Friendly rivalry. I guess that’s what is played out in a derby match – a contest between teams that share the same city, or are geographical neighbours. Always special, a great source of banter, with one team’s fans winning bragging rights until the next encounter.
There’s always a possibility that such rivalry turns to violence, but this is not what is happening for the majority of fans, most of whom are neighbours and friends. A mutual respect, of which that friendly rivalry is part and parcel.
I remember the aftermath of the murder of Rhys Jones, an Everton fan, at which the Liverpool team stood alongside their rivals, united in their support for the family. That was a very powerful thing.
And the remarkable partnership of David Sheppard and Derek Warlock, Anglican and Catholic bishops of Liverpool.
It makes me think of Saul, the guy who would become known as Paul. No friendly rivalry there, as he was top Jewish Religious Storm Trooper as the church was starting. Then he meets the risen Jesus, and realises that God expects him to do exactly the opposite of what he is doing – transfer to the other team that is playing in town.
He becomes Paul. Notice his ways change. He doesn’t become the Church Storm Trooper, but Chief Jew Wooer. He loves the other team players, and wants them to learn to play the game by the amazing new rules.
A derby match should be one where close rivals show how good they both are at making the same rules of the game work for them as they play, and wowing the crowd.
Now there’s a good definition of ecumenism.