For obvious reasons, football has been on my mind recently. I haven’t watched very much of the World Cup, and then of course there is the issue of human rights abuses that have soured it a bit. I am also missing the domestic game and will look forward to Celtic’s next match on 21st December. I belong to the last batch of Passionist students in these islands for whom playing football was a regular part of our leisure activity. Decreasing numbers of entrants into religious life and seminary since then have caused it to all but disappear. Even in my time, the late 1970’s and early 80’s, we didn’t have enough football playing students to form our own team and so, to have a team playing in the seminary league, we joined forces with the Discalced Carmelites and submitted a team with the rather awkward title of ODCCP – ODC being the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and CP being the Congregation of the Passion. We had an excellent team and we won the seminary league in every season I was involved. I played Right Full Back. My predecessor as parish priest, Father John Craven, was a Centre Forward who always reminded me of a player in the comics called Gorgeous Gus. Gorgeous Gus was too posh to run about, but if you passed the ball to his feet he could score from just about anywhere on the pitch. Father John had obviously been a great player in his time, but, as a late vocation, even later than myself, he was beyond doing too much running about, but if you got the ball to his feet, he had a fantastic shot, and scored us many a goal. Yet another senior in our team was the late Father Lawrence, who played in goals, and a good goalie he was too. There was one occasion, however, when I took a knock playing a pass back to him, and I shouted to him to clear it up the park and not to give it back to me. Unfortunately, he did play it back to me, and I fluffed the clearance, resulting in a goal to the opposition. Forty years later, driving into St. Mungo’s from Bishopbriggs, with Father Lawrence beside me in the passenger seat, I made a manoeuvre that he didn’t appreciate. He turned to me and said wryly: “You’re as bad a driver as you were a Right Back”. He had never forgotten.
A much tougher competition to win than the seminary league was the Devine Cup. (Devine with an “e” so no pun intended) The Devine Cup was for colleges and universities, as well as seminaries and religious orders, and so the opposition was much stronger. Only one year did we get to the final. I had to miss that final because my musical abilities were required at a Charismatic Conference, and my student director wouldn’t give me leave to play. However, the final was a draw and went to a replay, and I was available to play in that. Sadly, we went down 2-0 to St. Patrick’s Teachers Training College. A third competition we played in was an annual 7-a-side tournament hosted in Mount Argus. It was sponsored by a local councillor and the entrants came from the local council area. There were some very tough teams in it. The local cemetery to Mount Argus was called Mount Jerome, and every year we seemed to get drawn against the Mount Jerome Grave Diggers. They were a scary lot, and loved to try and kick lumps out of the baby priests, although the referees used to tell us we gave as good as we got and that, some of the time at least, our language could be worse than theirs as well. Only once did we beat them however, and that was in a penalty shootout. I remember I took the first penalty and, while spot-kicks were never my forte, I slipped it low into the corner of the net, and celebrated as if we had just won the World Cup. Happy Days!
Out at Bishopbriggs we are all well. Father John is delighted to have passed his UK driving test. Father Gareth has supplemented his ministry in GCU and CGC with extra services and it seems to be going well. Father Justinian has managed to watch just about every match in the World Cup, so far, and will probably miss it when it’s over, as it helps pass the time.
As always, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives