Football on Easter Sunday? Heaven forbid!

by admin

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Football and religion

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has criticised the Premier League for scheduling games on Easter Sunday, saying it should be a day to spend time with those we love. I like Dr Sentamu. He speaks a lot of sense, most recently suggesting that making St George’s Day a national holiday could promote unity in England. I feel he is wrong, however on this latest issue.

I admit I am not a religious person. Although I do hold Christian values, I am a firm believer that you do not need to go to Church to be good. I know a few people who attend Church every Sunday but are very un-Christian in the way they live their life.

Football dominates my weekend. I play on Saturday afternoons and I set out as usual on Easter morning to watch my local Sunday team play. All the churches I passed on the way had lines of cars parked up outside. Today was a Christian day that Dr Sentamu would like to see on a level playing field (excuse the pun) with Christmas Day. The problem he has though is that for scores of supporters across the world, football is their religion. They may stay at home with their family on Christmas Day, but that is because it is cold outside and there is nothing else to do but stay in to enjoy a hot dinner and the Queen’s speech. They will already be relishing the Boxing Day derby clash with the ‘scum down the road’. In fact they have had one eye on it ever since the fixtures were printed, desperately hoping they would be allowed out the house for a couple of hours with some cold turkey sandwiches in their pocket.

You might make your own judgements, but if you ask the topless, tattooed Geordie regularly pictured at Newcastle games where he’d rather be on Easter Sunday, at home or St James’ Park, I think I could predict his answer.

We live in a free country, tolerant of many different cultures and religions, but to have religion dictating when we can and can’t play sport would be an unwelcome infringement on our freedom of choice.

It should not be forgotten that football league matches were once played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. While reading the autobiography of Tommy Docherty recently, it was interesting to note how he thought nothing at the time of playing for Preston against Blackpool on Christmas Day, before getting on the train the next day for the return fixture. The pampered stars of today would have difficulty reading a rail timetable accurately, never mind be willing to play two days in a row.

Dr Sentamu’s argument for banning football on Easter Sunday is based on the origins of one of the teams who played this Easter Sunday. He said: “The greatest irony for me is the fact that without the very first Easter Day, the teams involved in today’s matches would not exist at all. “Football has come a long way since members of the Aston Villa Church Bible Class formed a football team in 1874 and the members of St Domingo’s Bible Class started playing football at Stanley Park in 1884.”

I know there are more important things in life than football. But I do not accept that religion is in any way superior to football. They both have large followings, both like to incorporate some form of singing and, sadly, both can lead to unnecessary and fatal acts of extreme violence, so neither can claim to be the moral victor.

One thing I could argue in football supporters’ favour is they do not go round telling people who have no interest in the sport that they should be. On Good Friday a Jehovah’s Witness came to my doorstep. He was smartly dressed, in his early twenties, well-spoken and very polite. I was on my way out and, to be fair, he realised this and did not bore me for too long, but left a couple of leaflets for me to read (I haven’t yet). But if I dressed up in my football kit and started ringing doorbells with the aim of persuading strangers to come and play football at the weekend, well I would expect some funny looks at least. Football, remember, can also be the antidote to conflict, such as in the wartime football matches between British and German troops in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day, 1914.

Life is for living and enjoying, and I am proud to live in a country where we can choose what we do with our weekends. Some will go to church, some will bake cakes, some will go to the pub while others will pursue their sporting interests. I see no reason for any religion to change that.

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  • Darren

    Excellent article, football is of course much bigger than religion to lots of people. I used to manage a Christian football team, like you I wasn’t religions but did except their values. Whilst playing and managing my side I never once thought that we were doing it for God, although we did pray before games. My only objective was to enjoy playing football with mates and win the league (maybe that’s all I thought of).

    To a lot of people the Churches values are somewhat out of date and are seen to be very very uncool. If I would of had my way we would had played over the Easter weekend too. It would of at least stopped a fixture pile and forcing us to play double headers, which consequently cost us our 2nd successive league title!

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