Football is life

The following is an article on the connection between spirituality and football.

Maria Haggett and Steve Nash

“Player comes in, veers to the right as he knows the distance is just beyond him. He lets go,
hits it sweetly. It goes, it goes… “
“Woweeeee!” The commentator says.
There are no words for moments like this.
The crowd roars, they go wild.
The player runs around like…
At the game, in pubs, in lounge rooms across the country fans are as ecstatic.
Opposition fans are devastated.
It is all thrilling. It is life.

In Episode 6, Season 1, of the popular TV series Ted Lasso, new recruit to the embattled Richmond
FC, Dani Rojas introduces the powerful mantra, “Football is life”. Through Dani, and the series as a
whole, we are taken to a place where football is more that the mere pursuit of a pumped-up leather
ball. It is, in fact, life.
The modern Australian Football League (AFL) has also witnessed a shift. During 2023 the
Collingwood Football Club welcomed family into its inner sanctum, as memorably seen in Julie
McCreery’s Mother’s Day address to players. Such a moment captured a deeper connection beyond
the game itself. Other clubs have also acknowledged the more existential pull of sport. During its
recent successful period Richmond Football Club extolled virtues such as care and self-sacrifice,
emphasising that football encompasses physical, mental, and social dimensions. Perhaps, football
even has a spiritual side.
The exploration of football’s inner landscape leads us to the spiritual dimension, evident when
players engage in prayer or publicly express gratitude for their achievements, attributing them to a
higher power. For some players, the playing field becomes a sacred space akin to a garden, offering
respite from life’s worries. Prayer is often misunderstood as asking for a result in one’s favour, but it
is so much more. Prayer holds immense power, fostering unity and purpose within groups, and dare
we say, within teams.
Richard Rohr, a priest and spiritual elder, writes that true wisdom emerges from living with paradox (1).
In a world that often simplifies football to the binary of winning or losing, the true essence lies in
embracing the paradoxical nature of the game. The AFL system, designed to balance talent across
teams, emphasizes the inevitability of adversity—whether through injury, poor form, or sheer bad
luck. Recognizing the interconnectedness of suffering and success elevates the significance of the
entire enterprise.
The parallel between faith and team sport is evident in the ethos of football, where a team-first
mentality prevails. Shaun Hart, a former player and Pentecostal Christian, draws connections
between his faith and football, emphasising the importance of looking out for teammates and
helping the weak (2). In a culture fixated on winning, this mindset may seem paradoxical, yet it
resonates with the spiritual concept of aiding the vulnerable. Both spiritual and football journeys
follow a rhythm, marked by distinct seasons and moments. For Christians, Jews, Muslims and for
many other faiths, the yearly cycle of liturgy, worship and prayer is marked by moments of
preparation, celebration, commemorations, recognition, and quiet reflection. Similarly, AFL seasons
unfold with their own highs and lows, offering players the opportunity to lean into different energies
and perspectives. Embracing these diverse experiences equips individuals with a more nuanced
understanding of the world around them.

While over half of Australians still identify as religious, the conversation around spirituality and
personal interaction with the divine remains subdued. In the realm of football, small groups of
players and staff pioneer discussions about spirituality, striving to integrate this inner life into the
broader narrative of the game. The intersection of football and spirituality becomes a fascinating
exploration, offering a unique perspective on the complexities of human experience within the
confines of a beloved sport.

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1 Rohr R., Breathing Under Water
2 AFL’s Growing Band of Religious Players, Michael Gleeson, The Age, May 23, 2014