gerrard stamps, but still sets an example

23 03 2015

If you saw Steven Gerrard’s red card on Sunday, and if you know anything about football, you’ll know how out of character it was. But that 38 second substitution appearance wasn’t the only remarkable thing to happen involving the Liverpool captain.

Courtesy of BBC sport

After the game, he gave an interview during which he did something so rare for public figures, from politicians to sports stars. He apologised. But that happens all the time doesn’t it? Yes, but he apologised for what he did, not just for the consequences; and he took responsibility for his actions, instead of blaming someone else.

Top-level football is in desperate need of role models, and although I do declare an interest as a Liverpool fan, his loss at the end of this season will be remarkable. For his passion without petulance; for his loyalty to local club over big-money moves; for his quietly powerful leadership skills; yes, but for me, it moments like that apology that mean just as much.

As someone who has led youth football up until recently, and still play, I see the corrosive influence of top-level bad behaviour replicated in the park. It is hard to stay calm, but it’s possible; it’s hard not to lash out, but it’s possible not to; and it’s hard to take responsibility, maybe that’s the hardest of all, but it’s possible.

We’ve all seen red when playing sport. But having the humility and grace to admit it, apologise and take responsibility? Among the many lessons Steven Gerrard teaches, this is one of the greatest.  Read the rest of this entry »

waking up koscielny

1 03 2011

Koscielny Calamity

So here’s the thing. You have worked all your life towards this point. You have trained hard, you have made great personal sacrifices – a travelling life, far from friends and family, an uncertain future in which things could go wrong at any point. You have your critics, but those around you support you. In fact, only a couple of weeks ago thousands were shouting your name and waving flags for you.

And this was your moment. This was your time. Your time to win, your time to gain the prize. Your moment.

Yet it went wrong. Very wrong. No-one can understand why you did what you did. Your decision surely unfathomably wrong. The Palm Sunday moment of being a hero against Barcelona turned into the Good Friday moment of causing the bungled Birmingham City goal with 2 minutes to go ensuring Carling Cup Final defeat.

Imagine what it was like to wake up on Sunday as Laurent Koscielny. Sunday was very much his Easter Saturday. Rejected by those he would count as supporters, those who questioned  all he had lived for, ruing decisions made under pressure.  Was there not a different way? Why did you not play it differently? We thought we were going to light up the world together. And now, nothing.

I’m not saying Koscielny is Jesus. I don’t even support Arsenal. I just thought it was an interesting parallel.

The question is, will there be a Resurrection Sunday?

suffering fouls gladly

1 10 2010

When the most interesting statistic in a football match  is “fouls suffered” you know things are bad. That was my experience watching Valencia vs Man U on Wednesday. And Utrecht vs Liverpool on Thursday come to think of it. A waste of 90 minutes? Arguable! Intending to switch my brain off, I was bored so I began to think. Isn’t that an interesting thing to count. And interesting language. Are fouls suffered? Or received, experienced, taken?

there he goes again

Players have different attitudes to suffering fouls. For some, the slightest touch is enough to bring them diving majestically to the floor sporting toddler-style tantrums. Think Drogba. Or it brings an angry retaliation. Think Rooney.  Other players are built of stronger stuff and suffer fouls more gladly. You get knocked down, and you get up again. You are, after all, playing a contact sport. Think John Terry (on a good day!). How they respond to those fouls will often define them as players.

Following Jesus brings up some similar issues, for leaders yes, but for everyone else too. We know we will be fouled, sometimes badly, sometimes innocuously. It is how we respond to those fouls that define us as followers of Jesus.

There’s much biblical precedent for expecting to be fouled, on purpose or not. Prophets, preachers and ordinary people are repeatedly ignored, mocked, confused, disheartened; and more seriously beaten, imprisoned, executed. So the odd (or frequent) argument, hurtful comment, draining conversation, thoughtless remark, conflicting vision, broken window, verbal abuse or black dog of lingering depression are to be expected. Anticipated. But, I hasten to add, not yearned for to earn “bruise badges” to show how tough or effective we are, nor milked to gain attention or sympathy we feel we deserve.

