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More than just a game

by Dave Gardner
Jul 21, 2014 2:05 AM EDT



It’s only a game. It’s not like football is really important.
You’ve heard the criticism before and perhaps struggled to explain why supporting your team occupies so much of your mind on a daily and even hourly basis.
In this brief soccer silly season when the top teams float around the world playing meaningless games against weak opposition to boost their transfer-depleted coffers, you could be forgiven for thinking the detractors are right.
There are lawns to be mowed, diseases to be cured, galaxies to be discovered.
But then something truly profound happens that reminds us why this game is so important not just in our lives but in millions of others too.
In a world increasingly defined by separation – we conduct conversations and even entire relationships by text – it brings us together.
And just as our teams and our favorite players always have the capacity to surprise us, that is, after all, why we watch, so, too, can the game itself.
Reading the transfer news over the past week or so, football seems to all be about multi-million dollar transfers with obscene pay demands that make a mockery of regular working people’s wages.
Then today I read about the tragic fate of John Alder, 63, and Liam Sweeney, 28, two Newcastle United supporters unlucky enough to have booked on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 en route to support their team on its pre-season tour to New Zealand.
The perennial mid-table team struggles to hold onto its stars and is always battling to be worthy of its loyal support in England’s northeast. But that didn’t stop Alder and Sweeney from attempting to travel to the very ends of the earth to follow their hometown club.
The tragedy has shocked football fans the world over and Newcastle supporters in particular.
But it was the followers of their deadly rivals that decided to do something about it. After circumstances surrounding the deaths were revealed, Sunderland fans raised more than $30,000 in memory of the pair whose plane was shot down over Ukraine last Tuesday.
Sunderland supporter Gary Ferguson, who created the fundraising page online, wrote: ‘We may be Sunderland fans, who traditionally have deep rivalry with Newcastle, but there are things far more important than any football games.
‘The incredibly sad news that has emerged this week about two Newcastle fans who have passed has left us all shocked and deeply saddened.”
I would dare to take issue with Gary on one thing, however. He has illustrated just how important the game of football can be.
Sometimes it can embody the very essence of the human spirit.