Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The only thing that could turn me religious...

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The sports commentator Barry Davies has always insisted that, in order to maintain his broadcasting impartiality, he will never publicly reveal which football team he supports. However, as an employee of New Humanist, rather than one of the all-time great football commentators, I don't feel restrained in the same way and, after over a year of blogging on this site, I finally have the excuse I've been waiting for to declare my allegiance to the mighty Blackburn Rovers.

How, I hear you ask, has this provincial team, the only side other than Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea to lift the Premier League trophy, the club where Alan Shearer spent his best years, even entered the radar of the New Humanist blog?

Well, Rovers have just become the first Premier League club to provide supporters with a prayer room they can use on matchdays. They've built it in the Blackburn End stand, which may seem a strange place given that's the die-hard, beer-drinking stand, and it's aimed at attracting more supporters from various faiths.

To the secular football fan it may seem like a ridiculous idea to have a prayer room in a stadium, but as someone who grew up in Blackburn I can see the logic behind it. It's not the most prosperous of towns, and as a relatively small club Rovers have had to push up ticket costs in order to continue punching above their weight in competition with the Premier League big-boys, causing attendances to drop as many supporters have become priced out of following their team. At the same time, Rovers have long failed to attract a large support from the town's Muslim community, who make up around 20 per cent of the population.

If the prayer room helps to attract more of the town's Muslims to follow Paul Ince's Blue and White Army, everyone's a winner. And you never know – if the lads are 2-1 down with five minutes to go, you may be looking at the only thing that could get this blogger to consider calling on a higher power...


Wotnogod? said...

Spare a thought for me. I support Luton Town!

And, as you may know, the town has a significant number of Muslims. To be fair, the club has embarked upon a few initiatives to encourage the Muslim community to come and support the Hatters. Like BRFC, however, they've all failed.

When I was a boy, I used to pray for the success of Luton Town. We're now bottom of the Football League on minus 30 points!

Good win last night, though.

Paul Sims said...

You see, this is what I've long been trying to achieve - football chat on the NH blog. It's why I came here, you know...

I think your experience could be used as evidence for the lack of power of prayer. Although that depends on how old you are, as weren't they in Division 1 just before the Premier League started? Maybe it was when you stopped praying that it all went wrong.

I always kept my eye on Luton when Newell was in charge as he was one of my boyhood heroes. He should have avoided the sexism and unsubstantiated statements about bungs though.

Wotnogod? said...

I'm 39, and I'm old enough to recall seeing Newelly scoring three against Liverpool at Kenilworth Road. Those were the days.

Good manager, Newelly. Big mouth, though. Notice he hasn't had a job in management since the bungs / lady-linos farrago. Still, freedom of speech, and all that.

Paul Sims said...

I remember him scoring the fastest ever hat-trick in the Champions League too. Which was basically the only highlight of our Champions League disaster.

Caroline said...

You can take the lad out of Blackburn but you can't take Blackburn out of the lad!! Any excuse to talk about football!! and you tell me this is work!!!?
- Caroline (Paul's big sis!)

I believe the prayer room caused a furore in the Blackburn end with fans trying to take the signs down. Personally, I think Blackburn have had to move with the times. As you said 20% of the population is Asian and sadly most do not attend the games. If the introduction of a prayer room makes football more accessible to Muslims then great. Afterall I remember the days when there was one smelly concrete block toilet for women in the enclosure as women traditionally didn't do football. Look at it now, lovely toilet facilities and lots of women going to football. The introduction of a prayer room may encourage more Muslims to attend. Football is a strong part of the community and if it can unite cultures then great but lets not allow football to become politised, its a game.

Paulthebread said...

Hi Paul

You know, we've got 3 things in common, you and I!

Bit obvious, but we're both called Paul;
We're both humanists - well, I am, and I'm assuming you are;
And we both support Blackburn Rovers! Hooray!

So it looks as if I'll have to start subscribing to the NH. Probably should have done years ago, if truth be told.

Best wishes, Paul Youd

Paul Sims said...


Good man! Of course you should subscribe, but I would say that! I try to get the odd Rovers reference in there too, so you could join the handful of people who might get those!