Cambridge United FC

Stuart puts his faith into football

Former Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly once famously claimed that football was more important than life and death. It isn’t, but it does raise questions of life and death among players, staff and fans. Stuart Wood is one of many sports chaplains ministering to them. He is Chaplain to Cambridge United Football Club (CUFC) in League Two and arranged a presentation of Badged Gideon Bibles to players and staff. We asked him about his role.

How did you become Chaplain to Cambridge United FC?

I contacted SCORE (as it was before Sports Chaplaincy UK) and they suggested I see if there was a “man of peace” at the club. I discovered the Physio was a Christian, spoke to him, he contacted the Chairman, I wrote a letter of introduction. Then the club went into nose-dive – sacked the manager, was relegated, and went into administration. I was appointed eight months later, just after it came out of administration, in the summer of 2005.

Are you a full-time chaplain or do you have other work?

I am a full-time Baptist Minister, but my Church, Barnwell Baptist Church, is very generous in releasing me to be engaged in the Chaplaincy at Cambridge United.

The Church is situated a quarter of a mile from the ground. I am very active within the local community and my role at CUFC is one aspect of that work.

What duties do you undertake during a typical week as Chaplain, if there is such a thing as a typical week?

There have been many changes over the years. I wrote a book in 2011 entitled Keeping Faith in the Team as a kind of diary of that season. Although it is therefore rooted in the highs and lows of a specific season, it gives a flavour of the kind of work a Chaplain can end up doing.

Currently, I try to get to the training ground once a week. There I have the opportunity to watch the players train and chat to one or two – usually getting more time with those who are injured. I also chat to the coaching staff once they have finished their session.

I attend home games and wander round chatting to fans, staff and directors – each game varies in terms of opportunities to talk and more importantly to listen. I am also called upon to help with supporting the club with its links to the local community.

How have the Gideon badged Testaments been received by the players and staff?

As yet we haven’t managed to pin down the first team squad to present them, or all the staff who work at the ground – working out when they are available and fitting it in has proved a challenge. There have been changes over recent months in who deals with arranging this kind of opportunities.

However, the Directors were pleased to receive them; the youth team were excited – two of the lads even went back to ask the Gideons if they could have a second Bible! I have also been able to give them to some specific people who I have built a close relationship with – fans and match day staff – and they have been very gratefully received.

On a home match day do you have any special duties to perform?

I used to do the pitch announcements, but I am pleased that isn’t my job now, so I am free to circulate. I don’t have specific duties, just being available to talk, listen and be a friendly face. There are some specific people I always try to look out for – usually people who I know are struggling or who I have had involvement with pastorally.

Do you pray with the players before a match or at any other times?

I don’t personally at CUFC, although other Chaplains I know do at their clubs. We have a Christian player, who attends our Church when he can, and I have offered to pray with him, but he has his own routine (which includes reading his Bible in the dressing room) and so I pray with him away from the ground when we meet.

Are there pastoral issues that are unique to football players that you find yourself dealing with?

I don’t think there are any that are specific to football players. Some of the pastoral matters that we all face can be heightened because of the profile they have and the lifestyles they lead.

I guess one of the biggest challenges that players face is when they are injured. They are still part of the squad, but they spend their time away from the rest of the group, sometimes with other injured players and sometimes on their own. When that injury is a career-threatening or -ending one, that does make things very difficult for them and their families. But this is not unique to football: professional sports men and women face this often.

What can the readers of Gideon News be praying for sports chaplains?

Please thank God for the ever-increasing number of sports chaplains nationally and internationally; and thank God for the good favour and positive reputation and relationships we have with the major sporting bodies across all the sports.

Pray that in the ever-changing world of professional sport, Chaplaincy would be embedded in clubs so that changes of ownership, management or chaplains would not close doors to this work.

Pray that each time a chaplain visits a club they have the opportunity to speak words of grace and truth.

Pray for more chaplains to be raised up to meet the demand that there is – it is not just at the elite, professional level, but at grass roots. Chaplains are needed at local sporting clubs – where there are people, there is need. At CUFC I am trying to build a team to work across different departments, as a lot of clubs are doing.

Pray for the work of Sports Chaplaincy UK as it seeks to support this development and growth – pray for wisdom in knowing what doors to push; for finances; for the staff.

Thank you for your support and standing with us.

Editor’s note to Gideon members

Having read this article you may be wondering what you need to do to provide badged Gideon Testaments to your local football or rugby club. The first step is, of course, prayer.  After prayer you should approach the chaplain of your local football or rugby club and explain what is on offer from The Gideons; you may find it helpful to show the chaplain this article. If the chaplain is interested and permission is given from the club, National Office will require an electronic image of the club badge in order to begin the process of producing Testaments. It is normal practice to present a badged leather Presentation Bible to the Chairman, Chief Executive or some other senior person within the club. Testaments may be presented to players and staff but not supporters, and they should never be sold by the club.

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