This Sunday, the Football Association is celebrating the contribution of Christians to the beautiful game. It is part of the FA’s Faith and Football series, where events are put on in stadiums to celebrate the way faith traditions are part of the sport — for players, supporters and staff.
This year at Wembley stadium, the FA has celebrated Ramadan, with an open itfar meal, and a ceremony with hymns, prayers and lights for Vaisakhi.
This weekend’s Christian celebration is taking place in the Bobby Moore suite at Wembley from 2pm to 5pm.
The compere is Adrian Chiles, the broadcaster who converted to Catholicism just before he was 40 years old, and he has written about the peace that came with his new faith.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster — and a Liverpool fan — will lend his support and a service at the pitch side will be led by Libby Lane, the Bishop of Derby and the Church of England’s designated bishop for sport.
The service includes music from Ken Burton and the London Adventist Chorale and the Salvation Army Regent Hall Band, led by Paul Sharman. The speaker is Pastor Agu Irukwu, senior pastor at Jesus House for all Nations.
The afternoon including panel discussions and keynote speeches has been put together by Dal Darroch, FA head of diversity and inclusion, and Michael Wakelin, former head of religion and ethics at the BBC and now executive chair of the Religion Media Centre.
Michael Wakelin said: “The tie-up between Christianity and football runs deep, going right back to the origin of the club game in England. It’s important not to lose sight of the early pioneers who regarded football as a great way of creating communities and having fun. The way the FA is taking the opportunity to revisit and celebrate football’s links with the Christian faith is very encouraging. It’s going to be a great afternoon at Wembley.”
The afternoon programme charts the way that Christianity is weaved into the history of the game and is present at every level to this day. The event is a sell-out with about 1,000 people getting tickets.
Speakers include Graham Daniels, formerly a professional footballer with Cambridge United and now general director of Christians in Sport. He will speak about the way the church was the prime mover in the creation of today’s amateur and professional football clubs in the 19th century. Today, he says, there has been a substantial growth in the number of Christians involved at all levels of the game.
A panel will discuss the challenges of practising the Christian faith in football and whether they feel they should hide it or proclaim it. The panel includes: Mick Court, technical chief scout for Manchester United; the Rev Angy King, the chaplain at Reading FC and pastoral co-ordinator for chaplains in women’s football; Michael Bennett, the director of wellbeing for the Professional Footballers’ Association; Jason McCarthy, who plays with Wycombe Wanderers; and Bruce Dyer, who in 1994 became Britain’s first teenage millionaire footballer when he joined Crystal Palace.
Football commentator and presenter Simon Thomas will also give an interview about his Christian upbringing and career, which took him, the son of the vicar of King’s Lynn, via presenting Blue Peter to hosting Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports. He will also talk about the way his faith helped him get through the death of his wife aged 40 and then restore him with a new relationship and career opportunities.
Other guests include John Bostock, who has played for 14 clubs in England and is now with Notts County, will explain more about Ballers in God, the largest peer network of Christian footballers in the world. Rachel Yankey, the women’s footballing legend with 129 England caps, will talk about her faith tradition and how she comes across Christianity in the game.
The event is supported by Christians in Sport, Sports Chaplaincy UK, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, Evangelical Alliance, the Baptist Church, the United Reformed Church, Salvation Army, and Premier Radio.