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PA Martin Rickett
PA Martin Rickett

'Faith is on the agenda' says football chaplain ahead of tonight's England semi-final

by Donna Birrell

Gareth Southgate says his side have a "very special" chance to bring happiness to the country if England beat Denmark in their Euro 2020 semi-final tonight.

But how much does Christianity and faith feature in this new, inspiring England team?

Matt Baker is national director of Sports Chaplaincy UK - he tells Premier many more players are seeking spiritual guidance:

"I think there's a lot more people of faith and there's definitely more Christians. We've seen an influx in terms of players of faith over the last twenty years. I know that we're seeing that up and down the country - not just at international level, but at club level as well. 

"We get told that in society people are less interested in spiritual matters and not so many people go to church, but I find it actually the reverse within football in particular, on the playing side. There's a lot more talk about faith. 

"I work with the Premier League, I go to Premier League conferences. Faith is on the agenda now and getting spoken about. So, we're in a great position as chaplains because most players are going to find it difficult to go to church for all sorts of reasons - because they're travelling to games, because they're coming back late on a Sunday morning having played the day before - all of that. 

"Of course, most of what we do is pastoral, but from a spiritual perspective it can be really helpful because we're embedded in those clubs and we can be praying with them. We can be doing the Bible studies, we can be offering that support in a non-judgemental way that understands the culture of football that they're involved in."

Premier asked how chaplains help when players are in the spotlight after highs and lows, such as penalty misses:

 "It's tough to deal with because the whole pressure is on you and you feel you've let people down and I think that can take some while to get over. But it shows the character of an individual if they can overcome that and move forward. We've got to remember, someone's career is not defined by one kick of a ball.

"As chaplains, we're there to offer emotional support and mental support and obviously, spiritual support as well. It's often about listening." 

At least three of the current England team have publicly shared how much God means to them, including Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, who says his mum taught him faith and brought him up in the Church. 

Speaking about God's existence, he said: "Every day you wake up, you just look around and you don't need to look any further than what you see. A lot of scientists, the cleverest people in the world tell you that there has to be a creator. And they need answers, but you just have to sometimes accept that it's bigger than you and you have to leave it at that."

18-year-old Bukayo Saka was raised as a Christian and attended a Church of England school. His Instagram bio reads: "God's child".

And a member of manager Gareth Southgate's coaching team, Chris Powell, has also spoken of his Christian faith:

"It gives me a sort of inner-peace, a sort of well-being." 

England take on Denmark tonight at Wembley at 8pm.

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