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Simon Parke: Swapping shirts hurts

by
30 March 2010

THE “Shirt of hurt” challenge — did you have the courage?

One of the most popular fund-raisers for this year’s Sport Relief was the “Shirt of hurt” campaign. Pun­ters were sponsored to wear the shirt of their most hated sporting rivals, and reactions varied. The Barmy Army, England’s globe-trotting cricket followers, entered into the spirit of things.

They contacted “The Fanatics”, their equivalent in Australia, who were glad to co-operate and provide green and yellow shirts for the Poms. These were duly worn, painfully, for a day of test cricket in Bangladesh, and more than £2000 was raised.

Meanwhile, Barry, from north London, was explaining to a radio presenter how the “Shirt of hurt” idea was impossible. “If you’re brought up in Islington, then it’s either Arsenal or Spurs. I’m Arsenal; my brother’s Spurs — we don’t talk.”

The presenter asked him if he would wear a Spurs shirt for £5000.

“No,” Barry said. “No way.”

“Do you have a mortgage?”

“Yes.”

“So, if I promised to pay off your mortgage, Barry, would you wear a Spurs shirt then?”

“No,” he said, intransigent. “It just wouldn’t be possible.”

The “Shirt of hurt” has proved to be a good fund-raiser in the world of sport; but it deserves a bigger stage. The Arsenal/Spurs rivalry is un-doub­tedly intense, but there are deeper fault-lines in the world which might benefit from an exchange of T-shirts.

How much money, for instance, might be made if Palestinians wore Zionist shirts, and vice versa?

  Or how about gay-rights cam­paigners swap­ping shirts with reli­gious extremists, each adopting the other’s slogans for a day?

What about a day each year when concentration-camp victims ex­change shirts with Holocaust- deniers? The idea may be outrageous, but separation is even more so. We are some way from cricket, but, finally, we are reaching the sur­pris-ingly deep roots of the “Shirt of hurt” idea.

There is something noble about Barry, who would not wear a Spurs shirt, even if his mortgage was paid off; but beneath the nobility is an illness. It has been said that the first act of insight is to dispense with labels, and it is this kenosis that the “Shirt of hurt” invites.

It asks us, for a moment at least, not to define ourselves by our well-loved tags. It asks us to empty our­selves of our self-definition, to leave our black and white world, and say: “Forgive me, Father, because I don’t know what I’m doing.”

No one is interested in our con­victions — footballing or otherwise — but there is great concern for our attitudes. And at the sharp end is the “Shirt of hurt”, which becomes for us a shroud of death, and crucifying. But it is a good death, sponsored or otherwise.

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