This assembly looks at what it means to footballers to represent their country in the World Cup and the meaning of national pride

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AC Milan coach comforting David Beckham

Introduction
Today we’re going to be talking about football. That’s because a certain important football event is taking place in South Africa later on this year. Can anyone tell me what that is? [Take suggestions] Yes, that’s right – it’s the World Cup.

Players from qualifying countries all over the world will be meeting to see who can lift the World Cup as winners. It’s a matter of national pride to be there, to take part in this wonderful sporting event, and it must be really something to be one of the players who will represent their country.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. All over Britain boys and girls, men and women play in football teams, from school sides, to Sunday league, to professional footballers and Premiership clubs. Each week, tens of thousands of people play football and many millions more support their teams by going to matches or following them on the radio, on TV, on the internet and in the newspapers. Football really is a national sport.

At each level, people take pride in their team and try to give them the best performance they can. So when you are selected to play for your country – gosh! That must be quite something. How would you feel if you were selected to represent your country in football – or indeed in anything? How do you think you would feel? What would you say? [Take suggestions]

Yes, you’d feel proud that you had been chosen, perhaps a bit nervous because people would expect so much from you (and you’d expect a lot from yourself, too), and perhaps humble because someone had so much belief in you; and very, very happy, no doubt!

Here’s what some footballers have said in the past about being selected to play for England.

Michael Owen’s story
In 1998 Michael Owen became one of the youngest ever people selected to play for England. He was just 18 years old and when he scored terrific goals against Morocco and then the mighty Argentina, he became the youngest ever scorer on the England team.

Here’s how he feels about playing for England:

‘For me there’s nothing better than putting the white shirt on for England and playing for England. I’d get worried if it wasn’t like that.’ (1)

That’s an interesting comment, isn’t it? Despite playing professional football for all his adult life, he still feels incredibly proud to represent his country.

David Beckham’s story
Another footballer who is proud to represent his country is David Beckham. He has been capped an incredible 115 for England – this means he has played for his country over 100 times. That’s quite a record. And his pride in that achievement could be seen by everyone in the last couple of weeks, when he found that he would not be able to represent his country in his fourth World Cup. His hopes to do so have been cruelly destroyed by a bad injury to his Achilles tendon in his leg.

It’s an injury that often happens to older footballers, and it has ended the career of several. Although David Beckham has had an operation to mend his leg, he won’t be able to play football for probably six months or more – and he certainly won’t be able to play for England in the World Cup this summer, which was most likely going to be his last chance to do so.

Can you imagine how he must have felt?

Here’s a picture of him [show picture] shortly after the injury happened. You can see he is being comforted by his AC Milan coach.

You might think, oh well, he’s played for England 115 times, he’s had his chance, time to give someone new a go – and that might be true, but at the same time, it’s plain to see that playing for his country means more to him than that. The England management team certainly know how he feels, and they’ve told him that he will still go to the World Cup as an official member of the England party even though he won’t be able to play.

National pride
So what is national pride? What does it mean to you? [Take suggestions]

Yes, it’s a combination of being told that you’re good enough to represent your country together with the knowledge that you immediately become a role model for other people. That’s a big responsibility. How do you think someone representing their country should behave? What sort of things should they do – and not do? [Take suggestions]

Those are some good answers.

What do those words ‘national pride’ mean to someone like David Beckham?

‘I love scoring goals for England and playing for England. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t retire – I love playing for my country.’ (2)

Now, perhaps, he will have to retire and give up his dream of playing for England and scoring goals for the national team.

How would you feel if that were you? [Take suggestions]

Yes, you’d feel pretty bad – if your chance to represent your country had gone away.

Soon Fabio Capello, manager of England’s national team, will announce who he has picked to play for the England team. Imagine you are one of the players who is hoping to be picked. How would you be feeling right now? [Take suggestions]

Yes, you’d probably be feeling excited and nervous at the same time. Of course, if the team does well, you’d be a hero; if the team does badly, well, you can imagine the sort of things people will say! Fairly or unfairly!

Conclusion
To play for your country, to represent your country in any sport or other achievement, is both an honour and a great responsibility. Perhaps one day you will be the person standing at the front, with great pride, saying, yes – today I play for my country and I will do my best. What an amazing feeling!

PrayerDear Father,

Thank you for giving us pride in our achievements; to always try our hardest and to do our best. Teach us to be humble, too, in our achievements and learn from our mistakes when we make them. Amen.

Reflection
It is important to have pride in our achievements but it is important not to be boastful either. For everything we have achieved, there have been many people who have helped us along the way – and they should be remembered and share in our achievements.

The climber Sir Edmund Hillary said, ‘It is not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves.’

What do you think he meant by this?

More information
To find out more about this year’s World Cup

(1) http://www.expertfootball.com/gossip/quotes.php?search=Michael_Owen

(2) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/david_beckham.html

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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