Expectations ran high. The nation held its breath. The heroic Lions battled to the end. Then came the dreaded penalty shootout.
On the 26 of June, 1996, England Manager Terry Venables comforted Gareth Southgate after he missed a penalty, costing England the Semi Finals of the European Cup at Wembley. Global audience: 507million. On the 11th of July, 2021, now England Manager Gareth Southgate comforted Bukayo Saka, after he missed a penalty costing England the Finals of the European Cup at Wembley. Global audience: 845million.
When Gareth, the England Manager, was 16, he joined Crystal Palace, just around the corner from Spurgeon’s College where I did my 4 years theological training. As a member of the youth team, Gareth was told to man up or get out. His manager, Alan Smith, recalls how after losing a match against a British Army Eleven, he spotted Southgate shaking hands with the opposition and thanking them. Smith called him in and said, “Gareth look, if I was you I’d become a travel agent because I don’t think football’s going to be for you, if you go on like this!”
These days Gareth leads the England Team with superb leadership skills, empathy and courage. They transformed our dreary days, into days of hope with the expectation of glory. So much pressure on them, with the world watching. But consistently he has shown care for the players, win or lose. A minority of the England fans didn’t conduct themselves in such a worthy manner as we have seen on social media. Shame on them.
Bukayo Saka, who’s penalty kick was saved by the Italian goalkeeper, will have his faith tested in the coming days. He said recently, “I was brought up in a Christian family. This always made me curious to get to know God more and I have done so by reading my Bible a lot and going to church a lot over the years.”
Reheem Sterling, who has become one of the nation’s heroes during this competition, is also open about his Christian faith often Tweeting Bible verses and statements like “Trust in Him” on Twitter, and has described in interviews how he prays before every match.
Football’s history is intimately connected with the church. English clubs such as Everton and Fulham were founded by churches, fans chant songs such as “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and the hymn “Abide With Me” is sung before every FA Cup final – the oldest cup competition in the world.
Olivier Giroud, the French forward, attends Holy Trinity, Brompton, the church led by Alpha founder Nicky Gumbel. The Chelsea striker has been seen wearing a t-shirt under his official kit with the slogan “Choose Jesus, eternal life.” He has also shared his positive experience of attending the Alpha course on YouTube.
Seems that God gets in everywhere these days!