As posted on Christian Today – view the link to original article

Easter – massively important for all Christians – is also a challenging time for football teams in the English Premier League and their fans around the world.

That means it’s a busy period for the chaplains working within Premier League and other clubs as the season draws towards its climax.

In the weeks ahead, the Premier League Championship will be decided, European places achieved – and the battle for relegation fought out.

Currently 11 Premier League clubs and 55 Football League clubs have chaplains, with some clubs having more than one. There are also chaplains throughout the National League and in lower league clubs. The growth in women’s football has led to more chaplains being appointed to serve women’s teams.

Matt Baker is National Director for England overseeing all of English Sport for Sports Chaplaincy UK. He combines the role with being chaplain at League One side Charlton Athletic, a position he has held since March 2000.

He explains: “The role of the chaplain is to be pastorally proactive and spiritually reactive. This means being regularly present, listening and supporting people whether they have a faith or not. That could be chatting to a player with a long-term injury in the physio room or supporting a member of staff through a bereavement.

“From a spiritual perspective an example of this was when a player asked me 15 years ago whether I would pray with him before a game. On the first occasion there were a couple of players and we prayed together before every game for the rest of that season.

“This has continued ever since as there always seem to be Christian players in the squad and so pre-match prayers before a home game have become a part of the regular routine for those wanting it. When we have had players of other faiths a room has also been made available for prayers for them as well.”

Matt loves his role. He tells me: “I’m a people person so I love being around staff and players, getting to know them, listening and helping to support wherever I can. It’s a tremendous privilege to be a chaplain at a football club and I never take that lightly.

“Whenever someone opens up and appreciates my support it emphasises how valuable the role is. Also, as more players of faith have come into the game in recent years it has been a joy to be involved in some way in discipling these young men during their time at the club.”

The chaplain’s role goes beyond the team on the pitch. Matt explains: “The chaplain is there for everyone but that very much depends on how the club see the role.

“Ideally it is everyone from the star striker and the Chairman to the backroom staff and those at the stadium. There will also be some involvement with fans, for example taking funeral services or the scattering of ashes of fans.”

Was it more challenging to be a chaplain at a successful club, chasing a championship title or promotion, or one fighting relegation? Matt responds thoughtfully: “I think in some senses it is tougher in a successful one.

“When a club is struggling, either on or off the field, they often then really value the support of a chaplain. I know from my own experience the role was much appreciated when I was able to get alongside staff going through redundancy after relegation.

“In a successful club, particularly where there is more money available, the chaplain’s role is often squeezed, and the club will outsource support or employ more staff in support roles. This is a shame because there really is no substitute for an independent, trusted chaplain in an embedded relationship within the club.”

Many churches have local football and other sporting clubs on their doorsteps and may want to see if a chaplaincy might be possible. What would Matt’s advice be to Christians wanting to make the connection?

He tells me, “Get in touch with us at Sports Chaplaincy UK. Depending on an individual’s location and sport we can advise on any vacancies we are aware of, guide them through any openings and offer the relevant sports chaplaincy training and support.”

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director with the CofE. He writes widely about faith and football.