“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Bill Shankly was one of Britain’s most respected football managers. He’s best remembered for his time at Liverpool (1959-1974) where he won six domestic trophies and one UEFA Cup. He also said the famous words above. Football was much more than just a game for Shankly.
However, players like Linvoy Primus, a fans’ favourite when he was at Portsmouth (2000-09), have a different perspective. He said, “If you make football your life, then when you finish you’ll be disappointed.” For Primus there was something more important than his career.
After another player at Fratton Park shared the truth of Jesus Christ with him, Primus said this:
“A few weeks later I had heard enough and wanted to give my life to the Lord . . . . From the Bible I was able to get all the answers I needed. At last, for instance, I knew how to be a proper husband to my wife, and father to my children . . . after studying Scripture for guidance I had a significant change of attitude to football and resolved to do my very best for God, based on honouring God in all I did, serving God with all my heart and doing everything for Him.”
Meeting Jesus changed Linvoy Primus’ life. There are plenty of other footballers who have had similar experiences. Read on to see the impact Jesus had on Sylvinho, Nicola Legrottaglie, Oscar Ewolo, Zoltán Gera, Lee Young-Pyo and many others!
What you really want
The defender Nicola Legrottaglie won 16 caps for Italy (2002-09). He said, “I started playing football as a kid in a small town in southern Italy . . . I made a promise to God that if He gave me the opportunity to become a footballer, I would serve Him.” That is probably a familiar attitude for most of us. We’ll only trust God if He ‘proves’ Himself to us, or gives us what we want.
However, Legrottaglie came to realise that knowing God mattered more than anything else—even whether God made him a footballer or not. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Jesus is preparing a place in heaven for everyone who trusts Him. Anyone can take up this offer because Jesus paid for everything we have done wrong by dying on the cross for us. When we trust Him, we are no longer guilty; and no matter what happens in our lives, we can know God’s promise will never change.
Legrottaglie now says, “In life we have to accept everything that happens. There is life and there is death. There is winning and there is losing. So how do I deal with problems? I deal with them with the peace and the calm that only faith, only Jesus, can give me.”
Can you trust God to give you eternal life, even if He doesn’t give you everything you want in this life? —Chris Wale
In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. —John 14:2-4
Out of us
The 1986 World Cup belonged to Diego Maradona. He was recognised as a footballing legend after his quarter-final display against England.
Maradona’s second goal in the 2-1 win has been voted the greatest in World Cup history. Collecting the ball in his own half, it took just 11 touches to weave his way past 5 England players before poking the ball round Peter Shilton and into a gaping England net. In those 12 seconds he proved himself to be one of the greatest footballers who ever lived.
But that game is remembered just as much for Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal. It was a deliberate handball, but the goal was allowed to stand. Maradona’s greatest goal came hand in hand with a moment of dishonesty.
Those Maradona goals show a truth about all of us. Even during our best moments we disregard God and do things our own way, often resulting in very selfish choices. Jesus explained that it’s not what goes into us that makes us selfish or dishonest (“unclean”), but what comes out of us (Mark 7:20-22). And because our problem is on the inside, we can’t put it right by ourselves. It’s no good doing things our own way and ignoring God’s ways. We need His help to change. —Jon Lindsay
And then [Jesus] added, “It is what comes from inside that [makes you unclean]. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what [make you unclean].” —Mark 7:20-23
Scared of death?
What makes you worried? For Lee Young-Pyo, who played full-back for South Korea (1999-2011), it was something we can all empathise with. He says, “One of the biggest fears anyone faces is the fear of death. That was certainly true for me.”
The Bible agrees that we should be scared of death. It says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In the Bible “sin” is any way of life that ignores God, our Creator. And while we live for ourselves rather than for Him, we earn the death penalty. Then when we die, we will face God’s judgement.
Thankfully, however, that sentence from the Bible continues, “but the gift of God is eternal life (living forever) in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Oscar Ewolo, who has 32 caps for Congo, recalls what he said to God to accept this gift and give his life back to Him: “Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you. I want to walk with You. Give me the strength to live a Christian life.” Once he received Jesus, he instantly entered this new life. “Starting the next day I gave up my old life of women, clubs and everything that I was chasing to give me a little extra in life. I had found something better.”
Young-Pyo also lives with new direction. “Now that I know where I’m going after I die, I am free not only of the fear of death but from death itself!” For those who trust Jesus the future is certain—eternal life in heaven is God’s gift. Would you like to receive it? —Chris Wale
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 6:23
What are you worth?
