Despite it being a crucial fixture in Portsmouth FC’s quest for promotion, Benjamin McFadyean explains why he won’t watch their match this Easter


Source: Reuters

For Christians, Good Friday is the great day of remembrance. It is a day of prayer and mourning, as we mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, historically recorded to have happened in Jerusalem around 2,000 years ago at the hands of the Romans.

It is a day on which we remember the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of mankind. He paid the ultimate price for teaching a message of love and forgiveness, especially for those most humbled by life; the poor and the meek. Christ’s message is one of true life and hope, and it is still needed today, perhaps more than ever.

A lifelong obsession

A late convert to Christianity (I only joined the Church aged 30) sport has been a life-long passion. I started playing football aged five or six while living in Spain, where football was an all-encompassing way of life. I found a camaraderie in team sport which filled the void left by my parents’ divorce. When we moved to Spain, I spoke little of the language but, in football, I found a community that needed no words.

The English FA displays a complete lack of recognition of the solemnity of Good Friday

The beautiful game has been a constant for most of my life - as a player, a referee, a volunteer coach in Africa and now professionally as a journalist and academic. Alongside my faith, the round ball has been my steady companion and has brought me, more often than not, great joy and inspiration.

On match day, I would join large numbers of fans in a stadium somewhere - nowadays more often in the press box, but otherwise always a fan, just one who is fortunate enough to have made sport a career.

Good Friday games

On Good Friday, Portsmouth FC play at Wycombe Wanderers. With seven matches to go, this game is a must see for me. ‘Pompey’ have been stuck in the third tier for over a decade and the two-time champions of England are in a two-horse race with Derby County for promotion to the Championship. It couldn’t be closer.

But I won’t be following the game - or any other for that matter. For all Christians, Good Friday is the culmination of the Lenten period, the day we remember the crucifixion and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is a day of fasting, reflection and prayer, not a celebration - not even of sport.

My research confirms that the solemnity of the day is reflected across the majority of countries where Orthodox Christianity is practiced; there are no matches scheduled in the elite leagues of either Greece, Russia, Serbia, Cyprus or Georgia. In Romania, there are just two. The same applies in Germany and France, with only two games in Italy, two in Switzerland, and one in Spain.

But in the UK - a country where, according to the 2022 census, 46 per cent of the population are Christian - beneath the Premier League there is an entire calendar of fixtures across the twelve leagues.

With the exception of 2019/20 season, where Everton v Tottenham was scheduled on Good Friday, the Premier League has bucked this trend - although whether this is intended, to allow for a day for family life and/or religious observance, is unclear.

A new way

Football matches on Good Friday started in the pandemic-hit season 2019/20 but, gradually, more and more matches are being scheduled by the English Football League. In the 2020/21 season there were 34 matches scheduled in the first six tiers of the English game. This season, for the first time, there are fixtures from the Championship down.

Good Friday is a day of fasting, reflection and prayer, not a celebration - not even of sport

The disruption to faith and family life is not hard to see. As a practicing Catholic, even as a keen follower of football, it is incomprehensible. The English FA’s approach appears to be an almost complete lack of recognition of the solemnity of Good Friday - not only for Christian football fans, but also Christian players, coaches and staff.

These include Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Norwich City’s David Wagner (best man at Klopp’s wedding), Crystal Palace defender Joel Ward, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Fulham winger Willian, Everton’s Jordan Pickford or Chelsea’s Thiago Silva. There are many, many more.

Since my conversion to Catholicism, my own life is so rich with the balance of my faith and its practice and my work, in the world of football. I recognise the value that so many derive from our favourite sport.

But much like Christmas Day is respected - even if just as a day to spend with family - I would urge the FA to respect Good Friday, and ideally Easter Sunday too, as is the case in many leagues around the world, as a day of Christian commemoration, free of major sporting fixtures.