I'm a third generation Arsenal fan because my Mum told me that's what I was. Though I lived all my childhood in Edinburgh, we took holiday trips to my Mum's childhood home in North London in most school breaks. Despite only living in London from 1996 - 2010, it's often been the case that my mood has, if not a direct relation to Arsenal's form, then at least a tangential relationship to it. I had a positively Nick Hornby-esque first trip to football with my grandfather - a man who built Rolls Royce cars and WW2 bombers by hand. We were high in one of the old Highbury stands; I still smell his pipe tobacco, taste the peanuts, hear the accented male swearing. 1-1 v Watford (Charlie Nicholas, penalty).
It's 1996. My first trip to my girlfriend's house. She introduces me to her father, a Tottenham fan who had fathered two Tottenham fans. "This is David. He's an Arsenal fan." "The last one was a Millwall fan." Reader, I married her (and I love him too).
A year or two later, I had managed to persuade her to accompany me to the Arsenal store in Finsbury Park for reasons I can't recall. I ended up chatting with a customer in the store. "I bloody love Arsenal" he said, young girl next to him. "She could marry anyone - black, Jew, anyone. Just not a fucking Spurs fan."
It's been said that in our era we have sport instead of tribal wars. Large parts of the planet may be riven by conflict, but there's still some truth in that. I've been to Arsenal v Spurs; fixtures like that are cauldrons of (usually) controlled hate. Sport encourages such binary divisions; that's part of its attraction for so many of us. For 90 minutes of football or the 5 days of a Test Match the focus is on the teams, and it's one or the other (unless it's a draw - but no metaphor is perfect). When sport gets too binary, however, it robs us of some of the pure joy. It has been a lot of years since Gascoigne's thunderous semi-final free kicks against Arsenal, and I can only now view them with dispassionate interest. They're majestic. I'm just about there with Gareth Bale; Harry Kane, not so much. Sport at its best can transport us to some kind of sacramental encounter; beautiful people doing beautiful things for their own sake, more than to win a fixture. The best athletes transcend loyalties; Mohammed Ali perhaps being the ultimate example.
I'm writing this on a bleary-eyed Monday morning, waking up to the news that President Elect Trump may be giving a high-placed job to a man who didn't want his daughter in a certain school because too many Jews were there. This separatism, this binary choice, is written deep into the human psyche. White or black; conservative or liberal; hawk or dove. I live in Cape Town, a city with separatism etched into the city's landscape.
Men misunderstand feminism when they say it oppresses them. It doesn't; it frees us too. When women flourish, men flourish. When women are no longer forced into boxes and roles and ways of being, then men no longer have to wear ill-fitting yokes either. That means I may have to abdicate some unearned, ill-deserved privilege; but what will I really have lost? Something I don't deserve and will exhaust myself trying to hold on to. Better just to do what I'm here for, and let others do the same.
Churches, which I'm paid to lead, often play the separatist game. Evangelical or liberal; high or low. That's an adventure in missing the point. One writer of the Bible talks of the church as a body - feet need hands which need heads which need spleens which need lungs which need ... One part hurts, the rest hurts. One suffers, all suffer. Division is part of - or maybe the sum - of humanity's original sin. We can do more. We do not live in a zero sum reality; there are more colours than there are shades of grey. Churches, so often places or agents of division, can be a sign, symbol, hint of a better way. Back to work, then.