Sometimes we will need to take time out and rest. Sometimes get straight back up and run it off. Sometimes we will have the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes we will be tempted to make more of it than we need to – for a rest, for some attention, because we’re irritable, or because there’s been so many small fouls we’ve ignored that we’re darn well gonna milk this one.

Maybe we could follow the lead of the Psalmists, whose God led them through the valley of the shadow of death towards green pastures. Fouls come, knocks come, bruises come. But by the grace of God we can carry on, learning, parrying, sometimes weeping and sometimes not seeing a way through but always hoping there is one. Because how we suffer the fouls will define us.

And if we really need to be things put in perspective, watch this:

a kiss from judas on the terry-go-round

8 02 2010

There’s a bandwagon of faux-outrage, moral superiority and media hypocrisy about John Terry. The same papers that delight in telling sordid tales of bedtime shenanigans with some pretend to be outraged when it is others. What is it that makes John Terry different from Rebecca Loos? What is it that means the captain of the England football team should have higher moral standards than, say, previous manager Sven Goran Eriksonn (who had affairs with Ulrika Johnson and his secretary at the FA, Fariah Alam, who herself also had an affair with FA chief executive Mark Palios… just imagine the office party).

betrayed by a kiss...

In some senses, it really doesn’t matter. It is just football. It is just a horny overpaid sports star having an affair with a French underwear model (for rude picture see here). Another day in the life of the rich, privileged, and slightly bored. On another level, it does matter. It matters because all the characters are human (even the ones that play for Chelsea); because the lady in question is the mother of his friend’s child; because so many people will be hurt and upset at the various betrayals; oh yes, and because Bridge and Terry were friends, and may end up as team mates in South Africa.

And it matters because people like John Terry are role models. Not just for the men who wear the no.26 shirt as a tribal statement because they crave a sense of belonging in a world devoid of heterosexual male community (ok, and they support Chelsea…), but to all the young footie fans who look up to these players as role models. Anyone who has played football with teenagers sees how they copy their idols – from attempting the Ronaldo step-over to the Beckham free-kick, the Gerrard 30-yarder to the Scholes ‘remonstrating-with-the-ref’ special. I was particularly good at the Crouch tumble (it would have been the robot except I never scored).

So, when a player plays fast and loose with their marriage, what message does that send? Does that cross the players mind? Does it make infidelity ok? Exploring the complexity of this is important for our kids, as they grow up with the temptation to idolise or demonise, depending on the colour of their shirt. Here are some thoughts of things to explore, though I am sure you have many to add…

1. We are all human; that is, we are all flawed – from the good guys (Giggs, Gerrard, Beckham…?) to the bad guys (Terry, Bellamy, Bowyer…?), no-one is either all good or all bad. Ferdinand is a mixture. Terry is a mixture. I am a mixture. John Terry has a reputation as a bad boy – tough on the pitch, parking his Bentley in a disabled bay off it. Rio Ferdinand has had his fair share of indiscretions and is currently serving a 4 match ban; but spends a lot of time and effort on his charitable foundation Live the Dream, based in his native Peckham. Why? Because he knows that as a working-class black man from Peckham, who has officially ‘made it’ by breaking the transfer record for a defender twice, playing for Man U and now captain of England, he is a role model. His actions are influential. He can make a difference.

Discussion point: Can flawed people be leaders? Why? Who did Jesus choose to be his apprentices? And then his leaders? Did they all turn out  to be ok? Were they always friends? Which ones wanted to be Captain (can we sit at your right hand…)? What would he have done if Peter had had a bounce with the ex of one of the sons of Zebedee…?

2. The second key point is that betrayal hurts, who ever you are. Why do people betray others?  Why do they betray their friends? And why does it matter? (I explored some of these theme in a previous post).

Discussion point: How was Jesus betrayed, and how did Jesus respond to that  betrayal – by his family, by his home-town, his fellow Rabbis, by his disciples, by a kiss in the park, by Pilate…? How do adults respond to betrayal? How do young people respond to betrayal? How many families have been split apart by betrayal? How have we responded to betrayal, major or minor?


