Daily reflections from the Bolton Circuit

Rev Hilary Howarth – 20th July 2021

3 Lions.

A few weeks ago, as Euro 2020 was kicking off I’d been reflecting on influencers in society. One of the most high-profile influencers in the world is Christiano Ronaldo. I few days later in a televised interview he moved a bottle of Coca Cola from in front of him and told the audience it was better to drink water instead. His actions at the time devalued the Coca Cola brand by several billion pounds across the world. That’s some influence! But this last couple of weeks three other young men have been in the news connected to the Euro’s – Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. They were the three young men who stepped up to take the penalties for England in the Euro final against Italy, and missed.

When Saka stepped forward to take the penalty, I was very nervous, like every football fan watching. Here was a young man, aged just 19, stepping forward and taking responsibility for his country and taking a penalty when millions were watching him and hoping he would end “55 years of hurt”. When he missed, my heart went out to him. He had been brave and courageous, showing amazing leadership skills and I greatly admired him for that. So too with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho – because let’s face it, who of us would have had the guts to step forward, even if we’d had the talent? They are inspirations to millions of young people.

What followed in the days after that was a torrent of racial abuse directed at those players, which rightly has been condemned and we have to hope and work together to ensure it makes a fairer more compassionate society. I saw a photograph in the papers of two little boys playing together. Both were wearing Manchester City strips – one was the son of Kevin de Bruyne and the other the son of Raheem Stirling. One child was white and the other was black, but they didn’t notice the colour difference, they were simply two little boys playing together. Racism is learnt, children are not born racist. It falls to us all to influence the children around us and to speak out to stop it.

Do you know what connects three of the members of the squad who played in the final of Euro 2020? Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Stirling? They are all Christians, and unlike Alistair Campbell when working for Tony Blair, famously said “We don’t do God”, these three young men most definitely do, and aren’t afraid to say so. They are looked up to by fans of Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal as well as England fans, and Saka tweeted to say “God’s Work” when he won the young London player of the year award. That really is giving God the glory. He is a wonderful role model and not afraid to put his faith out into the public domain. Faith is not a private matter for him at all.

“I love the way Bukayo speaks with such passion about his beliefs”, said the Head teacher at the school he attended as a child. “In days gone by you wouldn’t hear so much about people being practising Christians or practising Muslims. It seemed that famous people in particular didn’t really talk about their faith”.

While many in society seem to be less interested in spirituality or faith, many footballers are kicking the trend! Raheem Stirling has openly talked about the importance of his faith, describing it as “massive”. And we saw last year how Rashford’s faith was evident in his commitment to raising awareness, and changing government policy, to provide lunches for children outside school term time. Faith and spirituality are at the core of these young men’s lives and I want to say “God bless you in using your influence to good effect in our communities and in inspiring our children and young people, who wear your name on their football shirts”.

Thanks to Saka, Sterling and Rashford, black British Christian young men and the importance of their faith were centre-stage in the Euro 2020 final.

Prayer: Lord, protect and guard these young men who faced racial abuse from a section of our nation. Guard and guide all those who face such abuse on a daily basis, but who’s names we do not know. Instil in us all the courage to stand up and speak out against any racism that we encounter in our daily lives. Thank you that Saka, Sterling and Rashford are not afraid to speak the name of Jesus in a society that can so often seem to be against faith. May the example they set inspire and influence our children and young people. May we all share their passion to speak out about our faith too. Amen.