Remona Aly
Sunday 25 September 2011 The Guardian

Defenders of the faiths: Imams v Clergy football league

Archdeacons on the left wing and goalies called “Mullah”… This may sound odd, but it’s just another day in Leicester’s Imams v Clergy soccer league.

Bearing in mind that football is close to being a religion for some fans already, there’s probably no better way to bring diverse spiritual leaders together. The idea for inter-faith footie started five years ago at Leicester’s St Philip’s Centre, a platform for the city’s faith communities to engage through education and sport.

“It was a genuine Muslim-Christian partnership,” says Canon Dr Andrew Wingate OBE, the centre’s founding director. “We may differ in doctrine, but we are all human beings who enjoy similar things – and sport is clearly one of them.”

The teams play two big tournaments a year, training for two months prior to each major match. Midfielder Shaykh Ashraf Makadam, imam and chair of the Federation of Muslim Organisations, says that “these matches help to break down stereotypes”.

Archdeacon of Leicester Richard Atkinson also points out that the roots of many of today’s professional sides – Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur among them – can be found in the church. “The creation of clubs improved the community spirit in many poor areas. St Marks Church football team, for example, was eventually renamed Manchester City,” he explains.

Football-focused faith has spread over the past two years, allowing the Leicester team to go international. A Christian-Muslim united front has already taken on German imams and clergy in Berlin.

Last September, England’s religious leaders beat Germany 4-2 on penalties. Next month, they will return to face teams from Berlin and Gothenburg and compete in front of an expected 1,000-strong audience. Let’s hope they have God on their side.

This article was originally published in The Guardian on 25 September 2011. To view it click here