Sonny Bill Williams has just won a World Cup Medal playing for the All Blacks. He’s walking round Twickenham doing a lap of honour with rest of the team. A little boy hurdles the barrier and runs on to the pitch.
He is rugby-tackled to the ground by a steward. Sonny Bill lifts him up and lets the boy hug him. He escorts him back to his mum and dad. Then he takes off his medal and puts it round the wee lad’s neck. We think he’s just giving the boy the photo opportunity of a lifetime and he’s going to take the medal back. But no, Sonny Bill walks away and suddenly the wee boy realises the medal is his for keeps. His expression would wring a tear from a lump of granite. He is gobsmacked.
Rewind a month to Scotland v Poland at Hampden. A wee boy runs on to the pitch during the game to get a selfie with his hero, Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. Scotland are winning 2-1. But the referee adds on a minute of time for the interruption. Lewandowski scores an equaliser in the last minute of time added on. Next day the Tartan Army’s backlash is immediate. The pitch invader has become a figure of hate. “That little s**t cost us the game.” “He should be burnt in a cage, like Isis.”
Proof once again that rugby is “better” than football, right? Wrong.
I don’t know about you but my Facebook page is infected by rugby fans who feel the need to take a holier-than-thou, more-masculine-than-thou, more gentlemanly-than-thou attitude to football, footballers and football fans.
Every time they praise their sport, in the same breath they attack footballers. They’re cheating, diving, effeminate, overpaid prima donnas – whereas rugby players and fans are virile, honourable gentlemen. Neither of these clichés are a matter of fact, they are a matter of opinion. It’s unwise to set much store by generalisations. There are so many exceptions that they tend to un-prove the rule that is being asserted.
It’s true that some footballers dive to win free kicks and penalties. It’s equally true that some of them put on an act when they are tackled and roll around on the ground pretending that they are a lot more badly hurt than they actually are.
All that proves is that some footballers cheat. Sometimes they get away with it. More often they’re punished. But that evidence in itself doesn’t mean that rugby fans can take the smug moral high ground. My rugby-loving mates grew up playing the game. They told me exactly what went on in the scrum when players thought the ref couldn’t see. Punches, kicks, ear-biting, eye-gouging, crotch-squeezing. Are you seriously telling me this stuff doesn’t go on in professional and international rugby too? Of course it does. Or at least as much as the players can get away with, given all the camera angles that can be looked at in real time.
It’s hard to argue that footballers are cheating, overpaid prima donnas when you think of the game’s historic and contemporary ambassadors like Pele and Lionel Messi. Every defender has a kick at Messi’s ankles but he stays on his feet.
It’s even harder to argue that they’re inferior beings when you read that multi-millionaire “prima donnas” Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs just opened their new, half-built hotel to the homeless to give them shelter through the winter.
And when you see the charitable work that our own Hibs and Hearts are doing for under-privileged families in our communities then you start to wonder whether this need to slag off football is just another form of snobbery. As I’ve discovered during this wonderful Rugby World Cup, it’s OK to love both games.
Dad lived as if he knew what happens when we die
What happens when we die? Personally, I haven’t got a scooby. There’s as much chance of me finding out with any certainty whether there’s intelligent life on other planets. Not knowing makes sense to me. The only strictly logical position to take is the agnostic one.
I struggle with atheism. Atheists are in the same position as religious believers. They have no empirical proof that they are right but they choose to disbelieve in the possibility of an afterlife.
The key word in that last sentence is “choose”. Faith is a choice, not a calculation. So is the decision to disbelieve.
Tomorrow we’re burying my dad. After my mum died in the summer he lost his appetite for life. He told his twin bother and the nursing staff in the care home “I don’t want to be here, I want to be with Pat”.
My mum and dad were Catholics. Their whole lives were inspired by their faith. They invited ex-prisoners and homeless people to stay with them over Christmas. They joined every church group where they thought they could make a difference.
My dad was a prison visitor. He also wrote dozens of letters to dictators and despots on behalf of Amnesty, begging them to release political prisoners and stop torturing. They both went on human rights marches and demonstrations for peace in Northern Ireland. They were fervently ecumenical, they embraced other creeds and worked with them to bring about mutual understanding and social justice.
My dad questioned his beliefs, too. He had serious doubts at certain times in his life. We have the evidence for this in his diaries. He wrote everything in them for 40 years. His 1974 was a better read for me than 1984 because it was the story of our family, seen through my dad’s eyes. As well as documenting the football results and what he had for dinner, dad wrote about his feelings – and his faith.
He didn’t agree with everything the Catholic Church decreed down the years – who would? (It’s not compulsory, you know) He certainly wouldn’t agree with their opposition to gay marriage. He would have been delighted to hear that a week after his death, my gay son just got engaged to his partner.
He told me his favourite word was “love”. He loved his wife, he loved us, he loved his neighbour and he loved God. He didn’t know for sure that there would be an afterlife. But he chose to live and die as if there was.
Listen up, and don’t miss out
LIVE music venues have taken a battering in Edinburgh over the years. It seems our council would prefer to see another branch of Wetherspoons in the town – a bar chain so mean they don’t play music in their pubs because they don’t want to pay the modest fee demanded by the Performing Right Society so that recording artists get some reward for the transmission of their songs.
So let’s support live music in Edinburgh. At Clerk’s Bar in South Clerk Street tonight you can feast your ears on a line-up that includes Michael Cochrane, Miasma and Marmion, three of Scotland’s best live acts. This is the first big night for Listen Local, a series of gigs staged by the Listen Organic crew to showcase top Scottish talent. Don’t miss it.