Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, guest-edits the New Statesman

The magazine will contain contributions from Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman, and Iain Duncan Smith,

This week's New Statesman magazine is guest-edited by Rowan Williams and features contributions by Philip Pullman, A S Byatt, Gordon Brown, Richard Curtis, Jonathan Sacks and other surprise guests.

For this 80-page edition of the magazine, Dr Williams has commissioned a wide range of essays, articles and reports, interviewed a senior cabinet minister and written the leading article.

The issue examines all the complexities of David Cameron's flagship policy idea of the "big society", with analysis and commentary from the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman and Iain Duncan Smith, among others.

There are contributions from two vicars -- Rev Lucy Winkett recounts visiting a casino in a dog collar, and Rev Mary Bide relives the highs and lows of minding the church next to the tennis courts at Wimbledon -- as well as an actor who plays a vicar on television: Tom Hollander, star of the Bafta-winning sitcom Rev.

There are atheists and secularists in the mix, too. Among the other writers in this bespoke issue of the New Statesman are: Philip Pullman, who explains why he's a "Church of England atheist"; Terry Eagleton on secularism; the award-winning film director Richard Curtis, who writes about the scourge of malaria; and Victoria Coren, who addresses the vexed question of faith versus poker.

The Booker Prize-winning novelist A S Byatt contributes a new short story, "The Lucid Dreamer", written specially for the issue.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I have long admired Rowan Williams as a thinker and public intellectual. His previous contributions to the magazine under my editorship have been both thoughtful and thought-provoking. We agreed that he would guest-edit the magazine over lunch at Lambeth Palace in January; we have been working on the issue ever since.

"Although the New Statesman is a secular magazine, we recognise Dr Williams's contribution to public and political debate, and this is an important intervention from him. I'm delighted with the issue."

Dr Rowan Williams said: "This is not a platform for the establishment to explain itself -- any more than the New Statesman ever is. The hope is that it may be possible to spark some livelier debate about where we are going, perhaps even to discover what the left's big idea currently is."

The issue, cover-dated 13 June, will go on sale in London on Thursday 9 June and in the rest of the country from Friday 10 June. International buyers can obtain copies through our website.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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