Column: Accepting World Cup Hand of God

The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster
The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster

What is your World Cup memory?

I am too young to be able to claim 1966, although that doesn’t seem to stop many people holding on to it.

For others it might be Gazza’s tears in 1990 or Maradona’s infamous ‘hand of God’ in 1986. My own clearest memory is from the 1978 finals in Argentina.

I was wholeheartedly behind the Scotland team or ‘Ally’s Army’ as they were known after manager Ally McLeod.

So I was heartbroken when my dad woke me with the news that Peru had beaten Scotland in their first match!

This result, combined with a draw against Iran, meant the amazing victory over the Netherlands (who went on to be the runners-up) was not enough.

My main World Cup memory therefore is of excitement and expectation that turned to despair and a sense of heroic failure.

Maybe this year will be different for England? There is a combination of realism combined with fantasy concerning the England team’s prospects.

If they progress from out of the group stages the momentum will build. If, however, they fail, the national despair will be as acute to mine back in 1978 when I hoped my dad was playing a cruel trick on me and that Scotland’s first match had been different.

Psalm 147: 10 in the Bible used to make me giggle as a choir boy.

“He hath no pleasure in the strength of an horse: neither delighteth he in any man’s legs.”

My brothers and I would wave our legs out the end of the pew (hidden from the congregation) to try to make the choristers on the other side laugh.

Elsewhere in the psalms (Psalm 20:7) we find: “Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.”

With both of these verses we are reminded not to have too great an expectation in external things, or in the strength of skills of people or animals.

While obviously not written with the World Cup in mind, they are verses that I reach for when my sporting teams do not fare as well as I might hope. (And as an Aston Villa supporter that is a regular feeling!)

I hope that England do well, that they truly ‘do the country proud’.

I learned the hard way back in 1978 not to place too great a hope and expectation on a football team.

My week of sadness and despair back then has shaped where I put my trust and my faith now, which is in something more dependable than a football team; it is in the God who made the heavens and the earth.