Like many people I have been thinking about football an unhealthy amount recently.
I know on one level that it’s a bunch of men who happen to have been born in a particular nation chasing a parallel bunch of men in order to kick a ball through some sticks but on another level, I have been waiting my whole life for my nations lot to excel at this spherical hoofing and now that they just might do that its very tantalising.
The master alchemist behind this is the wonderful (soon to be Sir) Gareth Southgate. Following the triumphant World Cup campaign of 2018 when he got players from different clubs to play like one team, Gareth has gone one step further and got the team to start playing in such an organised and grown-up way that you have to stop and rub your eyes to believe its England.
What’s fascinating is to look at some of backstories of this team and Gareth’s role.
There’s the players Gareth dropped and brought back. Kyle Walker and his lockdown indiscretions, John Stones and his habit of giving the ball away on the edge of his penalty area. Both had periods in the wilderness and were then brought back.
Then there’s the players, Gareth stood up for when others doubted them. The nations rock, Jordan Pickford, otherwise known as Everton’s dodgy keeper had a ball spell but Gareth kept picking him. He did for the same for Harry Maguire after a very bad night out in Greece and a red card for England. During this tournament he never wavered in his belief in Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.
Gareth is also willing to take risks on players, picking West Ham’s own Declan Rice long before West Ham became surprisingly good and including frighteningly young players like Jude Bellingham – not just young enough to be my son but younger than my son! Blimey
It’s easy to just see these as a bunch of gifted and successful players but their backstories show plenty of struggles none of which have put Gareth off. Gareth not only believes in his players but is willing to give second chances. In a shameless spiritual segue it makes me think of another top coach I know.
This guy had his own eleven, an initially promising twelfth having withdrawn from the squad. This eleven weren’t the elite – there was infighting, anxiety, some dodgy financial history and they were, well, pretty uncouth. These guys promised commitment but when the crunch came and the Coach was under fire they all legged it. And yet.
Yet the coach got back in business and went and gathered the team back together. They went on to do pretty well. They started this thing called the church, which has been around longer than Boots and has more outlets than McDonalds. It’s changed the world.
The coach of course had JC on his tracksuit top, he was Jesus and not the one that plays for Man City.
This Jesus is still forming a great team from obscure signings. No-one’s backstory puts him off. He is big on second chances and potential. No-one who wants to play gets left unpicked. The God squad is a place you can know love and community and be a part of God’s mission to heal the world.
Football coming home is one thing. Us coming home is another. The board is up and it’s got your number on – are you up for it?