Finding hope in… football?

There’s a donate link at the bottom of this post for Show Racism The Red Card. If you want to skip the nonsense and scroll right there then feel free.

It has been hard to feel inspired in the pandemic. I know some of us have really thrived creatively – and the slower pace of life has been quite a relief at times, don’t get me wrong. But I think my brain took the memo of having a break a little too literally, locking away any and all motivation as soon as that first 4pm press conference was called many, many months ago.

Then there was the whole neck thing. 

If you follow my social media channels or have seen me in person/via a screen in the past few months, you’ll have noticed the 3 inch long scar slap bang in the middle of my neck. If you’d seen me in the eight weeks prior to my operation (on one of the rare occasions where I neglected to sport a scarf or turtleneck), you’ll have seen in its place a rapidly growing lump, destined to meet its end under the scalpel of Mr Sanjay Sharma as the size of a golf ball. 

And if you’ve been hanging around here for a bit longer, you may recognise that something along these lines has happened before. Though let me tell you, it’s way harder to hide a 4cm lump in a neck than in a boob. 

Anyway, aside from having mildly traumatic flashbacks to the last time something was growing where it wasn’t meant to and panickedly looking up survival rates for various types of head and neck cancers, I’m okay really. They discovered upon removing it that the lump was something called a pilomatricoma (a benign tumour of the hair follicle apparently) and I’ve healed up well. I’m even growing to quite like my scar. 

But even so, it’s been a bit of a hard one to process and not the best motivator when you already feel like you’re wading through the tar of a mismanaged pandemic.

That said, it’s time to bounce back. And it turns out you really can find inspiration striking in the strangest of places. The Euros have finished in a final every bit as stressful and devastating as you’d expect from an English penalty shoot out. But if anything can inspire you, I’ve learned, it’s a team that kneels in the face of discrimination. One full of actual role models who exemplify bravery, resilience and decency. A team whose values shine brighter than the people we are meant to look up to as our actual leaders.

I will be the first to put my hand up and say that generally I don’t really care for football. And I am frequently ashamed to be English. But there has been something about the joy of the past month that went beyond the sense of England winning or football ‘coming home’, which is a phrase I still don’t really understand.

Being able to wholeheartedly support a squad full of people with genuine compassion has been a bit of an eye opening experience for me. Marcus Rashford, who has done more for poor children in this country than any governing politician in my lifetime. Raheem Sterling, who rose above the disgusting abuse he’s received throughout his career to carry the team to the final. Bukayo Saka, who stepped up at the age of 19 to represent his country while the world was watching. I am in awe of all of them.

I would have never looked to football to find my role models. But in what I always assumed was a world of flashy arrogance and thuggery I think I’ve found an exception. Last night’s loss was heartbreaking, but within it there was something genuinely dignified and inspirational.

Waking up today, I am determined to be better, braver, more resilient, to pursue my goals with honesty and compassion. To do what I love and do it well. Which means I’m going to be back to creating recipes, writing reviews and generally chatting shit.

And is all this a tenuous link at best? Perhaps. But when you’re looking for a seed of motivation to be planted and you find it in English football of all places, maybe that’s a sign enough that things are due to change.

If you condemn the racist abuse that English football players are receiving today and are committed to change, I encourage you to donate to Show Racism The Red Card, an anti-racism charity dedicated to combating racism in society.

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