Tag Archives: football

Cobblers Column: Busy

For the Northampton Town vs Exeter game today.
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


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!

Premiership predictions.

The football season starts tomorrow. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season

First: Chelsea. They have strengthened well in the summer, bringing in some quality midfielders and a couple of people who can score goals
Second: Arsenal. The “no trophies for x years” mantle has gone. Again they have strengthened well. The key this year, as last, is how strong their second 11 is when some first choices get injuries.
Third: Man City. Defending the title is always difficult. Her they improved significantly since last season.
Fourth: Man Utd. I expect a big improvement on last year with new players and a new manager. Van Persie will be a new man with a manager who believes in him.
Fifth. Liverpool
Sixth Spurs
Seventh Everton or Newcastle.

Relegated: Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Leicester. Palace have lost a good manager on the eve of the new season – the guy who kept them up last session, and this is always going to be unsettling. West Brom are also a bit of an unknown quantity. They were a little lucky last year and have changed their manager again, to someone I know little about.

I’ll check back in in May and assess how I did.

How not to be a football millionaire.

how not to be a football millionarie gillespieI don’t usually read football biographies. I do like the odd biography from a notable figure – Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, or someone of interest. I was sent a copy of Keith Gillespie’s autobiography and was pleasantly surprised. He was part of the Newcastle United team during one of the most exciting times in recent history, during the first management of Kevin Keegan and shortly afterwards. I remember that fantastic European night when Gillespie and Asprilla teamed up and everything clicked in a memorable 3-2 victory over the mighty Barcelona.  Gillespie is famous not only for being a footballer, but for being one of a few who has managed to be declared bankrupt. On the inside flap of the dust jacket he lists the money he has earned, and lost, over his career. Over £7million. It is sobering reading.

Here’s why I liked the book.

  • He’s not boasting as his career is the wrong way round. He began at Man Utd and finished at Gletoran (N. Ireland) and came via Newcastle, Blackburn, Sheffield Utd and a short spell at Bradford. This is no rise to stardom story.
  • It is very down to earth. He does not shy away from talking about the times when he did or said something stupid. There is no cover-up here. He describes all his relationships and how they went wrong. He talks openly about his depression and the support he is getting. It is brutally honest.
  • He is open about the fact that he earned and lost a huge amount of money gambling, and in ill-judged business ventures.
  • He doesn’t pretend to have it all together or to know where he is going. At the end of the book, with his football career behind him, he is unsure what to do next. This takes guts to admit to.

Admittedly, it is not the best-written book you will ever read, but there is something compelling and admirable about a man who comes clean and says, in front of the world “I messed up, I made mistakes, and now I’m trying to put my life back together”.

The Muslim Premier League

demba ba BBC-One-Muslim-Premier-LeagueI have just watched The Muslim Premier League, a 30 minute BBC sports/religion programme about Muslims playing professional football in the English Premier league (available on iPlayer until Tuesday 16th), which reminded me of a shorter piece that Football Focus ran on Christians (and those of other faiths) in football in 2007.

On the whole it was a reasonable news documentary, attempting to be sympathetic to the faith of Muslim footballers coming into the UK. (There are no British Muslims currently playing in the premier league, all come in from abroad). The makers interviewed a few current players including Demba Ba and Ali Al Habsi, a couple of managers including Sam Allardyce and Arsene Wenger, as well as the Liverpool club doctor who is a Muslim. There was a general bemoaning that there are not more home-grown Muslims in the Premiership, and discussion surrounding the keeping of Ramadan. One overall thesis to come out of the programme is that the world of football is more diverse and more accepting than society at large – it has to be due to the diversity of players.

But one disappointment about the programme was in its emphasis in what the faith consists of. Although the programme was generally sympathetic, I can’t help thinking that they have concentrated on those things that Muslims are ‘not’ to do. I’m no expert on Islam but the programme mentioned the ‘issues’ that Muslim players bring to a culture in which drinking and gambling is (was?) a key component. Fasting at Ramadan (30 days, dawn until dusk, no food or fluid) is also a problem as players, understandably, have to be in peak physical condition. Now, not drinking or gambling, and fasting in order to bring yourself closer to God are all good things and Christians too are instructed to avoid drink in excess, warned of gambling, and encouraged to fast regularly. However, surely there are some more positives from Islam that they could have included in the programme? For example, how does their faith help them day-to-day as a footballer? The programme failed to address this.

Overall, the 2007 excerpt from Football Focus (below)was a much more rounded piece of documentary film making.

