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March 2021

April 2021

WE NEED MORE GARY NEVILLES

Neville

Gary Neville was a red. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated too. One of the many players that Sir Alex Ferguson made look  a lot better than he was! I know. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

As a pundit I have liked him more. I love the way that Sky have made their pundits a little partisan as well as having a general sense of fairness in their post match comments. Neville and maybe Jamie Carragher led that delicate balance.

Tonight though I declare Gary Neville a hero. A mere 48 hours into the setting up of a European Super League Manchester City and Chelsea are already opting out and Neville’s contribution in that cannot be underestimated.

Make no mistake that this is a sensational turn around. Even the commentators tonight are disbelieving at the early unravelling, thinking that these Super Rich teams would have seen out the storm. 

For me this has been about wealth and big business and I have seen very little that has ever suggested that protesting ever works when the the rich get greedy enough. I wasn’t sure that the owners of these clubs had anything on their mind but a rise in the share price. Not much a poor customer has been able to do in the face of that over the last 100 years.

Yet, it seems that fans and players and managers have done just that. They have threatened the owners of their clubs with becoming socially reprehensible, like drunk drivers. They have made them think again. It is an extraordinary victory that should be cheered by every fan in every stadium much more than their team’s next goal, win or trophy.

Gary Neville’s contribution has beens seismic. On Sunday afternoon, a very short time after news of this Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was up there with any political speech we have heard in recent years. He was articulate, argued well, nailed everything that needed said. It was emotional. It was angry. It was clear.

Tonight I have no doubt that that outrage and how it was shared set in motion an impetus that was picked up and run with by everyone who loves the English game. It set a tone. It shone a bright light. It was a depth charge hurled and ripples became  waves that crashed against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

We need more of the Gary Neville model in soccer. This war is not done if the victory in the battle can be heralded. More reform is needed. The game and the fans need to be more important than big business. 

We need more of the Gary Neville model across the wider society. Where the greedy ride roughshod over the common man and woman we must vent our anger with articulate words and a joined up outrage. 

We need more Gary Nevilles. We are seeing before our eyes that they can make a difference.


STOCKI SURMISES THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE

European Super League

The European Super League. What a reaction that created. How articulate was Gary Neville on Sky Sports yesterday in the midst of his anger? 

It seems that the world of football and outside of football are against this daring elitism… until a Manchester United fan on the BBC Northern Ireland news showed the sad and inevitable chink, “I am sorry but I will support them wherever they are playing.” That might be the most honest response. We’ll come back to it.

 

MONEY RUNNING THE GAME IS NOT NEW

Sadly, this didn’t happen overnight. Money has been ruining the game for decades. I remember my father pointing a finger at United trying to buy the League back in 1972 when they spent a fortune on Ian Storey-Moore. Comedian Mike Yarwood put it better - “We didn’t need Ian Moore, we needed nine more.”

Chelsea and more recently City have been accused of buying success. Who can doubt that it has helped. Not me. Money has pretty much limited the potential winners of the Premier League to three teams. It is why we were so excited when Leicester City won it without all the money in 2016. Having said that there was an injection of money into Leicester after 2009 when they were two divisions down.

Let us make no mistake that the big money in football argument was lost decades ago. Leicester City was a blip. I long for the 70s when a QPR or Burnley or Derby could have given it a good go but in 2021 for most teams to compete for Premiership titles they need big money investment. 

 

FOOTBALL IS ONLY A MICROCOSM OF CAPITALISM THAT NEEDS TO BE MORE ACCOUNTABLE

This is no different than what is happening in our wider society. Super Markets have been putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers out of business for 50 years. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.” The Mafia don’t use guns any more they use the Stock Exchange. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a long time. 

The Bible has warned against such greed for millennia. I am simply amazed that a Super League and not Super Markets caused the most reaction!

 

IT IS NO LONGER AN ENGLISH GAME

Most of the talk in the past 24 hours has been very England-centric. It has all been about the damage done to the long history of the game and the tier system and finances dripping down to the grass roots.

I agree with all that and the damage that will be done BUT the owners of our big soccer clubs do not come from or live in England. It is not only the system that they do not get; it is the tradition.

