Family Night Out

We had a great time at the rugby tonight. The girls got their photos taken with Ulster & Ireland star, Jacob Stockdale, as well as meeting the club mascot, Sparky the Bear. Ulster won 21-13 and the stadium was bouncing at the end when the final whistle blew. We got free burgers afterwards and the girls had their flags autographed by lots of the players. I think Hannah is a convert now so I have a rugby buddy for next season now that Adam works match days.

We’re Off To The Big Match

We are off to the rugby today to watch Ulster play Connacht in the Pro 14 Quarter Final at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Adam is working in one of the hospitality lounges but Fionnuala and the girls surprised me last week with tickets to the biggest match of the season. It’s a sellout crowd and the place will be rocking. I’m super excited. It’s almost as if it’s a second birthday, one week after the actual event.

I will post an update later, including photos of our adventures at the match. Hopefully, the girls will get to meet some of the players after the match. That’s it for now as first we are off to a birthday party for Fionnuala’s little nephew, where I will no doubt eat my own body weight in cake and sausage rolls. Good job I went for a seven mile run earlier this morning.

Stay tuned!

What was the last sporting event you attended?

How much cake can you eat at one sitting?

How Irish Are You?

As it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend I thought I’d start the festivities with a question. And a favour. I know quite a few of our followers have Irish connections or ancestry. Especially the North American contingent. You may or may not know then, that Ireland is rugby crazy. Our U20 team won the Six Nations Championship last night, and today it’s the turn of our senior team against Wales. The country will pretty much grind to a standstill for the match.

Today’s question therefore is:

Do you have Irish ancestry? If so, let us know by commenting below. I hail from County Tyrone and Fionnuala is from County Antrim. But we live in County Armagh. Go figure.

And here’s the favour. Support the Ireland rugby team today by wearing green wherever you are. Feel free to reblog or post photos.

COME ON IRELAND 🇮🇪

A Win-Win Weekend

It’s been a great start to the weekend here at chez Black. Adam’s school, Lurgan College, progressed to the 3rd round of the Schools Cup with a hard earned 13-8 win over Foyle College. It’s a big achievement for a relatively small grammar school especially as Foyle were fielding an Ulster Schools U19 player. The next round is in two weeks time against Cambridge House Grammar School.

I settled my shredded nerves afterwards by going for a run. I think I’ve finally turned the corner regarding sickness which I’ve been battling since before Christmas. Yesterday was the best I’ve felt in quite some time, and I’ve gradually been upping my distances and mileage since returning to running last week after a three week break. The long term target is the Belfast Marathon on 05 May.

Today I managed my first 10K of the year in an unspectacular, but steady time. I felt well throughout and finished strongly over a hilly final mile. 26.2 miles still seems an awfully long way off but I’m thankfully headed in the right direction. I hope the sickness has run its course as I seek to up my long run by a mile a week over the next few months. It will be my 10th marathon in my home city so I really want to make the start line.

I have no plans to stray far from the sofa for the remainder of the day, before going on call in the morning until Friday. I’m trying to rest whenever I can although my blood results came back as all clear earlier in the week. I’ve been eating healthier so maybe that is assisting my recovery. Whatever the upturn in my fortunes I’m not complaining. Here’s to more rugby and running success in ten months ahead.

How win-win is your weekend?

The Try That Never Was

Adam was involved in a very tightly contested rugby match yesterday against a much bigger Belfast school. Privately, I wasn’t expecting the boys to win but they played out of their skins, and almost did. The final score was 17-14 but the score doesn’t fully reflect the courage, skill and work ethic the team put into the contest, which was played in wet, bitterly cold conditions.

The score also doesn’t reflect an incident in the first half when Lurgan almost scored a try which would have won the match for them. A kick through was chased to the line by a Lurgan player and member of the opposing side. As the ball crossed the line, both boys dived on it. From where I was standing, it was impossible to tell who had touched the ball first.

