Category Archives: sport

Cobblers Column: What would Jesus say to Ched Evans?

For the Dagenham programme on 17th Jan.

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After much speculation, Oldham Athletic have announced that they have decided against signing striker Ched Evans to play for the club, after staff and their families were, quite appallingly, subjected to threats from members of the public who disagreed with their initial decision. Evans was not a usual signing. He was convicted in April 2012 for rape, and was released on license in October last year after serving half of his five year sentence.

A lot has been written about him in the last few weeks with questions and arguments varying widely. Should he be allowed to continue his career as a professional footballer? Whatever happened to criminals having served their time? Or are some crimes so bad, that convicted criminals should be barred from certain prestigious professions? Should finding work post-prison be dependent on an apology and admission of guilt? Others are questioning whether his actions actually were rape in the first place. As I said, the arguments are aplenty and I’m not going to rehearse them all here. Needless to say, this whole sorry situation, so easily avoided, has ruined his life as well as that of the woman involved. For the purposes of this column, I am assuming that the jury made the correct decision in finding Evans guilty.

As a minister, it is my job to apply what the Bible has to say to us in real life situations. What would Jesus say to Ched Evans? And what would Jesus say to us in regard to the story?

There is an incident in the Bible where a woman was brought to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery, which was against the religious laws. They wanted to stone her to death (or at least to trap Jesus into saying so). It is worth noting that the man caught committing adultery with her was not accused, exposing the double-standards of the people involved.

The woman is scared and awaits her judgement. Jesus shows compassion, whilst at the same time, upholding the law. First he says “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”. Hearing this, her accusers started drifting away, aware that they too are guilty of something or other. Soon there was no-one left to condemn her. Jesus then turns to the woman and says “I do not condemn you either, go and sin no more”.

There are a couple of points here. First, the woman appears to be repentant – she is sorry for what she has done. Second, Jesus forgives her, but expects a change of lifestyle. So the good news for Ched Evans is that forgiveness and rehabilitation are possible if he is willing to repent, but the response to forgiveness is to change. None of us know the contents of Ched’s mind or soul, however, we have not heard much in the way of repentance from Evans, who maintains his innocence. Added to this, the actions of his supporters in harassing the victim are despicable. Ched needs to “call off the attack dogs”, admit his part in the saga, and commit to a new way of life. But the invitation from God to a new life free from the past is there for him as it is for all of us.

There is another interesting application from the Bible story above. When Jesus said “let those without sin cast the first stone”, the people, previously out for blood, started drifting away. There is another part of the Bible where Jesus is talking about judging others, and is quoted as saying “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

We may not have committed rape, or been convicted for anything, but the likelihood is that we have wronged others or messed up in some way or another. There are parts of our own lives that need addressing – this goes for everyone.

The point is not that we shouldn’t judge others, but before we judge others, let’s take a good hard look at aspects of our own character and work on those. This is likely to make us more compassionate and forgiving towards others.

Let’s hope that the guys continue their good form and make light work of Dagenham today!

Cobblers Column: Steve Way and a new start

From the programme for the game vs Southend on 3rd Jan.

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Happy New Year! This time last year we were bottom of the league, with no permanent manager, and we hadn’t yet seen #DareToIvan on the scoresheet. And a year makes a big difference. Whilst our league position isn’t where we would like it to be, I think all of use would have taken this at the same point last year.

Managers often talk about their teams needing “the winning habit”, and this is the time of the year when many of us make resolutions and try to make changes to our lives.

Eight years ago, an overweight, heavy-drinking, kebab and curry-loving, computer programmer called Steve decided to change. He was in his mid-thirties and his lifestyle was starting to take its toll. He was unfit, and after a health scare he decided to do something about it, so he stopped smoking and started running. Initially this was to give him something to take his mind off the cigarettes and fast food, but it turned out, underneath his 16 stone frame, there was an international marathon runner in hiding. Last year, Steve Way finished 10th in the Commonwealth Games, being the first Englishman across the line and beating the British record for an over-40 year old in the process.

Of course, Steve is blessed with the physiology and genes that enabled him to become so good at this. But it would never have happened had he not decided to commit to changing in the first place.

