Archive for Religion

Well played, Ireland. Well played.

So it looks as though Ireland has said Yes to equal marriage by a wide margin. What a day. As John Amaechi recently wrote on Twitter, it really is “restoring faith in humanity” to see that so many Irish people travelled home to vote on this referendum. The reported margin of victory represents a fantastic validation for LGBT people from the society around them – a validation that for far too long they have to draw only from themselves. How remarkable that, in a Catholic country, LGBT people will be able to walk the streets and think “the majority of my nation is on my side”.

Of course homophobia won’t disappear in Ireland overnight. Of course the abuse and the attacks won’t all magically disappear. But that cynicism can take a ticket and wait its turn.  Because this is the type of change that was resisted for years with terrifying aggression, and which was brought about through endless courage, compassion and love.

Every LGBT person remembers the day they came out. For so many, it felt not so much like stepping out of the closet as stepping into flame. For so many, the fear of living life as they truly are will have subsided sharply, to a degree that can never be measured by any public vote. And this outcome will hopefully resonate far beyond Ireland, in deeply religious countries where homosexuality is still illegal, if not punishable by death. LGBT people in those places can look at this referendum and think, “look, the world is learning to care”.

The poet Jessica Horn has spoken of “love as a revolutionary force”, and that is what the Yes vote in Ireland represents today. Well played, Ireland: well played.

 

 

Re: Charlie Hebdo.

Re: Charlie Hebdo (I know, I know). Here’s the thing about causing offence that drives people to murder you. You never truly know the point at which you’ve crossed the line. We live in a world where writers and cartoonists are sent innumerable death threats every single day. When the threatened murder is finally committed, you may never know the precise point at which the attacker snapped. It could be an offhand remark or picture you’d tossed out into the ether a few months or years ago, which suddenly came to the attention of your would-be killer. It could be an article or image that you’d produced as part of a series of pieces criticising everyone. Or it could be a relentless campaign of mockery, of the most humiliating degree, conducted with merciless focus for months or even years on end.

A problem with trying to censor satirists by law is that what you are effectively trying to do is second-guess the mind state of a murderer, and that is an impossible exercise of itself. You can’t submit your proposed work to a committee of would-be killers before publication and say “hey mate, will this be OK with you? Will this provoke you to sufficient anger to fill up that chamber with bullets?” Another problem is beginning to think that the kind of people moved to murder over satire, regardless of how offensive it is, should have any kind of say in how or whether it is distributed.

Inspired by Israel-Palestine, 1948: The Sailor and The Farmer.

Having read about Israel and Palestine a great deal of late, I thought I would post this piece, “The Sailor and The Farmer”.  If of interest, please share.

———–

The sailor, stunned, started to shake;
By Fate’s grace, he had just escaped
From a scene of matchless horror
Since he had acted upon a
Hunch and forced some friends to board
His vessel, whilst some who’d ignored
Warnings that they were in danger
Were condemned to taste death’s flavour,
Gas and ash, in sombre chamber…

