It was a week of minor miracles, though not as St Augustine might have conceived them. Even for those who have no interest in Champions League football, you would have had to be a hermit or a contrarian (perhaps they amount to the same thing) to have been immune to the coverage – there was a general sense of awe at two of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
That I managed to catch the matches at all was a small wonder. For those of us who don’t subscribe to BT Sport or Sky, following football can sometimes involve a strange juggling act: reading the ball-by-ball commentary on a mobile device; squeezing oneself into an overcrowded pub (which has a screen or two); or even the old-fashioned way of listening to the live radio broadcast. Sometimes a match involves all three (as was the case with Liverpool versus Barcelona). Radio, I find, is best: it exercises the imagination in way that television rarely does.
How Liverpool managed to beat Barcelona – a team that in Lionel Messi possessed arguably the most gifted player ever to have kicked a ball – by overturning a three-goal deficit and scoring four goals, defied all reason.
The following evening, Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura scored not only a hat trick but also the determining goal in the dying minutes of injury time to send the north London club through to an all-English Champions League final. In a post-match interview, in which he broke down in tears, the Brazilian winger stated: “God is wonderful … I always say that [God] surprises me.” He also posted a thankful tweet that quoted Luke 1:37: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
I wondered whether English players were as open about their Christianity as many of their Latin American colleagues. Perhaps they have less to be thankful for: one of Latin America’s gifts to the world has been its adeptness at the “beautiful game”.
I have become increasingly aware of the game’s religious aspects. There is the ritual, the pilgrimage, the stadium as a place of “worship”, the articles of faith, the notions of “death” through defeat and, of course, resurrection. Matthew, my literary agent, who is a lifelong Tottenham fan, has learned to suffer for his club, having endured years of underachievement and futile away games, where standing in the wet and cold have been more clement than a punitive scoreline. Even in victory, there continues to be unease. “I now feel really guilty that I didn’t go to Amsterdam to see the match,” he tells me over the phone. I ask him whether he has ever thought of converting to Catholicism.
In my local restaurant, I overhear a conversation at the next table. An Arsenal fan is plagued by the reality that his club’s arch rival, Tottenham, might just win the Champions League. “I know I should be a better person but I just couldn’t bear it if Tottenham won. I’d rather we lost the Europa League [the lesser competition] than they win. I know this sounds ridiculous, especially given all the terrible things that are happening in the world.” Is this what Aldous Huxley meant by “the art of being irrational in a reasonable way”?
Diaries, for the most part, tend to be a form of personal confession. This Easter, for the first time in years, I failed to listen to Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Not a grave sin, I know, but I realise how easily we can take certain great works of art for granted. This random thought came to me while I was desperately trying not to immolate my mother with an unreliable candle at the London Oratory on Holy Saturday.
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to see Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko in Verdi’s La forza del destino. The exquisite performances and Antonio Pappano’s conducting made for one of the great nights at Covent Garden. It was something I am unlikely to forget. But I was, and not for the first time, slightly disconcerted by the age of the audience. For this art form to survive, I fear it really does need an injection of youth.
Speaking of singing and sport, I was nearly moved to tears by the Liverpool supporters’ rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s standard You’ll Never Walk Alone after their victory at Anfield. I admit it’s rather hackneyed but in this secular age one forgets how uplifting a massed chorus can be.
For those of us who work in book publishing, early summer can be a fraught time of last-minute edits and tying up loose ends before autumn publication. Fortunately, this year my authors, who range from musicians to politicians, have delivered on time, for which I am thankful. At least this means that I get to have something that resembles a summer holiday. This is another small miracle …
Andreas Campomar is publisher of Constable and the author of ¡Golazo! A History of Latin American Football
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