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The Big Match

If I were to conduct a survey of the normal elements of our life that we are missing at this time, I am sure that one aspect for many would be sport – simply participating ourselves, playing with others, enjoying watching sport whether it being at a match or live event or watching on television. We can still be active and exercise but there is certainly something missing! In various forms it is an integral part of our lives but for the time being sport has disappeared from our calendar.

And many sports, and sports fans, have taken to finding alternatives, from virtual races to replays of old matches and for some, even following professional football in Belarus. I have not succumbed!

I was thinking the other day that the last live sport I watched was in late February and very fittingly, it was at the Wilf Slack playing fields when I watched some hockey and rugby matches with the Hall in action against a number of other schools. Most recently on Zoom I was able to watch my three year old grandson, Oscar doing 26 laps of his garden on his balance bike as part of the 2.6 challenge – live sport at its very best!

This was until yesterday and the start of the Bundesliga – I caught some of the rout of Schalke by Borussa Dortmund with a scoreline of 4-0 in this traditional derby game. A surreal experience all-round but a sign of Germany’s emergence from the lockdown. It is only football but there is something about sport that makes it meaningful even, perhaps especially, in a time like this.

I gave myself a moment to think what have might been happening this weekend. Instead of recording this assembly on Sunday afternoon I could have been at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea cruised past Wolves in the final round of matches in the Premiership with a celebratory atmosphere as a top four finish, Champion League football with “Blue is the Colour” reverberating round the stands!

So why do we miss our sport in whatever form it comes whether it be participating or as a spectator?  Is it about community, endeavour, the appreciation of high levels of skill and physical achievement, the team spirit, the sense of belonging or the pleasure of achievement – the ‘feel good’ factor of being involved and part of something? Like many activities we might undertake is it also about challenge, commitment and self-discipline and development of such attributes.

Supporting a team can become a strand of who you are and I am sure you understand if I say that it can be part of your identity. It also draws you into a collective project with thousands of other fans. In many cities and towns, sporting clubs and particular football clubs are often one of most important social institutions. They provide not just a sense of civic pride, but also a kind of collective hope or aspiration.

While many people have used the last two months to exercise individually there has been a void to be filled and we have seen a wave of sporting nostalgia with reruns of many sporting events and articles reflecting on key moments of individual sports.

In mid-April I reflected upon an important event half a century ago; the 1970 Cup Final between Chelsea and Leeds. This was (and still is) a very big match for me as a third generation Chelsea supporter, along with the rest of my family. My example of sport mattering to a great deal to me!

World Cup Prog 1

It was a very important sporting moment for a variety reasons, not least as the history of Chelsea had not been blessed with a great sense of achievement; they had won the top league, the first division just once in 1955 and after losing 2-1 to Spurs in the Cup Final of 1967 this was a big day – could they win the cup for the first time? It turned out to be the first final to go to a reply.  It will also be remembered for the terrible state of the Wembley pitch and the very physical nature of the both games – the Chelsea captain Ron Harris had the nickname “Chopper” giving you an insight in to his tackling technique.

My family had lived in Chelsea since the early part of the 20th Century and my Grandad watched his first game at Stamford Bridge just after the 1st World War with my father being taken to his first game in the mid-1930s. He was at the famous game with Arsenal in 1935 when 83,000 crammed into Stamford Bridge

I remember the Cup Final game well and watched it in my full Peter Bonetti goalkeeper kit – my hero in the team who sadly passed away recently. I even had the gloves on ready – The kit was all green; socks, shorts, shirt and gloves. I could have been Kermit the frog in a fancy dress competition but I needed to be ready for the big match!  I had ordered my programme to arrive a few days before the game and as you can imagine there was palpable tension in our house. Frankly Leeds should have won at Wembley and were the better team on the day with more chances – Chelsea equalised to make the score 2-2 with five minutes of normal time left. There were no further goals in extra time and without the option of penalties it was off to Old Trafford for the replay.

Looking back on this time I must have been totally absorbed in my support – it is one of the few Chelsea teams that I can list to this day without any reference to a programme. After Leeds took the lead again it looked like Chelsea’s attempt at their first Cup final win was once again doomed but a wonderful diving header by centre forward Peter Osgood brought Chelsea level and another header by David Webb at the far post late in the game after one of Ian Hutchinson’s incredible long throws brought victory at last.

Fast forward to 2012 and those same exciting and proud feelings were present when I sat with my elderly father as we took great joy in watching Chelsea somehow beat Bayern Munich to secure the Champions League Title.

I leave with you a few thoughts to ponder and reflect upon at this time – self-reflection being our respect focus for this week.  Your Form Teacher will talk more about this over the next few days.

The American writer Noam Chomsky dismisses sport as something “which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence”.

While the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp wrote a message to supporters about what he saw as important at this time; “Football”, he wrote, may be “the most important of the least important things” but “today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all”. What matters is to “think about the vulnerable in our society and act where possible with compassion for them”.

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