They’d all been rounded into herds,
The sailor’s friends, and then one-third
Of them had disappeared within
That tomb – but two-thirds came with him…
Previously, they’d lived happily
With people they now had to flee;
That’s why the sailor was struck dumb
That those that they’d once lived among
Could turn on them: but he had dreamt
Of such a day; yes, it was meant
To end like this – or start like this;
That, heartlessly, they’d be dismissed
And, as survivors, set adrift
To find another, safer part
Of Earth. And so, this sailor’s ark
Set sail. The waters were rocky
The crew’s members murmured softly
In a circle, heads bowed, hoping
They’d find homes across the ocean…
Yet this vessel’s journey was hard;
Their flesh was burned by sun, they starved
Halfway to death, and they implored
Their Lord that he’d reward their faith –
The sailor, praying for this grace
Looked out across the shoreless sea
And pleaded: “Please, there ought to be
Some land where we can rest our souls –
Our soles…” The sailor’s forlorn thought
Was that he’d never known a port
Where he’d been welcome: throughout time
There’d been suspicion of his kind –
The script, timeless, had never changed:
They’d come ashore, and they’d remain
There for a while, put down some roots;
They’d swap their sailor’s clothes for suits
Of good, land-bound professionals,
Then some would have exceptional
Careers, leading to jealous hosts
Who’d chase them from their lands, their coasts;
Or worse. The sailor knew of friends
Whose entire bloodlines had been cleansed,
Whose family trees had the sap
Ripped from their veins; he’d seen all that,
The sailor. Coping with this nomad’s
Life was often difficult,
Yet easier than getting caught,
Stranded on dry land at the hands
Of angry clans…yet as he made
His slow progress across the waves
He vowed, both wary and weary:
“My people’s eyes will be tear-free
One day; I will turn the servant
To the served; yes, I’m determined
That the next place where my anchor’s
Shade cascades, will see us anxious
No more; there will be an ending
To the terror we’ve been feeling…”
Then, as if the wind was heeding
Him, it gave wings to his craft,
Which harnessed the storm; came at last
To harbour on a continent
Most of whose folk were competent
At working all day in the fields…
As they landed, a plan revealed
Itself to this smart sailor, who
Barked some sharp orders to his crew.
The first order was “Burn the boat”:
The sailor intended – not hoped –
To stay here, and would not be swayed
By fear; he would cower in shade
No more. The sailor ordered, secondly –
As result of the heavenly
Instructions he’d received in dreams –
That all vacant homes should be seized:
See, there were plenty of empty
Homes, since they were owned by farmers –
All of whom – kids, mothers, fathers –
Toiled between the dawn and dusk
In deep soil that adorned Earth’s crust.
Thirdly, he told them all to strip.
When some refused, the sailor ripped
Their garments from them, shredded them;
Told them they had ahead of them
A future where they wouldn’t need
Sea-gypsies’ clothes. A chilly breeze
Then struck them, left them shivering;
Although they were still listening
To what their leader had to say
They weren’t keen on this naked state;
They felt exposed, humiliated.

“Finally”, ordered the sailor,
“You must all assume behaviour
Of people who are entitled
To live here; this is your tribal
Stomping crowd from here on in.”
They thought that they weren’t hearing him
Correctly; some of them had doubts;
They were guests; was it right to pounce
Upon houses of those who’d left
For work, to leave them dispossessed?
Though, in breasts, they felt uncertain
They felt, in same place, a surge of
Pride – they’d claimed the upper hand,
They’d made their mark upon these sands…

The farmers trod their routes home.
Keen to enjoy fruits of their stoves,
They drove their toothless mules down roads
Towards their towns, streets far from smooth
Beaten anew by horses’ hooves;
The adults, in their sweaty droves
The children in scuffed, dusty clothes,
Shuffled to their front doors, and stopped
In shock: since their front doors were locked.

To start with, each of the fathers
Thought that this was just a harmless
Prank. They never locked their doors.
They laughed. There was even applause:
Then, of course, they slowly took note
Of fact that this was not a joke.

“Open up!” they cried in despair.

“I will not. I live in this lair
Now,” the sailor said. “Who are you?”
Asked the farmers. “We’ve not harmed you.
Why have you chased us from our homes?”

The sailor’s people, in abodes
That they’d chosen, felt pangs of shame;
But they were anxious to remain
Inside, because if they now moved
Then they would be seen in the nude:
So they blocked all entrances,
Imposed on themselves sentences
Of long confinement. Now and then,
For food, they’d sneak out, grab a hen
And run back in before the stones
Were thrown by angry farmers whose
Returns to homes were overdue.

