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Violence And Football

So, England were deservedly thrashed by Germany in the World Cup today. If I have any hope as an England fan, it’s that this humbling will wake up a sport drenched in greed, with players who earn five times in a week what I earn in a year and who still lust for further dosh with Hello magazine spreads, and start coming back to some healthier values. I’m not optimistic, though. Not while the Premier League has its stranglehold on the ‘national game’.

But there is another dark side. The English propensity to football hooliganism is infamous. Though far less evident than it used to be, the real issue seems not its near-eradication at the top level, but that it has moved to other arenas. There is still football-related violence in this country, but much of it now happens away from the stadia. Last week, I had an email from TEAR Fund which included this sobering statistic:

on England match days during the last world cup violence in the home went up by 25% in British homes, it is utterly unacceptable and totally preventable.

How sick is that? And tonight, after England’s defeat, the violence has come near to us on our estate here. Only yesterday, some lay leaders at the local parish church said they had already sustained £3000 of damage to the premises after earlier England games in the tournament, and they were talking of mounting a guard near the building after today’s match.

I don’t yet know whether anything has happened there this evening, but for approximately two hours from 7 pm, we have been serenaded by hovering police helicopters. Checking friends’ status updates on Facebook, we discover that a number of incidents have occurred. There has been a glassing at a local branch of Tesco (I’m not sure which one). Trouble also broke out at a pub we know that shows football on large screens inside while children play outside on a bouncy castle. And there has been an incident with baseball bats and a gun at the pub-restaurant on our quiet, middle class estate. That establishment is right opposite our children’s school. People are staying inside their houses, with windows closed on the hottest day of the year so far.

I cannot prove that any of these incidents are football-related, but the timing is suspicious, especially for an area that is largely unfamiliar with this kind of trouble. Of one thing I am sure, though: our society that trundles along without God should not be so complacent. It reminds me of two powerful quotes from Eunice Attwood’s wonderful Vice-Presidential address to the Methodist Conference yesterday. Firstly, speaking of when she began to get involved with Healing On The Streets:

One of the Big Issue sellers who I know well, called me over and with a very serious look on his face said, ‘At last you’re here, we need you Christians here, Eunice. Why doesn’t the church come here every day? It’s no good staying in your lovely buildings’.

Secondly, in talking about her work with Street Pastors:

When John Wesley came to Newcastle in 1742 he spoke these now famous words, ‘I was surprised so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’

I didn’t get out on the streets tonight. Was I wrong? I don’t know. With police cars, a riot van, paramedics and other supporting people, part of me says I shouldn’t have meddled. But I didn’t know about those details until the helicopters started to disappear, and it’s surprising how alluring putting the rubbish out, emptying the dishwasher and making the children’s sandwiches become. But whether I succeeded or failed as a Christian tonight, Debbie and I shall have a rôle as representatives of the Prince of Peace tomorrow morning at the school gate, when we discover whether and how much people have been troubled by today’s goings on.

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