Thursday, 15 May 2014

Abide With Me

At Wembley in 2008, ‘Burnsy’ told us it’s alright to cry.  Six years on, I will do...

Shortly after Hull City’s place in this season’s FA Cup Final was confirmed, two mates alerted me to a YouTube video of ‘Abide With Me’, which was filmed along the ‘Humber Riviera’ at Easington, Kilnsea, Spurn and Paull.  It’s a wonderful piece of film and has the added bonus of carrying the lyrics for those who need to get in practice ahead of the big day. 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me”

‘Abide With Me’ was written by Devon vicar Henry Francis Lyte just three weeks before he died of tuberculosis in 1847.  It is most familiar when set to William Henry Monk’s ‘Eventide’ musical arrangement, which was written in 1861. 

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me."

Due to its melancholy words, it has long been a traditional hymn at Christian funerals as well as various military remembrance services.  It also forms an integral part of both football’s and rugby league’s ‘Cup Final day’, having first been sung by 92,000 people at Wembley Stadium prior to the 1927 FA Cup Final (which incidentally saw fancied Arsenal beaten by an underdog).   

"Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me."

Most people of my age remember the experience that was ‘Cup Final Day’ back in the 1970s and 80s. For me it often meant sitting down with Mum (as previously posted, the senior football fan in our house) in time for the “Community Singing”, which invariably included her favourite hymn.  Unfortunately, such was the nature of football supporters during this particular era that the conductor and band regularly found themselves drowned out by rival chants.  She found that particularly galling.

"Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me."

The all-Merseyside 1989 FA Cup Final proved an exception.  On this occasion, the singing of ‘Abide With Me’, led by a very emotional Gerry Marsden came over free from any disrespectful barracking.  Perhaps this was to be expected, coming barely a month after the loss of 96 Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough.  Indeed the whole afternoon served as something of a memorial service.

"Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me."

Mum would have loved the rendition that day and would have sung along (as was her wont whenever ‘Songs of Praise’ threw up a favourite of hers).  Sadly she couldn’t.  For just eight days prior to the tragedy at Hillsborough, she had died of a heart attack, aged 56. 

"I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me." 

Thus 2014 is not only the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough but also of the year my dad, older brother and I suffered our own personal loss.  With my eldest daughter sharing her birthday with the date I said goodbye to Mum, this particular twenty-five year milestone has already proved a poignant occasion.  The hitherto unthinkable opportunity to now sing along with Mum’s favourite hymn prior to an FA Cup Final in which her favourite team is actually playing will surely ensure that I’ll be an emotional wreck come a quarter-to-three on Saturday afternoon.  

"I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me."

Six years ago, in May 2008, after referee Alan Wiley had blown the final whistle in the Football League Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley to confirm City’s place in the top flight of English football for the first time, commentator David Burns told BBC Radio Humberside listeners: “It’s alright to cry”.  I managed to restrain myself then.  Just.  But when Leona Lewis belts out the first couple of lines of ‘Abide With Me’ at that same stadium on Saturday, I reckon I’ll finally take Burnsy up on his invitation.

"Hold now your cross before my closing eyes, 
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies,
Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee, 
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."

So if Mary Lusmore happens to be looking down from on high as the aforementioned Ms Lewis breaks into song, she’ll recognise the blubbering wreck seated in Block 120 as her now 48-year-old son who’s just wishing his dear mum was still around to savour the moment. 

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