Rev Peter Crumpler has been a supporter of Brentford FC for more than half a century and is a season ticket holder. This season Brentford will move from their stadium Griffin Park to a new stadium just down the road. In a recent article and podcast episode for the Church Times, Rev Peter talks about how this forthcoming move has an almost “spiritual” aspect for the Brentford fans. The allegiance and devotion raises questions for us in church – can we learn lessons from football fans about universal human desires for commitment and faith and deep connections with a place and it’s history?
We know that the commitment some people have to their football team borders on the religious. You don’t really hear about people changing their allegiance to their football club – once they are Brentford or Arsenal or Liverpool supporters, they always will be. “Brentford ‘til I die” as they chant in the terraces at Griffin Park. Fans talk of themselves as the “Brentford faithful.” It’s not uncommon for lifelong football fans to be buried wearing the colours of the team they supported.
As we leave behind Griffin park, I expected people to talk about important matches or promotions and relegations. Instead, people have been talking about their family – fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers – the people that they had been going to matches with down through the years. It is a deeply emotional thing for people and speaks about belonging. Griffin Park is almost a sacred place to so many people, a precious home. What really struck me is that when a match is being played, and there is a penalty or critical moment in the match football fans often say things like “I can just see my grandfather standing with me” referring to a loved one who has passed away but used to attend games. This tells us something about how deeply spiritual it can be for some people. There are parallels between your local football club’s stadium and your local parish church. For the church of England, our commitment to the parish means we are rooted in a place and this is a very key part of our identity. People say – “This church is where my father or mother is buried,” or “My Grandmother was christened here,” and so on. What we see in football grounds is an echo of that and we are seeing that in leaving Griffin Park.
If this summary interests you, you can listen to the full podcast at www.churchtimes.co.uk/podcast, and on most other podcast platforms.