The Garrulous Jay – Hope & Time

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I can remember sitting in my mate Johnny’s room at school staring at the newspaper photograph of HMS Antelope exploding after undergoing a sustained attack by Argentine fighter jets.

It became one of the most iconic images of the Falklands conflict. It also had a particular poignancy for me and Johnny as we had been given a guided tour of the Type 21 frigate about a year earlier when his dad was its Captain.

Roll forward just over 40 years to last Sunday afternoon, and there I was rooting for Argentina to win the World Cup. More than anything I wanted Lionel Messi to fulfil his destiny by collecting pretty much the only honour in world football that had eluded him.

It would be easy to take an unsympathetic view of a footballer not without ego and with a net worth estimated to be north of $620 million, and I may have been swayed by watching the BBC documentary about the diminutive man from Rosario a couple of nights before the game. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a fairy-tale, perhaps particularly at this time of year.

But when it comes to underdogs and fairy-tales, arguably that of Argentina’s goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, stands toe to toe with Messi’s football story. Prior to joining Aston Villa in 2020, Martinez had been on Arsenal’s books since 2012. During his eight years with the club he had been on loan at Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United, Wolves, Getafe & Reading.

You don’t need to be a football aficionado to know these clubs are not the giants of Europe, or even the English League. But when Martinez returns to Villa Park it will be with a World Cup Winners medal round his neck, having played a decisive role in the penalty shoot-out in a final for the ages.

The stories of both Messi and Martinez carry with them the message that with hard work, hope and patience it is possible to achieve great things.

The same could be said of the remarkable performances of Morocco, the giant-killing exploits of Japan and the cussed obduracy of Croatia.

More widely they remind us of the enduring ability of sport to allow nations to set aside their differences and celebrate an activity that brings them together in friendly opposition: that time allows us to forgive and forget.

Four decades on, the “group of anonymous Latin-American Meat packing glitterati” (Fletcher Memorial Home, Pink Floyd) that decided to invade the Falklands had faded to irrelevance as I got behind the team that carried with it the fairy-tale.

Finally, for all the criticism of the decision to host the World Cup in a country with a dismal record on both women’s and workers’ rights, I see signs of hope here too. For surely Qatar’s regime is now far more under the microscope than it ever would have been had the tournament taken place elsewhere. Time will tell whether this precipitates wider change.

Happy Christmas.