The referee was equally unsighted and asked the boys who had grounded the ball first. The crowd, all seven of us, collectively held our breath and I crossed my fingers and toes, hoping it was a score for the home side. At which point one of the Lurgan players, a good friend of Adam’s, informed the referee that the other team touched the ball first. The referee thanked him and the game carried on. No try.

It was a gesture of sportsmanship by a teenage boy which touched me. Rugby is massive in Ireland and our little nation has arguably the best side in the world, heading into next autumn’s World Cup in Japan. It is fiercely competitive at schoolboy level and played to an incredibly high standard. The top schools players normally end up playing professionally. Think college football and the NFL.

It is also a game where the boys are taught to play hard, but fair. They put in bone shaking hits, but afterwards shake hands and applaud each other off the pitch. The referee is always referred to as ‘sir’, and his decisions are final. The game teaches discipline, self control and respect. I often I wish I could display the same restraint on the touchline as Adam and his teammates show on the field of play.

After the match, I asked Adam his thoughts on the try that never was. He replied that they were mixed. While he desperately wanted to win, he admired his friend for doing the right thing, even if it meant defeat. The school principal later tweeted about the incident, stating that he was proud of his pupil for putting honesty before victory at all costs. It represented the values of the school and what they are trying to instil in their students.

I wondered if I would have made the same call. I’m not sure I would have. I’m incredibly competitive and not the best of losers. I so wanted Adam’s team to win, but it wasn’t to be. Yet, as I walked back to the car it didn’t feel as if the team had been beaten. Instead, there was a sense of pride and vindication. I know that, somewhere down the road, the team will be rewarded for what happened on the pitch.

What would you have done? It’s a tough one, isn’t it? The desire to win versus adhering to the rules. It’s so easy for our moral compass to spin out of control when the stakes are high. Dizzy with success, but left inside with an empty feeling and a bitter taste in the mouth. But next time I’m faced with such a decision I’m going to think back to yesterday’s match and the shining example of a 16 year old boy.

What are your thoughts on the try that never was?

How competitive are you? Are you a bad loser?

Have you ever experienced somebody cheating in order to win?

It Is Finished

It is finished.

The report, that is, which I’ve been fretting over these last few weeks at work. Following a final big push, it will be submitted today to they who must be obeyed. I can sit back, relax for 11.6 seconds, and then find something else to panic about, for that is who I am and that is what I do. I used to joke that I don’t meet deadlines, I beat them. Well, this one has left me feeling half dead, as well as pretty beat up.

I’m celebrating by taking a half day and going to watch Adam play a cup match against my old school, Omagh Academy. Today, though, I will be cheering on Lurgan College. Adam is returning to the team after a bout of illness. Part of me doesn’t want him to play in such a big match as he might not be 100% recovered, but I don’t think wild horses could keep him off the pitch today.

Watching my son play rugby is one of my favourite pastimes. Yes, I’ve become a ‘Rugby Dad,’ and I rarely miss a match. It’s nerve wracking watching him out there competing in such a tough, physical sport against boys two years older (and bigger) than him; but that’s the level he’s playing at now and he gives as good as he gets. He has no fear and a level of composure and concentration that I can only aspire to.

His position is tight head prop, one of the most technical and important roles in the team. He is the base of the scrum, the lynchpin if you will. If he is having an off day, then the pack cannot function as a unit, and it all starts to fall apart. I think that’s why the coaches are so keen for him to play today, in such a big match. They need him, in order for the team to perform to its full potential.

I’ve been feeling demotivated and a little jaded in work of late. Unappreciated and frustrated. But the report deadline, stressful as it was, has succeeded in making me realise, I still have a role to play in my 9-5 world. I contributed and know my boss valued my efforts. I surprised even myself with my knowledge of the subject matter and performed under pressure in order to hit the submission time on time.

I’m fortunate to have the job I do, and should never take it for granted. My family come first obviously, but publishing books and running marathons won’t happen unless the bills are paid. The job is the foundation, upon which the other dreams are built. I should be grateful for my job, not griping that it takes me away from the fun things I would rather be spending my time at. The two go hand in hand.

