The Rugby League Chaplain

The older generation may remember a certain Abbot Pistre citing the gospel to the letter when he told the Albi team’s forwards that “it was more important to give than to receive”!

Later, Vincent Hubac  described Rugby Union as the “school of fraternity”  and it is true that this sport has preserved a number of Christian virtues – such as those mentioned in the mission statement that Noel Brazes received from the bishop when he was appointed deacon and endeavoured to pass on to the kids at the USA Perpignan Rugby school.

Rugby League has taken things a little further. Won over by the ideals of the Sports Chaplaincy UK, the Rugby Football League perceived the merits of integrating some spiritual support into its structure some time ago.

And so, like all the other RFL teams, the Catalan Dragons now have their own pastor[1].  Philip Alcock (33), a fervent rugby league lover training as pastor at the Christian Centre of Roussillon, who speaks French perfectly, had the skills for the job.

Is it just a “simple coincidence”, as Philip Alcock insists, that the Dragons have made a remarkable come-back since he took office? The fact remains that the Steve McNamara-Alex Chan together very quickly declared his presence to be beneficial to the team.

Philip Alcock’s characteristic availability and attention to others make his new apostolate very much similar to the relationship he has already built with his faithful parishioners. And yet the context is not the same: parameters such as pressure, performance objectives and physical vulnerability make human relationships much more complicated.

No preaching

In this particular context, chaplain Alcock’s task can be summed up in two objectives: listening and simply being present.

Every week, the man of God spends four hours with the players, usually after their training sessions. He talks with them, sharing their worries, and finding the right words to lift their spirits “without any attempt at preaching” he comments.

Whether in the North of England or in Roussillon, League rugby players evolve in the same type of family environment where this kind of community sharing is completely natural”, he explains.

Natural … and sometimes emotionally moving adds Philip Alcock, as he recalls how several Pacific island players, opponents during the match, take the time to gather together in communion after the final whistle.

This, together with many other more personal reasons, explains why the pastor and thirteen-a-side rugby fan is so enchanted with his new job.

It is true that, with its virtues of abnegation, perseverance and self-transcendence, to name just those, Rugby League shows a lot of similarities with what Christian language calls the spiritual fight.

Michel Bolasell is vice-president of the Mediterranean Literature Centre. Former journalist at Ouest France and l’Indépendant, he has published several works including “Terminus Ushuaia”, “Dernier Tango à Buenos Aires”, “Cette autre, mon frère”, « Les derniers jours de Magellan », Saint-Jacques, terre d’enfance », and « les insurgés de la pauvreté » (co-written with André Bonet).




[1] (The function of chaplain was officialised in April 2018. It is a voluntary activity).