Remona Aly
Saturday 09 June 2018 BBC Radio2

Football & Faith

Footie and faith

The other day, I was chatting to my dad’s old friend – or ‘uncle’, as Asian parlance goes, and he was telling me about the first day he set foot in Britain.

He was a shy, young Muslim doctor from India who’d never left home, but when he arrived in the UK – what a welcome he received! He saw streets filled with joyful crowds, England flags flying high from rooftops, bright smiles on every face. It was the summer of 1966, and England had just won the World Cup.

Little did my uncle, and England, and the Rest of the World know – they wouldn’t see those jubilant scenes for quite some time.

I’ve watched all the Euros and every World Cup with family and friends, nervously crunching bowlfuls of crisps, while wearing my Team England red top and white hijab.

I prayed to let England win, and then thought, hang on, aren’t rival fans doing the same thing, so which side is God gonna take? But the thing is, football was kicked off by faith in the first place – by local churches seeking to improve community spirit. And now football is a religion for so many, and it’s not hard to see why.

The hope, the love, the joy, the tears, the struggle, the falling down and getting back up again – football and faith have a lot in common. And the goal for all is giving it our best, and hoping to become winners.

When I watch the footie, the thing that gets me every time, is at the end of a match when rival team members of different countries and different lingos, shake hands and exchange shirts. There’s respect, empathy, a language only they and their fans understand – of how it feels to win, and how it feels to lose.

The medieval Muslim poet and scholar, Rumi, captured this when he wrote, “To speak the same language is kinship and affinity. The universal language is authentic insight. To be one in heart is surely superior to only speaking the same words.”

I believe no matter what side we’re on, we are mirrors of each other. So many want to belong to some thing, some club or some where.

And we find with football, as with faith, we are coming home.