So, today, as I stand on the touchline, trying desperately not to embarrass my son by haranguing the referee, I will realise I’m only there because of the job. It’s a grind, it’s a pain, but it’s a blessing as well. I contribute, I make a difference, and this report is part of that. Like with Adam, the team I work in cannot function to its full potential, without my input. I’m a cog, but a crucial cog.

This deadline has breathed new life into me. It’s another corner turned, another obstacle overcome. Another step in the right direction, to where I want to be. To where I need to be. I have a plan, and I’m totally focused on getting there. I’m not going to give up now, not when I’m so close. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from playing in the games coming up. Yes, it is finished. But, in other ways, it’s only just begun.

Do you ever feel undervalued at work?

How do you handle pressure and deadlines?

Are you where you want to be in life?

Who Inspired You Today?

Three has been a very important number in our house this summer. While other teenagers have been lying in bed or vaping themselves silly our oldest, Adam, has been working hard. Running, lifting weights, cross training. All because of the number three. He even turned the garage into a gym, which beats its usual role as a dumping ground for discarded bicycles, garden furniture and Christmas decorations.

The reason? Why, the number three of course. Or rather the number three shirt for the college 1st XV rugby team. Now, for the boring bit. Number three is the tight head prop position, one of the most important on the team. It’s a highly skilled role which requires great strength, stamina and technique. It largely goes unnoticed but if the tight head has a bad game, then the team invariably does as well.

Adam was told last season by his coaches that if he worked hard during the summer he had a shot at the number three shirt. Competition for places is traditionally fierce and he was going up against boys two years older than himself. Yet, on Saturday, he started at number three for the first XV, and played the full match, holding his own against bigger and older opposition.

Dreams can happen. But they often require a lot of hard work. All of our kids inspire me on a daily basis, and this is just another example. I could write equally inspiring posts about Hannah and Rebecca, and indeed have done and will continue to do so. Today just happened to be Adam’s turn. Now if only we could get him to tidy his room.

Who has inspired you today?

Everybody Loves An Underdog

During my nightly phone call to Mother yesterday she informed me that our home town of Omagh is awash with red and white flags. The reason? My county, Tyrone, have reached the All Ireland Gaelic Football Championship Final. To provide some context, it’s the equivalent of your team reaching the F.A. Cup Final or SuperBowl. Gaelic Football is massive in Ireland and your side making the final is a very big deal.

Tyrone are a very good side, certainly one of the best in Ireland. They are an incredibly fit, skilful and determined group of young men. Their work ethic and team spirit is second to none, which is all the more admirable as Gaelic Football is an amateur sport. No million dollar salaries or supermodel girlfriends for these guys. They all have ordinary 9-5 jobs and play for the love of the sport.

The downside is that they face the mighty Dublin in the final who have won the All-Ireland for the last three years. Experts regard them as one of the best teams of all time. The game is also being played at their home stadium of Croke Park where 80,000 fans will congregate on Sunday to watch these two great sides do battle for the famous Sam Maguire Trophy. Excitement is at fever pitch.

I won’t be at the match but I’ll certainly be glued to the TV screen cheering on the underdogs. For, while an extremely good side, most people expect Tyrone to lose. Dublin are just too powerful, too fast, too clinical. At best, most people are hoping that Tyrone will put up a good fight and not lose too heavily. They have done really well reaching the final and can hold their heads high, whatever the outcome.

I’m not so sure. I’m the eternal pessimist but when it comes to my teams I always retain a glimmer of hope, no matter the opposition. I think Tyrone have a definite chance and in a one off final anything can happen. Tyrone could have the game of their lives whereas Dublin might have a bad day at the office. I always favour the underdog because not always, but occasionally, they overcome the odds.

Where there is hope, there is a way and I see a way for the underdogs to win this game. Their fans will undoubtedly travel down to Dublin in their droves with the same hope. Otherwise, why bother going. These are true supporters, people who invest their time and money into supporting their team. They take the rough with the smooth. They don’t jump ship when they encounter stormy waters. They hang in there through the good times and the bad.

