God, the Devil and West Ham United
Two confessions. I am a Christian and I support West Ham United. To the World, at the present time, that makes me a figure of fun and even pity. After all, I am identifying with a group of people who do not always currently play to their potential, often make excuses when things go wrong and, at their worst rush around like headless chickens. And my team's not playing too well either!
Eighteen years ago both worlds collided for me, when I was involved with what was known as the Billy Graham Mission '89 Crusade. During that summer tens of thousands flocked to venues in London to find out about 'that Christian thing'. One such venue was Upton Park, the home of West Ham United. The event was planned months ahead, with special training, rehearsals and administration activities surrounding the stadium. And while that was happening, the team's form had totally collapsed, free-falling out of (what was then) the First Division, with John Lyall, the manager who had led us to two glorious FA Cup finals, sacked. Among the hosannas and hallelujahs that summer were more than a few tears shared by the discerning football supporters for what is surely everyone's favourite "other" team - after all did they not win the World Cup for England in '66?
Now this all came back to me when I discovered that yet again Upton Park stadium is to be used for a major national Christian event, the Global Day of Prayer scheduled for May 2007. Yet again there will be special training, rehearsals and administration activities surrounding the stadium. And yet again the team seems to be spiralling downwards towards the relegation trapdoor. There is a worrying lack of confidence in the current team, with virtually the same set of players who last year were within 2 minutes of winning one of the most thrilling the FA Cup finals in modern history, being thrashed the other day 6-0 by Reading, a team that had only recently been promoted. Between those two events have been a catalogue of mishaps, including injury to the key player, loss of the assistant manager, a drawn-out and unsettling take-over of the club, the curious delivery of a pair of Argentinian players who no-one ordered and the sacking of the manager.
So what's the point of this article? Where's the religious bit? Well it is well documented by social analysts that football is the religion of the people, or at least one of them, in a group including shopping, partying and reality TV. You only have to visit a game to experience worship, prayer and righteous anger. But, seriously, to see the faces of the fans trooping through the streets after Arsenal had been thrashed 1-0 is to experience pure joy and happiness. I wouldn't have been surprised if the crime figures had taken a major dip that day. If you live in a community linked by a high-profile sports team then it is amazing how the success of the team can contribute to the local mood and sense of well-being.
Which brings me to my point. If you want to attack a community and spread despair, then, if you are able to, just nobble the local team. Humanly speaking, short of poisoning their pre-match lunch, this is no easy task. But say you had the ability to affect their moods or their confidence, a little nudge here, a whisper there. And if you also had the ability to manipulate events through subtle means, then you've got it made. Strip the average football star of his Porsche, designer clothes and wad of money and you have a very fragile self-obsessed being indeed. Child's play to chip away at the confidence of individual players, even the whole team, if you had these abilities.
There is one who has these abilities and the motive to thwart the success of any who oppose him, even a local football team. The motive is hate, unbridled hate for the human race, particularly any organisation, whether church or football club, that has been used for good, for noble purposes, for spreading the good news of a Saviour who you have hated since time began. This individual has gone by many names in human history. Our familiar name for him is Satan, or the devil. He exists, whether you believe it or not and he has the power to nobble a football team. But he doesn't have unlimited power and Christians have the perfect antidote to his nefarious schemes. We call this antidote prayer, a channel to another power, a vastly more superior power. We call this power God. It's a war out there, but few are aware of it.
Now you may think this a load of hogwash and just co-incidences shoehorned into a religious context. Perhaps it is, after all these are just my thoughts, not official Church policy. But, on the other hand, surely there's some food for thought here. And please, please, please, offer some prayers for the next home game against Fulham on January 13th. Divine intervention may be the only thing that's going to save our season!The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
View all articles by Steve Maltz