As featured on NY Times website

At the start of every season, the Rev. Liam O’Boyle sends a letter to all of Notts County’s players, from the first team to the academy. It tells new signings, and reminds established faces, of the role the chaplain fulfills at the club.

“I let them know I’m here to offer friendship and support to them and their families, whenever they need it,” O’Boyle said.

For the players who are not religious, he offers a confidential, independent sounding board; for those who are, there is the chance to tap into the network that O’Boyle, a vicar in the Church of England, has among all faith groups in Nottingham.

“Because of the community work we do in the church, I’m very fortunate to know a lot of churches, mosques and temples in the city,” he said. “It means I can help players who are not from the city to find somewhere to fulfill their faith needs.

“It can be difficult, for example, for a Muslim player to go to Friday prayers, because of the training schedule, or for a Christian player to attend church on a Sunday if we have a game that day. We can help with that, to let them know what times things are. We can put them in touch with imams or ministers who can help, or with players at other clubs in similar situations.”

Helping players establish those links in a new city, O’Boyle believes, is crucial, regardless of whether they are religious. “The nature of football — especially where we are, in League One and League Two — is often short-term contracts,” he said. “The players are often living in a hotel. Their wives and children might not come with them. It can be a lonely time.

“Then there are injuries and insecurities to deal with: You can be a favorite of one manager and not the next. It’s best not to bottle feelings up in situations like that. We’re there to be a confidential listening ear, or someone to offload to.”