There’s just something about the beautiful game, isn’t there?
For 90 minutes every week, fans get to live vicariously through 11 men lucky enough to perform on one of life’s biggest, most exciting stages.
It’s a strange phenomenon that is at turns exhilarating and soul-crushing, and it is this duality that has allowed it to maintain its universal grip on society for so long.
In the off season leading up to the Matchweek 1 (for most leagues), I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on life from the lens of football.
So I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learnt through the seasons, from one fan to another.
1. YOU HAVE CHOICES IN LIFE
I’ve always admired the indefatigable optimism of football fans. Frankly, I think we could all do with a bit more of it in our daily lives.
Let me explain. Each new season lures supporters in with the tantalising prospect of victory — a possibility that gradually withers to a bitter sense of false hope for most fans as the season wears on.
Yet, in spite of that, every supporter has a sense of hope that “this year will be our year”. I’ll give you an example from my own club.
You actually have agency when it comes to the choices that matter in life.
I support FC Barcelona, and one thing that gives me hope after each progressively more embarrassing Champions League exit is the way self-proclaimed tacticians on Twitter immediately turn their thoughts upon defeat to re-strategising for next season.
Brushing off each loss with remarkable alacrity, they list out the changes the team needs to make over the summer, the new formations they hope to see, the new coach they think the board should hire…
This ability to dust yourself off and move forward will serve us well in life too. And the thing is, unlike the case with football, we actually have some measure of control over our own lives!
You might feel powerless to stop the powers that be from crippling your club with bad decision-making, but the good news is you actually have agency when it comes to the choices that matter in life.
For instance, you can make the decision to cut ties with that toxic friend, to leave that job that’s been taking a toll on your mental health, or to take your first step back in church this Sunday.
2. LEARN TO LET GO
As it turns out, maintaining your sanity as a football fan is much like holding it together through life’s rough patches. You have to know when to cut your losses and move on.
After Liverpool’s 4-0 rout of Barcelona in the 2019 Champions League semifinal, all that Barcelona’s coach had to say was this: “It is what it is.”
At the time, his flippant acceptance of defeat angered many fans.
Having had a year to cool off, however, I can now admit that that phrase holds much wisdom.
The beauty of seasons in football is that each new one offers a fresh start. There’s comfort in knowing that the slate has been wiped clean, the possibilities renewed.
While life is not nearly as easily segmented, learning how to let go after each setback is still a valuable skill that will keep you moving forward.
Those haunted by the past are bound to repeat it — a lesson Barcelona has certainly learnt the hard way.
3. SEASONS COME AND GO
Life moves in seasons. Just as there are seasons to celebrate and seasons to forget, there is a time for everything under the heavens.
As it is eloquently put in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:4-8).
Things might not be working out at the moment, but don’t lose hope! If Liverpool could wait 30 years to taste victory in the Premier League again, you can wait a little longer for the storm to pass.
And though it might take a while for the sun to reappear, you won’t have to wait alone.
Jesus will be more than happy to walk beside you, if you ask.
You can feel His love in the friends who stick by you in your lowest moments, the family who always has your back and even the strangers who dole out a little kindness along the way.
4. A HEART OF CELEBRATION GOES A LONG WAY
In the meantime, take comfort in small victories. Most weekly matches don’t mean much in the long run, but that doesn’t stop us from celebrating them anyway.
One of my happiest memories as a football fan was staying up till 5am to watch Barcelona’s 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the 2017 La Liga title race.
Even with that victory, Barcelona’s chances of clinching the league title were slim, but that image of Lionel Messi celebrating his 90th minute winner is still fondly etched into my mind.
Have a heart of gratitude for the small blessings in life – it’ll make the journey a little easier.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying that life is a marathon. To me, life is more like a domestic league than the Champions League.
It’s a long journey, and that’s why it’s essential that we find and choose joy in Christ as much we can. That is where we’ll find strength to go the distance.
So have a heart of gratitude for the small blessings in life – it’ll make the journey more joyful and easier.
5. AM I LOYAL OR A PLASTIC?
Finally, football fans pride themselves on their undying loyalty to their chosen club, even through its most demoralising spells.
Coaches and players come and go, and for many fans, it’s the ethos underpinning the club’s distinct spirit that keeps them loyally rooted to it through the years.
There is even a derogatory term frequently thrown around football circles for fans who blow with the wind: the detested plastic fan.
The point is that times and fortunes will change. But is our identity constant through the seasons?
Now here’s a hard question: Are you a plastic fan of Christ?
Some of us — myself included — are more vocal about our support for a football club than we are about our Christian faith!
Football fans have a peculiar habit of referring to their favourite teams as “we”, but how many of us are as willing to proudly identify as members of the body of Christ?
We’re happy to wake up at 3am to watch an important match, but we might be more reluctant about getting up at 10am to catch our church’s livestream.
Our loyalty to our favourite teams might not waver through a long trophy drought, but are we as willing to ride out the storm with Christ? True loyalty shines brightest in tough times.
One day, the world will be locked in one final, monumentally important match when Jesus returns. I hope you’ll join me in cheering Him on then.
As I reflect, I see that being able to play on God’s team is an immense privilege that I sometimes find myself taking for granted.
But this is one team that will never let its members down, that will triumph when it truly matters.
So choose to let the joy of the Lord be your strength today. In the stadium of the Most High, there is always a reason to hope.
The new Premier League season starts today on 12 September 2020, but your new season starts whenever you’re ready.
THINK + TALK
- If Jesus was a football player, what position do you think He’d play and why?
- Which of Cherie’s reflections might you apply to your life?
- Have a football kaki in mind? Share this article with him or her ahead of this season!