Iron sharpens iron
Iron sharpens iron

Throughout the football season, coaching staff working in the world of professional football come together, around God’s word, for a team meeting like no other. These are professionals locked in relegation battles, celebrating big wins, making decisions that will determine the course of players' careers, often dealing with immense pressure and public scrutiny.

This weekly meeting started in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic called a halt to the football season, and continued to grow as normality gradually returned. We caught up with three members of the group as they reflected on its growth and why they value it as a weekly commitment.

Michael Johnson - England Under 15-21s Coach

“Iron sharpens iron”

“I’ve been involved with Christians in Sport for years. I used to attend meetings roughly once a month in the East Midlands with Cyrille Regis. Since lockdown, I’ve found moving to meeting once a week really beneficial. In a world and a sport where your faith isn’t celebrated it’s easy to feel isolated. This group has enabled us to help each other see that we aren’t alone, there’s other Christians on similar paths, facing similar struggles.

The Bible says that iron sharpens iron, and the coaches’ study is an environment where this happens. You feel listened to and people get the difficulties we face working in football. I work with young players and there are Christians there who struggle to be open about their faith because the environment is so competitive, everyone is jostling for position and power, it’s hard to be vulnerable. Meeting with this group has strengthened my character, I’m encouraged to feel comfortable with my faith. It doesn’t mean that I can speak about it all the time in my job, but I can bring honesty and authenticity to my coaching.

This group is enabling other leaders to do that too. I work for England football, but the group is a constant reminder that this is just shirt that I wear, being a footballer, manager, coach – doesn’t define me, the group allows gospel truth to be poured into me, I’ve grown, and seen others grow in confidence, to exhibit Christ-like behaviour, to live as Christ has called us within our roles as coaches.”

Bobby Hassell - Barnsley Football Club Academy Manager

“It's a family”

“As Academy Director – I manage over 40 staff, looking after 120 young players, it’s a big responsibility. I came to faith at 29 and didn’t come across Christians in Sport until the lockdown when another coach at Nottingham Forest invited me to the coaches’ Bible study - I’ve been involved ever since. I’ve tried to dedicate that hour a week on a Wednesday morning, not only to receive but to give back, to encourage others. It’s great to connect with what has become a family within football, we start and finish in prayer and in between we look at the Bible, seeking to apply it directly to our work.

Football is a performance-based industry, everything is about results, which means I have to communicate disappointing things a lot of the time. Things like releasing young players – it’s horrendous, regardless of your honesty and integrity as an individual. It’s been great to be able to call on people in those dark times, and many have contacted me directly for prayer. It’s been a privilege to pray with other coaches when they’ve been let go from a club unfairly or faced other challenges. We pray together and offer that encouragement that Jesus is in control of our lives, not man."

Nathan Jones - Luton Town Manager

“Grounding and uplifting”

“I’ve been a Christian all my life, I don’t know where I’d be without my faith. But the pressure in professional football, means it’s easy to stray – it’s a real test of character. That’s why it’s so helpful to regularly meet with other Christians, especially those who understand the world of football. It’s a respectful group and we’re blessed to have a leader in Graham Daniels who genuinely cares for us. There’s such range of experience, some have been following Jesus for years and others have only just come to faith. It creates opportunity to have open fellowship, which is rare and valuable in football and elite sport. Football is stressful, it’s trying and testing. This group is a place of genuine empathy and support when people are facing tough times as we read the Bible together. God’s word is also humbling when times are good and there’s success to celebrate, the group helps me to stay level in these times. It’s been a comfort for me, it helps me maintain my gospel foundation and keep my Christianity at the forefront of everything I do. Being a part of this group is grounding, and uplifting.”

Spurring each other on

Bobby, Michael, and Nathan’s reflections bring to life the challenges that are rife within professional football. It’s a sport like no other; gaining a contract with a top-flight club at 18 is potentially life-changing, whereas being released at this point is crushing. Promotion at the end of the season is worth millions of pounds, whereas a string of losses could mean the end of a manager’s career.

Professional football demands so much from any individual involved, it is ruthlessly results based, cutthroat. This is why gathering weekly around God’s word has proved so valuable for these three individuals, the ability to encourage each other and reflect together with individuals who share same challenges, is powerful.

We exist to support Christians in this world of sport. Facilitating opportunities for people to spur each other on, through reading God’s word and praying together, is an immense privilege. Our hope is that God would continue to use this group to disciple Christian coaches, encouraging them to live and speak for Christ in the world of professional football.

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