Belfast Telegraph

Thought for the weekend: A goal we must keep in mind

By Allen Sleith

It's been a week filled with bad news. In their differing ways, the tragedy of nearly a whole family drowned in Buncrana, the spate of terrorist atrocities in Brussels, and the death of a Syrian refugee in a cycling accident in Lisburn, all wrench the heart at the sheer poignancy of much that happens, bordering on senselessness.

But one other death, though arguably not as tragic, resonates with me for particular reasons. Johan Cruyff, the Dutch footballer, died aged 68 from lung cancer.

In the early Seventies he was the epitome of a sporting superstar.

His brilliant Ajax side (to us British kids it seemed weird to name a club after a domestic cleaning agent) in their white kit with the big red central stripe were exotic and exciting and his Dutch team of the same era were almost too good for their own good.

His poster was on my bedroom wall, his face was printed on one of my t-shirts and his image is one of my laptop screensavers.

Football fans argue like mad about who's the best in an elite group, but to my mind what marked out Cruyff was the aesthetics as much as the effectiveness of what he did.

Lithe, long-limbed and superbly balanced, there was something of the leopard about him as he set off on a mazy run, or turned an opponent inside-out or swept a half-chance home.

I still wish I'd kept an old copy of the World Soccer magazine in which Cruyff was photographed working out in the Barcelona gym, an icon of health and strength and sculpted fitness.

The years pass, and even the fittest succumb to weakness and illness, and time can also lead to a shift or change of perspective. My youthful hero-worship is seen for what it was but now, and especially this weekend, another image lingers in the mind's eye, Isaiah's depiction (52:13-53:12) of the so-called 'Suffering Servant' in which the church discerns God strangely at work in the afflicted body of Jesus, turning misery into glory and defeat into victory in ways we might apprehend with the heart but don't yet fully comprehend with the mind.

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