How do you decide the transfer value of a football player? Pricing a player is quite complex. Owners, clubs and managers factor in the athlete’s age, skill level, status, position and current club to arrive at a price. But that is only the quoted worth. The real value lies in what others are willing to pay.
How do we value ourselves? What is our true worth? For most of us, our sense of self-worth comes mainly through how others think of us—our parents, spouse, children, siblings, friends, superiors and fellow soldiers. Their opinions matter, regardless of how much we may pretend that we can do without them.
If the opinions of other people can so deeply affect us, how much more should we be affected by the assessment of someone who knows us inside out? Someone who we are ultimately accountable to? Have we ever considered how much God, the Creator and Judge of the world, values us? Despite our imperfections and rejection of Him, Titus 2:14 (NLT) declares that Jesus “gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”
To all who give their lives to Him, Jesus gives them the valuation that really counts—the right to become the children of God! — Jaime Fernández Garrido
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realise that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life. All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; He alone is God. Amen —1 Timothy 1:15-17 NLT
The perfect substitute
Disaster struck Italy early in their third game of the 1998 World Cup finals. In the fourth minute Alessandro Nesta, one of their star defenders, was injured and had to be taken off. Thankfully, on the bench sat Guiseppe Bergomi. With 18 years of experience and 77 international caps, the man nicknamed “Il Capitano” was the ideal replacement for Nesta. He was the man they could trust to help steer the team to victory!
The Bible tells us of a substitution that was infinitely more important. Jesus Christ took our place to do something we could never do—save ourselves. When He was nailed to the cross, Jesus was put where we should have been—receiving the right judgement of God. At some point all of us, by our words or actions, have told God we don’t want Him to be in charge of our lives. That is why the Bible calls us “ungodly” and says we deserve God’s punishment.
Jesus didn’t deserve to die—He was perfect! Yet “God [shows] His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus is the perfect substitute. All we need do is accept Him as our Saviour. When we do, “we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (v.1). —Jon Lindsay
But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8
In 2013 Gareth Bale moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for a whopping £85.3 million! Increasingly these days it seems that clubs are willing to splash the cash for prized players who could help them challenge for silverware and pull in the crowds.
While mortals like us may gulp at such huge figures, high transfer fees are hardly limited to football. In fact, the highest ever made was for people like you and me. No, you didn’t read wrong; someone paid an incredibly high price for us.
The Bible makes it clear that we need not be a ‘somebody’ for God to notice us. He has always loved us. He demonstrated it when He “did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32, NLT). For our sake, Jesus came and paid the ultimate price by dying in our place and paying for our sins. Because of His sacrifice, Christians don’t need to face God’s judgement anymore.
God promises that those who trust Jesus and give their lives to Him can now be ‘transferred’ from a world of sin and death to God’s kingdom of love and life. In this lasting kingdom God is the King who provides for us and keeps us close to Him.
The price has been paid, but are you ‘transferred’ yet? — Jaime Fernández Garrido
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. —Romans 5:6-8 NLT
This is how Zoltan Gera, the attacking midfielder who has 81 caps for Hungary, described his life before he became a Christian: “I went to a casino where I met some guys . . . I planned to become a criminal, a real godfather.” However, one day his father invited him to church. He continues: “Towards the end of the service my father encouraged me . . . to be sorry about my sins and that I should accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour.”
Because Gera “believed in the Son” he has a secure future in heaven. However, he soon realised this new trust in God was changing his whole life. “One day I was sitting on a bench just outside one of the casinos and thought to myself: ‘What am I doing here?’ I stood up, and never went into a casino again.”
We all must choose between options in life, but the choice to follow Jesus is universal. Will we trust Him and give our lives totally to Him? Jesus explained, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36).
