The Soul of Football

One man's story of football, family and faith

Mark Chester

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Football offers us great enjoyment, whether to school kids playing in a park with jumpers as goal posts or to crowds watching a vital game in one of our mega stadia. Winning seems to bring most happiness, but for those who look deeper, football offers more: a chance to contribute to a team; an opportunity to improve on one's best, to win by playing the right way, to be tested by the challenge the opposition provides; and the possibility of learning lessons in the present for use in the future. This book gets beyond the surface of football, and reminds us that we need to get beyond the surface of life, too.
Revd John K Boyers, Chaplain, Manchester United

Content

Cloning Jamie Carragher

Lionel Messi's mistakes

It's all Wayne Rooney's fault

... are just three of the issues BRF's Who Let The Dads Out? founder Mark Chester reflects on in his new book The Soul of Football. An unusual book for us to be publishing you might think? You only have to listen to a match commentary or read game reports to know that football has a unique and widely accepted language quite unlike any other. Could that language be used to explore the deeper issues of life and faith and spark conversations with football fans across the UK and beyond?

In this book of two halves Mark delves into his footballing story of success and dreams of success, of the joys of winning and the sadness of one of the worst football stadium disasters in history at Hillsborough. This is a story of a long search for the soul of football, its true essence and its essential and emotional nature - a search he very nearly did not conclude.

In the second half, 'Soccer soul', he weaves together his football and faith experiences, using the language of football learnt so well over the years to begin to explore 15 key areas of the Christian faith. These are things like the value of team work, with each member being used in the position where their skills can contribute most to team success, and the importance of team forgiveness when things don't quite work out to the game plan.

Endorsements

Football offers us great enjoyment, whether to school kids playing in a park with jumpers as goal posts or to crowds watching a vital game in one of our mega stadia. Winning seems to bring most happiness, but for those who look deeper, football offers more: a chance to contribute to a team; an opportunity to improve on one's best, to win by playing the right way, to be tested by the challenge the opposition provides; and the possibility of learning lessons in the present for use in the future. This book gets beyond the surface of football, and reminds us that we need to get beyond the surface of life, too.
Revd John K Boyers, Chaplain, Manchester United

Author info

Mark Chester is a writer and speaker. He is the founder of Who Let The Dads Out?, a movement of churches reaching out to fathers and their children, and works for BRF to support the growth of the movement. He is married to Su, and with their two children, Megan and Billy, they worship at Hoole Baptist Church in Chester. Mark still plays football as often as his body allows, hits a golf ball badly, jogs reluctantly and swims slowly.

Reviews

Review from Reflections...Diocese of Hereford Summer 2015

More than a game

This short book has different messages for its readers, depending on whether you live north of Ludlow or south of Leominster. Shrewsbury Town have won promotion from League 2 while Hereford United seem just an unhappy memory. Mark Chester knows both the triumph and the tragedy of football. It is an unusual football book, because the write disagrees with Bill Shankly's famous statement 'Football isn't a matter of life and death- it's more important than that.' He tells us about growing up with a fantasy of playing for Liverpool but fell out of love with The beautiful Game after a good friend died in the Hillsborough tragedy.

He eventually recovered his appetite for playing and watching, but he got the game into a new perspective. God, and family, and church, are far more important to him. Mark Chester is a committed amateur player, but he writes mainly as a fan. As well as telling his story, the book also collects lots of short, accessible thought-for-the-day reflections on faith, each starting from football. This is a quick and easy read. You could easily put it into the hands of a friend who is more interested in football than in God. But first, read it yourself. One of Chester's earliest spiritual experiences was when, as a child, he found an open chapel where he could go an sit. He shows that it is possible for the church to connect with young men. Open churches, and speaking to young men: both are massages we need to hear.

Paddy Benson


A new book published by the Bible Reading Fellowship came to my attention this week. Written by Mark Chester, a Welshman who was once a member of Carmel youth football in Holywell, before joining Rhyl's youth team and a number of local teams in the Deeside area.

His book, The Soul of Football focuses on developing the relationship between football and family values supported by the author's strong Christian faith.

In addition to being a writer, Mark Chester works today for the Who Let the Dads Out? a Christian initiative developed by himself that has by now been established within various churches and chapels to encourage fathers and their children to spend time together in activities that enhance and promote family values and Christian principles.

Mark previously worked as a family officer for Liverpool football club, leading the Tactics 4 Families initiative, aimed specifically towards applying the language and principles of football as a basis for promoting a closer relationship within families.

Liverpool FC provided much support for this initiative that included football related activities such as the impact of collective teamwork, singing your support and following the principles of the Kop anthem of You'll Never Walk Alone, and these programmes were supported and attended by leading members of the club, such as Jamie Carragher.

Mark's book has been endorsed by Peter Lupson the author of the book Thank God for Football, and also by the Manchester United chaplain, the Revd. John K. Boyers as an opportunity to reflect on how the principles of the game may be replicated within family activities within the modern world. The book also allows us to contemplate how we can contribute as a family team member in response to the various challenges our modern life style and demands throw at us.

Mark has dedicated his book in memory of his friend John McBrien who lost his life in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. A chapter refers to the friendship between Mark and John and how this affected Mark's life.

David Oakley, chief executive of the Christian movement, Ambassadors Football, has provided the foreword to the book, and refers to the author's contribution towards promoting family values that have been based around the principles and activities of football and how these have managed to strengthen family ties between fathers and their children over the years.

There is also a reference to a quote by the existentialist philosopher and one of the greatest writers in the French language, Albert Camus, when he said that 'all that I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football', a quote I can assure you that I absolutely agree with 100 per cent.

Among the many books that have revolved around football, this one offers a new alternative perspective, focusing on the various influences and impact it makes on our lives. Certainly, this is a book that offers itself as one worth reading and one that encourages the reader to reflect upon its message over the forthcoming summer weeks

Review by Glyn Griffiths, Blog Radio Cymru


From the Church of England newspaper March 2015

There are times when Mark Chester's book is a classic. It tells the story of his love of football, and Liverpool Football Club in particular. It is at its best in painting a picture of what it is to be a young person in love with the game. Mark Chester is the founder of Who Let the Dad's Out? It is a movement of churches reaching out to dads, and what better way than through football.

I especially liked Mark's depiction of life in the 70s and the way life was much, much more rough and ready then.

As a fellow dreamer I certainly responded to the author's illusion that one day he might be plucked from the terraces to play in the first team. I had just such a dream, but with a far superior club, QPR. Mark weaves the story of his youth and his football, and his dad, in the most natural way. He tells of the horror of Hillsborough and how it ended his love of the game, for a while. He speaks movingly of his journey with God as well and the way his faith journey moulded his life. God works in mysterious ways. It is a good book but not a perfect one. The last section of ruminations is tacked on.

It needed a much more demanding editor. But it is a great read and I thoroughly recommend it.

Review by Steve Morris

Book details

  • ISBN: 9781841016542
  • Published: 23 January 2015
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 112
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