I watched some of the football last night. This might seem insignificant but it’s anything but. I’ve never watched a game of football in my entire life and never had the slightest bit of interest in the sport so for me to sit and choose to watch the game is a Halley’s comet moment.
I became interested in it because of Gareth Southgate, the English football manager. I’ve always viewed football as being the domain of littering thugs who get drunk and fight. The footballers themselves have never seemed much better with scandals involving drugs, alcohol, misogyny, along with an arrogance and general lack of brains. Gareth Southgate is different. He’s put ethics and football into the same bed, a previously incompatible pair.
There’s too much encouragement and reward in our society for doing the wrong thing. Just look at people who gloat about tax evasion or who think it’s cool to criticise and abuse other vulnerable and minority groups. If you try to stand up for what you believe in, like not eating animals, people condemn you for being dull or worse, taunt and abuse you. How did society get like this?
Gareth Southgate has made it cool and fashionable to stand up for what is right. He has stood up for his team when some of them have been racially abused and encouraged them to speak up about it. He recently wrote an essay explaining why the team takes the knee before matches. Judging by the racist abuse the team has received overnight I can see it’s important they continue to do it. The team has said they plan to donate their winnings to the NHS and have already made a significant donation of their international fees to NHS charities. This team is diverse, humble, and generous. Last year during the pandemic Gareth Southgate took a 30% pay cut. There’s a good podcast about him on Stories of our Times: Gareth Southgate: it’s more than just football. If he can change the culture of football for the better, and more importantly, change the attitude and behaviour of football fans, he’s truly succeeded.
So, what did I think of my first game of football? Obviously the outcome was disappointing especially since I felt the Italian team played dirty. At one point I saw one of them drag a member of the English team to the ground. Maybe this is common in football but I thought the Italian player should have been removed from the field. We didn’t watch after full-time so I missed the ending but overall it was a nail-biting experience. Hopefully the English team will take this game as a good learning experience and continue to develop as a team for the next big tournament. Congratulations to them for making it so far.