Football, Failure and Racism

Many of us watched England play on Sunday evening and although the result was not what we hoped for I’m sure we all feel like the team did us proud by getting through to the final of an international championship for the first time in 55 years. And let’s remember: it’s just a game.

For the five who took penalties for us it would have been a testing moment; you’d have to have nerves of steel not to feel the pressure. Sadly we lost the penalty shoot out and the match; it was a moment of failure for the team.

Failure tests our character

Failure tests our character. It shapes us. It reveals things about us. For the team and the manager it was great to see how they supported one another in that moment and afterwards. Gareth Southgate has stated that he takes full responsibility for it all as manager, and those who know their football history will realise that he knows what it’s like to miss a crucial penalty. Seeing him give Bukayo Saka an extended hug after that final missed penalty was both poignant and powerful.

But it wasn’t just the team who had their character tested by failure on Sunday.

As a nation we ALL had a moment of disappointment and our response reveals something about us. Sadly one of the things revealed was an undercurrent of racism in the UK which came to the fore because the three players who missed penalties were all black.

Within minutes people were using Twitter to post racist comments about these three lads, and since then a mural of one of the players has been defaced with racist graffiti. The beautiful game brought out the ugliness of sin. It’s shameful to us all to see this happening and I was glad that the Prime Minister spoke out about it yesterday. It also reveals that, despite much progress, we still have a way to go to deal with racism in the UK.

Christian faith

As Christians we should have zero tolerance for racism. This means both not being racist ourselves and also actively speaking out against racism, and that’s why I wanted to write something on my blog today. I wanted to say on behalf of our church that we stand against these sorts of actions.

I know most people in our church will know this already – you’ll take it for granted – but let me clearly say three things on behalf of us all at Welcome Church:

  1. We are saddened, disgusted and angered by the racist comments that have been made, knowing that those amongst us who are black will have felt it most personally

2. There is no room at all for racism in our church and, especially as Christians, we should not tolerate it in any area of our lives

3. To those in our church who are not white and British (and there are many): we love you and support you, and we’re delighted that you’re part of our church family. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Something in common

In case you missed it we also have something significant in common – beyond our shared humanity – with two of those penalty takers who missed: two of them have a Christian faith.

To quote Marcus Rashford who grew up as a practising Christian, “It’s impossible not to have faith in God and all he does for us”

To quote Bukayo Saka who was also raised in a Christian home, “I hold onto God’s promises. Before every game I ask God to help me play well, help my team and try to score a goal or assist a goal and he answers my prayers so this is why I point to the sky to thank him”

And let’s not forget Raheem Sterling, another black player on the team who grew up attending church with his mother and who – although he didn’t take a penalty this time – scored for England during the tournament: “Every match day I put faith in God. I pray at home the day and night before. I pray most days.”

We are a family

The church is God’s family; his household. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of our race or skin colour. With that in mind let’s be on the front foot to love one another, to support one another and to gently challenge one another where it’s needed. Let’s make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

And if you’re white and you’re friends with someone in church who’s black, why not ask them how they feel about what’s happened and (if appropriate) give them a Gareth Southgate style and Covid safe hug.

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