A baptism

Community and the magic of the FA Cup

I am not a religious man, so arguably the honour of featuring in a sermon for the first time is all the greater. Of course, football’s at the heart of it all.

This weekend, my team, Tottenham Hotspur, play Marine FC in the third round of the FA Cup. It’s the kind of tie that revives memories of when the phrase “the magic of the FA Cup” meant something. The famous professional giants against the barely-known amateurs, meeting for one tie in which the impossible is suddenly possible. In this case, the gap between the sides is the largest ever in the competition. Spurs are Premier League giants, Marine play in the eighth tier of English football in the Northern Premier League Division One North West.

It’s captured the imagination, not least in the parish of Clapham with Keasden and Austwick in Lancashire, where vicar and Marine fan John Davies, who blogs at the marvellously-named Notes from a Small Vicar, has made the tie the subject of his latest sermon. In it, he talks of rekindled connections and memories, and of being reminded of the importance of “the most important of the unimportant things”. He confronts that old conundrum of knowing football isn’t really that important while also realising how important it is, saying: “I reckon I’ve found that my rekindled enthusiasm for all things Marine is not just escapism or nostalgia. It’s about family - who nurture us - for it was my granddad Cyril Davies who introduced me to that club as a youngster, and we bonded on those terraces more than we did anywhere else. It’s about community - which extends us…”

John concludes that a connection to a team is “about having a sense of place, of belonging, of somewhere you know is your heart’s home” before referencing a quote from the book Alan Fisher and I wrote (A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club) which read: “Community is at the core of football, and with it notions of identity and place”.

He was kind enough to send it to me, and we’ve started a correspondence off the back of his email. I shared what he’d said with Alan Fisher, because John’s mail was one of the reasons we wanted to do the book. We wanted to show why football meant so much to so many, especially in an era when the Business with a big B aspect is so dominant. It’s a theme I’ve banged on about at length - that the football business does not realise why it is so valuable. Alan and I wanted to draw out that real meaning but also to encourage people to value and preserve that folk culture, that organic and authentic growth that underpins the modern business behemoth.

There’s something uniquely satisfying about finding you’ve connected with someone, not for reasons of ego but because of the reassuring pleasure of realising that you’re not totally at odds with the world. And as Alan said: “These things are read and remembered, without us ever knowing that they have an impact". It’s all about connections and resonance, and the affirmation of the fact that behind the cold, hard business approach is something warm and real and truly meaningful that needs to exist in order to make the business as lucrative a proposition as it is.

As John Davies so eloquently puts it: “We draw from deep wells. Sometimes we forget, but in times like these, times when we may be feeling vulnerable, alone, misplaced, insecure, when life’s certainties are being challenged by circumstances we can’t control, it’s good to remind ourselves of the deep wells from which we draw.”

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The name of this publication is a nod to Arthur Hopcraft’s classic The Football Man, a book still regarded as one of the most insightful examinations of the English game. If I can get anywhere close to what Arthur achieved, I’ll have done well.