12 April 2024

Finding value in The Beautiful Game

Ivan Radford

A clip from Netflix's The Beautiful Game shows Bill Nighy's character talking to Micheal Ward's character. | Picture: Alfredo Falvo / Netflix
Picture: Alfredo Falvo / Netflix

As The Beautiful Game kicks off on Netflix, Ivan Radford cheers on its show of respect.

‘They’re just beginning to feel good about themselves, and that’s a miracle. And the name of that miracle is respect.’ Those are the words of the USA coach in The Beautiful Game, a film about the Homeless World Cup now streaming on Netflix.

The movie follows a team of English footballers who head to Rome to compete in the annual global football tournament. The thing they all have in common? They’re all experiencing homelessness. The film is inspired by the real-life tournament, which advocates for the end of homelessness, using sport to change attitudes and shape the players’ lives. How? By showing them respect.

The tournament gives them something to belong to, a shared sense of purpose and the opportunity to be celebrated for their talents and teamwork. At the same time, it gives spectators the opportunity to look past the label of ‘homelessness’ and see them as people with skills, dreams and goals.

The Salvation Army has also tapped into football’s potential to help transform lives: each year the UKI Territory’s Homelessness Services organise the Partnership Trophy, a footballing tournament for residents of its Lifehouses. The competition is rooted in that same principle of respect.

In fact, respect is one of the six values of the Army in this territory. It means that we ‘welcome each person with the dignity of those created in the image of God, valuing their diversity, seeking to serve each other’s flourishing and transformation within God’s love’.

In The Beautiful Game, the England team’s manager, Mal, played by Bill Nighy, encourages each of the players to see and treat each other with respect, bearing in mind their past traumas and experiences without defining them by or limiting them to those.

The story’s focus is largely on talented but troubled striker Vinny (Micheal Ward), who was scouted by Mal as a young rising star. Mal’s passion for helping Vinny stems from him seeing the potential in Vinny for something greater. As Christians, respect is all about seeing the God-given potential in other people – and, with humility and grace, recognising that God is still realising that potential in ourselves.

After all, ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). And none of us is a completed work. Wherever you are at in your faith journey, there’s a game of two halves still playing out: the first half begins with the whistle of salvation and the second half is living that out, being a disciple of Jesus.

As Paul told the Philippians: ‘I am sure that God who began the good work in you will keep on working in you until the day Jesus Christ comes again’ (1:6 New Life Version).

‘We don’t save ourselves,’ observes Protasia, the nun who manages the South Africa team in the film. She’s right: only God can save people. But as teammates in Jesus’ mission, welcoming each person with the dignity of those created in the image of God, we can help bring more people into this beautiful game.

Reflect and respond

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A photo of Ivan Radford.

Ivan Radford

Managing Editor

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