I’m lost without football.
Each summer, I spend three months in purgatory, with the solace of international matches and pre-season friendly barely the slightest comfort, while the incessant transfer gossip makes the situation, if anything, worse!
However, sometimes football – a sport which is supposed to be a uniting force – takes a bit of a back seat to the bigger picture. England’s apathetic showings certainly contributed, but most of all what I wanted for Euro 2016 was a tournament of safety, a tournament where players, officials and fans alike overcame their differences and the adversity hanging over France, in favour of uniting everyone who loves the game.
It’s also why, England aside obviously, I wanted France to win the tournament, in some small way a way to stick two fingers up at the perpetrators of the Paris attacks. Of course, I didn’t get this wish, but thankfully there was no major security issue at the tournament itself.
Yet less than a week after the final, we wake to the news of further massacre in the French city of Nice.
It’s depressing, but it also encourages anger.
Every life matters
Whatever your creed, colour, nationality, preferences, allegiance or any other category you choose to identify with, what gives you the right to dictate how others should live their own lives, let alone take away those lives?
We saw it in Nice, in Paris, in Brussels. We saw it in Orlando, New York and London. We see it day in, day out, in war-torn countries where it is now unacceptably accepted that murder, death and terror is part and parcel of everyday life.
The world over, we see it where one life is valued more than another, simply by the lines that people choose to draw between themselves. So much misery, caused by the very diversity we should be celebrating.
Leading from the front
Football too has a role to play – it is a sport which brings people together, irrespective of background, culture and values, irrespective of geographical borders, and for 90 minutes allows us all to pull in the same direction for the good of something we love.
Here at Daily Cannon, our team represents nationals and/or residents of England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, France, Croatia, and America. We’re proud to be a diverse group brought together by our common love of Arsenal rather than separated by our differences.
It’s something that extends far beyond Daily Cannon and into the wider realm of Arsenal, and it’s one of the reasons I am so incredibly proud to be a fan of our great club.
I love that we have banners hanging from our upper tier, representing fans and supporters from all over the world.
I love that we proudly support the rainbow laces campaigns and boast the first and largest LGBTQ group in England, in the shape of Gay Gooners.
I love that famous Wenger quote, “We represent a football club which is about values, not passports”, as a spoken manifestation of our welcoming attitude to diversity.
We have a disabled supporters lounge, we have an Arsenal for Everyone match day, and we do endless work in the community to bring people together over their mutual love of football, rather than drive us apart over their differences.
We take our responsibility as a pillar of the community, the country, the world, seriously.
The club do it, and we as fans have a responsibility to do it too.
On Facebook this morning I watched an amazing video, produced by Channel 4 in preparation for their coverage of the Rio Paralympic Games, much as they did for the London 2012 Games. It’s an incredible watch, showing the strength, skill and determination of a group of people who have faced adversity far beyond anything someone as lucky as I could ever truly comprehend.
These athletes simply want to be respected for who they are, to be able to follow their dreams, rather than allow themselves to be defined, contained or restricted by categorisation.
They represent the hope that we look past the things that make us different, and celebrate our achievements as human beings.
One particular clip really gripped me, as the soundtrack went quiet and a group of footballers cut into view. One scored a goal, and wheeled away in celebration – a sight seen across the country every weekend.
Yet a closer inspection reveals the blindfolds covering each player’s eyes, the distinctive jingle of the ball bearings inside the match ball, which sound each time it’s kicked. This is a match played without the use of sight.
Arsenal facilitate visually impaired and blind football as part of their disability sport support, and this is just one of many initiatives designed to welcome as many people as possible into the Arsenal family. Initiatives designed to ensure Arsenal really is for Everyone, and can be something that brings us all together.
To quote the much beloved Alfred Pennyworth, “some men just want to watch the world burn”, and there’s little we can do about those people.
But we can do something about our attitudes towards other people, and be a force for good, in a world which is increasingly forgetting its humanity.
Love your club, support your club. But most of all, be proud of your club for bringing people together at a time when others are trying to tear us apart.