November 2007


Last night the Oxford Union provoked controversy by inviting allegedly discredited historian, David Irving, and BNP leader, Nick Griffin, to address the Union.  This on the same day that a British subject, Gillian Gibbons, was arrested in the Sudan for apparently naming a teddy bear, after a poll of her classroom students, Mohammed.  Under local Sharia law she could face either a six month prison sentence or 40 lashes of a whip.

Extremism always seems to me to be a dangerous thing.  Honest passion can be exploited ruthlessly to become the kind of obsessive behaviour which ignores the rights of people and, at its worst, the sanctity of human life.  It plays on our fears and anxieties in a way that, in the end, undermines human community.  The privilege of leadership brings with it a great responsibility.

On Radio 5 there was a somewhat hopeful report.  It suggested that Griffin and Irving had to be kept apart in separate rooms.  Initially this was thought to be because of the security threat posed by protesters.  It was later alleged that this was not the case, but they had been separated because in the past they had fallen out with each other.  This led to Radio Five presenter, Nicky Campbell, observing that people from extremist groups frequently fall out with each other, even when they are broadly ‘batting’ for the same side.

I have thought about this all day long and can see that there is some evidence to suggest that Campbell’s observation has some validity.   Therein lies some hope that might limit the threat of extremism.  Nearly always at the visible end of any extremist group there is a large ego.  Within the Christian Church it is a noticeable phenomenon.  In the end self-idolatory becomes self-destructive.

This is not an argument for ignoring such people.  The balance of people’s rights and the requirements of national security is an equally hot topic.  However, it is worth thinking about……

I was officiating at a great Confirmation Service on Wednesday evening as the England team limped out of the European Football competition.  I didn’t think that Croatia would be a pushover, but I did think England would do enough to qualify.  Most of what needs to be said has been said – ‘not the losing, but the manner of the defeat;’ the derogatory comments about Steve McClaren, a good man, who in the end did not come up with the goods etc. etc.  There are however some questions that need to be addressed

Firstly, ever since my time as a footballer, it has been readily acknowledged that foreign players are technically superior.  Why then is the same observation made thirty years on?  After the millions of pounds spent on academies, the training (over-training?) of young and raw talent appears to be still churning out players of lesser technical ability than our foreign counterparts.  The obvious answer is that either there is something fundamentally wrong with coaching staffs or our game still thinks that you can achieve in the modern game without possession of the football.  A novel idea I suggest.

Secondly, it seems to be in the English psyche that you pick players on the back of reputation rather than form.  Our national cricket team suffered the same problems till recently.  It is certainly true that teams need a balance of experience and youth.  It is certainly true that Scott Carson was the form keeper before the first goal on Wednesday.  But the obsession with trying to play Lampard and Gerrard in the same midfield, the reliance on a non-match fit Michael Owen are just part of a bigger package that lacks courage and imagination.  However good in theory these players are, in practise they have not even qualified for a tournament from a group of mundane teams.  The conclusion is inescapable.

Finally who next will seize (want?) the poisoned chalice called the manager’s job?  The debate about whether to have an Englishman at the helm is another piece of evidence that in little England we have not yet woken up to the fact, that like it or not, football is now a global industry.  I have no idea who will succombe to the temptation, but whoever it is deserves our prayers!

Saw this video clip on youtube and thought it was powerful.  What we teach our children implicitly will probably have more of an impact than what we think we are teaching them explicitly.  I love the shema  in Judaism with its emphasis on teaching the words of God to our children.  See Deuteronomy 6 verses 4-9.  Hope this makes you think as it did for me being a grandparent these days.

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