Christianity and association football

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St. Mary's Church, Southampton established Southampton F.C. in 1885. The team, known to this day as "The Saints", play at St. Mary's Stadium.

There has been a long history of the involvement of Christianity and association football. In 16th-century England, Puritan Christians opposed the contemporary forms of football, due to its violence and its practice on Sunday, the Sabbath day of rest. However from the 19th century, Christians espousing the movement of "Muscular Christianity" encouraged the game for its physical and social benefits. Several of England's leading clubs, including Everton, Manchester City and Southampton, were founded by churches, as was Celtic in Scotland. There have also been leagues set up specifically for Christian clubs outside of the normal national league pyramid.[1]

Several footballers have pledged themselves to become Christian monks, preachers and clergymen in their retirement.[2]


16th century[edit]

Puritan preachers Thomas Eliot and Philip Stubbs voiced their disdain for football because of the violence in matches at the time. Men were fined for playing the game on church grounds or on a Sunday.[3]

19th century[edit]

St Luke's Church at Goodison Park

Following the adoption of the Sheffield rules and formation of The Football Association in England, a number of football clubs were founded by churches. Everton Football Club were founded in 1879 at St. Domingo's Methodist Church.[4] The Reverend Ben Chambers was an advocate of Muscular Christianity, encouraging healthy minds and healthy bodies.[4] Their Goodison Park ground has a church partially within the perimeter and as such do not play early matches on Sunday to avoid clashing with the services of the church.[5] In the same year, Fulham St Andrew's Church Sunday School F.C., to later become Fulham F.C., was founded by members of the nearby Church of England church for members of the Sunday school with the same focus as Everton of advocating Muscular Christianity.[6] In November 1880, St. Mark's Anglican Church in West Gorton, inspired by the same ideology and to win young men back to the church, set up a football team which later became Manchester City F.C..[7] St. Mary's Church, Southampton set up a team in 1885, which later became Southampton Football Club.[8] On 6 November 1887, the Celtic Football Club was founded at the Catholic St. Mary's Church Hall in Calton as a way to fight poverty in East Glasgow.[9] Their Glasgow neighbours Rangers F.C. later became associated with the Protestant section of Glasgow which led to the Old Firm rivalry, which has been the centre of several sectarian incidents between Scotland's Protestants and Catholics.[10]

20th century[edit]

London-based Arsenal F.C. moved to Arsenal Stadium in 1913 on ground leased from St John's College of Divinity. The lease conditions stated that there would be no matches played on holy days and no "intoxicating liquour" would be sold at the stadium. However these stipulations were dropped after Arsenal bought the ground outright in 1925.[11]

In Northern Ireland, Christianity plays a strong part of life in football. Until 2008, playing football was banned on Sunday, including the Northern Ireland national football team due to Sabbatarianism of the Protestant majority.[12] Belfast club Linfield F.C. currently maintains a ban on the club playing on Sundays.[13]


David Luiz, a Brazilian evangelical,[14] wearing a t-shirt reading "Deus é fiel" (God is faithful) after Chelsea's victory in the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final.

Port Vale half-back Norman Hallam was a Methodist Minister, and conducted the funeral of his manager Gordon Hodgson, following his sudden death in June 1951.[15] In 1970, Peter Knowles voluntarily left his career as a footballer with Wolverhampton Wanderers to follow the Christian denomination, Jehovah's Witnesses.[16] In 1991 folk-rock musician Billy Bragg released a song, "God's Footballer", on his album Don't Try This at Home inspired by Knowles' story.[16] Midfielder Gavin Peacock became a Christian during his first spell with QPR aged 18 and later left the UK to become a pastor in Calgary, Canada.[17] Jermain Defoe has credited his Christian faith as helping him in his footballing career.[18] George Moncur, like his father John are Christians, George being quoted as saying "As long as you give 100 per cent, you live right off the field and play right on it, then the Lord will take care of the rest".[19] Goalkeeper Artur Boruc was nicknamed "The Holy Goalie" due to his Catholic faith which he openly displayed at matches by making the sign of the cross.[10] Striker Mateja Kežman, a devout member of the Serbian Orthodox Church,[20] pledged to become a monk in his retirement.[2] Christianity is entwined with the culture of football in Brazil,[14] and 2007 Ballon d'Or winner Kaká has pledged to spend his retirement preaching the faith.[2]

Footballers adhering to Christianity have also affected their abilities to play on Sunday. During the 1982 FIFA World Cup, Northern Irish player and born-again Christian, Johnny Jameson refused to play for Northern Ireland against France due to the match being on a Sunday.[21] Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa, who took retirement at the turn of the millennium believing that the world would end, would not play on Saturdays, the Sabbath of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.[22]

Pope John Paul II played as a goalkeeper during his youth in Poland.[23]


Several football clubs in the present day have Christian names or nicknames often associated with them. Scottish football clubs St Johnstone F.C. and St Mirren F.C. are named after Saint John the Baptist and Saint Mirin respectively.[24][25] Welsh team The New Saints F.C. were contemporarily named as such due to an association with Saint Oswald as well as being able to retain their TNS initials after their Total Network Solutions sponsorship name lapsed.[26]

