A version of this piece first appeared in My Eyes Have Seen The Glory
Chris Parker, loving husband, doting father, loyal friend, died this time last year. A few weeks before his sudden passing, family and close friends gathered in a secluded pub garden to celebrate the christening of his first child. Under a fierce sun, we basked in the warmth of his naïve delight in the virtues of fatherhood and friendship, a good natured young man marvelling at the discovery of family life as if he were an Elizabethan explorer returning from the New World with tales of strange creatures, heroic deeds and untold riches.
We never really got to know each other – he’s related on my wife’s side of the family – but it’s peculiar how much you find out about someone only when they’ve died. Shortly before the funeral, I discovered that Chris was a lifelong Spurs fan. So is his father, and many of his mates. Our snatched conversations had never progressed beyond bland pleasantries and for some inexplicable reason we’d never mentioned football, decidedly odd as I can recall who people support long after I have forgotten their names.
The funeral of a young person bears excruciating poignancy. We mourn with desperate intensity both the tragic loss of life and the passing of hopes and dreams, ours as much as theirs, unfulfilled and laid to rest. Emotions veer crazily between a surreal this-can’t-be happening quality and the cold reality in the centre of this Catholic church, a six foot wooden box.
It’s a struggle to engage as the ceremony floats around me like the incense swirling in the breeze. I want to demonstrate respect and sympathy but I’m an outsider here, a non-believer, so I stick to respectful silence. It works. I know, I’ve practiced hard lately, more practice than I can stand.
The congregation cling to the priest’s consoling words but I find no solace in the notion that somehow this is part of the plan for a better universe, only anger and frustration at a life cut short. Absentmindedly I turn to the final page of the Order of Service. Suddenly the organ strikes up a familiar tune. I join in ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ with all my heart, my singing lusty and utterly tuneless. The shameless substitution of ‘Spurs’ for all references in the chorus to the Lord seals my eternal damnation.
I look around. I’m not the only one. Inhibitions shatter, grown men proud and strong break down. Chris’s spirit is amongst us. We begin to grieve, openly and fully, for the first time. It does us all good.
Afterwards we make introductions with unabashed candour. Men aren’t good at sharing feelings but in football we find a means of expression. This maddening, frustrating and wonderful club brought us closer just at the moment when we needed it most. The game creates and sustains lasting relationships. Together in our allegiance and our grief, we could communicate with people who were no longer strangers.
The drink flowed, Chris would have approved. We chatted, laughed and shed a tear. Chris, I wish we had talked more, but now rest in peace. Football is a healer.