We don’t know what we’re doing
This weekend then to the match: Sheffield Wednesday v Watford. On the way from the tea stand to my seat with my son, I spot a guy with a tee-shirt emblazoned with the legend: ‘Football is my religion, Hillsborough is my church’. I know what he means, football bears some remarkable resemblances to following a religion: essentially, we congregate in our thousands around something which is, ultimately, only a reality to those who have ‘had the experience’; together we become lost and even ecstatic in a shared passion; our songs move us like hymns and we have a complicated theology about the rights and wrongs of this formation or that managerial tactic. We even share a meal of hot pies and Bovril and can’t wait to repeat the experience again on the ‘sabbath’ Saturday. However, there are some important differences: in the end, despite Bill Shankly’s assertion that ‘football isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s much more serious than that’, it isn’t really and it provides a benign, albeit passionate, diversion in life. Likewise, the Churches don’t seem to attract and keep men like a football club does, and I wonder if we have lessons to learn?
However, all that aside, I had made a mobile ‘phone appointment to meet the new chaplain, Peter Allen (www.onsideevents.co.uk) who had found out from one of my mates on the Kop that there was a bishop lying low there. He is a personable young man, committed both to our team and to his work amongst them. My previous experience of a chaplain had been at Scunthorpe in our Diocese with Alan Wright: it’s wonderful to see him walk around the ground before the match; deal with the directors and generally add to the life of this sporting community. A measure of how much he is appreciated is to see him stand outside the changing room as the players run out onto the pitch: not one failed to shake his hand and each greeted him with a friendly and genuinely warm word. Peter is now doing the same at Wednesday and I like to think that our success on the pitch lately (2-0 against Watford by the way) has at least something to owe to the calm, reassuring and fatherly presence of a minister.
One day, someone will write a book about the links between football and the Church (Manchester United; Barnsely FC; Everton and many others, all started out as church teams) and, perhaps more importantly, why this pointless and ever cyclical game should arouse such religious fanaticism (that’s where the word ‘fan’ comes from after all) and passion. Until then ‘come on you blue and white wizards’.