The sailor grew older, and died:
But storm he’d caused did not subside;
Some of his descendants, restless,
Charged out as if with a deathwish,
Went to live among the farmers
Naked, but clad in the armour
Of faith that was absolute:
Some sailors, though they at the root
Of themselves knew they’d crossed a line
Pretended all was fine, and slept
Uneasily, whilst farmers stepped
Slyly past their guards by night
So that, in vengeance, they might strike;
Most farmers camped out in the fields,
Becoming deaf to all appeals
For peace by sailors, and increased
In rage with each passing decade
Until once-succulent olives
Of that land’s trees tasted horrid,
Watered as they had been by the
Sour tears of those inside the
Farmers’ homes, those trapped outside…
Even now, you’ll hear the outcry
Of both tribes: cries of the sailors,
Who for years were homeless, aimless,
Who are now landlords, with tenants
Of extraordinary menace;
And you’ll hear cries of the farmers,
Wandering through their vast pastures,
Scared they’ll find no place to rest:
Feelings the sailors once knew best.

“Love Against Homophobia”: for Russia, Uganda and the USA.

Given the spate of anti-gay laws either mooted or passed in Russia, Uganda and the USA, I thought I would repost this poem of mine, “Love Against Homophobia”; please share it with anyone who you think might appreciate it.

“Love Against Homophobia”

To some people

My love is somewhat alien;
When he comes up, they start subject-changing, and
In some states he’s seen as some contagion –
In those zones, he stays subterranean;
Some love my love; they run parades for him:
Liberal citizens lead the way for him:
Same time as some countries embracing him,
Whole faiths and nations seem ashamed of him:
They’ve tried banning him,
God-damning him,
Toe-tagging him,
Prayed that he stayed in the cabinet,
But my love kicked in the panelling, ran for it –
He’s my love! Can’t be trapping him in labyrinths! –
Maverick, my love is; he thwarts challenges;
The cleverest geneticists can’t fathom him,
Priests can’t defeat him with venomous rhetoric;
They’d better quit; my love’s too competitive:
He’s still here, despite the Taliban, the Vatican,
And rap, ragga in their anger and arrogance,
Who call on my love with lit matches and paraffin –
Despite the fistfights and midnight batterings –
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
Because my love comes through anything;

My love comes through anything.

 

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Tommy T-1000 Robinson, Snickers, and why I almost miss Nick Griffin

I almost miss Nick Griffin, as I always suspected I might.  As racists go, Nick Griffin had a couple of things against him.  The first was that he wasn’t particularly smart, and wilted in the face of the most elementary debating points.  The second was his haughty manner, which made him easy to caricature as an elitist, as a class snob who’d caught the TARDIS straight from the dying days of the Third Reich.

I almost miss Nick Griffin because Tommy Robinson is smart; and he is a far better communicator than Griffin will ever be.  Griffin was an adversary whom many found it easy to outfox.  Robinson will be a far tougher proposition, and the news that he has now left the EDL and taken his prejudice freelance is, I think, great cause for concern.

Tommy Robinson is smart because every time that we write, type or utter the stage-name Tommy Robinson we help to take him further from his original identity of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the child of Irish immigrants who swiftly realised that to portray himself as the saviour of the English he would have to change his name.  After all, you can’t parade so comfortably yourself as the indigenous working-class white hero if (a) your surname is visibly foreign and (b) double-barrelled.  Just listen to his stage-name: “Tommy Robinson”.  It’s rhythmic, and can roll off your tongue even when you’re drunk in the guts of an angry crowd at noon.  Yaxley-Lennon very possibly thought about stuff like this.  The marketing of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon as Tommy Robinson is the most successful piece of rebranding since Marathon anointed itself as Snickers.

Just as with Snickers, I strongly suspect that Yaxley-Lennon offers the same flavour under a different name.  There are many who are rushing to see him as a reformed character now that, alongside the Quilliam Foundation, he has apparently turned his back on the EDL’s violent outliers.  They would do well to remember that just last week he attempted to intimidate the editor of an anti-EDL website by tweeting photos of his home.  Yaxley-Lennon, a former member of the BNP, has not to my mind had a Damascene conversation.  I think that he has merely done what all canny executives do, which is to leave a failing brand in search of better job opportunities.

