Just before he jetted off to South Africa to cover the World Cup, Football Focus presenter Dan Walker spoke to Marcus Jones about faith and the beautiful game
Q How are you rating England’s World Cup chances?
I’m an eternal pessimist when it comes to England’s chances in major tournaments. I would say the best England can do is the semi final. The English disease is fear when you least need fear. The weight of history is heavy upon the players’ shoulders. Think about Southgate, think about Pearce, Waddle and all those who’ve missed crucial penalties… all that doesn’t make it any easier to crack it in from 12 yards. I think the one man who can change that mentality is Fabio Capello.
Who’s going to be the standout player of the tournament?
I think if Torres is fully fit, he is one of the best players in the world and he’s playing in one of the best sides.
The World Cup final is held on a Sunday. I understand that’s therefore something you wouldn’t be keen to present...
When I went into broadcasting, the one thing that I wanted to protect was Sundays. Being a Christian, I feel it’s an essential part of who I am – what I do on a Sunday being different from what I do the other six days of the week. I’ve been in this business since 1999 and I’ve not worked on a Sunday up until this point. People often say to me: ‘What are you doing you fool? How can being in church or your faith be more important than a World Cup final, Formula One race, the last day of the golf…’ whatever it might be. My answer is always that sport should be kept very much in perspective. Football, for all its brilliance, is temporary.
Where did this stance come from?
When I was about 12 I remember a guy came to speak at our church. He talked about the reality of heaven and hell and what Jesus Christ did and the significance of that. I remember feeling that night that there was a change in me and Jesus Christ became far more personal than he ever had been before. From then, even though I was only 12, I was thinking about these things, reading scriptures and considering these things carefully… and that’s just the position I came to.
How have your employers taken to your stance?
They’ve been brilliant, on the whole. There have been certain sections of people that don’t understand. There have been lots of things that I’ve not been able to do, but there have been other opportunities which the editors and the producers at the BBC have said, ‘Ok we like what you do, let’s work round it. You do what you do and we’ll get someone else to do the bit that comes on a Sunday.’ I’ve always said to everyone who’s ever had me do anything, ‘If it becomes a problem, cut me loose and I’ll do something else.’
What would be your encouragement to Christians who want to get to the top of their field but feel that they may have to compromise somewhere along the lines?
You have to be true to what you believe in. As Christians we’re called to be different. Everything about us is meant to be inspired by our saviour Jesus Christ and the inspired word of God. I would encourage people who are tempted to compromise to get things in perspective and to think about what is really important. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on everything… but you keep knocking on the doors, keep praying about it, keep working as hard as you can and if it’s the right thing for you to do, if it’s God’s will, then those doors will open and if not, well, get stuck into something else and do it for the glory of God.
Dan Walker has been the presenter of Football Focus on BBC One since 2009.