Today, Ghanaian coaches made an appeal to Churches, prayer warriors and other religious bodies to pray for their team to “sail through the group stage and go very far” in the World Cup in Brazil.
Maybe they are on to something.
I have a friend who suggests that the fact that Brazil‘s football team openly pray before each match is the reason that they are so good. Surely he doesn’t believe that prayer can affect the results of sports matches? Is he suggesting that during those intense penalty-shoot-outs, that the prayers of supporters, so often picked up by the TV cameras, actually effect an angel-assisted swerve of the ball? On Saturday afternoons in Nottingham, for example, does God’s omnipresence rest itself slightly more intensely at the County fixture over Forest?
No, nothing like that, he assured me. For the Brazilians, these men who mainly understand that they are supremely gifted players; but having given suitable appreciation to the Giver of the gifts through their open, pre-match prayers, they are freed to do what they have done all their lives – enjoy playing footy. And to quote Eric Liddell, when they run, maybe they too feel some of God’s pleasure?
In contrast, when Messrs. Gerrard, Rooney and the rest of the team, sideways-skip their way on to those Brazilian pitches in a few weeks time, a visible weight of expectation will climb on to their shoulders, and “the hopes of the Nation” will once again rest on them ever so heavily. For the England supporters, Roy has selected his 23 players (for better or worse) and, for this World Cup, they are our pinnacle, and will be the object of our worship. As the National Anthem plays and the camera scrutinises each of the faces of England’s footballing gods, we beseech them to remove the ‘years of hurt’ and return to us our rightful 1966 status as the world’s best footballers.
Having prayed, the Brazilians players are released to do their job – be gifted human beings. The England team meanwhile are left to no doubt buckle under the pressure of being disappointing gods.