Hope at the Hinge of the Year – Football and Fear-filled Futures

By the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester


God willing, at 3 o’clock on New Year’s Day I’ll be sat in the stands at Salford City FC watching them take on Wrexham in the National League. I love local football games. I like the fact that the crowd care about both the club and the town whose name it carries.

By New Year the season has a define shape. We could make a good guess about which teams are likely to win promotion, and who will get relegated. But there’s still time for all that to change. A decent run of results will send a club surging up the league table. The hope of going up can be rekindled. Fears of the dreaded drop can drain away. In another month or so it will be too late. Players and fans alike will have stopped hoping, and stopped believing.

My other local team, Bury FC, faced that last season. By February they were painful to watch. They had no confidence or belief, nor any hope they could play better. They passed the ball back towards their own goal more often than forwards. They wasted most of their chances to score by taking too long. Hope had died and paralysing fear had taken its place. Thankfully, the present season is going much better. They have their hope and their belief back again.

Beyond football, there’s plenty to be fearful about in both our country and our world. But I want to hold on to this as being a time for hope. In this last year in Manchester I’ve seen people from churches, and charities, businesses and the public sector, come together determined to tackle rough sleeping in our city centre. We share a real hope and belief we can turn round a desperate situation. We’ve a common goal that we are kicking the ball towards. And I can see it beginning to work.

Wherever we get to on the big political challenges of things like Brexit, the U.K.’s future success will depend less on the details of any plan and more on our being determined to work together for the future. We need  hope and belief in ourselves, belief that we can make it work for everyone in our nation.

For me as a Christian, it’s because I have hope and belief in God and the message of Jesus Christ that I also believe in people. We are made in God’s image, and can do remarkably good things. Human driven climate change is by far the greatest global threat to our children and grandchildren. For the last couple of years I’ve been working with a group of investors who are passionate about tackling it. Our teamwork, and our combined skill and muscle is forcing some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world to change the way they behave. Had we given up hope when our first attempts were rebuffed, we would not be making the difference we can now see.

The stories of Jesus repeatedly show how he brings fresh hope to those who need it most. And he tells his followers to do the same. Little things, gifts of food and drink, comfort to the suffering, friendship to the outcast, make a world of difference.

One of our local football teams in Manchester has recently sacked its manager. I wasn’t surprised. Over recent months I’d seen players and supporters lose hope that the existing regime would deliver the results they wanted. I’ve known teams where the manager wasn’t the real problem suddenly start playing better once that individual has gone. Sometimes even before a new appointment has been made the simple resurgence of hope is enough to make the difference between losing and winning.

So, whichever football team you support, I wish you and them a hopeful New Year. And well beyond the hallowed turf of our sports stadiums, my prayer is that the God of hope will fill all of us with his hope for 2019.

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