Giles Fraser: Penalties of chaos in Chelsea

28 May 2008

AFTER the penalty shoot-out between Manchester United and Chelsea at the end of the Champions League final last week, I wandered up towards Fulham Broadway station, vaguely in search of a bus or a tube home. It had been a pretty miserable evening. But it was about to get worse.

The air was thick with a dangerous mix of disappointment and alcohol. Hundreds of Chelsea fans poured out on to the streets from pubs and bars, some shouting, some crying. Bottles started to be thrown — at whom it was not clear. Shoals of twenty-somethings began to sprint in and out of the Broadway.

Within a minute, I was in the middle of a riot that was all the more frightening because it was not at all clear who was attacking whom, or why. A bus was ransacked. Punches were thrown randomly. One man was very nearly pulled out of his car by a mob of 50 or so for trying to drive through the Broadway. Apparently, he had run over someone’s leg. The police soon arrived in their vans, and the battle of Stamford Bridge began in earnest.

The thing that stayed with me as I walked home was not the violence so much as the chaos. My thoughts turned to theology. I remember being terribly shocked a while ago when I heard the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, talking about salvation in terms of the restoration of order. His salvation narrative was, roughly, that God made the world ordered, that we disordered it, and that, with God’s help, we must re-order the whole thing according to his design.

This salvation narrative made a great deal of sense to me as I trudged back from chaotic Fulham towards the safer reaches of Putney. The truth is that I often associate the idea of order with that of control — and thus have mistakenly regarded Dr Wright’s salvation narrative as little more than a pretext for theological control-freakery. But perhaps that is because I so rarely encounter the sort of terrifying chaos that, in many parts of the world, is the normal way of things. For such as these, order is not another word for control: it is another word for peace.

Yet this sort of concession requires a concession in return. Order must not be about the establishment of uniformity, but about the creation of an open and diverse space suitable for human flourishing. Order is good if it makes people more free, not less so.

The police vans that turned up to impose order on Fulham Broadway were the friends of the community. But there are many parts of the world where such vans are feared and despised. This is why order needs its critics, too.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in London.

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