A Word on the Happenings at White Hart Lane

My post today is not in any way unique... Similar comments are all over the front, back and editorial pages of most UK newspapers, it has been the subject of at least 3 "Pause for Thought"-type meditations on radio that I have heard, including one by my Methodist colleague George Loane on Radio Ulster (24 and 84 minutes in to todays Good Morning Ulster), and will doubtless feature on many blogs over the next few days...
Saturday was a day I had been looking forward to for a while... It was St. Patrick's Day and the culmination of the 6 Nations Rugby when Ireland were going to put England in their place... I had to juggle a lot of work to carve out time to watch the matches... And frankly, at the end of it all I wondered why I had bothered. Scotland were abject in the wooden spoon clash with Italy (putting my Scottish wife in a really good mood for the day ahead). The Wales/France showdown was dull as dishwater... with Wales claiming the championship and grand slam... then Ireland didn't really turn up for their match (particularly not the front five), making an average England team look good.
Facebook and twitter were filled with invective about the Ireland performance... Then suddenly it all stopped. And changed direction.
For me it was when my facebook friend and fellow blogger Scrabopower, who had travelled over to White Heart lane, posted  "WHL a terrible place to be right now. Game rightly called off"... (He was also on the same Good Morning Ulster Programme talking about his experiences, shortly after the 90 minute mark in the recording.)
I googled the sports news and discovered that Fabrice Muamba had collapsed with what seemed to be a heart attack, and players and fans all around the ground were in a state of shock... Many visibly praying...
Then the tweets and facebook posts from fellow footballers started to appear asking for prayer... As my colleague George said this morning, I'm not naive enough to suggest that this was an expression of the profound spirituality among premiership footballers or that Muamba's plight had stimulated spiritual... But it does point to a re-ordering of priorities... however temporary.
Sometimes in sport trophies, whether they be FA Cups or 6 Nations Championships, seem all-important... although at times fans would accuse some footballers of being more interested in their bank-balances than their club's trophy cabinet... but in the face of such a shock everything else is totally, completely and utterly unimportant.
That lesson was then sadly repeated when yesterday, against the odds Kilmarnock beat Celtic to the League Cup Final (a fact not greeted with great joy by my Ayr United supporting wife - it hasn't been a good weekend for her... she was even pipped at the post in our 6 Nations Fantasy League). As the Kilmarnock team were celebrating it became clear that someone had taken seriously ill on the touchline... It turned out that Jack Kelly, the father of Kilmarnock midfielder Liam Kelly had collapsed and died.
In both of these events the immediate juxtaposition of sport with human mortality gives the lie to Bill Shankly's famous, supposedly tongue in cheek remark about football being more important than life and death. Of course it's not... We're just not used to reality intruding into such events... It is especially shocking to see a young international footballer, seemingly in the peak of health, so suddenly struck down... What does it say to the rest of us who are not quite in the condition?
But, sadly, in a global context, young men (and women) die from the same condition that has affected Fabrice Muamba.. and indeed in places such as the Congo (or Zaire as it was then) where Muamba was born, there are so many other hazards they have to negotiate disease, conflict, famine... 
Are their lives less valuable because they don't have a £5 million price tag and their fate is not played out on TV, or in front of 50,000 people on a football pitch, with the best possible medical help on hand? Why does their fate not kick up a storm on twitter?
Let's continue to pray for Fabrice Muamba (and indeed for Liam Kelly and his family in their loss), but let us also pray and act to make this world a fairer place... perhaps this is as good a time as any to consider how much we are going to give to Sport Relief this year... 


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