The European Super League seems to me to be very much a model taken from all American Sport. American Football, Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball, even Soccer are based on Super Leagues. It is a different tradition and very much a different economic model. That is what the owners are used to and honed by.

They also see that the TV viewing numbers are bigger than the numbers at stadiums. If they lost the local Manchester fan base who all went off to support Stockport County they could get millions more in China or wherever. It is a world game, not an English game.

Finally, on this one. The Premier League is the only interesting league in the world. Ask Rangers and Celtic fans about a European Super League and how they would love it. Italy, Spain and France too. They didn’t have the same fascination and competition as the English Premiership. Then if English teams don’t enter how will they entice the top players to England. That is a dilemma!

 

THE FANS NEED TO PUT THEIR ACTIONS WHERE THEIR MOUTHS ARE

The fans have spouted enough opposition. The action will be much more difficult. Will these angry disgusted fans, myself included, follow through or end up like our Northern Irish United supporter and cave in to whatever?

It is very difficult to change allegiances after 50 years of grief and joy, reading and memory collecting. When that club is in your own city, even harder.

Yet, fans need to act. Is that boycotting? Maybe not watching on TV and stop buying shirts. Or literally changing clubs. It will very difficult. 

 

THE PLAYERS AND MANAGERS HAVE DECISIONS TO MAKE TOO

We haven’t yet heard from players and managers. Certainly they have been thrown into it and it is not their fault. There are all kinds of wild suggestions about them being banned from World Cups etc. 

Whatever, they have decisions to make. When it is your financial future and career that is tricky but maybe showing the intention of not re-signing after contracts end would make a point. Would they then be willing to take a pay cut and play for Everton, West Ham or Leeds? Players and managers are being unfairly tested too.

 

It will be interesting to see what happens. I suggest that this needs more thought than just whether this Super League goes ahead or not. Soccer needs to look at itself and into its soul and ask some questions that have been ignored for too long but have now rumbled up and exploded in the sport’s face. 

Me too. The League Cup on Sunday has lost its shine, the Premier league too and as for that European thing… Can I really at 59 after… 52 years… fall deeply in love with another club. I have also, for over 50 years, followed Plymouth Argyle though!


LESSON OF CORONAVIRUS - WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT

Everyone-is-different-doodle

After months of lockdown, we are opening up and I am amused and fascinated by what people are wanting most. “I need my hair done so badly”. “I want three families in my garden.” “I cannot wait to get to the holiday home”. “I want a meal in a restaurant.” I want a game of football.” “I just want to walk into a book shop and browse.” 

If we have been watching and listening through this Coronavirus year then there are many things there for the learning. One is just how different that we all are. 

We have all dealt with lockdown differently. Some of us have loved church on-line and some of us have hated it, longing for a gathering even with masks and no singing or fellowship. Some of us have played as loose with restrictions as we could, like bikers racing as close to the cliff as they can, while others were ultra cautious not even getting on the bike. Different. All different.

Jesus knew that everyone is different. He let Nicodemus come to him in the cloak of the night. He sat down with a Samaritan woman at a well in the heat of the day. He invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. He gave a man his sight back but didn’t tell him who he was until much later. All different.

My life experience is that we humans are not good at understanding this or acting accordingly. We lazily think that we think everybody else thinks like us, will respond like us, emotionally react like us. We find it hard to understand when they see things differently or react differently. 

I know that in communities and churches and families these differences have caused difficulties. All of our misunderstandings and relational friction is a result of not recognising that we are different.

We have all dealt with Coronavirus differently. We will all deal with coming out of it differently too. Like Jesus we need to see each other’s differences. We need to understand. We need to allow for it. We need to be patient and generous towards one another.

I am coming to believe that this is an act of love. That we need to stop to listen and watch and understand one another and allow the difference to live alongside us. 

I am committing myself to a daily action, a daily discipline to climb out of my version of the world, my reactions, my responses, my perspectives. I need to cast off my intuitive idea that everybody reads the world like me. 

