The football world cup has been running for 88 years and 79 different teams have competed from Australia to Zaire. From Iceland to China nations of all sizes compete – the attention of the world will be on Russia until the final.
I write this as England prepare to face Belgium in the last group game. I’m hoping and praying that we might go all the way #footballscominghome it would be good for us as a nation to have something to celebrate and the current underrated England team certainly have the potential to cause a shock or two.
I’ve watched England at every World Cup since 1982 (we didn’t qualify 74 & 78 which is unthinkable now) the best year being 2002 when we were beaten by Brazil in the 1/4 finals. It was a memorable bitter sweet day because it was also the day the Schofield family came to look at the Parish of Wales for the first time. The people were so lovely and welcoming and still are. I remember the beautiful hanging baskets plus the England flags flying from home and car windows. As a Christian community in the past we have watched the World Cup and Euros live in Wales Parish Church bringing refreshments across from the Duke of Leeds and at Family Camp in a large marque. We’ve also enjoyed the occasional football themed family service.
Many of the teams at this year’s FIFA World Cup have members who profess their faith in Jesus without needing to be encouraged to do so.
Many players make the sign of the cross as they enter the pitch or will thank God for every goal and victory when speaking to audiences of hundreds of millions.
Throughout the rich tapestry of the history of the World Cup there are threads that link to Christianity.
The Argentine team of 1986 broke a promise by not returning to a shrine in Tilcara to thank the virgin for delivering them the World Cup for which they had prayed to her. Since then they have not won a world cup despite competing in two finals and having many of the world’s best players.
One of the best players around in the early 2000s, Kaka, wore a T Shirt under his football kit, on which the words ‘I Belong To Jesus’ were printed. He removed his Brazil shirt to unveil this when conducting interviews immediately after winning the World Cup final with Brazil in 2002 – not sure the team shirt sponsors would have been best pleased.
The founder of the world cup Jules Rimet was himself a devout Catholic who believed that international sport could improve relationships between nations. Hmmmm … at this point I reflect on the ‘Hand of God’ goal by Diego Maradona.
Even the Church of England got involved with the last world cup by releasing a collection of prayers. Even one for those not interested in proceedings:
“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”
Here’s a short prayer for the England team themselves:
“Oh God … please”
So whether you have freed up the time to watch three matches a day or are planning to ensure you will be anywhere but in front of a television … make sure you and those around you enjoy what I consider to be the greatest tournament on earth.