Christina Patterson: If only I had blind faith in our national religion

People who aren't football fans don't get to weep, or hug, in public, or have a kind of communion, with beer


I like him. I like his squashy red face, and his big, bulbous nose, and the fact that his wife is called Sheila. I like his passion for languages, and his taste in books. I like the fact that he hasn't just heard of Halmstad in Sweden, which is where my mother grew up, and where we used to go for our summer holidays. I like the fact that he's Halmstad's hero.

I hadn't, it's true, actually heard of him until Monday, but I'm beginning to think Roy Hodgson might be my hero, too. He speaks fluent Norwegian, Swedish, German, Italian and Japanese. He speaks some Korean, Danish, Finnish and French. He likes Milan Kundera, and Ivan Klima, and Stefan Zweig. He's the son of a baker and a factory worker from Croydon who's more European than Nick Clegg. And he is, apparently, going to be managing England.

Roy Hodgson sounds like a very good person to shake up the education system, and revive social mobility, and steer us through the crisis in the euro. But when the front pages of newspapers say that someone is going to "manage England", they don't actually mean that they're going to manage England. They mean that they're going to manage eleven members of a team who play a game that quite a lot of people like.

It would be quite easy to get confused. It would be quite easy, for example, to think that what the front pages of the newspapers were talking about was something that was going to have a very big impact on the whole population of the country, and who was going to make their lives an awful lot better, or worse. But actually what they're talking about is someone who has the power to make the lives of half the population a little bit better, but probably won't.

Football, it's clear to those of us who don't follow it, is much more like a religion than a sport. Like religion, it's usually fixed at birth. If, for example, you live in Iran, you'll probably be born into a Shia Muslim family, and go to a Shia mosque. If you're born into a Sunni family, you'll go to a Sunni mosque. And if you're born in Manchester, and are male (because this is one religion that's usually passed down the male line) you'll support either Man City, or Man United.

If you support Man City, you'll be having a lovely week. You'll be thinking, for example, that Yaya Toure, and Pablo Zabaleta, and Carlos Tevez were finally following the instructions you'd been telepathically giving them for years. You'll be thinking that faith, and loyalty, and unwavering devotion, aren't always rewarded in a life, but sometimes they are. You'll be thinking, in other words, that a week that looked, apart from the big event at the beginning of it, as if it could be quite boring, and quite stressful, and quite wet, has turned out to be bloody brilliant.

People who aren't football fans, which is usually another way of saying women, don't have this. We don't get the chance to bond instantly with strangers, or speak to them in a language that only half the world understands. We don't get to sing the same songs as thousands of people we've never met, and say the same prayers, and wear the same clothes. We don't get to weep, or hug each other, in public, or have a kind of communion, with beer. We don't get to feel part of a massive global community.

People who aren't football fans don't understand blind faith. We don't know how you can look at a group of men you've never met, who have no connection to the place they're meant to be representing, and have no control over who they are, or how good they are at what they do, but still spend thousands of pounds, and hundreds of rainy afternoons, watching them play. We don't understand why people who are so faithful, and loyal, and generous, and loving, to people who often disappoint them aren't always faithful, and loyal, and generous, and loving, at home.

We can see that it would be nice to be able to say things like "Man United came to park their bus, and it didn't work", and see other people nod, as if what you'd just said was in English, and made sense. We can see that watching people who were very fit run up and down a field might make you feel as though you quite liked sport, when actually what you liked was sitting in an area called "a stand", or on a pub stool, or a sofa. We can see that it would be quite comforting, when other things weren't always going well in your life, to feel that there was something else going on that was really important. And that this thing would mean that you were, at least in one sense, never alone.

But we can also see that something that used to be about local loyalty is, like almost everything else in the world, now about markets and money. And that loyalty to a big budget isn't the same as loyalty to effort, or talent.

The Football Association has a very big budget, but it probably won't be spending quite as much on Roy Hodgson as it did on Fabio Capello. He is, after all, a man who doesn't make big claims. He is, apparently, good at getting the most out of "middling talent". He will, apparently, try to "lower expectations". He sounds, in fact, like just what England needs. And maybe England's football team, too.;

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