Heirs of St Domingo's Sunday School
Updated: Jun 27, 2020
“Why the fireworks?” I thought last night. “And it’s not even dark yet.” Then I realised – Manchester City must have lost. So congratulations to Liverpool! It’s been a long wait since winning the top-flight title way back in 1990, some 1149 games ago. Over those 30 years LFC have employed no less than nine permanent managers and fielded some 239 players, having spent a stunning £11,470,000,000 on their acquisition. I have to confess that as an Evertonian such congratulation doesn't come easy – even if LFC supporters are to be found even amongst my own kith and kin. But I have been impressed with Jürgen Klopp and in particular, how he responded to the Lockdown. “The intensity of the football and how the people live football in Liverpool,” he observed: “it is not a usual.” And of course, he’s right. Occasionally I come across people who are surprised that I support EFC. “But you are not a Catholic!” they explain. However, that is to confuse Liverpool with Glasgow. In fact, some 12 years ago Henry came to speak at our Alpha launch and he told me that as a vicar in Everton he had been invited to a ceremony in Shepley, near Huddersfield, where the grave of Reverend Ben Swift Chambers had been restored following years of neglect. Also in attendance were the club captains of both Everton and Liverpool along with Everton chairman Philip Carter and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry. Both clubs were honouring the memory of their founder.
It was Chambers, who in 1878 as minister of St Domingo Methodist New Connexion Chapel in Breckfield Road North, Everton, encouraged members of his Bible class to start a cricket club. Almost as an after-thought, it would seem, to keep his players fit over the winter months, he formed St. Domingo’s Football Club. Their first match was against St Peter's Church at Stanley Park. However, to attract players who were not church members they soon became known as Everton Football Club. I won’t go into the sorry tale but should you ever visit the Sandon Hotel in Anfield you will learn how a row over money in 1882 led to a split with the breakaway group forming ‘Everton F.C. and Athletic Grounds Ltd.’ You will be intrigued to learn that these renegades applied to the FA to be called ‘Everton Wanderers’ but their request was denied. So they had to settle for ‘Liverpool Football Club’ instead. In other words, as the ceremony in Shepley demonstrated EFC and LFC have a common Christian heritage as it typical for many Premier League clubs including Manchester City whose defeat last night triggered the pyrotechnic celebrations. For ministers like Rev Ben Chambers football key qualities which fostered spiritual growth by encouraging certain qualities. Above all, a Christian mindset. First of all, teamwork. You play for the team and not for yourself – you don’t hog the ball. To quote Jürgen “You can’t have all the benefits of being part of a team and then behave like a single star. If you want to do that, play darts.” Disciples of Jesus are by definition to be team-players. This was very much the passion for the apostle Paul. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good,” he reminds the disparate disciples at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:7). But this is a major problem in our day too, in our individualistic culture. How many Christians are lone rangers, unattached to any fellowship, accountable to no one but themselves. Another quality for our Victorian forbears was the importance of self-control – especially in the early days of EFC when there would be no referee. Disputes were handled by the respective captains. So you kept to the rules, you controlled your behaviour, you showed sportsmanship. No professional fouls, no diving. Character was everything. So the apostle Paul exhorts: “But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith.” ( 1 Timothy 6 :11) And today it’s fitting that Liverpool are in first place in the current FA Fair play table with 122 points, well ahead of second place Leicester with 146. Sad to say Everton are in 16th place with 250. Reverend Chambers would not have been impressed. As an exponent of ‘muscular Christianity’, so important for the late Victorians, he saw football as a moral agent. How you played rather than merely winning was key. And who you played for was of overwhelming importance. . And who does Jürgen play for? His response: “Jesus Christ is the most important person in history. For me, this is an easy answer. So congratulations, Jürgen and everyone at Anfield! #football #teamwork #character