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Monday, 7 October 2013

An Outsider's View of Football (Cardiff 1 - NUFC 2)

Father and Sons
Last Saturday I spent a happy day in Cardiff with two of my sons who both support Newcastle United. Due to a seating mix-up I found myself sitting alone with the Toon Army. Here goes the reflections of a football outsider.....

Question #1: Who shall I support? The first decision I had to make on the way in the car was who would I support, if anyone. My sons thought this was a ludicrous question: everyone goes to a football match prejudiced one way or the other. But why can't one watch football and enjoy every good pass and every good goal rather than just half of them? It doubles your enjoyment, saves you from a heart attack and/or  a week's depression. I can see no disadvantages at all in being an Every Team supporter. Perhaps the idea will catch on.

Question #2: Why can't I sit down and watch in peace?
These days you pay good money to watch a match sitting down - that's what those plastic horizontal knee high things are for, sitting on: they are not there merely as markers of your row position. I remember watching Wolves at the Molineux standing up in the 70s, sometimes pressed against  metal bars that ran parallel to the pitch, but then you only paid a few quid because you were standing. But could I sit down last Saturday? Not for one single blessed minute of the whole match. Why? Because these ridiculously hyper fans were standing up in front of me the whole time. I tell you of all the things last Saturday, this was by far the most annoying - standing up for 90 minutes when you've paid to sit down for 90 minutes.

Question #3: I really feel out of this from the very start: Is there no place for a newby?
It looks as though you cannot go to a football match these days unless you are a 200% one-team supporter. There was simply no place for a new guy like me to start slow and learn the ropes. I felt completely out of it from the first moment, and no-one around me cared or helped. With all this enthusiasm around me, although I was supporting Cardiff and Newcastle, I decided I'd better at least pretend I was supporting Newcastle lest the radicals read my lack of enthusiasm as secret support for the enemy. So I clapped outwardly when Newcastle did good stuff, and inwardly when Cardiff did good stuff. (Isn't it good that the movements of the heart cannot be seen by men?) But my point is, there was no room for learning. You have to be 200% from the start. But what about the people who just aren't wired to leave the blocks like Usain Bolt?

Problem #4: I wouldn't have enough brain cells to hold the Toon Army Repertoire
The most striking feature of the whole match was the unbelievable repertoire of the Toon Army. In an age where we dumb-down on memorisation because the kids won't be able to take it in, I heard 90 minutes of memorised (no-one was using a hymn book or even a toon-book) lyrics. Song after song poured forth, and with few momentary exceptions there was no hesitation, deviation or repetition.

I am told that I should be glad my hearing is somewhat diminished at the age of 53.....

Question #5: Why don't blokes sing that loud in church?
These guys (by far the greatest majority were blokes) are no Elton John's but they can belt it out. One bloke in particular was singing with a ecstatic red-faced gusto I thought he was almost in a trance and about to pass out. No joke. But why don't blokes sing the praises of God like that? You just can't blame the musicians, these guys did it without any musical aids.

Question #6: Can hands really be that expressive?
Like at Sunday School, every Toon song had its own hand actions. In one, the fans were climbing an imaginary rope, hand by hand, but really fast. In others the hands were outstretched at different angles, sometimes with a fist clenched, at other times fingers separated, at other times a single finger pointing, and many more variations on the theme. The action that I found most amusing was the reverse-honour wave. When they wanted to worship one of their own players they lifted up their hands and brought them down in a kind of bowing action. When their enemies made a mistake, they repeated the same action, but with their fingers jiggling up and down as if they were just pretending to honour them.

Question #7: Where did these guys get their tunes from?
Although I sometimes thought I was in a madhouse (not PC, but the truth, and that's what matters), at other times at a zoo and still other moments at a Benny Hinn revival meeting, I  liked the broad taste of music which ranged from the Beatles to the Kindergarten: there was music to suit all tastes, I'll give them that.

In spite of these issues I enjoyed the football (all the football), but mainly because my two boys were with me.

Any church lessons?
The enthusiasm did not spread to me, in fact it was off-putting because it left me out. Charismatics who think the unconverted will be converted by contortions are sadly mistaken. All the unconverted think is that we are as mad as the media make us out to be. And more importantly, love doesn't put people out in the cold. Love is sensitive to the newcomer, loves is not rude, it does not embarrass.

Any spiritual lessons?
I could not help but come away with a sense that I had been involved in a worship service of a kind. To be sure, some of these fans at least were in worship mode. They lived for NUFC, loved NUFC, longed for NUFC, praised NUFC and couldn't get enough of NUFC. After each of the two goals they erupted into a frenzied dance, and every time their god let them down, they sank into unspeakable misery (Me? I was happy the whole time.) 

Our hearts are idol factories, since made by God and for God we must worship something/one, and football for sure is a possible idol, among many others. One great tragedy of worshipping idols rather than God is that idols can't help in the day of trouble. Jeremiah put it in this colouful language:
                                                           "Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, 
                                                 their idols cannot speak; they must be carried 
                                                                                  because they cannot walk. 
                                                  Do not fear them; they can do no harm 
                                                                        nor can they do any good." 
                                                                                  Jeremiah 10:5

                                                 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, 
                                                    but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." 
                                                                                   Psalm 20:7 
How easily idols can upon us creep, and before we know it, we confuse a created thing that was meant to be no more than a signpost to God, for God himself.

"My dear children" urges John, "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

That requires both the careful and regular weeding of the heart (the negative) and the positive joyful delight in God whose love is better than life and who gives greater joy than the highest joys this world can ever afford (Psalm 63:3, Psalm 4:7).

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