Hoping for Victory

I remember listening to the radio as Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in extra time to win the 1999 Champions League final. There’s something slightly magical about listening to a game, having to rely on the commentators description of the events unfolding before their eyes, reconstructing it in my mind. Perhaps it’s the extra effort required on my part to ‘see’ the game, that means it sticks in the memory that much longer.

The Liverpool v. A. C. Milan 2005 final, with that thrilling second half comeback before the penalty shoot out, is another that lives long in the imagination.

And now there’s another game to add to the list. On the face of it there was nothing special about this Premier League Monday-night London derby feature. Except that , this time, if Spurs lost to Chelsea, Leicester – the team that only months before were 5000/1 to win the league – would be champions with two games to spare.

I had listened in on the 1-1 draw that Leicester conjured up at Old Trafford the day before, slightly disappointed that they didn’t get the win there, but still believing they’d wrap it up soon. So Monday evening, as I pottered around the house, I tuned in as Spurs went 2-0 up against Chelsea. Tottenham’s form this year has been stunning, and Chelsea’s has been too, albeit for other reasons. So this was perhaps to be expected.

But then Chelsea pulled one back not long in to the second half and there was a rise in hope that, with just one more goal, tonight would be the night. The tension crept up as the second half progressed. And then Hazard scored; quiet all season but adds a line of his own to the incredible story of Leicester’s indomitable march to victory.

With just a few minutes left of the match, I found my wife and told her what was going on. She paused, looking up from her novel, and smiled. Earlier in the season when I was getting increasingly excited about a potential Leicester victory she told me that she was happy, but that she’d rather wait for the movie complete with the love-story angle added to it.

At 2-2 I could sense Spurs were fighting with everything they had, straining to find a way through and take the challenge to Leicester just a little bit further. The match was being drawn, between two sides I’m usually not that bothered by, yet it felt like Scotland were 1-0 up against England in a Euro final. The clock couldn’t tick down fast enough.

At the final whistle it was done. Leicester had won the Premier League and it felt like the whole world was beaming. I smiled, laughed a little, shock my head and went and told my wife. It was such a beautiful story, and a sorely needed injection of overwhelming genuine affection for the Beautiful Game. Leicester had done something truly remarkable in a world where we even fail to get excited about space travel anymore. Newspapers from countries that don’t even rank football in their top 3 sports ran headlines crammed with enough superlatives to compose a thesaurus.

‘Could they do it?’ we asked at Christmas. ‘It is possible?’ We wanted to believe it was possible, we wanted to hope that there was a chance for a team lacking the usually required financial punch, armed instead with grit and team-spirit, to defy the very worst of odds and make history. As the season progressed, the growth in goodwill from near-everyone else was matched only by the rise in belief that it could happen.

Hope soared on Monday night and carried a team, a city, and a legion of adoptive fans, to swirling heights.

The Bible describes those that know God as people who “dwell in hope” (Acts 2:26, ESV). Leicester’s remarkable achievements on the football pitch inspire and cause us to rejoice, but they also serve to remind us that the human soul is made for hope, to dwell – to live constantly – in a state of hope. This hope, from God, is of an assured victory of good over evil, love over hate, life over death.

We see dimly now, but one day we will perceive the unrestrained emotion of triumphant, glorious hope fulfilled across every inch of our lives and throughout the entire world. That’ll be some celebration.