Rev Matt Baker, who oversees all the football club chaplains in the country, paid a visit to the Proact earlier this week to meet Chesterfield’s chaplains, Paul Hollingworth and Danny Woolf.
Rev Baker explained how his role came about. He said: “I’ve been chaplain at Charlton for 16 years. I started in 2000, so I’ve seen us in the Premier League, the Championship and League One.


“I’m a local pastor – just like your chaplains – and seven years ago the opportunity came up, with the support of the Premier League, the Football League (as it was then called) and the PFA to oversee chaplaincy throughout English football. So I work for Sports Chaplaincy UK as pastoral support director in English football, which means I’m overseeing support in training and encouraging chaplains throughout the English game.”

What is the role of a chaplain at a football club? Rev Baker explained: “We talk about being pastorally proactive within clubs. We’re there for everybody, whether they’ve got a faith or not, so a lot of it is pastoral support, caring for people and being at the training ground or being at the stadium, whether it’s a player, a member of the backroom staff, the community staff or whatever.

“We’re around to support, speak to in confidence, encourage and help people through any kind of issues which come up in life. And then, because we are a Christian organisation, we are spiritually very active in the sense that we’re here to help people on their faith journey as well. There are people of faith throughout society and we have found an increasing number of players of faith in recent years.”

Rev Baker tries to visit as many clubs as he can over the course of a year to support the various chaplains. “I can’t get round all the clubs in a year,” he acknowledged. “Seventy-one of the ninety-two clubs in the top four divisions have chaplains now. We do regional meetings for chaplains in different parts of the country twice a year, taking in two different rounds of regionals.

“We have an annual conference, so we’re involved in all of that. We do an induction day several times a year to train new chaplains and then I try to get to visit as far as I can. I was in Peterborough yesterday, for example, and then I’m up here today, so I’m getting around, seeing the chaplains, making connections with the clubs and trying to help and support in any way I can.”

Discussing how the role of club chaplain has changed in recent years, Rev Baker said: “I’d say there’s been two main changes in the last few years. There’s the increase in money that’s come into the game. We’ve just got a new TV deal coming in now and then if you tie that in with things like the EPPP and the changes with academies, there’s a lot more staff now right throughout the club, so the chaplaincy role has had to grow and reflect that. A lot of clubs now have more than one chaplain in order to be able to be that support.

“I think the faith element is the other one as well. We’ve seen over the last five or ten years a lot more players of faith, whether that’s Christian players, largely because of the influx of foreign players. We’ve had players from African Pentecostal churches and Eastern European Catholic churches, for example, as well as Muslim players coming into the game.

‘It’s put faith on the agenda a lot more. A number of clubs are now introducing faith rooms into their clubs, whether that’s at the training ground or the stadium as well, so players have that opportunity to go and express their faith where they want to.”

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Rev Matt Baker (second from left), is pictured at the Proact with Spireites chaplains Danny Woolf (far left) and Paul Hollingworth (far right) and Chesterfield FC Community Trust chief executive John Croot.