For 10 curious, humbling, enjoyable, and rewarding years I acted as honorary chaplain to Kilmarnock FC (Killie), befriending players, their families, Killie staff & fans, even some referees, offering a pastoral option when things got difficult. Friday training + lunch and matchdays were the main chances to get alongside folk and I loved combining my passion for fitba & love for folk. I was a fish out of water and often felt totally out of place. But the earthy language, crude humour, fluctuating results, fears & tears were the setting for my simple, quiet, caring presence.
I didn’t dare to advise managers on how they should play, it wasn’t my field. The closest I got was when Kenny Shiels asked me if I thought we could beat Celtic in the 2012 League Cup final and I said, “See it, Believe it, Achieve it!” Surprised, when Kenny took this phrase to spur his underdogs on to a memorable 1 – 0 victory. But it was when player Liam Kelly’s dad had a massive heart attack on that final whistle, that my role came into play. Tragically Jack died within seconds of seeing his son win The Cup. Liam, his mum, family, and I, had no thought about Killie’s overturning all the odds to beat Celtic. It was for such terrible moments that I was present week in week out, with a friendly non-anxious presence, able to bring calm, comfort, hope, and be a catalyst for the outworking of raw, honest grief.
Having been such a counter cultural character steeped in the world of professional football, programmes like ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ (WtR) and ‘Ted Lasso’ are of particular interest to me. J. R. Forasteros reckons, “Ted has no agenda beyond being fully present to those in his life. His only goal is to enable them to succeed—and for Ted, success only coincidentally, and occasionally, means winning. He stands up to bullies (in the kindest way possible). He challenges toxic behaviour. He readily accepts help when he is vulnerable. And he rushes to forgive when he is wronged.” ‘Welcome to
Wrexham’ has similar counter cultural, Christ-like characters in dynamic duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. They have come to meet Wrexham where they were, to lift them back up into League football on a journey of redemption, where relationships seem to be more important than winning at all costs.
The local vicar does get some airtime in WtR, in a humorous, almost superstitious praying role, and Jesus Christ is named countless times as a curse, but largely what is being served up is a ‘Christless Christianity’. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! But, as Mike Frost observes, Ted Lasso’s wonderful feelgood Christmas special, which celebrates Santa
Claus’s birthday, is a perfect example of Mark Sayers ‘Disappearing Church’, “Today, we want the Kingdom without the King… Post-Christianity is ultimately the project of the West to move beyond Christianity whilst feasting on its fruit. Thus, it constantly offers us options and off ramps, in which we seemingly can have what we enjoy about faith, but without the sacrifices and commitments.”
This is the world we now live in, where, in the face of cut-throat commercialism, ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ can be held up as a positive, attractive, high ideal, and it’s a much better world for it. However, this is the second of the two great commandments Christ underlined, the first is ‘love God with your all’. It will be in recognising and restoring God to God’s rightful place in our lives, communities, and society as King, Saviour, CEO, Player Manager, Captain & Coach, that the full fruitfulness of such living will flow; where, whether you win or lose The Cup Final, growing your inner soul & character and investment in loving, caring, forgiving, healing relationships is a main focus. But as a postscript ‘Can we possibly find some stars to start a ‘Welcome to Killie’ project?’