To many, football is just a sport. 22 overpaid superstars running around for 90 minutes a week, then swanning off to live their lives of luxury. However, even the most cynical critic will struggle to deny that this past month has shown that football is much more than just a game.
2016 has been a year to forget for many reasons, but this last month has been a particularly damaging month for football specifically. From the sex abuse victims coming forward, to the Chapecoense air disaster. The past month has shown football at it’s very lowest ebb.
However, the response to all the anguish and heartache seen in the past 30 days has been a testament to the strength of football fans and clubs all over the globe. No matter what tragedy hits the sport, the collective effort to restore hope is never far away. This month has shown exactly that.
The sex abuse admissions
Towards the back end of November, in surprising fashion, former footballers from the 1980’s and 90’s started to come forward with their stories regarding sexual abuse of young players around that time.
Former Crewe Alexandra and Sheffield Wednesday footballer Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity and the Guardian newspaper that he had suffered abuse as a youth player. This prompted fellow ex-pro’s Chris Unsworth and Steve Walters to also come forward and the floodgates seemed to burst open.
More and more reports of coaches using their power to abuse youngsters became public knowledge. None more so than convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, the former Crewe coach.
As more details emerge, it is hard to truly know how many clubs have been involved in both the actions and the cover up of this horrific abuse. However, despite the chilling details that have emerged, the footballing community has shown nothing but compassion towards the victims.
The FA has started an internal review of football clubs to try and discover the guilty parties. The Scottish FA is also beginning an independent enquiry, while the police are to begin pushing for convictions.
The general public have all got behind the victims, and if you ignore the pre-historic comments of Eric Bristow on Twitter, all the comments have been supportive and positive.
The Chapecoense air disaster
Another tragedy to take place in the past 30 days was the plane crash in Colombia, carrying the players and staff of Chapecoense and the journalists travelling to their highly-anticipated cup final against Atletico National in the Copa Sudamericana.
The Brazilian club had risen quickly through the leagues in South America and the fact that the team were in a cup final was a huge feat. After the tragedy struck, only a few players survived, however their quality of life will never be the same and they will be forever reminded that they were the lucky ones, while their teammates, friends and colleagues were not so lucky.
Despite many false rumours on Twitter, including those claiming that players such as Ronaldinho and Riquelme were set to come out of retirement to play for the Brazilian outfit, many clubs have done their bit to aid Chapecoense.
As fans mourned in the days after the accident, the Brazilian FA and fellow clubs got to work ensuring Chapecoense didn’t have to go through it alone. Clubs offered to loan the club players, free of charge, and petitioned to make Chapecoense immune from relegation for the next three years. Despite the club politely refusing, stating they wanted to build from scratch, the gestures of other teams show that when atrocities take place, the competition element of the sport goes out the window. The footballing family once again come together.
The CONMEBOL, the South American footballing association, awarded the Sudamericana trophy to Chapecoense without a ball being kicked.
Support for Bradley Lowery
Cancer is incredibly difficult to deal with at the best of times, but when you’re only five-years-old it must be so so tough. Bradley Lowery, a die-hard Sunderland fan was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma when he was just two and after successfully beating the disease, he fell into remission earlier this year.
After starting a JustGiving page, Bradley’s family set out to raise money for an operation that wasn’t available in this country. Recently, doctors told the family that even with this expensive operation, it is likely that Bradley would not live much longer. However, if young Bradley doesn’t have much time left, he has experienced some fantastic moments in the last few months.
Last week, as Sunderland faced Chelsea, the Wearside club allowed Bradley to be the guest of honour. The youngster got to go into the dressing room before kick off, warm up with the lads, score a goal past Asmir Begovic, walk the side out before the handshakes, and watch the match from an executive box. The montage video is doing the rounds and I guarantee you will not have a dry eye.
To add to this, Bradley has received over 200,000 Christmas cards from people all over the globe. People from Sweden, Holland, Brazil and Wales have all got involved with the initiative to send the young man cards to open this festive period. The support has been well and truly overwhelming and it is a testament to football fans around the globe for making this young boy’s xmas a good one.
But the thing that really puts it all into perspective is the response of other football clubs. Everton donated £200,000 to the Bradley Lowery fight fund, while clubs such as Feyenoord showed their support with banners and applause. To add to this, Sunderland’s biggest rivals, Newcastle United donated money to the cause, donated merchandise to the boy and held a minute of applause and chanting at their last home game.
No matter who you support, when you see a football fan, or any human being suffering, the response is always incredible.
Nobody knows what 2017 will bring or whether tragedies similar to the ones I have highlighted will occur, but one thing is for sure; the sport will come together and support those in need if these acts do rear their ugly head once again.
The world is changing and more acts of violence and heartache are to be expected. However, despite trying to sound like a Hilary Clinton campaign slogan, love will always trump hate. This month has shown that without a shadow of a doubt.
In the face of adversity, football acts as the tool that brings everyone together.