Goals, goals, goals – success and failure

For the last of the #lentphotos, the theme is Loss. What sprung to mind was the moment when you realise that, suddenly, all hope is gone. There is no way back. Does anyone remember John Terry’s reaction after his team were pipped to the Champion’s League title by Man Utd, on penalites? Terry missed one of the penalties.

So my last lent photo is not taken by me, but here are my reflections on it from the time: Success and Failure. His actions speak from the depths of despair.

Also see some quotes from him a few days later. I wonder if this penalty haunts him again since he wasn’t able to play in the victorious team of 2012?

This post was from the Lent Photos series, from Day 40: Loss.

John Terry crying


This was the final moment of the season. The moment the whole season had been building up to. Chelsea had already lost the League Cup and the Premiership in the final moments, now was the pick of the three. The most important.

1-1 after extra time. Onto penalties, Man Utd had missed one of theirs. It comes to the last penalty. John Terry steps up. All he had to do was score, and Chelsea would win the Champions League, the pinnacle of European club competition.

As he stepped up to the ball, he slipped and missed. Man Utd were back in the hunt, and would go on to win.

After the game, John Terry cried. I don’t just mean that he was sad at not winning. He was inconsolable. For 10 or 15 minutes, as the rain pelted down around him, he couldn’t look anyone else in the eye. He…

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Dear Joey Barton…

joey bartonYesterday, you, Joey Barton, tweeted this comment (which was followed by a barrage of criticism).

I’m not going to criticise you here but I am going to answer your question. Why would people pray? Does God care about the outcomes of a match? As 140 characters does not seem enough to answer such a big questions I thought I’d write this. I’m going to leave aside the question of whether God actually exists or not, and for the purpose of this, assume that he does.

Many sportspeople pray before a match. In the football world, Brazilian legends such as Kaka and Lucio are well-known for it. At the final whistle of the 2002 World Cup final, the victorious Brazilian team all knelt and prayed on the pitch before celebrating. Daniel Sturridge, Kieran Richardson, and Bobby Hassell are all others who show their faith publicly, sometimes during a match. Some former professional footballers have even gone on to become pastors (Graham Daniels, Gavin Peacock).

Why would sports people pray before a game?

We cannot assume that they are praying to win, although this might be the case. However, it is not the case that God grants all the wants or whims of everyone who prays to him. In any case, there may be others on the opposing team who are also praying to win – whose supplications should God listen to? Which team should win?

The Christian God is a relational God. He is not a great ‘Santa’ in the sky who hears our pleas and decides whether to answer them depending on how good we have been recently. He is a God who created humanity out of love and who wants to know us. Therefore we pray to connect with him, just as you talk to a partner or friend in order to connect with them. Sometimes the prayers include asking for things, sometimes they don’t. But in either case, when we pray we relate to Him and are more likely to understand who he is and what he is like – again just as in talking to a friend you understand more about them. So some prayers before games might be praying for a result, a fair game, or a good performance. Other times it might simply be that I will use the talent and character God has given to the glory of God. For it is God who gives all of us gifts and abilities, and it is up to us how we use them.  But win or lose, the person of faith would want to glorify God in how they act and in what they say. Often we learn more about God, and about ourselves, when we lose.

Your second question: Does God care about the outcomes of a football match? Ok, Joey, so those weren’t your exact words but I think that the gist of the question. In one sense the answer is No, and in another it is Yes. No, because God doesn’t support any particular team (although if he did it would be Newcastle). And Yes, because God cares about the smallest details of his creation. There’s a verse in the Bible which tells us not to be anxious about our life because “God has numbered the hairs on your head”. He knows how many there are, therefore he surely knows our needs before we speak them. He is omniscient – all-knowing. So Yes, he knows, and he cares about the outcome of the football match, but the reason he cares is because he cares for the individuals playing. Perhaps by losing one of them would get closer to God, would learn more about themselves, or would drive them to change something about their life. Perhaps a loss would enable them to recognise that the only acceptance that is constant and unchanging is from Him and not from the shouts or jeers of a fickle crowd. Or perhaps by winning there would come the confidence (such as with Kaka or Kieran Richardson) to say a little something about their faith and therefore encourage others who may be struggling.

So there’s just a few answers for you. I hope they help. I speak of someone who has always been fairly rubbish at sport, but who enjoys it. I won trainee-clergy snooker tournament once whilst at college studying how to be a vicar. I should add that on my way to winning that, I fluked the blue and pink in the semi-final to knock out the favourite. It’s a good job my value doesn’t rely on my ability, because if that’s the case I’m stuffed.