The Times (UK) | GOOD LIVING | Thursday, May 9, 2013 | An archived article (2013) from The Times on the role of chaplains at Manchester United and Charlton Athletic.
Graham Taylor and Sir Alex Ferguson have been instrumental in a phenomenon that is spreading from football to other sports, writes Alyson Rudd.
The Church is in crisis. Congregations are collapsing, scandals abound, but there is one place where religion is ﬂourishing. In sport. There are 254 sports chaplains at work in the United Kingdom.
A football manager’s wish-list might include a transfer budget, talented players, a trustworthy assistant and an effective scouting network. But increasingly, it also includes the appointment of a chaplain.
Chris Powell, the manager of Charlton Athletic, says his chaplain is the heartbeat of his club and he would not want to manage without one.
“If a club doesn’t have a chaplain, they are missing the point,” Powell says.
We are in his office after a training session in the bitter cold, when the manager of a club might be expected to have little time for questions of faith. But Powell is articulate and passionate about what club chaplains’ offer.
“Why not have someone who will help the club grow, help players individually, be part of the support network?” he says. “Someone who has a well-rounded view on life is a vital part, the heartbeat of the club for me.
“Players need a voice, someone with empathy away from the football side. They hear me demanding more. I’m their boss and they understand that, but these guys might see something that means they need to talk. They won’t come to me with a question about religion or bereavement. They have lives to lead away from football and can we help them? Yes. Not everyone will think that way but if I ever have to go to another club, I would demand a chaplain ASAP.”
Chaplaincy in sport is a rapidly expanding phenomenon but, as Powell says, not everyone buys into the concept. Coaches dislike interference, club owners fear Bible bashers. At Tottenham Hotspur, for example, the players have access to the club’s various external religious contacts, but the club regards religion as a private matter and deem it inappropriate to appoint a chaplain representing one faith.
Football was where it all began and the rise of sports chaplaincy was helped because Sir Alex Ferguson supports the concept.
From an executive box at Old Trafford, I can see various barriers proclaiming that support of Manchester United is a religion. Reverend John Boyers, the club’s chaplain, is with me. Boyers — or Rev John, as he is known to all at the club — started it all 22 years ago when he was asked by the Baptist Union to run SCORE (now rebranded as Sports Chaplaincy UK), a new organisation dedicated to offering a spiritual presence in sport, a role Boyers had played at Watford since 1977.
Does God favour clubs with chaplains? The rain falls on the just and unjust. A good manager will gather the right players. Rev John Borers. Manchester United chaplain
Graham Taylor, then the Watford manager, whom Boyers used to watch play in his native Grimsby, took a huge risk, in Boyers’ opinion, by appointing him.
“Graham Taylor unleashed me,” Boyers says. “I could have been a nutter, a Bible basher, he didn’t know.”
Taylor was astute enough to get Boyers to join training on Monday mornings.
“It was really hard work,” Boyers, who played in a local league, says.
At the end of the first season, Taylor said it had gone well; the players liked him and he had heard that he had helped a few of them, so they signed him up for another year. Boyers’ church gave him 1% days a week to spend at Vicarage Rd.
In1979, Taylor told him he could assume he was officially the club chaplain. From the start, Boyers knew instinctively that he had to be proactive pastorally but reactive spiritually or risk alienating players and management.
At the same time as the club embraced a spiritual presence, Watford progressed from the old fourth division to the top ﬂight and an FA Cup Final, and the football world wondered what their secret might be.
“Other clubs started phoning me and asking me to visit them to explain what this chaplaincy was,” Boyers says. One club keen to poach him was United. Bertie Mee, then Taylor’s assistant at Watford, told Boyers that if he wanted to develop chaplaincy, he would be better off at a club with a much higher profile.
“Does God favour clubs with chaplains?” Boyers says. “The rain falls on the just and unjust. A good manager will gather the right players. Maybe God placed me in Watford when it was doing well and then at Manchester United for reasons of profile. I’m not the reason why this club has been successful, Alex Ferguson is the reason.”
Boyers is convinced that chaplaincy is the norm at Scottish football clubs thanks to Ferguson’s patronage.
“The fact I was working at Man United and Sir Alex is adored in Scotland is why t chaplaincy has worked so well in Scotland,” he says.
But back to those banners. Isn’t it awkward for a minister to read that United is the only religion? “It doesn’t really jar with me,” Boyers says. “I think there are many bits about football that are like religion: The comradery, the friendship, the commitment, the singing and the worship.
“Following a football team, whether it is Grimsby Town or Man United, will not give you what faith offers you. It offers forgiveness, eternal life, a sense of God with you, and you don’t get that following any football team. It‘s not a replacement.”
The Times | See Article Here