As featured on NY Times

A chaplain is part of the team for about three-quarters of England’s professional teams, offering spiritual or secular counseling to the players.

The work is done over a quiet cup of coffee, in the privacy of the physiotherapist’s room, or through a brief chat on the touchline after training. It might be no more than a quick text message or email, asking if everything is O.K.

It is supposed to take just one day a week, but in reality it means being on call, 24/7, even years after the work has supposedly ended. It is entirely voluntary, and wholly unpaid. It can be sad and troubling: dealing with addictions and pain, fear and death. But it can be joyous, too: helping with births and marriages, healing wounds and building relationships.

Most often, though, it is simply being there: a shoulder to cry on and an ear to bend, the one person in the relentless, ruthless environment of professional soccer who is not concerned with how well you are playing or how many goals you have scored. It is why many players, and so many teams, treasure the discreet presence of a club chaplain.

According to Sports Chaplaincy UK, a charity that places chaplains with teams, some three-quarters of England’s professional clubs have someone in the post, either an ordained minister or a layperson.

Though their backgrounds and beliefs come from a variety of Christian denominations, they work according to Sports Chaplaincy’s credo to be available to people of every faith, and to those with none.

Much of the chaplains’ work cannot be characterized as religious. They are not there to proselytize, but simply to support, helping players, staff members and even fans of their clubs deal with problems professional and personal. It sounds, at first, a little like the role of a psychologist.

“The difference is that a psychologist is employed by a club to produce better performances,” said Peter Amos, the chaplain at Barnsley for two decades. “A chaplain is a volunteer whose duty is to support the players as people.”

It is not a glamorous role, and not a high-profile one. It can, however, be crucial, particularly to young men and women under intense pressure on and off the field.

“One thing that has always struck me is how vulnerable players can be,” said Andy Barrowman, the chaplain for Southampton of the Premier League. “They are vulnerable simply because they spend all of their time pretending they are not. I tell them that when they see me, they do not have to pretend anymore.”