Yaxley-Lennon is a man of relentless agility; in that sense, he reminds me of the T-1000, the upgraded robot in the second Terminator film.  The early models of the Terminator, of which Nick Griffin was one, were summarily repelled: they didn’t look right, they didn’t move right. The T-1000, however, was far harder to confront.  Like Yaxley-Lennon, it keeps shifting shape, and it keeps advancing.

I watched one of the shows where this T-1000’s advance was partly checked: and this was when he was in a debate with Akala, a rapper, record label-owner and teacher, on BBC Three’s Free Speech programme.  Their debate was as great a mismatch as that time when Portugal met North Korea in the 2010 World Cup, for the simple reason that Akala was exceptionally well-prepared and kept his cool.  What was a worry, though, was the way that several other people on the show engaged with Yaxley-Lennon.  Filled with understandable fury and horror at the progress of his far-right organisation, they opted for soundbites and angry point-scoring rather than carefully and coldly dissecting the tortuous logic that lay beneath Yaxley-Lennon’s ideology.  The result, if you mute the footage at certain points, is the unfortunate image of a white working-class man being laughed at by a gleeful audience of the metropolitan elite.  Yaxley-Lennon is wise enough to understand how this sight would burnish his credentials as a true outsider.

That’s not to say that Yaxley-Lennon is entirely dishonest.  When he remarked that leaving the EDL was a huge step for him, he was right.  He has turned his back on the heartland where he created a substantial following.  At the same time, though, he knew that he had outgrown the EDL, just as a leading Championship forward will get restless when Premier League clubs come calling.  The real question is who will pick him up next.  Yaxley-Lennon is apparently about to make the step up to a higher division of prejudice: and it is this leap in public life, one that Nick Griffin desperately desired but could never make, that I watch with trepidation.

 

On Hong Kong, atheism, and remembrance

Last December, I went to Hong Kong for a friend’s wedding. Despite the great distance between us, we’d maintained a decent amount of contact since law school; but, all the same, I was moved that he had invited me to a relatively small affair. That’s probably why I arrived in somewhat contemplative mood, and over the next few days the natural beauty of the outlying islands lent themselves well to further reflection.

A boat trip to one of those islands, Cheung Chau, provided an unexpectedly poignant moment. Standing by one of its cliffs, looking out over the South China Sea, this was the furthest that I had ever been from most of my friends or family, and I felt a curious sensation of freedom, stillness and loneliness all at once. After an hour of walking, I had found myself in the Cheung Chau Cemetery, a succession of vast, semi-circular tiers of stone, with hundreds of gravestones standing there like silently expectant fans in the terraces. Each gravestone bore a photograph of at least one person, and sometimes two in the cases where a couple’s ashes had been placed there together.

Looking at the pictures, I saw the faces of people for whom the withdrawn sands and alleys of Cheung Chau had been almost all of what they had known. This was where so many of them had been born, had loved, had lived long, and lost. It will remain one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been, and I felt oddly privileged as I walked slowly and quietly through its carefully-tended heights.

Several months later, back in England, I had a similarly affecting experience. I was catching a train from Essex to Stratford, and shortly before I drew into East London I passed a graveyard, low to my right. As I looked over that field of marble, I finally realised why that afternoon in Cheung Chau had moved me so. It was that, whether we spend our lives travelling half the world or just a few intense miles from the warmth of home to work, this is all that I believe that we have: this life, this brief slice of light between two vast stretches of darkness. So few of us emerge from the void, and to the void we return. In between our arrival and our departure, if we are fortunate to have the slightest measure of opportunity, we must, I think, live with the fiercest urgency that we can.

Some might see this as a bleak vision of our place in the cosmos. At times, I admit that I find it overwhelming; typically, that’s when I remember those former classmates who passed away suddenly, shockingly, long before the void had any right to reclaim them. Ollie Broome, perhaps the best Number 10 I saw in schools football, whose long-range shooting was a thing of rare anger and elegance; Tom Fenwick, a journalist of the kindest pen and keenest attention to detail; Richard Eagle, the most humble and lethal of attacking midfielders, bearing down on the opponent’s area as stealthily as a fox after dusk.