You might feel like an underdog today. You might face seemingly insurmountable challenges and see no way of overcoming them. My message is to not give up hope for where there is hope there is a chance. In order to seize that chance, however, you need to work hard. You need to shed the blood, sweat and tears required to give what you truly desire an opportunity of becoming reality. You need to believe in yourself.

You also need to show up. Day after day, week after week, and on the big occasion itself. There is no hope unless you are at the starting line and as prepared as you possibly can be when the tape goes up. I know this as I’ve faced many life events as a massive underdog, yet still somehow come up trumps. Everybody loves an underdog and underdogs can and do win. But first you have to learn to love yourself.

What have been your experiences with underdogs?

Do you consider yourself as one?

Should We Meet Our Heroes?

During the recent World Cup I have heard the word ‘hero’ casually bandied about to describe the exploits of young men who get paid millions of pounds every year to kick a ball around a field. The same applies to our favourite actors, musicians and authors. I’m as susceptible to this idolatry as any of us. If Eric Cantona walked into the room now I’d probably turn into a gibbering wreck. And when I bumped into Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones in Belfast a few years back I was a gibbering wreck.

Did I say bumped into? That might be a slight manipulation of the truth and by that I mean an outright lie. I actually stalked them through the city centre before cornering them in a jewellery store where I refused to let them leave until I had my photograph taken with them. Thankfully they were both lovely about it. There were no diva outbursts or exaggerated eye rolling. I floated off on my little cloud nine and all was well with the world.

They, for it is always they, say never meet your heroes for they will invariably prove a disappointment. We find out that they are not the perfect creations we had imagined them to be. They are as flawed and tarnished as the rest of us. Just because you are skilled at kicking a ball or strumming a guitar doesn’t mean you are a wonderful human being. When they step down from the pedestal we have placed them upon and face us eye to eye we see beyond the carefully crafted image. We see them for who they really are as opposed to who we so desperately want them to be.

Hero worship is idolatry and the latter reflects an inadequacy within us that we seek to fill with fickle fantasies. There is a hole within us, something is missing so we grasp at the first thing we can find to plug the gap. It can be a pop star, a baseball player or a Kardashian. Worse still it can be an addiction. Why worship a person when you can worship food, alcohol or drugs? They are so much more accessible. We pump our bodies and minds with images and substances; anything to stop us from looking in the mirror.

Mirrors tend not to lie. Our minds eye does. Mirrors strip away the facade and reveal the present in all its not so glorious glory. I personally tend to avoid them for I don’t particularly like what I see looking back at me. The Stephen Black I want to be, I need to be, is not there. I’m not handsome enough, I’m not clever enough, I’m not popular enough. I’m not a sub 3:30 marathon runner. I’m not a published author. I’m not the world’s best father or husband. I’m not anything really.

But then I look beyond my personal pity party, beyond the vain, selfish thoughts that warp and corrupt my perception. I see my wife and kids. I see the people in my life who accept and love me for who I am, warts and all. I see the people who turn up every day for me, who support and encourage me in whatever hare brained scheme I am chasing at any given time. These are the people who you get out of bed for and trudge into work for, day after monotonous day.

Why? Because they are our real heroes. They are the people we are learning from, they are the kindred souls who we smooth our rough edges against, who help to mould us into the people that God created us to be; despite our kicking and screaming every step of the way. They keep us on the path and prevent us from wandering off and along more treacherous routes that lead to dead ends and deadlier drops. They are our signposts, our beacons in the darkness. They are our very lives, our reasons for being.

Never meet your heroes? I disagree. I say meet them. Open your eyes and look around for they are there, right beside you, as you muddle through life. They are our family, our friends, our daily dose of inspiration. See them for who they really are and, in doing so, be grateful that they have been placed in our lives for a reason. They are an oasis of hope, grace and love in this barren desert we trudge across. If we appreciate the everyday heroes around us we are a step closer to becoming reluctant heroes ourselves. For they need us just as much as we need them.

