seen through the eyes of the punters.

Perhaps none of this would have happened had these two stadium disasters not happened. We learn from what goes wrong. But, the changed rules about ground construction and crowd safety came at the cost of considerable suffering on the part of people who in 1985 and 1989 set off (or watched their family go) to watch a footie match. The scars will not heal quickly.

 

Do you remember the Deacon Blue song Dignity? It echoed through my mind as I heard the result of the Bradford City vs Swansea City League Cup final at Wembley today. Swansea won 5-0. But the sheer dignity of Bradford's fans as the club lost was phenomenal.

As the excellent manager, Phil Parkinson, noted, the wages of a single Swansea player would probably pay the entire wages bill of the entire Bradford squad. The gulf was enormous. But Bradford has done fantastically well for the city, the club, and the lowest Football League division.

The manager and players must enjoy the amazing achievement and now get down to promotion to the first division.

Massive kudos and credit to the club tonight. No shame. Keep it in perspective. Brilliant achievement. So proud.

OK, Europe is on tenterhooks regarding the future of the Greek economy as its (and other countries’) fate appears to sit in the pockets of the Germans. And then – can you believe it – Germany get Greece in the Euro 2012 quarter finals this evening.

Perhaps they should simply reprise the epic game between the two countries thirty-odd years ago. Here it is:

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