It’s overwhelming, for a short time, to think of these three; it is a melancholy which, though I do not exactly welcome, I calmly accept. It’s my way of beginning to acknowledge just what was lost when they left us. I’m not a religious man, and so I don’t think I’ll see Ollie, Richard or Tom again, in any shape or form. But what I can do is try to live with that little bit more vitality, in some form of tribute to them.

I am not sure if the position that I have articulated amounts to atheism. If it indeed does, then this is my philosophy, not that it matters to anyone other than myself: to be as proactive as possible in making the best of myself and in helping others as best I can, in the belief that there is no karma, no grand settling of accounts where those who wronged others are finally brought to justice by an unfathomably great higher power. As I see it, there is just us: and, both frightening and exciting as that may be, that must for me be enough.

East African women on FGM: “Sometimes they just call you lazy.”

“Sometimes they just call you lazy.”

On the last day of my Easter holidays, Dr. Phoebe Abe (or, as I know her, my mother) sat down in her living room with me and several women from Somalia, Egypt and Sudan.  My mother, a GP, had for some time been looking at the issue of female genital mutilation, or FGM, with Dr Comfort Momoh MBE.  However, this was the first time that I had ever met people with whom she worked.  Each of these women had undergone FGM early in their lives, and now, encouraged by her, they were talking frankly about how they felt.   One of them spoke of the agony that the procedure still caused her three decades later.  Frequently, when bent over with pain, she would receive little understanding from those in her community who did not know what she had experienced.  “Sometimes they just call you lazy”, she explained. “Most Somali women are very big,” she said, swiftly outlining the curves of her hips with her outstretched arms.  “‘You need to exercise, you need to lose weight’, they tell you.”

When going to see doctors, she had met with an attitude that was no less frustrating.  “Sometimes you feel like maybe they don’t care”, she said.  On several occasions when she went for an appointment, complaining of severe backache, she was prescribed painkillers without further examination, which merely led to complications elsewhere: most notably, the ibuprofen that she was given led to stomach pains, only compounding her discomfort.    The true problem lay deeper, and was only diagnosed after she fainted on one of her weekly visits to her GP.  As a result of the removal of her clitoris as a child, she now had incessant trouble with her back, and found it very difficult to hold her urine, which she found “very embarrassing”, as a result of which “we have isolated ourselves”, she said, looking round at each of her friends in the room.  They nodded in agreement.

Part of the problem, she continued, was that Somalis were a people whose daily lives went mostly unnoticed in the UK.  “The British call us the ‘invisible community’; we are there, but we are nowhere to be seen’”, she said.  Not only were there lingusitic and cultural problems to contend with – the thought of her talking this openly with English people was unthinkable – it was also “very, very rare” for women like her to speak out about these issues, and so I said that I would maintain their anonymity in any article that I wrote.

This, she said, is how it typically happens.  When you’re six years old, girls in the year above at the local school, or madrassa, go and have the procedure done; after that, they return to school and they tell you that you’re dirty for not having gone through it.   “We look up to them like they’re big girls”, she said. At that point, the young girls will go to their mothers and ask when they can have it done too.  Then they go and have and it done; and, she says with a wry laugh, “then you get disabled”.

Having gone through this, their male agemates will look at them with renewed respect, telling each of them that “you’re a good girl, you’re clean now eh?”  By the age of 14, most if not all of the girls will each have been paired off with a man, “and you’re expected to have your first baby at 16”.  One of the women got married at 16 to a 36-year old man, and one of the others recalled that, when she got married, “I was 18, he was 43”.

“Back home, men can have wives in another country”, one of them noted, revealing that “when my father died, we [found that] we had Indian sisters, [and] sisters in Norway”.  Having said that, due to the extreme discomfort that is the legacy of FGM, they took a very pragmatic approach to these affairs.  They would rather that they fulfilled their needs elsewhere.  “Why don’t you just have another wife?  “Go and get yourself a minyire [a second wife, pronounced min-year-ray]”, one of them told her husband.  “Sex for me is like a chore…We were not meant to enjoy sex.  We were supposed to be machines to have babies.”

