I grew up loving glamorous football stars – Lee Sharpe, Chris Waddle, Jeremy Goss – these were my favourite people in the world. As a young Christian who loved football, it was pretty demoralising to accept that these two sides of my life were never destined to find a meeting point. That's just how it was: Football didn't do God – Maradona excepting – and God seemed to be alright about it.
So it's been quite a mind-bending few years, since Maria has dragged me back into the Beautiful Game: Hernandez on his knees before kickoff; pre-match prayer meetings at several clubs; Berbatov reading his Bible in the dressing room etc. I mean, for Heaven's sake, the last thing Wayne Rooney does before going on the pitch is to go into the massage room to pray!
And this week it has spilled over in a much more public way. Fabrice Muamba (another Christian, before you ask), had a heart-attack during Bolton's game with Spurs last Saturday.
Within seconds, players were praying, and after a few hours, as the magnitude of the situation struck home, I was reading tweets like these:
Jack Wilshere: 'Everyone keep praying!'
Wayne Rooney: 'Praying for him and his family.'
Kyle Walker: 'Doesn't matter who you support. Doesn't matter if you aren't a football fan. Doesn't matter if you aren't religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.'
The outpouring of support was so explicit in its constant references to prayer that I found myself halfway between continuing to pray for Muamba, and being overwhelmed by the fact that in the middle of a tragic event the footballers of the nations have been leading us in prayer.
These last two photos: Ronaldo & Messi, neither of whom know Muamba, passing on best wishes. This is how we – the Church, and Humanity – should react to suffering. 'When one part suffers, we all suffer,' and when we 'bear each others burdens, we fulfil the law of Christ.'