Black billboard next to stadium, with "JESUS" in white letters
Glentoran's "Jesus" sign

Several clubs also have Christian messages publicly displayed at their grounds. Between 1995 and 2010, Northern Irish club Glentoran F.C. had a sign with "Jesus" on it at The Oval before it was removed due to Glentoran needing the space for advertising.[27] Fellow Northern Irish club Portadown F.C. had a sign with "Life without Jesus makes no sense" along the side of Shamrock Park.[28] Football clubs have also used their grounds for Christian services including Rangers using Ibrox Stadium for memorial services for the 1971 Ibrox disaster[29] and likewise Liverpool F.C. using Anfield for annual memorial services for victims of the Hillsborough disaster.[30]

Assyriska FF, founded in 1971 in the Swedish city of Södertälje and playing in the Superettan (second division), represents the Assyrians, a Christian ethnoreligious group native to the Middle East. Although often referred to as an "unofficial national team", membership is openly available to players of all origins.[31]


Since the 1927 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Cardiff City, the first and last verses of the Christian hymn, Abide with Me are traditionally sung at the FA Cup Final before the kick-off of the match, at around 2.45pm BST.[32] Christian hymns have also formed a part of individual club cultures. Southampton's club anthem is When the Saints Go Marching In.[33] Rangers adopted the tune of the hymn Follow On as the tune of their Follow Follow anthem.[29] Their fans also use God Save the Queen along with fans of the England national football team.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lockley, Mike (8 March 2015). "Football club with Christian links axed for 'singing Chelsea thugs' racist chant near black referee'". The Mirror. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Lewis, Aimee (19 March 2008). "When football's final whistle blows". Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  3. ^ Simkin, John. "Football and the Church". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b Prentice, David (15 July 2015). "Why are Everton FC called Everton FC when they have never actually played there?". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  5. ^ A Church Near You (30 November 2015). "St Luke the Evangelist, Walton on the Hill, Liverpool". Church of England. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  6. ^ Spaaij, Ramón (2006). Understanding Football Hooliganism: A Comparison of Six Western European Football Clubs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. p. 161. ISBN 9056294458.
  7. ^ Keenan, Andrew (21 March 2013). "So Where Do We Start?". Manchester Football History. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  8. ^ "History". Southampton F.C. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  9. ^ "BRIEF HISTORY". Celtic F.C. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b "A rivalry tied up in religion". BBC News. 26 August 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  11. ^ Spurling, Jon (2007). Highbury The Story of Arsenal in N.5. London: Orion Books Ltd. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-7528-7639-9.
  12. ^ Beck, Peter J. (2013). Scoring for Britain: International Football and International Politics, 1900–1939. Routledge. p. 133. ISBN 1135230307.
  13. ^ "Blues allow Sunday football at Windsor". The Belfast Telegraph. 6 May 2008.
  14. ^ a b Smith, Ben (8 July 2014). "World Cup 2014: Faith and football as Brazil unites to pray for glory". BBC Sport. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  15. ^ Kent, Jeff (1996). Port Vale Personalities. Witan Books. p. 123. ISBN 0-9529152-0-0.
  16. ^ a b "God's footballer plays his final game". The Guardian. 6 September 2008. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Rangers favourite now working for The Church ..." 11 April 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Prayer helped Defoe bounce back". BBC Sport. 22 December 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  19. ^ "Colchester's George Moncur finds stride on his spiritual path to face Tottenham in the FA Cup". The Telegraph. 29 January 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  20. ^ Brodkin, Jon (25 September 2004). "Difficult past will shape Kezman's future at Chelsea". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  21. ^ Cromie, Claire (23 February 2014). "Euro 2016: Northern Ireland to play first ever Sunday international at Windsor Park". The Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  22. ^ "Carlos Roa: What Happened Next?". FourFourTwo. 1 April 2005. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  23. ^ "Pope supports Liverpool". BBC Sport. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  24. ^ "10 Things about St Johnstone". SPFL. 26 November 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  25. ^ "10 things about St Mirren". SPFL. 31 January 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  26. ^ "Obscure club take stage as Champions League begins again". New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  27. ^ "Jesus given a red card". Sunday Life. Belfast. Archived from the original on 11 June 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2016 – via HighBeam.
  28. ^ "U19 Germany v U19 Belarus". Getty Images. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  29. ^ a b "Ibrox disaster memorial service". BBC News. 3 January 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  30. ^ Barlow, Eleanor (15 April 2014). "Hillsborough disaster 25th anniversary service sees thousands pack Anfield to remember the 96". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  31. ^ Stallard, Natasha (29 February 2016). "For Assyrians, a New Home in Sweden". Assyrian International News Agency. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  32. ^ "Abide with me". Meanings. UK: Phrases. Archived from the original on 3 April 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2009.
  33. ^ "The Saints marsjerer videre" (in Norwegian). 27 February 2016. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  34. ^ Hume, Mick (28 June 2015). "The Billy Boys is an awful and offensive song. But prison for the clowns singing it? Absolutely not says author Mick Hume". Daily Record. Retrieved 17 March 2016.