Have you ever met a celebrity and been disappointed by them?

Who are the everyday heroes in your life?

Football’s Not Coming Home

Unless you’ve been living under a rock of late or holidaying on Saturn you will have noticed there is a little football competition taking place in Russia called the World Cup. It is the biggest sporting competition in the world and has a worldwide audience stretching into the billions. This has led to fever pitch excitement and you cannot turn on a television or open a newspaper without being swamped by World Cup related mania.

Not least here in Northern Ireland. Despite getting knocked out in the qualifying play off by those nasty, not so neutral Swiss we were at least not alone in our misery at not making the party in Russia. The Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales also failed to qualify. Which left us with the English who did. Despite four of their squad coming from Manchester United, the team I have supported since a boy, I was loathe to support them.

The reason? It’s got nothing to do with nationality, religion or politics. I don’t even mind the players who seem a hard working and talented unit. I follow the English cricket team and always support British competitors in other events where they are often plucky underdogs against much bigger nations. Nope, my dislike of the English football team boils down to two unrelated factors – their fans and journalists.

English football fans have wreaked havoc across Europe for many decades with their senseless and sickening violence and racism. While they have been well behaved in Russia, largely thanks to a massive pre-tournament policing intelligence operation, scenes of English hooligans laying waste to city after city, still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Their loutish behaviour, inane singing and lager swilling excesses never fail to annoy me.

They are an arrogant bunch too, convinced that whatever tournament they enter they are nailed on winners. This flies in the face of the truth being they have won nothing since the 1966 World Cup. Which they still sing about. Incessantly. Their journalists are no better. Never learning from past mistakes they hype up the team before every competition only to mercilessly tear them to pieces when the inevitable defeat occurs against the football giants of Brazil, Germany or er…..Iceland.

This year was no exception. Initial realism and grounded reporting soon evaporated once they realised the current squad were actually ‘quite good’ having qualified from their group with comparative ease. There then followed knock out wins against Columbia and Sweden leaving England in a semi final against Croatia. The media regarded it as a foregone conclusion and were already gleefully rubbing their hands at the mouth watering prospect of a final against the old enemy, France.

All this seemed to gloss over the fact that Croatia possessed a top team chock full of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus players. It mattered not a jot. England were going to win. Football was coming home and the nation ground to a halt at 7:00pm on Wednesday evening to witness this fait accompli. Meanwhile most of Scotland, Wales and Ireland (both north and south) prayed fervently, crossed fingers and willed Croatia to put an end to this jingoistic, sabre rattling nonsense.

Our prayers were answered. There is a God and justice prevailed. Despite an early English goal (cue scenes of beer quaffing pandemonium from London to Liverpool) the Croatians didn’t panic and slowly worked their way into the game, equalising in the second half and taking the match into extra time. The unbearably smug BBC commentary team began to look a little less pleased with themselves and a second Croatian goal had them all throwing their arms in the air in horrified disbelief.

The final whistle blew. England were out of the World Cup. Grown men in ill fitting replica tops bawled into their pints as news reporters beat a hasty retreat behind every cliched excuse in the book in order to explain this inexplicable loss. They had defied all expectations, they had restored English pride and belief and were now using the defeat as a springboard for the 2022 World Cup in Quatar which they were obviously going to win.

Football wasn’t coming home. The English went into a period of self imposed national mourning. And the rest of us sniggered and got on with our lives again.

What sporting team annoys you the most?

Have you been watching the World Cup?

Well Done Rebecca!

Fionnuala and I endured….I mean enjoyed Rebecca’s final primary sports day this morning before she heads off to junior high in September. The Black Family have never fared well at these bar my own glorious victory in the parents water balloon throwing event many years ago. My price was a massive chocolate bar. It was, as ever, a team effort. I won the chocolate but Fionnuala helped me eat it.

