Praying in the Boot Room (Part 2)

On match days, you’ll find me arriving at Crawley Town FC early, going to the dressing room to chat and pray with anyone who wants to, and I’ll always spend some time around the injured players and physios who need encouragement. I enjoy walking around the stadium, chatting and offering to pray with stewards, other staff and press photographers. When fans are in the stadium, there are all kinds of conversations and prayer requests. I had very few local connections when I started out as club chaplain, but now there are so many people I know and pray with.

I have a seat just behind the dugout, often with the substitutes, and have occasionally been expected to pass on tactics or ideas to the bench! After the game I do the rounds again and in between times there are always WhatsApp and Instagram messages, lots of private prayer requests and phone calls. This has increased during the pandemic year, with some of the young men away from their families and lonely outside of training and travelling to matches.

Professional football is a bizarre bubble, so intensely focused on the next game, for 10 months of the year everything else is secondary for them, and so few of these guys have any living connection with believers or a church. It’s a rich opportunity for which I’m grateful to God. I now have a weekly WhatsApp group of players who receive a Saturday Psalm from me, a short exposition and a prayer based on whichever Psalm I’ve been reading that morning. There is a small group of players that I pray with regularly, and I always offer to pray for anyone who is injured. Over the last season I’ve seen two players acknowledge accelerated healing after I’ve prayed. 

Since we’ve been online, it’s been easy to share the Alpha material with a number of the lads, and some of them have connected in with our online services over the last year. Last season we saw two players and a girlfriend begin to attend our 6pm church service and we were able to lead them to the Lord. Our first baptism of 2020 was the goalkeeper! With contracts and transfers, players and managers move on quickly sometimes, so most Saturday mornings I’m sending messages to players all over the country and all over the world – to Brazil, Portugal, Romania, Italy – responding to prayer requests, questions and phone calls.

For me being a club chaplain is an extension of pastoral ministry in the church, it’s just pre church, and because people are involved, you can’t always schedule it. There is the late-night midweek call from a player in tears, to ask whether it’s ok for his partner to have an abortion tomorrow: ethics, pastoral care and evangelism on the run! Or the call from a player who says his agent is on the other line but he wants to check with me first whether he should accept a move to another club! It’s trying to meet and pray with players before a Tuesday night match, then racing home for an elders’ meeting on zoom, and keeping one eye on the score on Twitter, before messaging the manager and players after you’ve finished praying with your elders team!

It’s been a privilege through COVID-19 to continue to have access to the training ground, and to be one of the few people in the country who gets to see live football at the stadium! But even more, it’s been my joy to be able to see so many of these young men open up their hearts about family life, relationships, their young children, their sick parents, bereavements …all the normal parts of life which these guys wrestle with, often without any reference points. I’m so grateful to God for using my gifts and passions (for Him and for football!) to open the door into this part of the community in Crawley.

But what about you? What gifts and passions has God put on your heart? Are there open doors into communities in your town or city where only you will uniquely fit? Why not pray and see what God opens up in his assignment for you!