The Last Word: Football has yet to recognise its power to heal broken lives
Those at the top should join the families of murder victims Jimmy and David to change attitudes
Sunday 28 October 2012
Jimmy Mizen and David Idowu were faithful sons, assiduous students whose love of football was nurtured by two emotionally-driven clubs, Millwall and Liverpool. In life they were strangers; in death they are intertwined.
Jimmy, born 30 minutes before the FA Cup final kicked off on 9 May 1992, expired in his brother's arms, the day after his 16th birthday, his jugular vein severed by a one-and-a-half inch sliver of a glass dish thrown by his murderer.
David was playing football on a basketball court near his home in south London when he was stabbed through the heart by a gang member from a rival school. He fought for life for 20 days before succumbing, aged 14.
Their legacy is one of hope in the midst of despair, forgiveness in the face of unfathomable loss. It is channelled through charitable foundations, overseen by their parents. "Release the Peace," a joint initiative in their names, will be launched today with a concert at the O2 Arena in London.
The campaign is designed to reward young people who serve their communities, and to raise awareness of the consequences of violent crime. If football can stop navel-gazing and recognise its social responsibilities, it can help foster a climate of reflection and reconciliation, rather than retribution.
Bereaved families do not want its money. They want its audience and its advocacy. Sport, especially football, is a reference point for an initiative which incorporates visits to schools, clubs, prisons and young offenders' institutions. Jimmy's father, Barry, a man of remarkable resilience and serenity, sets the tone: "You wonder if people at the highest level of football realise the potential they have to be a force for good. Most victims and their families have an allegiance to a football club, however tentative. Imagine the power we could harness if we speak with a single voice, and get the message across that we have to change."
It will not be a one-way process, because football needs all the perspective it can get.
We are being conditioned to believe that today's proposed handshake between Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole has the gravity of the First World War Armistice.
Its pretensions, and those of the current scuffle for ownership of football's moral molehill, are exposed by the forgiveness shown by Grace Idowu to her son's killer, whom she met in a prison chapel. Today has a special resonance for the Idowu family, because the concert coincides with David's favourite football occasion, the Merseyside derby. She hopes to involve Steven Gerrard, his hero, by asking him to sign a "peace car" that will take redemptive messages to the streets.
Millwall have been involved with the Mizens since Jimmy's murder. A workshop at the New Den entitled "It doesn't have to happen" featured the family and Richard Taylor, father of Damilola, the 10-year-old who bled to death in a stairwell after being stabbed returning from school.
To declare an interest, I spent a season at Millwall, researching a book on a club hampered by lazy, incoherent stereotyping. There are few fairytales – investigations into alleged racial abuse of Bolton striker Marvin Sordell involve a teenager – but it plays a key role in a multi-cultural, multi-faith community.
Barry Mizen is unequivocal: "Without Millwall, my family would have gone under."
He will make a gesture of thanks when the New Den stages "Jimmy's Day" on December 1. Everyone at the game against Charlton will be given a wristband.
Jermain Defoe, whose half-brother was murdered in similar circumstances to Jimmy and David, is aligned to the cause, but attempts to engage other England players have been unsuccessful because of the cordon around them. Footballers can give substance to fractured lives. This is a chance for them to be the people we want them to be.
Rodgers gets lost in Office politics
Today's episode of Being: Brendan, staged on location at Goodison Park, may lack the comedy value of the Being: Liverpool documentary, but it will offer an insight into whether there is substance to the soundbites.
Since Brendan Rodgers is fond of motivational quotes, in English or Latin, it is fitting we should gauge his progress by referring to two US coaches whose philosophy he espouses.
Phil Jackson, basketball's Zen master, insists: "You have to be a salesman to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you are trying to achieve."
Steven Gerrard's evident puzzlement, when Rodgers performed his infamous three-envelope trick, and Jamie Carragher's disdainful expression, in team talks, suggests there is work to do.
Bill Walsh, the late, great NFL coach, said: "The best coaches know the job is to win, but are sensitive to the feelings, loyalties and emotions people have to one another."
That hardly concurs with Andy Carroll's brutal despatch, or the clumsy marginalisation of Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool's great strength is its authenticity. Rodgers probably had to submit to trial by TV, but if he wants to avoid parody as Melwood's answer to David Brent, he'd better start Being: Himself.
Gordon Taylor, football's millionaire trade unionist, likes gesture politics. The PFA's six-point plan to combat racism bore his hallmarks. Expedient and unconvincing, it compromised more impressive advocates like Bobby Barnes and Clarke Carlisle. Time to go, Gordon?
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