It’s a bit sad when amid the world’s violence, poverty and tragedy, the retirement of a football manager is deemed to be the global news story of the moment. Mind you, this is not just any old football manager , this is Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United FC, one of the world’s great football institutions.......in business terms, a 'global brand'.
While supporters of other Premiership sides have raised a glass in celebration, ‘Man U’ fans, while grateful for the success Ferguson brought to their club, now face a future of uncertainty.
A multi-billion pound business, football is fuelled by media outlets such as SKY and ESPN: its icons earning more in a week than many ordinary people will sweat to bring home over a decade of labour. For most dedicated football fans, the money is an irrelevance; it’s all about following the team, giving your all in support; it’s about the glory of winning irrespective of cost.
This was noted by the late Bill Shankly who brought a great deal of success to Liverpool FC in the 1960s. Known for his personality and wit, he is most often quoted as saying:
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that".
This wry ‘throw-away’ comment, forever associated with Bill Shankly contained much truth. As a participant and observer of all aspects of football from the inside, Shankly had come to appreciate its importance to the die-hard fans. Indeed for him, the game had become ‘too important’.
In an article entitled, ‘Football--the New Religion?’, the author Eddy Canfor-Dumas argues that it is the ability of football to bind large groups of people together behind a team that makes the sport comparable to religion.
“A clue can be found in the word itself, which is commonly thought to derive from the Latin "religare," meaning "to bind." Religion is what binds people both to some transcendent truth and, crucially, to each other. The historian Arnold Toynbee went so far as to argue that civilizations rise and fall according to the ability of their dominant religions to motivate people to overcome--together--the challenges that confront them.”
Some church leaders fret that football is taking over as the nation's principal religion. They point to similarities i.e. an elaborate set of rules and rituals, regular acts of worship; a culture which fills the need for something greater than people can find in the daily grind.
For me there’s a great deal of life and vitality in football, but in the end, it’s only a game. However, there’s eternal life, and everything necessary for a great life in Jesus Christ. Church leaders should therefore wake up, stop worrying, walk away from the religious ritual that’s killing their game and simply start presenting Jesus from the standpoint of knowing him personally. Jesus without the religion ......now there’s a challenge!