Adam never won anything until he was handed a rugby ball in junior high. And now he is being scouted by a professional team. The same applied to Rebecca. Every year she tried her hardest but always fell short of winning a medal. This year she put in extra sprint training in the week leading up to the big day. I have been coaching her the best I can although sprinting is not my forte. It takes me about three miles to get going.

It all paid off today though. She qualified from her heat to line up in the Year 7 Girls Final where she finished like a train to clinch the bronze medal. She gets it at a special school assembly tomorrow. Fionnuala and I were both so proud of her. Perseverance and hard work pay off no matter what your skill set. It has been a hard year for Rebecca at the school and, to be honest, we are glad that she is leaving it.

The junior high was the making of Adam and we hope it will be for Rebecca as well. She deserves a fresh start at a good school away from playground gossip and lies. She can hold her head up proud tomorrow when she gets her medal. It made sitting through 40 (yes you read that right) chaotic races before her event, standing in the heat for two hours and being blanked by former so called Christian friends all the more worthwhile. Well done Rebecca!

The Torch Bearer

My father was a great man. Not a perfect man but a great one, nonetheless. He had flaws but part of his greatness was that he recognised and embraced them. He knew he wasn’t perfect so took positive action to rectify them. Most of the time he was successful at this, sometimes not, but every time he tried his best. And if he failed he dusted himself off, got back up on his feet and tried again. Great men do that. Don’t believe me? Check your history books.

One of my father’s lesser, although still irksome, flaws was his support of Liverpool Football Club. Growing up in Northern Ireland all football mad boys adopt an English football team to support. Mainly because the local sides are so rubbish. The two most popular choices have always been Liverpool and Manchester United. Bitter enemies with a rivalry going back almost 150 years. Loyalty to a team would be passed down from father to son, generation to generation. It is all part of the paternal bonding process.

Yours truly of course had to be different. I decided to support Manchester United much to my father’s disgust no doubt. I have no idea why I made this decision but for as long as I can remember the Red Devils have held a special place in my heart. I have no recollection of consciously rebelling against my father when making this decision but obviously at some point did. Some boys smoke or buy fast cars. I put Robson, Cantona and Solskjaer posters on my bedroom wall instead of Dalglish, Rush and Beardsley.

It is with some relief, therefore, that our Adam has chosen to follow in my footsteps and support Manchester United. Hopefully these will be the only footsteps of mine he chooses to pursue for many of the others lead to dangerous cliff tops, treacherous quicksand and murky dead ends. Part of my fatherly duties, as I see it, is to steer him away from the paths that I spent the majority of my adult life travelling. Manchester United, however, is a much safer option. Plus, combined with his rugby, it gives us another shared interest. And I’m all for that.

The other night I heard him celebrating a Manchester United goal loudly. Very loudly. It reminded me of myself when I was his age. Running round my bedroom screaming at another last minute winner. And it filled me with pride. Pride at the little part I have played in bringing three such incredible young people into the world. Fionnuala has to take the majority of the credit. She has raised them. I just go to work and pay a few bills. That’s the easy part of the deal.

It also filled me with sadness. I lost my father eight years ago to prostate cancer. Adam lost his grandfather. I’m not so sure my father would have been enamoured with his grandson’s choice of football team but I know he would have been bursting with pride at his academic and sporting achievements. The torch has been passed on. It has flickered and spluttered at times when my father and I held it but it burns bright again now in Adam’s hands. It will no doubt flicker and splutter again for that is the way of the world. But for now it burns bright.

How bright is your torch burning today? It may be a mighty blaze or it may be a timid flicker. It matters not. What matters is that you don’t allow it to be extinguished no matter what obstacles you face. For one day you will be called to hand it on. The race will continue but yours will be run. Younger, stronger legs will take over from you but they need you as much as you need them. They need you, flaws and all. From our weaknesses they will emerge wiser. They will triumph where we have failed. They will overcome.

What made you decide to support your current sporting team?

Who are your torch bearers, past and present?