Such a posture of humility and patience and grace is the very essence of Gospel, of God, of Jesus life, of the Kingdom. God is all about relationship and redeeming broken ones. Jesus was the word become flesh so that he could relate to us in our in all our foibles and eccentricities. The Holy Spirit gives us those things needed to understand the other and to love - “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

In these next weeks as we find ourselves wonderfully exiting lockdown let us be alert to the different speeds and ways that we will and let us treat one another with the patience, mercy and grace to our differences.


PEP'S NEMESIS... HIS OWN OVER THINKING!

Pep over thinking

I love Pep Guardiola. I think he is the best manager there is. I am so thankful for the trophies he has helped me celebrate. I want him to stay forever. What is to come is a decadent moan about a minor weakness BUT... 

Pep has a few managers who could be regarded as his nemesis. Jurgen took him on last season and won the Premiership by a huge distance. Ole seems to be able to beat him in almost every derby match. Tommy Tuchel has hit the ground running and though apparently he hadn’t beaten Pep until yesterday’s FA Cup Semi Final, he is a new threat.

I am part of a wee Whatsapp City Supporting Match Day Support Group and we would agree that Pep’s biggest nemesis might be his own over thinking. An example of such would have been his rush of blood that cost City last season’s Champions League. A mad cap change of tactics against Lyon, a team City should have beaten with our usual style. It might have been the best Champions League chance Pep will ever have with City.

We have been waiting for a tactical over think all season BUT I think that it came in a different and equally costly way against Chelsea.

Now, before I get to it, a couple of things. 

Firstly, those commentators and pundits who slip possible Quadruples off their tongues. It has never been done for a reason. A English team would need to be so significantly better than any other team on the planet to not have a day when at 80% they wouldn’t lose to another great team playing at even 85%. The latter stages of three Cups are just darn hard. 

Secondly, Chelsea are the team in form. Tommy Tuchel, as I have said, looks like the real deal. Give that man a transfer window and… Well actually, they might just win the FA Cup and Champions League before that. So, even without Pep’s over think they might well have beaten us in that Semi Final.

BUT… when City had some of their best and most in-form players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes, it was a different game. It leaves me wondering what might have been. As I say, maybe Chelsea who played brilliantly would have still have won but I’d like to have tested it.

Pep has been over thinking his rotation for a few weeks. It cost us against Leeds and again against Chelsea. What does he do on Wednesday night against Aston Villa before next Sunday’s League Cup Final? It quite frightens me. If he thinks we can beat Villa with Sterling, Jesus and Torres then he is risking another league defeat. Sterling's loss of form is unprecedented. H looked like a wee lost boy yesterday. Suddenly United could be just five points behind us and… 

I think that only City at this moment can have a go at the Quadruple. I think that rotation early in the season is the only way we can make our way through League Cup and Champions League early rounds as well as gathering league points. 

However, with a Final, two semi finals and a few league games left to win, City were risking all to trust players who were out of form and resting players who were in the zone. Ilkay Gundagon and Phil Foden have been electric all season and particularly in recent weeks. You can’t hope that they will save you in the last 15 minutes as substitutes. 

Cups are won on whims. The whim of a refereeing decision or the whim of the other team playing out of their skin or the whim of a lucky goal or goal line clearance. Not so, Premier Leagues. The whims balance out or can be out pointed by other games. 

So, Spurs and PSG might take two more slashes in our possible trophy count. To throw away the Premiership is not going to be on a whim. It can be even now be lost… but only by Pep’s over thinking. Please no. That might be a bigger laughing stock than those 35 years without any trophies!

Worried? Who, me?


PATRICK MAGEE - WHERE GRIEVING BEGINS; A MEMOIR

MAgee

Patrick Magee writes in his concluding postscript to his honest and open memoir how a moment in the middle of his life changed it. That moment was one of two that defines his life, at least in public terms. 

With the first, this second one would mean nothing. The first is that Patrick Magee is the ‘Brighton Bomber’. He is the IRA man who blew up the Grand Hotel where the Conservative Party delegates were staying during their 1984 Conference. 

Five were killed, some were left disabled and many others injured in the blast. One of those who lost their lives was Conservative MP and Deputy Chief-Whip Anthony Berry. 

