Since the age of nine I have been a faithful and long-suffering supporter of Tottenham Hotspur. In the following decade-and-a-bit, I have never seen them win anything. I have shed more tears over football results than anything else in that period. I have watched Tottenham come second in the league twice, lose two cup finals and falter in eight semi-finals. The zenith of their near-misses came in the bright May of 2019. Tottenham had bitten and clawed their way to the final of the Champions League (a miracle in itself). Tragically, and ever-so inevitably, they conceded an avoidable penalty in the first minute of the match, which was duly scored. As Mohammed Salah wheeled away in celebration, I sucked despondently on my water bottle and sighed. Perhaps a tear welled in my eye. A firm, wrinkled, hand landed on my shoulder; it belonged to man I had never met before. “It’s the hope that kills you” he offered.
Pope John Paul II is often quoted as saying “of all the unimportant things, football is the most important”. It may not surprise you, but I am inclined to agree. Football, for me, is the world in microcosm. It reflects narratives that are right at the heart of the human enterprise. Striving, personal identity, heartbreak and yes, hope in the face of adversity. These emotions, that are spilled out over the course of ninety minutes, are the same emotions that stir us to want to change the world. This is not all to say that I see football as some kind of great medicine to cure the planet’s ills, in fact I think I am definitely not saying that. Rather, it holds up a mirror and teaches us something about ourselves. There are hundreds of genuinely important things that deserve our attention, our heartbreak and our hope.
There have been plenty of crushing moments in our national and international politics in recent weeks and months. To list them all could be something of an infinite exercise in self-torture, but it is right to acknowledge some of those that have shaken me personally. The passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill into law which will see the isolation and alienation of desperate people fleeing war. The accompanying scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda thus abandoning our moral duties as a country. In my work for an MP, I hear stories from constituents who limit their use of the kettle to once per day because they simply cannot afford the soaring cost of electricity.
Both of these areas demonstrate devastating injustices which are affecting our communities right now. But they are also both areas in which JPIT have fundamental hope. Our Six Hopes include the hope of a society that welcomes the stranger, and for a just economy. For JPIT, our hope that we could see a system where these brutalities did not occur is our reason for being. And yet, in the face of repeated failure and slow progress, I am reminded of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. “That chill is in the air”, she writes, “Which the wise know well, and even have learned to bear. This joy, I know, Will soon be under snow.” These hopes, it is easy to feel, are under snow. To keep hoping in this blizzard of outrage can feel flimsy and naïve.
What then are we to do? Accept the advice of the wrinkly man at the pub, that the hope will only kill us in the end? And then what? Stop hoping all together because we are met with cruelty and disappointment? What alternative does this leave us with? Detachment? Or Despair?
Both of these approaches fail. “Sincerity” in the words of the band The 1975, “is scary”. It is frightening to face up to the challenges of the world, but that not does make detachment or aloofness a viable solution. Ultimately, now that we are on this planet, putting our fingers in our ears will do nothing to resolve the pain around us. Equally, despair is not a practical option. Despair consumes us like a multiplying virus. It pours black paint on our ideals and renders us inert and apathetic. Apathy will not stop the planet’s temperature from rising to catastrophic levels. Stupor will not feed the hungry. Hope, and the action that follows, just might.
The full tapestry of living life in a flawed world will mean that you will, at times, experience all of these emotions. In life, like football, you will feel the agony of an irretrievable deficit and the ambivalence of a small win when the season is already lost. I am not saying there is never a place for detachment or despair. Quite the opposite, I recognise that they are natural and healthy reactions to a disorientating and difficult existence. What is deadly though, is allowing ourselves to dwell solely here.
Our conference this year at JPIT is all about refusing to linger in what John Bunyan refers to as the Slough of Despond. Rather, we will be making the case for getting down on your hands and knees, and scrambling around in the mud to unearth hope. It is only by choosing to keep on hoping that good will be done. To continue to believe that small efforts at a local level play an invaluable part, building a more loving culture. I will tune in to watch Tottenham next week because I continue to hope, maybe against hope, that I may one day see them lift a trophy. I will continue to campaign for a more welcoming society and a more just economy, because I hope our future can be more merciful than our past. So no, dear old man in the pub, it is not the hope that kills you, hope is what makes life worth living.
We would love you to join us for our From the Ground Up Conference:
Saturday 11th June 2022, 10am-4pm – online and on-site at Oasis Hub Waterloo, London
£5 Online – £12 On Site – Free for under 25s and those on a low income
Click here to get your tickets!