Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Catholicism and football

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I was at home and, naturally, as Hull City were at home, I went to see them play Norwich. At the same fixture two seasons ago, I had the pleasure of joining Delia Smith in the directors box for the match along with my friend (who has just started at the English College, Rome) Phil Cunnah. We had met her at the previous Faith Summer Session, where she delivered the guest lecture on "the power of prayer". Unfortunately, as I've just moved to start the reporter's job in Northamptonshire, I didn't know whether I would be there at that particular game. I have to write to her several weeks before the match to have a chance of getting a place in with the toffs.

Instead, I had the excellent company of Canon Michael Loughlin at the match. After lunchtime Mass at his parish in the centre of Hull (St Charles), Canon invited me in for lunch and asked if he could go to the match with me. "Of course", I said.

It was Canon's first visit to the Kingston Communications Stadium and, despite him really being a Middlesbrough fan, he joined me in cheering on the Tigers. And his priestly presence at the game didn't disappoint. City won 2-1. He even managed to get his visit to the football into his homily the next day, an analogy of going through the turnstile or "the narrow door to heaven" at the stadium to be greeted by a great arena of people.

During the afternoon, he was telling me that two of City's new young signings - Frank Belt and Brewster Frizzell (I think) - were parishioners of his at Bridlington.

After the match, this got me thinking about how many other Catholic professional players there are in the UK. When I was planning this post this morning, I couldn't think of many. But to my delight and joy when turning on the computer to get the latest on City's new signing, former Nigerian international Jay Jay Okocha, I find that he is a self confessed "devout Catholic".

The Mirror goes with "Jay-Jay Okocha: God told me to go to Hull!: JAY-JAY Okocha got an Almighty push to return to England and sign for Championship club Hull". I reckon the exclamation mark is a reference to Hull's reputation as one of, if not the most, Godless cities in Europe, although I'm sure that has changed since the massive influx of Catholic migrants, including Poles and Indians, to the city. As you may know, Hull has also in the recent past been reputed to be one of the worst city's in Britain, which may also have something to do with the witty Mirror headline.

Jay Jay told journalists: "I always ask God if it is his will, and if so then let it be.
"That's the message I got and that's why I'm here at Hull.
"My faith comes before anything. It has also taught me to respect and admire people for what they are and who they are.
"I pray a lot and it has helped me throughout my whole career to stay calm and focused."

So, very exciting times for Catholic Hull. I wonder which parish he will go to...? No doubt priests will be scrapping over him.

I can't think of many Tigers players who have been Catholics in the past except goalkeeper Tony Norman, who played for the club in the early 1990s I think. He lived opposite us and was in St Francis parish.

Back to the general issue of Catholicism and football. The other Saturday, Canon said he was proud to be following in the great tradition of priests going to support their local club on a Saturday. The tradition was that priests would rush back from the match in time to greet a long line of confessors. I've heard of priests arriving at new parishes and rearranging the Saturday evening Mass so they can go to whatever match. My uncle, a former parish priest in Middlesbrough, said the mood on a Sunday morning at Mass depended on whether Middlesbrough had won or lost the day before.

In terms of Catholic players, it would be intriguing to find out who they are. Jay Jay, it seems, is an exception, as most of them tend to keep their faith quiet. Jermaine Defo of Tottenham appeared on a special feature on the BBC's Football Focus inside a church (which looked very Catholic) talking of his strong Christian faith.

There are plenty of players we know who went to Catholic schools or who send their kids to Catholic schools (Roy Keane's children start the new term at Ampleforth College this September). But it's difficult to identify which are practising Catholics. Every single article in the Catholic press on this issue I've seen on this subject in recent years has failed miserably in investigating a list of players that go to Mass.

I think part of the problem is that some famous people who are Catholics tend to be the last person into Mass and the first to depart, for fear of drawing attention to themselves or getting ambushed by old women or the parish nutter. You can understand this.

But, at the same time, it would be intriguing to build up a list of players whom people have actually seen at a Mass so we know which ones are our own so that we can be proud that they believe their faith to be more important then football and support them in that.

Please do mention Catholic players you know and information/sightings of them. I expect Scottish readers of the blog will have a few!


j.preece said...

"for fear of drawing attention to themselves or getting ambushed by old women or the parish nutter."

Come on mate, you're not that bad.

Paul Mullane said...

Ok Richard I'll bite,

Jermaine Defoe is definately Catholic, although i cant say how regularly he attends, same goes for Middlesbrough's Chris Riggot.
Jose Mourinho is by all accounts a dailly Mass goer, as is Tommy Burns.
David Nugent, formerly of Preston and now of Portsmouth is of the Faith and his mum definately goes to Mass, and Blackpools Stephen Crainey's parents were once in the parish of Fr Paul Brooks.
Norwich manager Peter Grant is a Catholic, as is Aston Celtic boss Martin O'Neill.
Moving onto more international players, Barcelona's Lilian Thuram once studied for the priesthood (allegedly).
Both Ronald and Frank De Boer were supposedly Catholic, although they risked excommunication by playing for a certain Mordorian Hoard south of the river Clyde. Although i believe the quality of their performances led most of the followers of said club to believe they were part of some form of Papish conspiracy against them.

And of course Artur Boruc is the holy goalie who is likely to be installed as Archbishop of Glasgow when +Conti takes his leave.

Paul Mullane said...

Oh, and I forgot Jan Venegoor of Hesselink!!

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

i forgot you were from Hull..i'll have 2 daughters at Hull Uni in a couple of weeks....

Brendan Allen said...

OK, so he's a retired player, now a youth coach at Old Trafford. But when he was a player, Brian McClair did a diary column in each edition of the official club magazine, published monthly.

And he frequently made reference to going to Mass on Sundays.