Magee’s life changing event was when Berry’s daughter Jo sought him out wanting to understand the motivation of the killer of her father. Brave decision. Challenging for the bomber. Those first few hours in a room with Jo Berry are what Magee describes as perhaps the most significant moment.

It certainly is in the book. If we divide the book into three. We get Magee’s formation personally and politically in family and his experiences of nationalist Belfast, his joining the IRA because he thought then and still thinks now that it was the only way to deal with British and Unionist oppressors. Then there was the experience of Long Kesh as a prisoner. 

We then get his volunteering to be part of IRA campaigns in England, that pivotal moment of the Brighton Bomb and then his time in prison where he starts work on a PhD on how fictional novels about The Troubles misrepresents the Republican narrative and the real reasons for their campaign.

I found all of this a little bit of a trudge. For me it was slow. That might be because of my own upbringing in very different circumstances to Magee’s. I will come back to it though. That might be more important than I found it enjoyable.

For me the third section was where it all came alive. At that meeting with Jo Berry. From then on we have the memoir of a man who becomes a friend of the woman whose father he had killed. The rest of the book is about making space for reconciliation and as someone interested in such things I was fascinated. 

Jo Berry’s courage, grace and generosity of spirit needs huge respect in all of this. She isn't soft writing about their dialogue in her Foreword.  As well as Jo Berry, Magee finds Harvey Thomas also blown up in the bomb reaching out to him. Thomas is motivated to forgive by his Christian faith. Elsewhere forgiveness is recognised a difficult word. 

All these questions fill the last third of the book as Magee and Berry continue their dialogue, find themselves in TV documentaries and speaking at various Universities and Peace platforms. We even find a couple of pages where Patrick and Jo speak at a 4 Corners festival event, though he calls the Festival after the name of that evening’s event - Listening To Our Enemies. More of that in another blog.

I found it all thought provoking and helpful in my own thinking. What was most challenging and most difficult is what is probably most needed.

Patrick Magee is called upon time after time to claim that the IRA military campaign is wrong. It will be a very difficult read if that is what you are looking for. Magee admits the apparent contradictions in himself - “My own conflict is that I stand over my actions and yet profoundly regret the hurt inflicted.”

As well as working tirelessly for peace, in these past 20 years, Patrick Magee has also been keen to be an apologist for the Republican campaign. This is the challenging part of the book. Yet, as we live through all our decade of centenaries and surmise how we might move forward with two very different stories, Magee might just highlight one of the keys to unlock a better future - “The last and perhaps greatest obstacle to a shared future is the battle of narrative.”

As a result of the engagement that both Jo Berry and Harvey Thomas has offered him, Magee has experienced the benefit of dialogue and contact. It has allowed him to humanise the other. I imagine it has been the kind of challenge to him as reading this book might be to many of the victims of the IRA. Narratives need shared. Understanding needs sought. Humanising each other’s other needs to result.

If you are interested in such then take on the challenge of this memoir.


PANORAMIC VISION FOR OUR STORMONT EXECUTIVE

Ni-execuitve-greenmount-jan-2020

(this was my Thought For The Day on GMU, BBC Radio Ulster, on April 15, 2021)

 

On Monday we walked around the Divis and Black Mountain Ridge Trail. 10,000 of my daily step count sorted. 

The sun and the sky were making for great views. The Mournes down one way and the lough out towards Scotland on the other. Belfast down below. We spent time seeking out places we knew. 

I remembered being at Stormont one afternoon and standing just outside the door, similarly gazing over the city. 

I remember thinking that as the leader of Fitzroy, this was my task. To look out over the entire congregation, know the depths of the stories going on across the congregation and then be in a place of vision as to what is best for the congregation as a whole. 

I was aware that some of the congregation would know a few people and hear stories about some others BUT I was actually paid to have a handle on the entire panorama.

I know that it is just a symbol but in the Bible you often find God on mountains and hills. 

The Old Testament people of God looked to the hills where their help came from, not the hills but the God they believed lived on the top of them. The 10 commandments, that vision of how to live across an entire community, were received up a mountain and when Jesus was giving his vision of how the world could live in peace and justice, he did it in the Sermon on the Mount. 