Weekend Update

Another shortish post today as another crazy week begins for the Black family. We are bracing ourselves as a cold front from Siberia descends upon the British Isles. The media over here have named it ‘The Beast From The East’ and we have been warned to expect icy winds, heavy snowfall and sub zero temperatures. So much for spring being on it’s way. The Easter Bunny may get his thermals out based on the weather outlook ahead.

An excellent weekend was had by all here. Ireland beat Wales in the Six Nations Rugby and, almost as importantly for us Irish, the English were beaten by Scotland. Apologies to our English followers (well not really) but you can’t be Irish and not have a giggle over that one. The main sporting highlight, however, was Lurgan College beating Strabane Academy 29-12. Adam had a great game cheered on my Fionnuala, Hannah and yours truly.

Hannah had another reason to cheer as Fionnuala has secured tickets for the two of them to see Niall Horan (formerly of One Direction) in concert next month. Although I think that Fionnuala might secretly be just as excited. And where was Rebecca you might ask? Well I’m glad you did as she was having a sleepover with her little cousin at her granny’s house. I’m not sure how much sleep she got as she was a tad tired when she returned home but I know she had a great time.

As for me? Well I’m on call this week so have had to deal with phone calls in the dead of night over the weekend. It’s no fun but it’s part of the job. I managed an eight mile run yesterday and plan to run tomorrow again, weather permitting. The Belfast Marathon is a mere 70 days away. Yikes! I’m also chipping away at the novel, averaging approximately 500 words per day. It’s hard finding the time but I’m trying to discipline my writing. I’m getting more and more excited about the plot and the character development. The bad guys in this novel are something else and, if anything, are even more fun to write than our main protagonists.

Anyone that’s me signing out. Talk soon 🙂

Every Team Needs A Kicker

Greetings from London. My brother in law and I flew in yesterday from Belfast to watch the Los Angeles Rams – Arizona Cardinals NFL game at Twickenham along with 72,000 other fans. I’ve been an NFL fan since I was sixteen when it was first aired in the U.K. Since then I’ve had a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Washington Redskins; three time Super Bowl champions but, nowadays, perennial underachievers.

The match itself was a birthday present from Fionnuala and the kids and I had been looking forward to the day for almost six months. When it came I wasn’t disappointed. The NFL certainly knows how to put on a show. There were pyrotechnics, cheerleaders and marching bands, and that was all before a ball was kicked or thrown. In the end the Rams won comfortably in a very one sided match up but that didn’t deflect from our enjoyment of the day. 

I particularly enjoyed watching the teams warming up before the match started. The first players out to do so were the kickers. I wondered at this as their participation in the game is minimal. They don’t tackle, run or throw the ball. They just come on the field occasionally to try and kick a field goal or extra point after a touchdown. You could even argue that they are not even real American football players as their jersies never seem to get dirty. All they have to do is kick the ball through the posts. How hard can that be?

The kicker for the Rams was warming up at our end of the pitch. His preparation was meticulous, taking kick after kick from various distances and fine tuning his technique with every attempt. His accuracy was unerring and the strength of his kicking leg was incredible. At one point he converted a 70 yard kick. And that was him just warming up. As the warm up ended I remarked to my brother in law that the Rams kicker would not miss a kick during the match itself, such was his preparation.


And I was right, he didn’t. Five times the Rams offense got within scoring distance but were unable to score a touchdown. Five times the kicker came on and BAM, the ball went sailing between the post for another three points. The same went for the extra point attempts after the Rams scored a touchdown. In the end he scored 18 of the Rams total of 33 points. There are 50 players on a team yet he scored over half of their points. I left the stadium with a new found respect for a position I had once mocked as not being a ‘real’ American football player. 

American football teams, like all teams, are made up of people with different skills and abilities. They all have a role to play and, no matter how minor or insignificant that role might seem, without them doing so the team itself cannot effectively function. An American football team needs high profile players like the quarterback who regularly grab the spotlight and headlines. But they also need guys like the kickers who you might rarely see but who can win or lose the game with just a single kick. Their role within the team is just as important.

