Lent blog: Day 35 – THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Published Mon, 29/03/2021 by

Netflix is showing a one-series drama written by Julian Fellowes.  Entitled The English Game and set in the mid-nineteenth century, it depicts the early days of the game as played by the recently-constituted Football Association.  

Football has gone through a long evolution from the medieval Royal Shrovetide Football, dating from at least the reign of King Henry II (a medieval free-for-all physical contact game still played in Ashbourne to this day), on to a confused period in the nineteenth century when different Public Schools played by somewhat different rules.  In some traditions picking the ball up and running with it or tackling the player by kicking him on the shins was all regarded as grist to the mill.  In others it was eschewed.  Eventually there was a parting of ways between the rowdier traditional sport, which developed into Rugby Football, and the modern game of soccer as played by clubs in the Football Association, and abroad under UEFA and FIFA, to this day.

Key to this development was the establishment of rules.  The standard pitch for adults playing the 11-a-side game, for example, must be 100-130 yards long by 50-100 yards wide.  While the rules of football are limiting from one point of view, they allow just enough restriction to allow real talent, spontaneity and creativity in playing the ball to emerge.

The moral law of the Church is like that too.  Yes, it is restricting if you want to look at it that way, but it sets only such limits as are required for real Christian discipleship to shine out in love for God and neighbour.

MICHAEL KIRKHAM