There’s a football match taking place tonight in Stockholm. Hardly even seems relevant, does it?
In times of trouble, we reflect and we consider. The old phrase goes that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. When someone threatens our way of life, we instinctually seek to insulate ourselves from further damage. To be human is to share pain and to understand grief. We come together, more intimately linked in the deepest recesses of evil than we are at any other point. And that is how we combat those who seek to drive us apart.
So, why does football even matter? Manchester United will face Ajax this evening in the final of the Europa League. Both teams will wear black armbands and a minutes silence will be observed to remember those who were killed in cold blood on Monday night. Beyond the formalities though, this is something altogether more powerful.
The loss of 22 innocent lives cannot be justified and must not be accepted. It is altogether more shocking when among those who died were the young, an 8-year-old girl whose life was snatched from her before she was even given a chance to live it. Incidents of this nature raise unpleasant themes – repercussions and strategy, how to deal with those responsible. But how should we respond to those who attack our way of life?
It is practically impossible to mitigate for immorality as basic and remorseless as this. The silence that befalls any city laid low by the depravity of the delusional is almost as deafening as the great roar that greets you upon stepping into one of Manchester’s footballing arenas. What is known is that silence is far easier to rupture than the compassion of a wounded city.
Football defines Manchester almost as much as the vibrant music, eclectic culture and wonderful people do. So perhaps that is why tonight is so significant. Sport is the ultimate expression of liberty. It is a luxury but also a charity – it gives back far more than it takes. It seems almost wilfully perverse that players will take to the field tonight in pursuit of glory whilst mothers weep in mourning.
But this game is no longer about glory, nor about winning. It is defiance and it is a common rejection of the insidious rhetoric that threatens to overcome us. Division is what those who resent our culture seek to spread – sport is one of the world’s most powerful tools in neutralising hate. It is love and passion and hope – qualities more important now than ever.
The build-up to tonight has naturally been muted, as if the image still flickers on the TV but someone has turned the volume off. It is unimportant, but yet so relevant to the fight. In his pre-match statement, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho said: “I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one.” In sport, we have the chance to demonstrate everything that the soulless individual who carried out the attack on Monday night stands against – solidarity, unity and freedom.
Tonight, Stockholm stands strong for Manchester.
Image credit – https://www.vox.com/world/2017/5/23/15680078/manchester-threat-critical-britain-ariana-grande