Do you remember when Ryan Giggs was the biggest story of the summer? Yes, that really was this year. We seem to be living at a time when a decade’s worth of news happens every week, but the start of the new football season has brought Giggs’ misdemeanours back to my attention.
I love football: I enjoy playing it, watching it, and talking about it far more than any other sport. But much more importantly, I’m a Christian who by definition loves goodness and hates sin. So what do I do when the team I ‘support’ celebrates men who have committed adultery, and is intent on getting as much money as possible from as many people as possible?
This is the emotional entanglement of football spectating: as much as people talk about a separation between life on the pitch and off it, the devotion that football-related businesses crave is predicated on a level of commitment that is out of all proportion to a kick-about. So-called ‘real fans’, those who subjugate everything else in their life to football, are fetishished because that’s football’s business model. They could also be described as those who give massive companies loads of time, money and emotion at the expense of their family and the poor, but that’s not going to encourage anyone to buy a new shirt or subscribe to a TV channel. Millions do buy in, can I in good conscience be associated with all of that?
I considered a comparison with alcohol: though many sadly are trapped by it, I can still enjoy an occasional drink. I thought this was a smart point until it was pointed out to me that alcohol itself is not a person and it was the people involved in football that started this whole train of concerned thought.
How about the question of whether the sins of Giggs, Rooney, and the rest should be able to veto my enjoyment of something? The gospel has set me free, after all. But do the moments of joy that a piece of skill or show of teamwork bring justify the general murk in which they are found?
I made the partial definition above of a Christian as someone who loves goodness and hates sin, could that contain a clue for how to resolve this? “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good... be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 12:9, 16:19). Maybe I can make my own highlights show along this principle.
I hope I can genuinely find this distinction, but it will hardly be the end of the world if I do not. Here’s another definition, of the Puritan form of Christianity that this post might seem to resemble: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s not my problem at all, nor was it the problem of the original Puritans. I’m not worried that people are happy, I just don’t think they’re anywhere near happy enough because they're putting their hopes in the wrong places. As C.S. Lewis put it:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition [and football] when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.