Since Gera trusted Jesus he has changed radically, and God has become his priority: “I pray to God every day. I read and study the Bible. I go to church, which is very important for every believer . . . Many say that they believe in God and think that’s enough. But the Bible says that faith without actions is dead. Jesus says, ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me’.” Are you ready to follow Jesus? —Chris Wale
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. —John 3:36
What Others Say
When I started my career all I wanted to do was to play football, but now I know there is more to life; and now I want to show other people how great it is to be a Christian. —Rory Fallon, New Zealand (18 caps)
Every kid who loves football dreams of playing for his country’s national team. Even better would be to score a goal for his country in the World Cup . . . The joy I felt during those moments is indescribable. And yet, those feelings pale in comparison to how I feel about Christ. He went all the way to death on the cross . . . for you, and for me. —Brian McBride, USA (95 caps)
As great as it felt to win the World Cup, though, such achievements offer little com-pared to what God has to offer . . . . No matter what you achieve individually . . . it is all in vain if you don’t know Jesus. —Edmilson, Brazil (42 caps)
Without Jesus you will notice that even with everything you have nothing. Nothing has made me as happy as having Jesus in my life, and today I can see the difference because I have lived on both sides. The difference is that you become a new person, a new creation. —Ze Roberto, Brazil (84 caps)
I am happy to be here and to play where God has placed me. To me that is most important. I wish to always do His will. The way I live, and how my family lives is very important, because we want to talk about Jesus and let others know that He is our Saviour. —Kaka, Brazil (89 caps)
We open the Bible and find the love of God and the words to comfort our hearts. The principle reason why we read the Bible is to learn more about Jesus and to remember His love and what He has done for us each and every day. —Lucio, Brazil (105 caps)
I was a normal lad in that I believed in God like most of the rest of the world. One day I was told about Jesus and started to read the Bible. As soon as I understood the great love God has for me, I accepted the Lord as my Saviour without a moment’s doubt. Since that time, so many things have changed. God is very real to me and although at times things may be difficult, Jesus makes them right again. I have given my whole life over to Jesus and I can rest confident in His power. As a sportsman, all I can say is that everything I am I owe to God. —Juan Carlos Valeron, Spain (46 caps)
My personal life, my faith life and my sport life—they all come together. I think they have to. You can’t have one without the others, and you have to have Jesus at the centre. That is how I get through my personal life, how I get through my professional life—following Christ . . . we all need Christ in our lives. Money, fame, all those objects, they don’t mean anything if you don’t have Jesus in your life. All of those things can be gone in the blink of an eye. We can’t get caught up in it. —Brad Guzan, USA (28 caps)
The most important thing in my life is Christ. He’s more important to me than winning or losing or whether I’m playing or not. Everything else is just a bonus. —Tim Howard, USA (104 caps)
Sylvinho had a fantastic football career. From 1994-2010 the Brazilian left back played for some of the world’s biggest clubs. During spells with Arsenal, Barcelona, Corinthians, Celta Vigo and Manchester City he won three La Liga titles, the Brazilian national league and two European Champions League medals.
So what is most important in Sylvinho’s life?
“I have known the Lord for a few years. I opened my heart and allowed Jesus Christ to come into my life to make me a new person, with a new life and attitude. I was very happy because I recognised that I was a sinner [separate from God and under His judgement] but now I am forgiven. I’m a man trying to do what God tells us in His Word, the Bible.
Jesus Christ died for me and for everyone who is reading these words, to give us new life, to help us return to God’s ways, to reconcile [be brought back together] with Him. It was a great sacrifice and we need to recognise it. It doesn’t matter who you are. You can give your [life] to Jesus. He wants to show us the real way to God. No matter what problem you may be facing, God is . . . waiting for you.
Today can be the most important day of your life if you decide to accept Jesus Christ. It is a very important decision to return to God’s way, to do His will, because He gave His life for you. I challenge you to accept Jesus and come and serve Him with me.”
Will You Take Up Sylvinho’s Challenge?
More than a Game
There are many lessons we can learn from Sylvinho and these other footballers who have trusted Christ. They realised that the only real life and death issue was the choice about Jesus. What gave you the most to think about? Was it their honesty about how fame and money can’t satisfy? Was it Lee Young-Pyo’s fear of death? Or was it the realisation that we deserve God’s judgement for how we have lived?
The Bible tells us clearly:
There is no one [right with God], not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. —Romans 3:10-12
Nations and individuals have to pay a high price for the world’s recognition, but gaining God’s approval costs even more. It cost Him His own Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin because He loves us. Because of His sacrifice, we no longer need to live in our own strength, separate from God. Now we can become His children!
We desperately need Jesus to be our King. If you are feeling that way right now and realise you need Jesus to pay for your sin and give you a new life with Him, then talk to God about it. Now is a great time to tell Him that you are sorry for living without Him and want to belong to Him again.
Make sure you tell your Scripture Reader, Padre or a Christian friend as well, so they can talk to you about becoming a Christian and answer any questions!