Catholic Herald, 9 June 1989
May 20 was not only the feast of St Bernardine of Siena, 15th century Franciscan reformer and eloquent preacher. It was also the date of the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
Possibly you picked up the hint in my last Chronicle that I was being taken to my very first live football match. By now (mid-June) it may be more appropriate to write of in-swingers, creases or googlies; or what it is that football has, and cricket doesn’t that pulls the cash and the crowds.
Some rare folk breathe a sigh of relief when the football season closes. Those readers who yawn at the mention of perimeter fencing of Blackburn Rovers may skip this para.
Like dozens of others, I became an armchair football fan in 1966, year of glorious memory when England won the World Cup. Pin-ups of the heroes decorated the kitchen and Georgie Best adorned the broom cupboard for at least a season. Geoffrey Greene’s memorable prose was read as eagerly as dispatches from the front. Fill-in charts and tables to plot the teams’ progress were kept under the hearth rug for easy access.
It was the combination of the skill of the game and the flamboyant personalities that kept the flame burning – though I never went to a single live match. It says a lot for the expert television coverage; one remained enthralled by the sport even two-dimensionally. Snooker and ice-dance fans will know what I mean: you don’t have to actually be there to enjoy the game.
Since May 20 however, I know that the secondhand TV version is but a shadow of the real thing, even if I did miss the action replays.
No wonder people lose their cool at football matches. I was floored by the unexpected onslaught of contradictory emotions, noise and colour. Were I a teenage lad instead of a middle-aged gran . . .
Providence beamed as brightly as the sun and the match was a humdinger, sustaining the tension until the final whistle. The circumstances peculiar to this particular match raised the temperature in the stadium almost to breaking point, but happily there was no serious trouble.
The Cup Final at Wembley defies adjectives and comparisons. Some have compared the event with a “religious” experience – I can’t agree it was too emotional/ physical.
When the teams ran on to the pitch to the roar of the 85,000 odd throats, it reminded me of the entry of the gladiators and I wondered if ancient Rome greeted its heroes with the same crescendo.
Peter Carbery’s play about third century Rome was performed in Oxford recently. The author had a dream in which St Agnes instructed him to write about her life.
Carefully researched and performed with verve by a young cast, the action in The Other Day in Rome rests on Agnes’ decision to stick to her principles rather than surrender to expediency and save her skin.
Proceeds from the play were in aid of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth and the new chapel at Plater College, Oxford.
It’s a rare treat to see an Archbishop in his shirt-sleeves, wrapped in a large apron. We are used to our prelates in more formal dress and indeed hardly recognise them without their cerise bibs and funny hats.
Archbishop Couve de Murville obviously relished the unaccustomed informality when he annointed the altar in the chapel dedicated to St Joseph the Worker at Plater College. Nowadays we are more used to churches and chapels closing, so the opening of a new one was both novel and joyful.
In fact most of the enthusiastic congregation were at such a ceremony for the first time, including myself. The altar is “baptised” as it were, water, light and incense playing a part as well as the oil. This is rubbed well in over the new stone, hence the shirtsleeves and apron.
Architects Thomas and Martin Wilson have designed a place for prayer without a jarring note, simple and spacious. In the old days you couldn’t dedicate the altar until the debt was paid off; happily in these days of easy credit this is no longer the case.
Plater College really fired my imagination. I would think it is typical of the place that it has built a chapel when others are pulling them down. It is a constructive, creative place.
Forget the ancient ivy-clad quads and courts of the Oxbridge college. Plater, founded in 1921, moved to its present site in 1975. Its buildings are functional, set in attractive gardens among established trees. Nearly 80 students live and work here; following one or two year courses in subjects drawn mainly from the Social Sciences. You don’t come here to study engineering or fine art but social psychology or ethics.
Plater is one of eight colleges in the UK that offer a “second chance”. Adults may resume their education no matter at what age or how long ago their formal schooling finished. There are no entrance requirements to the Catholic Workers College; which means that those without “O” and “A” levels have the opportunity of acquiring a qualification even in middle age.
Almost half the students are between 21 and 30 but a fair number are over 50. Some of these may have come back to “school” after being made redundant. Others realise the benefit of a qualification in order to gain promotion. Some recognise, late in life, the pleasure of a good education, perhaps seen over the shoulder of a son or daughter.
Whatever the reasons that bring them, the student body is an interesting mix. The courses they may follow are just as varied to pick out one or two that caught my eye: Industrial Relations, Political Ideas or the latest (beginning in October), Youth and Community.
Funding is usually available from the DES and many Plater students, having gained Oxford University or Plater College diplomas or certificates, go on to university or further professional training.
There must be many men and women who have toyed with the idea of going back to school. The hidden rewards of such an action, not only to themselves but to their communities, could be surprising and valuable.
Fr Charles Plater SJ, the inspiration behind the college that bears his name, deserves a Chronicle all to himself. He died before his “dream” of the Catholic Workers College became a reality. His successors have created a centre of learning that would delight the gentle but energetic priest.