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"It matters a great deal who is going to win, but not at all who won"

Willie John McBride, Irish Rugby player

Thank God for Football!

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By Peter Lupson, Azure (SPCK), 2006 ISBN 13:978-1-902694-30-9

While I am not sure that my wife would agree, Lord Arthur Kinnaird, who played in nine FA Cup Finals in the nineteenth century, spoke for many of us when he said "that all right-minded people have good reason to thank God for the great progress of this popular national game [Association Football], from which the book title is derived.

The justification for the book is the little known fact that, of the 38 clubs which have played in FA Premier League since its inception in 1992, twelve owe their origins to church or Christians. When Southampton moved to their new stadium in 2001, they chose the name St Mary's Stadium as a way of acknowledging their provenance. Peter Lupson's book documents the origins of Southampton and the other eleven clubs and the role that the church or church people played in their foundation.

Of course no one in the 19th century set out to found a 21st century Premier League Club. Churches formed sports clubs, many existed for a short time and many remained church teams all their lives but a few evolved into professional clubs. Churches at that time were prolific founders of sports clubs. In Birmingham in the years 1871-1880 almost 21% of the total number of cricket clubs and just under 25 % of the association football clubs had connections with religious organizations. [The development of Physical recreation in the Birmingham district from 1871 to 1892, DD Molyneux, MA Thesis University of Birmingham 1957].

How could the members of the Young Men's Bible Class who decided to found the The Aston Villa (Wesleyan) Football team or the boys of the All Hallows Church Bible class who founded the Hotspur Football Club, for example, possible have guessed that two of England's finest clubs, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur who emerge in later years?

Peter Lupson has done a magnificent job in documenting the stories, in finding the missing links and in some cases correcting the official club histories! He has honoured the memory of many unsung heros who out of faithfulness to God, served their community by running a youth or community football team out of which a Premier League club was to evolve.

One frustration that Peter Lupson encountered is the lack of evidence of the effect of the church involvement on the club, as the following statement shows: "It is not known how much involvement Aston Villa Football Club had with the Aston Villa chapel during the momentous years when the club was growing in status". (Page 14). Similarly he can only speculate as to why the (Southampton) St Mary's Young Men's Association football club dropped the "YMA" from its title and what it meant for church involvement in the club.

Lupson is not the only one to encounter that problem. Jack Williams also comments on it, "The sparseness of evidence about the origins of church based clubs and leagues means that explanations for the great number of church cricket and football teams have to be expressed with caution" [Sport and Identity in the North of England, Ed Jeff Hill and Jack Williams, Keele University Press, 1996 Page 119].

The one weakness in this otherwise excellent book - and it is a serious weakness - is the complete lack of footnotes and very rare indications of sources of information and quotations. This will sadly make the book of limited value to the academic historian. Anyone wishing to consult the primary sources will have to duplicate Peter Lupson's efforts in finding them.

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