THE links between Christianity and football were celebrated at an event at Wembley Stadium last Sunday, attended by church leaders, professional players, and fans.
A Celebration of Christianity and Football, held as part of the Football Association’s (FA’s) Faith and Football series, was hosted by the broadcaster Adrian Chiles, who became a Catholic at the age of 40. He asked speakers including former players and many associated with the game, to explain what happened first in their lives, a love of football or Christian commitment, and they took the story on to say how faith was part of their footballing lives. Chaplains and coaches agreed that being a Christian in football is about showing love and kindness rather than “shouting scripture at people”.
The speakers also included HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who wore a vintage Liverpool FC shirt and spoke about the importance of ‘belonging’, the Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas, who spoke about how football and faith had helped him to recover after his wife’s death, and Jason McCarthy, a defender for Wycombe Wanderers, who spoke about how his journey to Christian faith began in the dressing-room.
The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, the C of E’s bishop for sport, led worship.
The keynote speech was given by the general director of Christians in Sport, Graham Daniels, himself a former player. The “three marks of footballers transformed by Christ” were, he said, “fulfilment, authenticity, and witness”.
The director of the Sanctuary Foundation, Dr Krish Kandiah, said after the event that he was encouraged that the FA wished to acknowledge the connection between football and Christianity. “So many of our football teams have a church history,” he said. He knew first-hand from the experience of his foster children how football could help children to develop self-esteem and a sense of well-being. “Football is a great gift,” he said.
Many football clubs in the Premier League and other leagues have chaplains who work to support the players and support staff.
On its website, the Football Association says “Football can bring people from all backgrounds together and many of us practise our faiths and interact with football as part of our daily lives. Faith and football are intrinsic.
“Delivering a game free from discrimination is one of our key priorities at the FA. Our group strategy called ‘Time for Change’ outlines six key game changers, of which ‘delivering a game free from discrimination’ is one.”
In 2021, the FA launched a new equality, diversity and inclusion strategy called ‘A Game for All’ which sets out its plans for football to 2024. With the support of the FA’s Faith and Football Group, it has also published 2022-23 editions of an equality, diversity and inclusion calendar for grassroots football and a ‘Faith and Football’ educational document.
Story by William Kelly of The Catholic Network