3. The third key point is the reality (and unpopularity) of consequences and punishments. For certain people personal indiscretions mean a job loss, or job change. Church leaders rarely survive an exposed affair with their job intact; neither do politicians. Footballers do, after some press attention and some terrace chanting (Ashley Cole springs to mind….). Do you mind if your delivery driver is having an affair? So does it matter if your football captain is? It does – because consciously or not, public figures are role models. Capello had to show that his regime is one of integrity and strength of character, and not just on the pitch. Didn’t he?

Discussion point: For us that can be translated as whole-life discipleship. We cannot separate what we do at school or work from what we do at home; what we do in public from what goes on in private. God sees it all. Everything. What difference would it make for all of us if our private indiscretions meant a demotion at work? Or if cheating on our girlfriend got us taken out of the school football team?

We cannot breach trust in one part of our life, and be considered trustworthy in another. Can we?

We want our football players to be perfect – scoring for the team and only playing at home, if you see what I mean. They will not be. What we should expect is honesty – not telling-tales-to-the-tabloids kind of honesty, but holding your hands up and saying sorry, admitting mistakes, on and off the pitch. Showing a bit of humanity never hurt anyone.

Showing a bit of grace gives them a chance to.

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eduardo and the dive to meet granny

9 09 2009
Eduardo auditions for Strictly

Eduardo auditions for Strictly

Eduardo dived. We all know that. Drogba dives all the time. We all know that. Owen dives. But not very often (he’s usually injured). Rooney dives. But we may choose to overlook that. Torres never dives. Torres is lighter, he  simply falls more easily.  He may tumble in challenges, but merely to avoid damaging his beautiful legs.

Anyway, diving is only cheating when the other team do it. When our team does it, it is merely cheeky, a fair attempt to win a free kick, or even a penalty. A lucky break, we may say, like Rooney’s against Slovenia on Saturday, when even Clive Tyldesley couldn’t make it fair.

Some play more cynically. As long as it gets you the result you need, and you don’t get caught, it is ok. As long as it looks like you were ‘going for the ball, ref’, then it’s ok. As long as the blood looks like blood and the ref thinks its blood, it’s ok. Because it is the end result that matters, not how you get there.

Who stole my PE shorts?

Who stole my PE shorts?

If England win tonight, then they are guaranteed qualification to the World Cup. Hooray! After the debacle of qualifying for the Euros, anything goes. Even playing Heskey. And being run by an Italian. And wearing school PE kits.

How many of us, without realising it, think that following Jesus is about guaranteeing qualification. It is about doing enough to get to the top of the group and scrape through into heaven. By any means, really. Getting the baby baptised is one. Tick. Regularly going to church at Christmas is one. Tick. Being a good person is one. Tick. Maybe convincing the vicar we mean the promises at baptism when we don’t really is a bit like a dive in the penalty area – we want guaranteed qualification, without the hard graft; we want the 3 points, and its looking a bit tricky; so bend the rules a bit and it’ll be fine, convince the vicar, and they’ll go with it. After all, everyone else does it.

Jesus told a story about the sheep and the goats, in which the sheep, who had fed the poor and visited the sick and criminals, were guaranteed qualification into ‘the kingdom’, whereas those who had not, were not passed fit to enter. This is a complex story, but one of the points here is that Jesus isn’t simply interested in the final qualification tables showing how many points we have earned. He is interested in how we got there. So the dive does matter. It is not irrelevant. We cannot con our way to qualification. Questions will be asked. There is a video review panel. The end result isn’t the most important thing; it really is about the journey. And, thankfully of course, grace.

Because, contrary to what many of us think, ‘the kingdom’ is not ‘heaven‘, as popular culture thinks of it, i.e. life after death, spirits floating in a happy place where we are with granny again. It is far deeper than that, far more profound. ‘Eternal life’, or ‘life of the ages‘ as it is better translated, begins now. So tonight hopefully England will play the 90 minutes like they are in the World Cup already, playing in the final; because every game is important, not just the ones after the final whistle. And hopefully, we will engage with Jesus now, fully and wholeheartedly, and not just do our best to get through the 90 minutes of life unscathed, because the kingdom is here now, and we are living it, not just aiming towards it as a future hope, but living it as a present reality.

And as for qualification? Take up your cross and follow me. Live in my grace. And that’s way more than just ticking the right  box. Or even diving in it.

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