The beautiful game

Since my last blog post, I feel so much has happened.

Not least the heroic attempts of the England football team to become the European champions for 2021 who lost to Italy last night.

But I feel it sums up so much that has been happening recently, and football, at least for a couple of weeks, gave so many of us something else to think about besides Covid.

It was fun while it lasted.

Football is a funny game, at least here in the U.K.

There are so many opinions and feelings about it: ranging from indifference to passion, and, on the other side of passion is vehement dislike.

It isn’t difficult to understand all of these points of view, and remembering a book that I read as a teenager: Jeremy Paxman’s The English, in which he talks about the myriad of reasons why football is so important and divisive in this country, goes a long way to explaining some of the issues that seem to play out around it. Issues such as racism, sexism, domestic violence, hatred etc…

As a mother, I can see already the power of the messaging around football, for the good and for the bad, as it impacts my 7-year-old son.

I am not an ardent football fan. I don’t watch league football. But I have always enjoyed international sports, from tennis to rugby, simply because, growing-up, they were something that many people around me cared about. There is nothing wrong with that.

Yesterday, ahead of the game, I published an Instagram post about the inspiring play of events that occurred, given the vitriol that Gareth Southgate received after the fallout of Euro ‘96.

At the time, the experience deeply upset me. I was a 13-year-old girl trying to figure everything out, and I hadn’t before been so acutely aware of how easily the world could turn on someone like that.

It opened my eyes.

So, to see someone so brave as to take on the role of England manager, I thought, was inspirational.

Whether they won or not.

The whole karmic play in the entire situation, to me, points to something far greater and much more universal.

Something truly beautiful.

And that’s even without taking into account the wonderful role models who make up the England team.

Gareth’s bravery proved that we are not shaped by our actions: neither by our successes nor by our mistakes, and that we are also not defined by other people’s opinions of us.

So, aside from the slight disappointment that England lost (albeit only just) there is, for the same reasons, and as is demonstrated by most people – a huge sense of pride in the team for achieving a place in the final in the first place.

As well as for all of the reasons that go beyond football.

But to hear about the racism and utter lack of support (by a few) directed at the team, threatened to raise the sadness from the bed that it was peacefully laid in.

The same bed that cites the patriarchal issues that appear to be heavily involved in some parts of the ‘beautiful game’.

It is such a shame and so unnecessary.

But it is what it is.

Which is, at least, a chance for us all to take a long and hard look in the mirror, and make the changes that need to be made so that behaviour like this stops.

It is a chance for us to do better.

So, clearly, an important part of that is simply refusing to reduce the loss of a game (and it is JUST a game; all games need losers and it is important to be good, graceful losers) to anything more debased than that.

And, crucially, not allowing what a minor few say to make a dent in the good feelings that most people have towards a promising young team who gave their all, and remaining steadfast in unity: that there is no difference, no matter what the definition.

We are one, and we did great!

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