The same goes for life. We all have a role to play. You might be reading this now feeling insignificant and undervalued. You might feel inadequate and useless. That’s not true. You have an important job to perform in this game called life. You might not know what that is yet, you might be doing it now and not even realise it. Without it however, and without you, the world is a lesser place. You are needed and your time will come, like the kicker in the big game. So never undervalue yourself and your skills and talents. For without them the world is a duller place.

Be prepared. Stay focused and keep practicing. For your moment will come. God put you on this planet for a reason and has a plan for you. Never lose hope for the day is fast approaching when you are called off the sideline and thrown into the game. Your actions and your words could change someone’s life. Forever and for the better. You could be their lifeline. You just have to be patient and, like the kicker, hone your talent day after day so that when you are called upon the ball goes sailing between the uprights.

Every team needs a kicker. The team called humanity needs you.

What’s the biggest sporting event you’ve ever attended?

Are you a NFL fan?

Do you feel part of a team? Or are you sitting on the sidelines feeling lost and lonely?

A Tall Tale

A dark day in the Black household. My son is now officially taller than me. Having turned 15 years old earlier this month he now stands at 182 centimetres. Or just over 6 foot tall. I trail in at a mere 178 centimetres. The days of Adam looking up to me are no more. In the physical sense anyway. I dread to think what size he will be when he finally reaches manhood in three years time. I may require a stepladder to communicate with him.

Adam is a bit of a rugby star. He starts at a new school in September and will be playing Schools Cup standard rugby from this point onwards. To the uninitiated, rugby is a bit like American Football without the shoulder pads and helmets. It’s a big deal in Ireland. And almost overnight our little boy has grown a foot and become very good at it. Throw him a rugby ball and he becomes a different creature. And very difficult to stop at that. I tried once on the beach last summer. I failed. Miserably.


Last season I spent most Saturday mornings freezing my extremities off standing on muddy touchlines cheering Adam and his team to Under 14 Eastern Division glory. I was invariably more nervous than him as he took each game in his stride and improved from week to week. The scary thing was that he does not realise how good he is. While I gush to other parents about his burgeoning talent he has remained humble and modest; invariably embarrassed as his father waxes lyrical about his latest performance.

Prior to starting at his new school Adam has already been forwarded his rugby training schedule for the coming year. As I read it my jaw dropped. He will be training five days a week with a match at the weekend. Tactical analysis, Strength & Conditioning, Weights Training, Lineouts Training, Circuits Training. Training, Training, Training. At the end of this his muscles will have muscles. He will be huge. I will have to get a second job in order to feed him.

The training has already started. Two months before the first match of the new season. You all know the training cliches. Practice makes perfect! Train hard, Win Easy!! Train Insane or Remain The Same!!! But beneath all the testosterone and bravado is the truth that for any sportsperson to be successful, long hours on the training pitch are first required. Adam is learning this and reaping the benefits. 

Every week his stamina, strength, speed and skill levels are increasing. He is growing both physically and mentally. I am proud of my son and seek to encourage and support him to fulfill the talents that he has been blessed with. The raw ability is there. But it takes training, perseverance and a strong work ethic to sculpt and hone the finished masterpiece out of the unformed block of stone you begin with. He is getting there. And we will be there to support him every step of the way.

In tbe same way our Heavenly Father is with us every step of the way during our journey through life. I often find myself wondering why my Christian growth is so stop-start at times. My prayers so ineffective; my worship so lukewarm; my study so piecemeal and shallow. I plod along while others around me recount the most intense experiences with God. I want to be like them. I want to serve. I want to grow. I want to inspire. 

But, to quote another cliche, in order to inspire you first have to perspire. Just like building physical muscle, creating spiritual muscle requires discipline and determination. But instead of spending hours in the gym, we must devote our days to more godly disciplines – applying ourselves to prayer, study and worship. Only then can we reach the levels required to do the work that God has put us on this planet for.

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

1 Timothy 4:8 – ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both tbe present life and the life to come.’

Have you any up and coming sporting stars in your family?

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

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