I began to think that this is what all great leaders need. A view of the entire place. Now, scattered across the city are little enclaves. In those are the community leaders, caught up in the horizontal. They are important. Vital. They lead their corners.

And of course I only look after Fitzroy. 

Our MLAs and Stormont Executive look after us all, not just Belfast but across Northern Ireland. It is their role to catch a good view of the entire community, know the eccentricities and brokenness of them… every unique little place… and then work a vision for ALL, seeking common ground for common goodness. 

Join me in praying for clarity of vision in their panoramas…


SURMISING THE GOOD NEWS OF CHURCH LEADERS SPEAKING TOGETHER

Church-Leaders-March-2021

In the midst of some disappointing news in Northern Ireland over the past week, there is something very positive happening.

The week long images of streets on fire across Belfast, and elsewhere, was a horrible reminder of how sectarianism can so quickly raise its ugly head and leave some of our communities polarised and too easily turn to violence.

Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and the fall out of the Bobby Storey funeral has unsettled our fault-lines and when politicians seek to play to their voters in such shifts it can get even more dangerous.

Something is different though and I do not want us to miss it. Indeed I long that we notice it, highlight and encourage it.

The Churches are making joint statements and they are being heard. To hear politicians at Westminster quoting church leaders has lifted my soul.

A few years ago I was involved in Peace Talks with the politicians and military leaders of a country with its own divisions and violence. Professor John Brewer was explaining to this group that Northern Ireland’s Troubles were not religious. It was more political and tribal.

Much as I agreed that the murder and bombings of our Troubles were not about justification by faith, how we revere Jesus mother Mary or about what the bread and wine become and do during Communion, I did think that there was religious dimension.

I guess I was actually influenced by John Brewer’s writings about the churches lack of involvement in peace and reconciliation during those horrific years. Yes, we can look to Fr Alec Reid who was so instrumental in getting the IRA into talks and others like Rev Harold Good and Rev Ken Newell along with Fr Gerry Reynolds as contributors to the peace we finally found in the 90s.

However, my argument was that the hierarchy of Churches were not seen as crossing our sectarian boundaries. They skirted around each other, many of their clergy holding back real contributions. As a result though the war on the street was not at all religious, there was a religious apartheid that mirrored the streets, almost endorsed it. 

As well as that it meant that the Churches were not involved in their calling to be peace makers. We have every right to stand accused of a passive complicity.

Something has changed. It is a good thing. We are beginning to see 4 Church leaders together. We are seeing them not just having a civil cup of tea together we are hearing joint statements. During the Troubles, Churches were accused of pastoring their own communities rather than making prophetic statements into the whole community.

We must have it. I am delighted that at the moment we do. Watching Church leaders being honest about their differences but to find common ground where they can make comment about ways to fuel the common good. Standing together. Being photographed together. Speaking together. It challenges the divisions and gives an alternative. Thank you. 


DECLAN O'ROURKE - ARRIVALS

Arrivals

Is Declan O’Rourke Ireland best singer songwriter? For too long he was leaning on the success of the wonderful Galileo (Someone Like You) for what seemed like a little too long but then came the girth and deftness of The Chronicle Of The Great Irish Famine to make him a more serious contender.

Arrivals arrives with Paul Weller’s name attached as producer. Yet in truth what the legendary Weller does is keep himself out of the way and encourage O’Rourke to go minimalist. A few carefully placed strings are almost that is noticeable apart from the songwriter’s guitar or piano. 

Back to the question of O’Rourke’s singer songwriter standing. Arrivals is like a panoramic gaze across the entire genre. In Painter’s Light sets out the stall. It has that introspective honesty could be Joni Mitchell around Blue. Declan also has that Mitchell knack for throwing in a few syllables that the tune doesn’t seem to have room for. 

The title track itself could be Jackson Browne, piano and all. Then there’s Have You Not Heard The War Is Over. That little political edge brings Crosby, Stills and Nash to mind. 

