4 Jun 2015 | Football

The changing shape of the promised land.

I wasn’t going to write about football again.

I was going to move on, widen my audience and write about Health & Safety. But then the last week happened and I’m obliged to peep again over the lip of the soccer worms’ tin and give those squirmers another airing.

wenger 1

Context. Here in England on May 30th Arsenal won the FA Cup for the second year in succession. If we go back just 56 weeks, the team had just qualified for the final of this same cup but were hapless, ragged and the manager, Arsene Wenger who had been there since 1998 was, as they say, beleaguered. His team had not won a trophy in nine years and opinion was that if they failed in 2014, he would have resigned. As it turned out, they won the trophy then and defended it again just now. This time they did it with aplomb, skill, style, substance and lots of goals. The press and most of the nay-sayers have declared the turn around a triumph and records have been matched and broken in the process.

Top level soccer teams in England take part in three or four competitions each season. This particular cup was nominally only third on the priority list, but given the power and resources of the competing teams winning it, twice in a row, feels better than third best to the manager, players and fans

Wenger’s team’s success has, for the time being, restored happiness and optimism. To many however it is what he got, not what he wanted. He is happy, but would have been happier with the epithet of Champion, either of the Champions’ League or the English Premier League.


Like many observers I still feel these other two competitions remain beyond reach and am wondering if success can still be claimed if we adapt the meaning of it along the way. The re-birth of stoicism suggests we can.

Which brings us, somewhat out of chronological order, to Moses. Yes, the very same figure that led the Israelites out of Egypt and circumnavigated the desert for forty long hot, generation shifting years before he delivered them to the promised land. Famously, he was banned (by God) from entry at point of arrival and only got to view what he had helped to set up.

 moses 1

Leader number three is Josef ‘Sepp’ Blatter, erstwhile President of FIFA. For many years he has acted as a kind of Swiss Robin Hood ( and we thought it was William Tell, the cider maker). He gave to the poor football nations by redistributing sponsors’ and the developed soccer world’s contributions (presumably taxes via national football associations) and is potentially facing allegations for corruption. It’s hard to be objective here today, June 4th 2015, but it does appear that he did help poorer nations, he did spread the game to Africa and Asia and he did create some kind of (skewed) brotherhood especially when the 2010 World Cup took place in South Africa. It  looks, right now, that he presided over good and very bad simultaneously.


And so this is where football takes us. Just like Moses, to the edge of something we hadn’t quite expected or signed up for. Mr Wenger did not set out to become an FA Cup record breaker but has to accept the plaudits because it is pleasing to other people. People who invest emotion, belief and many hours of conversation to the ‘cause’. Goal posts do shift and in life and health we are obligated to accept flexibility. Football meets people’s thought needs because it tries to apply patterns, tactics, formations and back stories to the movements of a ball that with human kicking and heading, are random at best.

Blatter tried to use the power of this randomness/ failed structure syndrome to capture (hoodwink?) and pull the woolly hat over people’s eyes. He tried to harness a magic and pass it around the circle while ensuring he got to hold the parcel when the music stopped.

Trouble was, he couldn’t control the music. Like Moses, his path was barred. Russia and Qatar were two promised lands too many and from hereon in he’ll have to make do with a view over the Limmat river and its cold rough splashing through Zurich to its own lake. Purgatory this isn’t and while he walks through the Saturday flea market, shares a Brattwurst with a grandchild and looks at the August snowy peaks above, he’ll reflect that the ball is round and anything can happen.

Blatter 1