There is a well-known saying that it takes 30 days for a new habit to stick. The encouraging thing is that it can be done. Whether we want to make a small change or a large one, to give up a particular bad habit, or take up a more healthy one, getting through January on target means we’re more likely to succeed.

There were two things Steve did to help him on his way. The first is that he set himself a goal by entering the London Marathon. Our goals certainly don’t need to be as big as his, but having a target to work towards helps keep us on track.

The second thing he did was to replace the aspect of his life that he wanted to change with something more healthy. The smoking and fast food didn’t leave a hole in his life as he filled it with something else. Running helped him over the fast-food cravings.

What physically, spiritually, or emotionally healthy habit are we going to introduce in 2015? Perhaps learn a new skill? Or eat less chocolate (I’m guilty as charged!)? Perhaps we may want to investigate our spiritual side during 2015? And what pattern of behaviour would we like it to replace?

It can be done! Take that first step! Good luck!

Cobblers Column: Referees, Robert Peel, and Christmas

NTFC vs Bury on boxing day

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Today we welcome players and fans from Bury who have made the 150 mile Boxing day trip to Sixfields. There are some Cobblers connections in the Bury squad. Left-back Joe Widdowson made 75 appearances for us over two seasons, whilst target man Clive Platt, who unfortunately had to retire earlier this season due to persistent injury, scored seven times in 47 appearances. Chris Wilder’s assistant Alan Knill is a former Bury manager too, saving them from relegation in 2008 and then taking them to a playoff final the following year.

I have to confess, after last seasons home tie against Bury, where we lost quite comprehensively, I thought we were all but relegated. Huge credit has to go to Chris Wilder and the team for gaining 13 points from 18 in the last six games of the season.

Bury is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Robert Peel, former Prime Minister and the person responsible for introducing police to the streets of the capital. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 resulted in 100 constables hitting the streets and, although initially unpopular, they did succeed in cutting crime rates.

Of course, the footballing equivalent of the Metropolitan Police are the referees and assistants. I’m sure we all agree that this is a near impossible job to do perfectly, as we all see decisions that we wouldn’t agree with.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need the police, or referees, at all, and everyone always played by the rules? Think what society would be like if we lived like that! Sadly, it is part of human nature to want to bend, stretch, or break rules when they are presented to us. We all want to do this to some degree, and dislike having outside limitations placed on us. The story of Adam and Eve, disobeying God in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the Bible, illustrates that it is in our  nature to rebel in some way. They had everything going for them but still decided to go their own way.

For those who break laws, the court system dishes out penalties and punishments, graded to the level of the offence. Football has it’s series of warnings too, with suspensions coming for amassing yellow or red cards. After the suspension, theoretically you have clean slate and can begin again.

Similarly, many people may not realise that it is possible to have a clean slate in terms of life’s failures too. There is a mistaken perception that God is all about rules and punishments, making us feel guilty when we don’t reach the mark, but the reality is very different. Our human nature means that we are never going to be able to live an entirely blameless life, however hard we try. There will always be something that we’ve messed up however big or small. The Christmas story tells us that God doesn’t want us to be continually fretting over these things. By being born as a human, in Jesus, God identifies with us and comes close to us in the midst of all humanity’s imperfections. When we mess up, we get a clean slate with God.

It’s also good news that each 90 minutes gives the team a new opportunity to go out there and impress. What better Christmas gift to Cobblers fans can there be that a hearty win today!

Cobblers Column: Thanksgiving

From the NTFC vs Stevenage programme on 22nd November.

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In the last couple of weeks we’ve had some things to be thankful for at Northampton Town. The victory over Wimbledon saw us end a five match winless run in the league, and added to that we witnessed Alex Nichols’  first Cobblers goal since his return from that awful career-threatening injury sustained in a win over Port Vale in October 2012. Being out with injury is always difficult, and the extent of Alex’s injury must have put doubts in his mind as to whether he would ever play agin. But thankfully, after a 21-month rehabilitation, we are all delighted to see Alex back on the pitch and scoring goals.