Of course Declan O’Rourke lives in Galway in 2021, not Laurel Canyon in 1970. He flits through his own family’s generations but a wider history too. Olympian tells the tale of a Syrian swimmer who swims for her very life before going for a medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Then there is Convict Ways about slavery historical and up to date that has us thinking about 19th century convict John Boyle O’Reilly Irish Republican sent to Australia who escaped and made a career as a writer in Massachusetts. U2’s Van Dieman’s Land is also about O’Reilly. 

This latter song as well as the majestic autobiographical love song The Stars Over Kinvara, the one that I can't stop singing, place O’Rourke very much as an Irish writer. You can hear Christy Moore cover Convict Ways and The Stars Over Kinvara is very Luka Bloom, Christy’s brother who also resides out west.

It is his Irishness that gives O’Rourke his edge, his originality. The gruff Irish depth in his voice covers generations of Irish folk. He sounds like a modern Luke Kelly carrying the tradition forward.

Almost best of all is the closing This Thing That We Share could be Nat King Cole with Chet Baker giving it that midnight jazz ambience. Spiritual, reflective  encompassing our full humanity. It is a perfect closer and might be where Weller has most influence, you can almost hear it on the first couple of Style Council records. 

All in all, Arrivals is just that, the arrival of songwriting force that his peers have been well aware for some years and hopefully the general public will come to acknowledge and enjoy. 


LUCINDA WILLIAMS - RUNNING DOWN A DREAM; A Tribute To Tom Petty

Lucinda does Petty

Now don't let this bundle of utter joy slip through without your noticing. I almost did!

It seems that Lucinda Williams used the year of lockdown to create a few good intentions. With touring time down she had the space to get her bluesy voice around a plethora of cover albums. Literally a plethora. Apparently she had envisioned Lu's Jukebox for some time and now the time was given, the time was right. 

So, if you go searching she has done 6 albums worth, a Christmas one, a classic country one, a Memphis Soul one and then three pearlers - The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty.

The Petty one is Lucinda Williams perfect for such an idea. Petty was a Southern man and Williams is a Southern woman. That southern drawl is heaven made for songs like Rebels, Southern Accents and Gainesville that was only recently realised on Petty's posthumous An American Treasure

Yes, we get I Won't Back Down, Running Down a Dream, You Don't Know How It Feels and You Wreck Me but it is these songs about the south that make this essential cover album listening. 

Lucinda's twang as she throws out all the place names in Louisiana Rain is the best argument for the entire project. They should have her do Sat Navs. My other favourite is Down South. What a lyric, delivered with Southern authenticity:

Headed back down south
Gonna see my daddy's mistress
Gonna buy back her forgiveness
Pay off every witness
 
One more time down south
Sell the family headstones
Drag a bag of dry bones
Make good on my back loans
 
There's a world of local history, policies and personal issues in those lines.
 
Every time Stevie Nicks asked she was rebuffed with "There are no girls in the Heartbreakers". On the end of this Stevie wouldn't have been first in line. Of course Petty actually covered Williams when he recorded Changed The Locks for the She's The One soundtrack. If The Heartbreakers want to take Petty's songs out there again they would do worse than having Lucinda Williams as their southern girl. Mind you, Lucinda didn't wait for them to ask and her own band do an awesome job about locating these stories in southern swampland grooves. 
 
Oh... and all proceeds are to help independent music venues through the Coronavirus days. So - BUY, don't stream!

TOMORROW IN FITZROY - 11.4.21

Stocki in Ho's TV

No live gathering in Fitzroy tomorrow BUT we will be on-line as usual (going live at 11am) on Fitzroy TV. We will still be scanning the scenes just after Jesus resurrection. Jesus pastoral care for Thomas is my own personal conversion story. We will also look at what Jesus meant when he said "Peace be with you" in a week when Belfast wasn't very much at peace and the challenge of one of my other favourite Gospel verses, "As the father has sent me, so I am sending you."

In the evening (going live at 7pm) you can see the next in Gary Burnett's brilliant series Paul in ten where he leads us through some of the apostle Paul's teaching in just ten minutes. This series is so good that it has been published as a book - Paul Distilled. Tomorrow night's theological theme is "The Cross Shaped God". 

FITZROY TV