Another woman described how she felt when her husband returned from work in the mood for sex.  “You are scared when your husband is coming to you,” she said.  “I hate sex…When I come home, I find myself a lot of things to do. I make a lot of jobs for myself.” The terrible pain caused by vaginal intercourse was little surprise, my mother pointed out to me, given that the clitoris was exceptionally sensitive, with eight thousand nerve endings.  Following the removal of the clitoris, the vagina would then be sewn back up so tight that it would be difficult to urinate, let alone have penetrative sex.

Often the women would just pretend to enjoy it, so as to get it over with.  “You don’t want to disappoint him, so you lie”, one of them said.  “You say, yes, yes, yes,” she panted, rolling her eyes theatrically as the others laughed.  It was after sex that the complications always arrived.  “I have been married for 10 years and have only had sex seven times,” said another woman.  “[After sex], I cry for two hours and then have paracetamol.  You can use hot water, to soothe yourself [between the legs] with a shower.  The first time is the worst, because the skin [which has been sewn back up] gets ripped.”

Every now and then, there would be women for whom these sensations came as a particularly unpleasant shock.  “Sometimes women don’t know if they’ve had FGM because they’ve been cut so long ago – [as long ago as] four years old – and they have to ask their parents”, my mother explained.  “‘Have you been circumcised?’ I ask them, and they say, ‘Oh, what’s that?  I don’t know…let me call me call my mum.  And they’re told, ‘oh yes, you were done when you were four years old.’…‘One woman’, my mother continued, ‘saw her daughter’s clitoris, and she was shocked.  She’d never seen one before.’”

The dearth of resources in this area had dangerous consequences, said my mother, who saw one or two cases of FGM in her local surgery each week.  GPs throughout the UK needed training so that they were aware of this problem.  “These women might die from renal failure without anyone knowing that they are suffering”, she said.  Moreover the numbers were sobering.  In the UK, there are 20,000 girls at risk of this procedure every year; in Africa alone, that figure is 3million.  An estimated 66,000 young girls and women in the UK have gone through it; in Africa, the number is thought to be more than 90million.

My mother recommended that several centres, or “pain clinics”, should be set up across the UK, whose staff should include a gynaecologist and urologist who each specialised in FGM. That way, she said, “we can make their lives a little bit better, and see if there is any way they can have a more enjoyable and comfortable sex life.”  She said that local MPs and Mayors should be made aware of this problem; and, noting the Government’s recent announcement of £35million to address FGM in ten countries, she also proposed arranging FGM conferences in Africa, where women who had undergone this procedure could talk openly about their experiences.

What was it, I wondered, that had emboldened these women to speak out about this now, of all times?  “Mostly people are [now] on our side,” said one of them.  “And there are a lot of women who are now coming from Africa, who are talking about it because they don’t want it to happen to their children.”  How public, I asked, did she want to go with her story?  “I’m not going on Somali TV!” she laughed.  “‘Why, they will ask, ‘is she on there talking about her vagina?’”

The women noted the social stigma that was now emerging around FGM.  “Men in this generation don’t want to marry women who are cut,” said one of them.  “The men are angry, they don’t want their daughters to be done.”  As the conversation drew to a close, one of their husbands arrived to pick them up, and I took that opportunity to ask him what influence Somali men could have in this area.  With regards to FGM on a day-to-day basis, he said, “men are on the sideline.  This is not their thing.  They wouldn’t interfere – they wouldn’t even talk about it.”  Instead, he said, it was something presided over by the female elders in the village.  However, he said that “male politicians – Parliament, and the Minister of Health – can change the law,” and that this was vital.  “[FGM] affects the whole family”, he said.  “If the mother is not happy, then the whole family is not happy.”

