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The beautiful game?

Regular readers may well have spotted this author’s passing interest in south London football. It will therefore come as little surprise that this week the blog should focus on events in Russia, especially today after England’s last gasp win last night. For the young team, simply playing in a World Cup tournament will have been a boyhood dream come true, and so to win will have been a superlative achievement that will live long in the memory. Headline news stories on Breakfast TV and on the front pages of all the newspapers confirm a national, well English, obsession with following the team’s exploits and identifying a new hero – Harry Kane, the scorer of both goals.

And then. Tucked into an inside page of my paper is a report of the ongoing trial of a former coaching assistant at Newcastle United, charged with 38 counts of sexually abusing boys whom he was coaching. Boys who no doubt shared the dreams of the current England team, who really wanted to make a success of the talents they could display. Trusting the adults who were encouraging and helping them to develop their skills, and then, as shown by the verdicts in other reported trials, being hurt and betrayed, in some cases leaving indelible scars. In the current case it’s also suggested that senior people at the club delayed responding when matters were brought to their attention.

Football is not unique in having these two dimensions – the glory and the sordid. The Past Cases Review and other church inquiries have shown that the Methodist Church and others have not been immune from these experiences now and in the past. Like football, we have been striving to get better so that the hopes and dreams of the young, and old, can remain untarnished in any way. Yet we, too, stand accused of sometimes delaying our responses when we learn of concerns, for a variety of reasons that at the time may seem to us like the right thing to do.

So the World Cup is an occasion for joy, optimism and the realisation of ambition. There is not space this time to focus on the enormous sums of money involved and its morality – maybe that’s for another blog. But this time simply to recall that on the flipside of Captain Harry Houdini there are many previously starry eyed young men who have suffered at the hands of the very people who were employed to nurture their talent and give them hope for their futures.

If it’s your bag – enjoy the games.

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