For the Americans among us, this week is an important one. On Thursday they celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday which they regard as almost as important as Christmas. All over the country, people make plans to get home to enjoy family time over a turkey lunch, usually served with roast potatoes, green bean casserole and with pumpkin pie to finish. Some supplement their main course with something called Sweet Potato Casserole – sweet potatoes, mashed with cream and sugar and topped with marshmallows. Yuk.

The very first thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 between the first white settlers and the Wampanoag Tribe in the new settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The previous winter had been very hard for the settlers, unused to such temperatures and without the knowledge of farming in that new climate. Many had died the previous winter, but during 1621, the Native Americans had shown the new settlers what to grow and how to cultivate the soil. Following an abundant harvest, the two groups celebrated together and gave thanks for the produce that would see them through the next winter. After the previous year, thankfulness was the only appropriate response.

Being married to an American, Thanksgiving has been a part of my life for the last ten years. This year we’ll be celebrating with our church community and others from the neighbourhood, enjoying the company and food. We’ve made it a tradition that we each go around the table and name one thing from the previous year that they are thankful for, however big or small. Sometimes people are thankful for a new job, new friends, relationships, or family.

In our culture, we often find it quite easy to find something to complain about. But, constantly dwelling on what doesn’t go well can lead to stress and unhappiness. When we start taking even a short time to remember the good things in our lives, we can find this immensely freeing, as we realise how many of the things we enjoy we do so out of an act of grace. I’m sure we can all list quite a number things – family, children, partners, experiences we may have shared – that we are extremely grateful for, and, when we think about it, these are often the things that we have not had too much direct influence over in the first place. The birth of a child is a prime example. When that little life is introduced to us for the first time, we are bound to think beyond ourselves, to the bigger picture and Source from where that life came.

GK Chesterton wrote “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’ ~ GK Chesterton”. We all need happiness in our lives. And we all need wonder. In sort, gratitude helps us realise that life truly is worth living.

Cobblers Column: Who are they?

For today’s match day programme for the game against Accrington Stanley
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I can’t be the only one who, on hearing the words “Accrington Stanley”, immediately associates it with a Scouse accent and an advert for milk. Milk, as the advert informs us, is what Ian Rush drinks, and, according to one little boy in the advert, without drinking milk he wouldn’t have been good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. “Who are they?” exclaims the other little boy. “Exactly!” comes the reply.

At the time the advertisement came out, in 1989, the club were in the Northern Premier League, and there is no reason to assume that I, as a young boy growing up in the North East, would have heard of Accrington at all but for that campaign from the Milk Marketing board. The club finally gained promotion to League Two after becoming Conference Champions in 2006, 44 years after a previously dissolved club with the same name (the predecessor to the current club) was forced to resign from The Football League due to bad debts.

“Who are they?” is not a question you would ask of Accrington Stanley today, having maintained a solid position in the division for each of the last seven seasons. In fact, you will not find many in football who will write off the chances of their opponents, whoever they are playing. Just as you should not judge a book by it’s cover, we cannot look at the history of a club and infer anything about the result on a given day, especially given two clubs in the same league. I’m sure Chris Wilder and the squad are approaching this game as any other, with the greatest of respect for the opponents.

Most of us remember the moment when an unemployed 50-year-old amateur singer from West Lothian, shy, bullied as a child, and diagnosed with Asperges Syndrome, took to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent and blew the judges away. What was so powerful about her performance, apart from her excellent singing voice, was that it overcame the misconceptions and initial judgements of people watching. Susan Boyle didn’t look like she should be able to sing, so most of us had written her off before she opened her mouth. Many of us didn’t respect her as a person until she had proven what she could do. Boy, were we wrong about that!

I’ve been guilty of this too, as a student teacher during my PCGE course when I was struggling to teach my subject to disinterested secondary school children (I never did get the hang of teaching). I remember being surprised as I saw someone I had graduated ahead of the previous year doing much better than me. He was someone who looked about 16 and whom, I’d judged, lacked confidence, yet there he was controlling a class and inspiring the pupils. I didn’t expect it. I had written him off and at the time, I’m ashamed to say, showed a lack of respect for him.

Respecting others in football begins with respect for people – for each person we come across day by day. Each person is an amazing creation of God, and when we take the time to look, we can discover that too.

