[As the English Premier League comes to a close, what better time to present readers with this essay on the new religion of the people who brought the world The Anglican Church, a child of the schism in the original Catholic Church centuries ago. TOLA, May 6, 2012.]
As churches in England have emptied in modern times – many now serve as mosques, high-end apartments, schools and expensive restaurants – worshippers have headed elsewhere because nature, as they say, abhors vacuums. Old habits die hard, though, as these worshippers head to the seats of their newfound faith but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let me say outright that I am a sports lover as regular readers of this column must have discovered a long time ago. This, therefore, is not the ranting of one whose man is always glued to one sports or another while she wonders what in the world she should do with herself.
Every weekend from Friday to Sunday, the faithful – that’s what football fans have become – throng to the various places of worship, from Newcastle in the far north to Portsmouth on the south coast; from Liverpool to Manchester, to London, home of multiple clubs. The services, pardon me, the matches, start Friday evening – a sort of “vigil” – with what is now known as the Championship or Coca Cola league, the old Division Two. Readers will appreciate that these Friday vigils mimic the Bible studies or choir practices from their old weekly Church routines. While Bible studies or choir practices are not meant to whet the appetites of Church faithful, Friday matches are.
In these places of worships that seem designed to take the places of big parishes and archdeaconries of the Church of England, the faithful contribute less to feed the appetites of acolytes and choristers (the players); the choirmasters and organists (referees and linesmen) AND pastors all the way to the topmost hierarchy (coaches, trainers and owners).
Some of these smaller places of worship are perennials that have been there seemingly forever: Others, unfortunately, fell on hard times and the Trustees of the Churches [the Football Association], sent them to their present stations while some have made going up and down the ladder a way of life. Some have seen the glory of fat paydays in the Cathedrals.
I must hasten to say that many of these smaller places of worship do not have imposing edifices. In fact, some are so small that many of the faithful who sit all the way in the back may not be more than a dozen feet from the choristers who throw in the ball – pardon me, I promised myself I would not mention the word ‘ball’ throughout this essay! No wonder, the acoustics are sometimes awful although that may actually be a result of the offerings that are taken before worship starts in these modern-day English worship places.
By early Saturday, the faithful is restless and edgy as services do not start till lunchtime. By mid-morning if you live anywhere near the cathedrals and big worship centers, you’ll probably think you are in Nigeria near the various “Holy Ghost” arenas.
Some years ago during an English vacation, I was surprised one Saturday mid-morning to see a sane cousin to the throngs on Ibadan Expressway on those dreaded days when the world seems always ready to end. I had stopped to drop a package for somebody and had enquired where people were walking to; there was a football match!
There are twenty cathedrals among which are long-established worship places like the Old Trafford in Manchester that has the intimidating but appropriate name, ‘Theatre of Dreams’. I guess it must be intimidating not only to an Emmanuel Seyi Adebayo( r ) or a Mikel Obi, whose earlier places of worship were either dirt pitches in West Africa but even a Wayne Rooney from the not-tony part of Everton.
Manchester United Cathedral (Man U. Cathedral – MAC) is, perhaps, the St. Paul’s of them all, with enough seats that guarantee the American Glazer family who now own it – yeah, people own them just like the new Pentecostal churches – down to those choristers whose places are on the bench rather than singing with the likes of Ronaldo in the altar area. I’ve suggested to young relations in “Queensland”, to use a Nigerian-ese for England, that as they join the worship on television, they need not get carried away because even those not allowed to join the singing, earn more in a week than they are probably paid in a whole year. .
Barely a cycling distance from MAC is an Archdeaconry – in name and performance but not in structure – Manchester City – MC. Unlike their ancestral Anglican faith, this new faith could be divisive, often pitching those who attend MAC against the MC faithful – even from same family.
The faithful is still stuck in the past, though, as far as worship forms are concerned.
In England as elsewhere in Christendom, the procession signifies the entrance of priests and choristers. It is not different from the new faith. While the organist plays a chosen hymn that correlates with the Church calendar, the entrance of players – pardon me – choristers/performers is heralded with great jubilation by the faithful many of whom will hold up the bunting of their sects: Arsenal, etcetera.
There are songs for when the worship is up, down or on a last day of the worship year even if the church would be demoted down the ranks. If a Cathedral or lucrative parish is to go down to a Coca Cola worship place, the songs become not just plaintive – what must be, must be – but raucous. To cheer choristers who have sung flats and off key all season long but have suddenly become sonorous, to express joy and support for worship centers during worships or on critical occasions like send-off down the ladder, the faithful could remain standing for entire worship periods, their hands raised up and out as in “We praise You, King of the Universe” as was the practice at St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Martins-in-the-Field.
Do not be surprised if you attend any of the worship centers and find faithful crying after a service, but especially after a send-off to lower store front-type places of worship. An unforgettable image from my watching the services of a favorite worship center is the little boy who cried inconsolably when Leeds, a once very vibrant Archdeaconry, was sent to Coca Cola (no, not the drinks factory at Ibadan) some years ago for failing to meet the aspirations of The Stakeholders. Well, when next season starts soon, I will no longer be able to tune to their worship on television because they were relegated again to worship in one of those unbefitting centers – sort of a metaphoric ori oke (rock outcrop) but they still get to keep their worship center.
And now, to the Glazers, the Abramowiches … who keep the cash flowing in and out, be all heavy returns from the FA’s Championship, Carling Cup and FA Cup and UEFA’s billions of euros – now and always.
Last Word: “NIGCOMSAT is burdened with a $200 million debt [already] for the design, manufacture and launch of NIGCOMSAT”. The huge black hole has begun. Knowledgeable people all over the world suggested this vanity project was uncalled for. Critics believed it would cost much less for Nigerian outfits to latch on to others’ satellites than this new money guzzler but hei, what easier way of giving money athletic legs?
The Nation on Sunday, June 2007