What does it mean to be a professional footballer and to believe in God? English and international players answer this and other questions in a recently published book.
Book reviews are normally a pleasant thing to do. In most cases the book will arrive without any extra cost and will be an enrichment to the already quite handsome football library. If the topic is religion however, things do get a bit difficult as it is a held belief that religion should be left out of sport and rather kept as a private matter. I am a confessing Non-believer and therefore struggled to see the point in this series of interviews offered in this little volume offered by two Christian editors about faithful footballers. On more than one occasion I have put the book down upon reading phrases such as
‘God gave you the talent and the rest is up to you’(p. 17)
At this I wanted to shout, ‘no he hasn’t given you anything because he can’t because he does not exist!’ as I considered the thought wrong from the very beginning. No, I managed to keep my temper and read the interviews with interest, though they only differed minimally. Most of the players interviewed here came either early to their beliefs through their families or found it during their teens. Some discovered the gospel during their careers or after finishing playing. The biggest names in this book are Kaka, Darren Bent, Heurehlo Gomes and Gavin Peacock. The book is written in the language of the ordinary football fan, making it easy and quick to read. The interviewees are happy to share their experience as Christian football players who also have responsibilities as role models. It is indeed telling how many of these players in this book cite an emptiness either besides football or in the time after their career that made them look for answers which football did not offer them. It speaks of the character of those interviewed and highlights the needs of players for more social inclusion and not exclusion. Moreover, how many of them found moral stability as a professional football player with the help of their faith is quite surprising. There are certainly more players who have similar thoughts and experiences It is an indicator how much the human factor is valued by the football establishment.
There is a flip side to this coin however. In times of a heightened discourse about the place of Islam in Europe the aim of this book is questionable. Is it a reassurance or a bulwark or simply a collection of thoughts of players and former players who have found their peace and guidance in the Christian faith? This is not a criticism but an observation that in certain circles the book may provoke angry reactions whereas in others it serves as a confirmation of the traditional order. What would have been the echo like had this been a book about Muslim players such as Mesut Özil, Ilkay Gündogan or even Franck Ribery? In fact almost half of the German and French football national teams are players who are followers of Islam, either by birth or by conversion. Yet no one seems to take notice or consider this as bothersome, though it confirms Islam’s place in the very heart of Europe. In this current climate it seems unlikely that a book about Muslim footballers would go without any negative publicity. Maybe it is just that this book inspires such a book by their professional colleagues who happen to follow a different faith. People who happen to be professional footballers talk about their religious background and what it means for them. This is not unusual and everyone is entitled to hold their own beliefs and should not be discriminated against. Yet, in this day and age religion is a sensitive issue not to be taken lightly, however there is no stance to proselytise in this book. It further tells us that football is not everything in life despite the fact that one is tempted to think so given the media saturation.
Ollie Baines & Liam Flint (eds.), Cross the Line. Christian Footballers talk God, Faith and the Beatutiful Game (London: SPCK, 2016), Pp. 136, £9.98, ISBN: 978-0281076802 Add to Citavi project by ISBN
The book is available via the online shop of the Society of Promoting Christian Knowledge or here.
NB: The publisher has kindly provided a review copy.