I’m not prone to tears. I didn’t even cry when my children were born. That’s why my wife may not like what I’m about to tell you.
For the first time in my life, I’ve been crying lately. A lot. They’re tears of joy, though, all because my beloved Manchester City football club are finally champions.
City’s epic comeback, scoring 2 goals in stoppage time, propelled them past Manchester United for the Premier League crown in England.
All my life, Man City has been the butt of jokes. As a kid, I was ridiculed in the playground for being a supporter. As an adult, no matter where in the world I traveled, I’d inevitably spot somebody strutting around wearing our rivals’ Manchester United jersey. All I could do was fume silently.
That was then. Finally, “the noisy neighbors,” as Sir Alex patronizingly called us, just got a lot more “noisy,” and we deserve it.
In addition to crying, I’m also not normally prone to sitting in a darkened Times Square sports bar at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning – especially when it’s Mother’s Day in the U.S. (Did I mention my wife’s not reading this…?) – yet there I was, with an old friend who also happens to be Man U fanatic, as my emotions veered from joy to sorrow to ecstasy.
Speaking of old friends, it didn’t take long before the haters showed up. Suddenly, mates from school who I hadn’t spoken to in decades are “friending” me on Facebook, and being very unfriendly.
These haters are traducing City’s first title win in 44 years by claiming it was only achieved through the ‘oil-money’ that’s flowed into team coffers since its 2008 takeover by Sheikh Mansour. In other words, they delight in telling me that our precious title was bought, rather than earned.
As a rabbi, I tend to think in terms of life lessons. It’s a hazard of the job. Naturally, I’ve come up with three lessons we can all take away from the Man City title win:
1. Money can buy love. And titles. So what?
My Facebook friends say Sheikh Mansour’s money could have been better spent elsewhere. Perhaps, but once we go down that road, we have to condemn not only foreign moguls but movie stars and the likes of Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.
The much-maligned “1%” often have plenty to offer society. On my last visit to Manchester, I saw the formerly deteriorating areas around the Etihad stadium (home to Manchester City) utterly transformed, and this transformation has spread across the city. Maybe Abu Dhabi has come to Manchester, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, such places don’t build themselves. In terms of both economic well-being and local morale, City’s title will be an enduring win for Manchester.
Judaism doesn’t look askance at material success or ambition prima facie. If we finally earned the title thanks to a much needed injection of money, then I say so what? The Talmud notes that charity in all its forms is actually equal to all the other commandments combined. While the title win may not count as “tzedakah,” nevertheless at times it feels close.
2. Have a little faith
City manager Roberto Mancini is a devout Catholic. He spent the Sunday morning of the winning game not at a spa, but at Sunday mass. According to Father Ray Matus of Manchester’s Holy Name Church, Mancini attended 7:30 a.m. mass, and even stayed an extra 15 minutes praying while others in the congregation waited outside for his autograph.
As a rabbi who is deeply connected with my own community, I can attest to the fact that faith gives me strength – my faith, and witnessing the faith of others. I’m not saying that it if you go to temple, your team will win. However, it will give you the strength to survive the crazy moments every sports fan experiences.
Our victory was – dare I say it? – biblical. There was something particularly Jewish about watching an underdog team pull through against the odds. Win or lose, though, faith can help center you for whatever happens next, with your team or your life.
3. Remember, it’s just a game
As I left that Times Square sports bar in a state of disbelief, I was hit by the depressing fact that nobody else around me cared. Strolling through Central Park on a glorious day is a peerless pleasure, yet I found myself wishing I was back in rainy Manchester, among people who would understand.
Football (I mean “soccer”) was not born in the USA. In terms American readers would understand, it will always rate as Formula One as opposed to NASCAR. Maybe my wife was right and I should have spent Mother’s Day with her instead. You never know: if Man City’s winning streak ends, I’ll have the next 44 years to do just that.
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is a best-selling author who recently was voted “New York’s Hippest Rabbi” by PBS Channel 13. He chairs the religious affairs committee at Pratt Institute and recently published his latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century.