Go on, watch it. You know you want to:

Cobblers Column: Busy

For the Northampton Town vs Exeter game today.
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The season is only three weeks old and already the Cobblers are facing their seventh match this afternoon against Exeter. Since the beginning of preseason, it’s been a busy time of hard work by all, with not much chance for a break. Stuart, Craig and the team of fitness coaches and physios have had to make sure that everything is paced correctly for the players to be in peak condition – and not overtired – come match days.

There have been times in my working life when I feel that I’m staggering through a mountain of tasks with hardly a chance to sit down. I’m sure that is the case with many people. Keeping fresh in the midst of a heavy workload is tough. If you scour the internet there is plenty of advice available, some better than others, but these are a few things which can help us during busy periods.

1. Get enough sleep. Whilst it can be fun to have a late night out from time to time, as we get older, it seems to take longer and longer to recover the next day. I find I need about eight hours sleep per night to function well, but for each person this is different. Shortly after our second child was born, I was noticeably struggling to stay alert during important meetings! Skimping on sleep makes us less focussed, more grumpy, and can be unproductive in the long run.

2. Take time off each week. In the early days of the Soviet empire they experimented with different lengths of working week in order to boost productivity. They failed, and in 1940 returned to seven days, like the rest of the world. The principle of taking at least one day off per week to rest and spend time with family is a Biblical one. The story of creation (whether you read it literarily or metaphorically) describes God working for six days and resting on the seventh. Hence, we seem to have been created with the need to rest for at least one day per week. My day off cannot be at a weekend (Sunday services!) but I always aim to take one full 24 hour period off each week.

3. Schedule me-time during the day. As little as 30 minutes of quiet thought per day can have a significant effect on our wellbeing. I start each day by reading a passage from Bible and praying for people, issues and situations on my mind, which sets me up for the day ahead. Others I know make time to be with their thoughts or contemplate the day by walking the dog on their own, or taking time out over lunch.

4. Say ‘no’. If there is an important task to be completed, prioritising it above less urgent issues or distractions can be highly liberating. I’ll admit I’m terrible at this, but I am learning the art of saying “No”, which doesn’t always go down well, but can be valuable in the long run in reducing stress and achieving what you set out to do!

Cobblers Column: Character

Today’s match day column for the game against Shrewsbury

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I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who watched with amazement last season as Liverpool, spearheaded by the deadly duo of Suarez and Sturridge, got within an inch of the Premiership title. Suarez was in the form of his life and was pulling defences apart on an almost weekly basis. After the controversies of the season before, he was finally making headlines for the right reasons.

And then we watched this summer as an innocuous challenge turned into something ugly during a World Cup group match. For the third time in his career he sank his teeth into an opposition player. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe he’d bitten someone again. On the other, it didn’t surprise me at all.

I recently read an article by an author who summed up our public lives like this: Character is King.

Our character – the traits and qualities that determine how we think of and treat others – can be our biggest strength or our greatest weakness. All of us have positive aspects to our character as well as negative. Unfortunately, in pressure situations it is often the negative characteristics that come out. We can all think of the “otherwise good bloke” who loses his head from time to time, or the office manager who loves putting others down. Left unchecked, these negative aspects can destroy us. They are worth working on to ensure that they aren’t what people remember us for.

Sixteen years ago, another young footballer was punished after an act of petulance on the pitch on the world stage. Afterwards, he received death threats, was booed at every away game up and down the country for the rest of the season, and was vilified by the press. But four years later, his reputation had completely transformed. He had gone from being seen as the cocky young kid who’d been sent off and had got his celebrity girlfriend pregnant, to a devoted husband and father, and a man who always worked 100% for the team. Earlier this year David Beckham spoke about it like this: “That sending off made me as a person”. It was quite clear to see in the years following the incident how he buckled down and attempted to change his ways.

Sadly we won’t be seeing the silky skills of Louis Suarez in the Premiership this season. He’ll be sitting out this weekend, serving his suspension, as his new teammates in Barcelona kick off in La Liga again. But I do hope he works on that biting thing. It would be nice to remember him not just as a great player, but one who achieves success after reforming from his very public mistakes.

Best of luck to all the lads out there today against Shrewsbury. May they demonstrate their very positive characteristics of determination, discipline, and teamwork in order to take all three points!