Columns

Life lessons from the World Cup

Al Miller

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Some people come into our life as a blessing, while others come into our life as a lesson. — attributed to Mother Teresa and Yolanda Hadid

The pinnacle tournament of the beautiful game has ended, but the memories remain. I wanted Croatia to win because I can't resist backing an underdog. In addition, they recently (1991) got their Independence after a terrible war that decimated their country, so it would be a fairy tale type story had they won!

Think about it, how did they rebuild shattered lives and a shattered country in such a short time and put in place a world-qualifying football programme?

Anyone involved in formal football can testify to the difficulty in setting up community programmes, much less a national programme that can cohesively and consistently get your best to the world stage. Michael Ricketts and Jamaica Football Federation, do I hear agreement? Andre Virtue, and Whole Life Sports Church League, do I hear amen?

The closest we came to a disruptive war-type situation was the Tivoli/Dudus debacle, and look how that, plus our ongoing crime and violence, has set us back. Yet, here's a nation that went to hell and back just 26 years ago. Yet it survived and has produced citizens en masse who can compete against another nation that hasn't seen major nation-disrupting conflict since 1802. What's their secret? What could we learn?

African vs European game

I also wanted France to win. I know that's a massive contradiction, a dichotomy of intentions, some of my learned friends would define it. What's my affection for France?

Over the World Cup years I grew to love our Mother Africa footballers; particularly Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana. However, I became increasingly unhappy with the indiscipline of African football: They can produce a thing of beauty for five minutes but are not able to sustain it for 45 minutes.

On the other hand, the European teams, like France, can produce a disciplined, technically correct, but boring game for eternity! Yawn!

Enter France 2018, the new Mother Africa of football! They have found a way to combine the beauty and creativity of the African players with the discipline and 'technician-ship' of the European players.

Case in point, look at the recent World Cup finals. That quick and wily French African, Kylian Mbappe, created excitement every time he latched on to a ball in Croatia's midfield or defending third. I am sure you saw and enjoyed that.

But did you catch the fact that he exercised the discipline to get back and defend? Do you recall how often he was found back in France's defending third clearing balls and disrupting Croatia's attacks? I enjoyed seeing that!

What I still can't fathom, though, is how he transitioned from defence to attack so quickly and easily! Man, he's quick! And he's only 18 years old!

Mbappe is by no means an enigma. His African creativity and European discipline was also modelled by midfielder Paul Pogba. Do you remember Pogba's goal from his own rebound? Had he been playing for Cameroon, Nigeria or Ghana he probably would have started celebrating from the first shot and missed the second opportunity.

What makes the difference?

Why can players of colour add discipline to their glamorous style when playing for a European team but are not able to do so when playing for an African or Caribbean team? What can we learn? Are the European coaches more demanding of discipline?

We find the same issue in the game of life. For example, there are Jamaicans living successfully and well abroad right now who would have been failures and destitute people had they remained in Jamaica. Don't just think economics here now. Think also about values and attitudes.

There are Jamaicans abroad who join lines and who dispose of garbage in a disciplined manner, yet when they lived in Jamaica they were the biggest line breakers and litterbugs you could meet.

So what's the difference? What can we learn? Is the culture abroad more demanding?

If disciplined performance in football and in life are possibly the result of more demanding coaches and a more demanding culture or system what are the lessons for Jamaican football and Jamaican life?

Here in Jamaica our most influential coaches and culture drivers are pastors, politicians and opinion leaders (newspaper columnists, broadcast media and music fraternity). I appeal to them to begin to promote the best practices of our culture, while rejecting and ejecting practices which are counterproductive to progress and prosperity. Perhaps it's time we replace some of our honoured counterproductive values with the best practices of others cultures.

Call substitution: Pastors, politicians, press

Our pastors, politicians and opinion leaders must become the Mbappes, Pogbas and Didier Deschamps (coach of France) of our Jamaican culture. Our vibrancy, creativity and confidence must never be lost. But, lawd, man, wi need fi dun wit the indiscipline, one-upmanship, lying an' thieving, corruption and violence-producing, murder rate-rising aggressiveness!

One of the easy to see areas in which vibrancy, creativity and confidence are expressed is in our religious arena. Man, Jamaican church nice! Especially when compared to the more staid North American white churches. The white churches generally have everything technically correct; no feedback or glitches in liturgy. We have mikes screeching, soloists or choir sometimes off-key; but wi full ah vibes! Full of niceness!

But can you believe that there are nice churches here in Jamaica that have certain strong points and weak points but who would never collaborate with another church whose strengths and weaknesses are mirror opposite? Do you know why? Because of denominational differences!

If they worked together to balance each other they would probably win 90 per cent of their community to God, but because of their idiocy, both remain stagnant, battling over 15 per cent of their community while the other 85 per cent perish.

Speaking of working together, team spirit and cohesion seemed to trump individual skills this World Cup. Did you notice that the teams that built their plays around their 'one don' stars all went home…some very early, too. On the other hand, the teams that seemed to concentrate on utilising the strengths of all lasted longer. Russia, Belgium, Japan are three that easily come to mind; the Japanese especially.

What can we learn? Martin Luther King famously put it like this: “We must learn to live together as brothers...”

Our political scene is also a place of vibrancy, creativity and confidence. Watch the USA Congress on CSPAN and Jamaican Parliament on Jamaica News Network and you see the difference.

But do you know that there are two parties here in Jamaica that have certain strong points and weak points but who would never collaborate with each other to ensure that our country makes a quantum leap from progress to prosperity? Do you know why? Because of political differences. But there are no longer any ideological differences among our political parties. So what's the problem? Maybe they can tell us.

What makes their idiocy really bad is that their failure to work together causes our country to fail; they will have nothing to govern! They will be like footballers without a field to play, or coaches without a team to coach! Yet we keep seeing evidence on both sides that neither party is serious about ensuring that the average Jamaican moves from poverty to prosperity in this game of life.

Then there are our opinion leaders. I don't need to say much here because you only need to read some of our newspaper columns and listen to our broadcast media and dancehall music to realise that we are killing ourselves softly with our abject stupidity. How can you espouse wrong just because it's done by the party you support? How can you produce and broadcast lyrics which glorify violence against authority and demean our women then lock up young males who follow what you're espousing?

Pastoral, political and opinion leaders of Jamaica epitomise a funny saying that came up in one of my social media groups. I think it would make a good title for a series of anecdotes on Jamaican life and times. The saying is: Jamaicans are the stupidest smart people you will ever meet! If it wasn't so true it would be funny!

Congrats, France, on the win and the lessons on integration of ethnicities and strengths. Congrats, Croatia, for the lessons on overcoming odds and surviving with enough cultural integrity and national potency to become a world leader in the beautiful game. Cheers to all who want to progress and prosper in the beautiful game of life in this Jamaica, land we love.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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