In a pioneering move that united the realms of sports and Christmas festivities, the Football Association’s recent Faith & Football Series – A Celebration of Christianity proved to be an extraordinary success. This innovative event showcased the organisation’s commitment to community engagement and highlighted the ability of football to transcend its conventional boundaries, bringing joy and unity to fans and players alike.

The Wembley setting was nothing short of spectacular – a renowned stadium transformed into a perfect location, with both the Bobby Moore Suite and the pitch side technical area adorned with festivities and the air buzzing with anticipation. This unique fusion of football and carols marked a departure from the traditional image of a sports venue, turning it into a place of warmth, celebration, and shared experiences.

The success of the service was not merely in its novelty but in the seamless integration of two seemingly disparate elements – the passion for football and the joy of the first Sunday of Advent. Compered by the fantastic and West Bromwich Albion fanatic Adrian Chiles, the event opened with a warm welcome from key figures in the Football Association, emphasising the spirit of unity that binds fans, players, and communities together.

One of the standout moments of the day was a collaborative panel, including Angy King (Reading FC Women’s Chaplain and Pastoral Director for Women’s Football, SCUK), and football commentator and presenter Simon Thomas, alongside current and former professional players, and renowned football personalities of faith. The central message that came out was the transformative power of God’s love and compassion that both sports chaplains and those of faith within football can bring. Many stories were shared by the panel of the unconditional love and compassion being extended to everyone, regardless of their background, beliefs, or performance on the field. In the middle of the National Football Stadium of England, so often dominated by competition, it was a privilege to hear of those being the hands and feet of Jesus, with whom individuals can be vulnerable, sharing their triumphs and tribulations without fear of judgement.

The heart of the evening was undoubtedly the specially curated carol performances, led graciously by ‘one of our own’, National Director for England for Sports Chaplaincy UK, Matt Baker (a very late but super substitution for the snowed in Bishop Libby Lane). The London Adventist Chorale and Regent Hall Band took centre stage, delivering renditions of classic carols and prayers, infused with a football-themed flair. From “O Come All Ye Faithful” to a rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, each song resonated with the audience in a unique and heartfelt way.

The Football Association’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity was on display throughout the day. Those on the planning committee came from a host of Christian ministries and the stage featured voices from various backgrounds, ages, and levels of football involvement, embodying the organisation’s dedication to fostering a sense of belonging within the football community. The Evangelical Alliance, alongside sports ministries such as Christians in Sport brought great value to the event, with Graham Daniels (General Director for Christians in Sport) bringing a charismatic and challenging message for this Christmas season.

The event was incredibly engaging for attendees, creating an immersive experience for fans and families from around the nation. From connecting with other ministries, to opportunities for meet-and-greets with prominent members of the football community, the Football Association’s Service became a multifaceted celebration that catered to a diverse audience. The event exemplified the power of football to unite communities, break down barriers, and create shared moments of joy, that resonates with the spirit of the Christmas season. The first service of this kind was a resounding success, with the hope of similar events continuing in the years to come.

Christian Wienkamp
Assistant National Director for England for Sports Chaplaincy UK