For their part, each of these women saw no basis in Islam for FGM, which originated in Egypt from the times of the Pharaohs.  “It’s haram – it is prohibited – in our religion to do anything to your daughter”, one of them said.  “It’s completely unnecessary.  There’s no medical evidence that it helps.  [After FGM] you’re physically disabled, in a way, but you’re also mentally traumatised, hating yourself.  Every time you go to the toilet and you look down there, you know that there is another woman out there who is normal.”

However, though they had endured this, the women were clear that this was not an exercise in recrimination.  “I would not blame my parents for this”, said one of them. “They didn’t do this because they wanted to torture us.  It’s time to educate our people.   [And] what we want is not sympathy.  What we want is to be heard.  As we are sitting here talking, this minute there is a child who is being taken to the mountains to be done…It is a crime against humanity.  We have daughters: are we going to do exactly the same to our daughters?”

 

The New Humanist: A rise in Premier League piety?

This article originally appeared in The New Humanist in the March/April 2012 print edition. The link is here: http://newhumanist.org.uk/2755/a-rise-in-premier-league-piety

——

On 21 January 2012, Clint Dempsey’s third goal for Fulham against Newcastle was notable for two reasons. First, it marked the first time that an American had scored a hat-trick in the Premier League. Second, the celebration that accompanied the clinching strike in a 5-2 victory was accompanied by a show of spiritual thanks, Dempsey crossing his chest and then looking to the heavens. We’d seen something similar a couple of years earlier, on 30 April 2008. On that day, following the untimely death of his mother from pneumonia, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard celebrated a crucial Champions League penalty against Liverpool by raising both hands to the sky, where he hoped that his mother would be watching. More recently, Venky’s – the Indian poultry company who own Blackburn Rovers – commissioned an advert that featured Blackburn players huddled together in the dressing-room, crossing themselves fervently before having a ceremonial pre-match meal of fried chicken. What was this, a religious revolution among the world’s best-paid players?

Well, no: not really. There have always been subtle manifestations of faith in football. Perhaps unsurprisingly, footballers from other countries are somewhat more extrovert. Most famously, there’s Brazil and Real Madrid’s Kaka, who when he won the Champions League with AC Milan in 2007 jogged along the pitch wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “I Belong To Jesus”. Meanwhile, we Brits are not that demonstrative a people, and so when it comes to displays of religious conviction we are no different. This low-key approach is typified by Chris Powell, the softly spoken former England left-back and current Charlton Athletic manager, who remarked in 2006 that his belief in God “gives me a sort of inner-peace, a sort of well-being. I live my life for this way, and that’s because of the Lord and what has happened, and what he done to save me, and save everyone. It gives me a great joy to know that the Lord is around me at all times, and I can pray for things whether it is good or bad that’s happened in my football career.”

In that vein, a Premier League club where you might have seen a few players engaged in quiet pre-match prayer was Portsmouth FC a couple of years ago, where Linvoy Primus, Sean Davis and others were committed Christians (who have subsequently gone on to found Faith and Football, an organisation which works with young people in local communities). They’re the most well-known, but by no means an isolated example: several clubs have team chaplains, one of whom, Leicester City’s Bruce Nadin, recently left the UK to start a football-based rehabilitation programme in a South African prison.

None of this should come as any particular surprise. In a game where many players have to face almost overwhelming odds before even making it into the professional ranks, it makes sense that many of them would seek out the support of a higher power. On that note, Frank Lampard’s relationship with the Almighty is somewhat more ambivalent than it appears at first glance. “If anyone asked me if I believed in God I always said yes, but I never did much about it. And then when [his mother died], that changed. I have tried to find reasons, I have gone to church,” he told the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel. “I’m quite a cynical b****** really. I’ll have days when I think she is up there looking down on me and others when I’m thinking, no she isn’t, she isn’t anywhere, she’s gone.” Despite that cynicism, though, Lampard now has a pre-match routine of his own. “I have a moment when I pray in the tunnel before games now,” he revealed in the same interview. Lampard’s approach, where someone who is essentially secular seeks out religious respite, is a common one throughout football. In a world of rapidly changing fates, where league titles can be decided upon a whim, it is natural that, for so many fans, faith will take the place of cold logic.