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‘Football Measures Our Days…’

The football season is reaching its climax.
Should Man Utd or Spurs lose this weekend, then 5000/1 outsiders Leicester City will become Premiership Champions.

Can a team bereft of superstars, who narrowly avoided relegation a year ago, really do it?

On Thursday my own team conceded a last-minute equaliser and were held to a draw. Eleven-all.

We’ve been playing now, for twenty years. Fourteen of us, seven a side.
Some people have moved away. Some retired hurt. Knees, ankles, pride.
It’s about fitness, fun, competition – but mainly it’s about community.

Men are different on a football pitch. The mild-mannered academic is the midfield enforcer, channelling his inner Roy Keane.
The gentle, hospice nurse, wiping the lips of the dying by day, reveals a killer instinct in the penalty box.

In our heads we’re 21… though some of us can’t quite recall 51.

Underneath it all is Dylan Thomas’s rage against the dying of the light.
We know how a perfectly weighted pass can postpone the falling dark. We know what’s coming, how the light fades every week.

Recently we wept through the funeral of one of our finest players. Another friend, after a stroke, must now watch us from the sidelines.

Football measures our days. Its thrilling drama captures us, as players or fans.
It dares us to believe that the implausible is not always the impossible.
That Leicester might actually do it…

Like great literature or art or music, sometimes sport says the unsayable – the thing none of us dare put into words.

And it can bind communities close in the darkest days. Witness the dignified fortitude, at this weeks Hillsborough verdict, of those families who lost their loved ones.

And little compares to the quality of deep silence in a packed stadium, on a match day near Remembrance Sunday.

For all our competition and conflict, we notice that in the end it’s about Us, not I. About the team not the player.

If Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester do pull it off, Gary Lineker – as threatened – will present Match of the Day in his boxers.

But more significant will be the witness to the words of a rival manager, Arsene Wenger. ‘The act of playing for the team,’ he said, ‘Makes every individual stronger.’

Paul The Apostle would have agreed. In one of his early team talks he said, ‘In humility, count others more significant than yourselves.’
And in another, ‘The body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many you can name, you’re still one body.’

When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – when it’s about Us, not I – sport transcends itself. On some days it has a sacred quality.

At the first match following the funeral of our friend recently, we all stood quietly on the centre circle. Heads bowed. Reverent. And then we kicked off …

(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday April 30th, 2016)