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I have been reminded many times that not everybody in the congregation is interested in football.

Preachers do need to learn how to connect with a wide range of cultural and sporting interests in their congregation.

Things do tend to change a bit when our team is making progress in a major tournament. People are beginning to sing “Football’s coming home” again. Hope is rising and people are beginning to believe that England might reach the final this time. Maybe, just maybe, they could (say it quietly) win!

During the delayed Euro 2020 the people of England have had their imagination captured as much by the quietly spoken manager on the touchline as much as by the growing confidence of the team on the pitch.

A 2–0 win over Germany last Tuesday, the first victory over them in a major competitive match for 55 years, was described by some newspapers as “the redemption of Gareth Southgate.” This is a reference back to his missed penalty in against Germany in Euro 1996 that eliminated England at the semi-finals stage.

There are many pictures of a forlorn 26-year old Southgate alone on the pitch after his fateful miss. Each image must be like a dart to his tender conscience.

I am interested in how reporters use the biblical language of redemption to describe this dramatic restoration after failure. It is a magnificent picture of how our past mis-steps do not need to define us forever. I guess that many preachers will make something of that in their sermons over the next few weeks.

“Southgate turns 25 years of hurt into something special” (The Times Saturday 3rd July 2021)

Last Saturday’s Times had an interesting story that speculated about what an older Gareth Southgate might say to his 26-year-old self. The story was accompanied by a picture of the England manager with his arm around the shoulder of his younger self in the immediate aftermath of the dreaded penalty miss. What would he have said?

We can’t tell. Such a conversation did not take place. I suspect that for most of us if our older self offered our younger self some advice, we probably would not take it.

Perhaps the reason that Gareth Southgate has done so well as the England manager is the willingness to listen, reflect, evaluate and learn.

Southgate is described as “a hard-working, decent man with a thirst for learning. A bridge-builder rather than a destroyer; a leader, who likes to serve rather than dictate; someone who admires collective endeavour more than individual genius”.

It would seem that he is not so obsessed with being a good manager that he has forgotten to be a fine human being. He is concerned with detail but also has a grip on the big picture. He has his eye on the main task, but appears to have time for each individual.

Preachers could learn something from the present England manager. Next time we have a bad day at the office, miss a golden opportunity, or preach a dud sermon, we need to remember that we preach the message of a redeemer, who can make all things new.

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