Glenn Hoddle was right – mixing religion and football turns you into an utter tart. And as Hoddle said to public ridicule a few years ago, I must have done something really bad to deserve this particular fate.
Sunday mornings must have been heaven in the Scary household when I was a kid. This was mainly because my parents packed us all off to Sunday School for a good bit of churching up, which, looking back, was thoroughly deserved. Instead of getting the day of rest promised to us on the very first page of the bible (just under the bit that says 10,237th edition, copyright Jehovah), we were forced, at gunpoint, to a freezing cold hall where over-enthusiastic old ladies would attempt to halt our inevitable slide into Hell.
Toward the end of the day’s indoctrination, the local vicar would arrive, cheeks still bulging from the communion wafers, and let us have both barrels of a kiddified version of the day’s sermon.
However, he didn’t just stop there. The good Reverend was a God-botherer of many talents. Taking his cue from the likes of Charles Wesley and John Newton, he wrote hymns. Wesley only managed such piffling works as “Hark the herald angels sing”, while Newton knocked out “Amazing Grace” on the back of an old envelope. Reverend Fred was also influenced by Weird Al Yankovic and was under the impression that changing the words to established tunes was something “fun”. So, he took the theme tune to Match of the Day and turned it holy. Spurred [geddit?] by this relative success, he added new words to a whole arsenal [eh? eh?] of football chants and made us, The Kids, sing them. Every bloody Sunday.
Rabid self-publicist that he was, he was granted a nutter-of-the-day spot on BBC Nationwide.
For the uninitiated, Nationwide was an early-evening magazine programme that ran five days a week in the 1970s and 1980s. As you can imagine, such a programme often struggled to obtain engaging content day-in, day-out, so they were rather heavy on what is known as “human interest” stories. Or, to you and me, “nutters”. Every edition seemed to have at least one mad old bastard and his pet theory, useless talent or whatever (most famously the chap who claimed he could jump on eggs without breaking them, but it transpired that he merely jumped near them. Shamed by the experience, he vowed revenge on an uncaring society and is now the Home Secretary.*), and now it was our turn.
Come Sunday morning, cameras turned up at the Church Hall and filmed us singing a badly rehearsed version of Match of the Day, trying to remember the words whilst waving football scarves over our heads in a manner that only exists in the minds of TV producers who have never been to a football match in their lives. As one of the mad old bats hammered away on the piano, we sung from our hastily-prepared song-sheets:
"We are all the friends of Jesus
We're all the friends of God"
And several verses that I can, thankfully, no longer remember, while the vicar stood at the front looking smug.
I felt a certain amount of celebrity over the whole getting-on-national-television business, and hoped to be feted like some sort of cherubic superstar once our moment of glory finally hit the small screen. And so it happened, and myself and my fellow Sunday School victims arrived at school the following morning fully expecting a hero’s welcome. Fat chance.
My reward was this: a playground cock-punch for being a "smarmy God-bothering swot", and head-shaking pity from Miss Shagwell and her heaving bosoom, which was fair enough to be honest.
The day after, a further cock-punch was, in my humble opinion, a tad excessive. Especially from a teacher of her standing.
Proof indeed that the Devil has all the best tunes.
Funnily enough, in researching this story, I’ve found another vicar that’s done a Match of the Day hymn (“Make Jesus the centre-forward of your life”**), plus one to the Star Wars theme praising Our Lord Jesus Christ as “The Force”. Enough to turn anyone to the Dark Side
* My not be entirely true.
** The damn fool, anyone knows that He played in goal for FC Judea in their famous AD 29-30 promotion season. Has this man of the cloth not heard the phrase “Jesus Saves”?
Also: Want more? This story (not my work, thank God), appeared in Wednesday’s Fiver newsletter from The Guardian, and is, quite possibly, the funniest thing I have ever, ever read. Click!