And you must love your neighbour as yourself.


Scarves laid out in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough

Last week, one of the gentlemen asked me why I didn’t preach about football any more and if this was in any way connected to Liverpool’s less than brilliant start to the season. That gentleman, of course, supports Manchester United!
I said “no, of course not, I was merely waiting for the right occasion.”

So, “Love your neighbour as yourself?!”

Why your neighbour?
Why not the people down the road?
or some people in the next town?
Or some other people a nice safe distance away..?
Or the man in the moon?
Why your neighbour?

Well, I think we all know why
• Liverpool versus Everton
• Arsenal versus Tottenham
• Celtic versus Rangers
• Manchester United versus Manchester City.
• Chelsea versus Fulham
• Millwall versus - well, just about anybody really.

Neighbours are often the hardest people to love.
And so, when I hear these words of Jesus “Love your neighbour as yourself”, I think of the worst day in British football in my lifetime.
-worse -far worse - than losing on penalties in the world cup quarter finals.
You are all too young to remember it - but your parents will. It was the 15th April 1989.
It was Hillsborough.

What happened at Hillsborough was that there were too many people in one place at one time.
They got crushed together - so crushed that 96 people were crushed to death.
Half of them were teenagers.
The oldest of them was 67.
The youngest was just 10.
It was a terrible, terrible accident.
People argue to this day about just whose fault it was.
But at the time, people weren’t arguing about that. We were all just numb with the grief of so many young deaths -
One week after the accident, there was a memorial service for the dead at Anfield. You can still see the pictures of it on the internet. And when you look at those pictures, the first thing you notice is that the entire pitch is covered with flowers, football scarves and football shirts.
But if you look more closely, the second thing you notice is that about half of the flowers are red, but half of them are blue. The blue ones are from Everton. That day they made a rope out of Liverpool and Everton football scarves that stretched all the way from Goodison to Anfield. The entire city of Liverpool was united in its grief.

And if you look still more closely, you will see that some of the blue scarves and shirts are from Manchester City and some of the red ones are from Manchester United.

An entire nation was united in our club’s grief.

I’ll tell you a secret: since that day I have still always loved it when we win, but I can now bear it when we lose - even, as we did recently, to Manchester United - because I know that we have not lost to an enemy, but to a neighbour.

Loving the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength means recognizing the presence and goodness of God in the other people God has created and placed alongside ourselves in His World.

Loving your neighbour as yourself means that no matter what divides us, there is something more - much more - which unites us.
As Christians, we call that the Presence of God.
I never thought I would say this – and certainly never in public – but I love Manchester United as I love my own team.
God Bless Football!
And may God bless us all.

Paul O'Reilly SJ