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Martin Luther on the Football Field

It's Saturday again. Football day for many. Or at least it is if your favourite team happens to be taking to the pitch this afternoon. Others, sadly, will play tomorrow in what has become an all too common desecration of the Lord’s Day.

It seems a little hard to believe but until comparatively recent times Football League sides did not play on a Sunday and in fact the law of the land prevented them from charging admission if they were to play on the Sabbath.

Outside influences have been blamed for forcing the change.

The Yom Kippur War between Israel and Arab nations in 1973 led to the Arab members of OPEC suspending deliveries of oil to western nations who had supported Israel in the conflict. This caused an energy crisis in late 1973 which was made worse in Britain by the miners coming out on strike in February 1974. A state of emergency was declared in Britain which was followed by a three day working week to save electricity.

Football was not high on the priorities for the available power and the use of floodlights was banned, even extending to power generated by private generators. All matches had to be played in daylight so kick-off times were brought forward on Saturdays and during the week matches were played in the afternoon. Clubs wanted to postpone matches to the end of the season but the Football League refused as bad weather might cause fixture chaos in the last months of the season. Proposals to suspend the League and to extend it to June were also rejected.

In December 1973 the Football Association asked the Home Office for permission to play matches on Sundays. Even though floodlights would not be used electricity was needed for the general running of the ground and it was considered that Sundays might allow a more guaranteed supply.

Permission was granted, but the change was not universally popular.

Bob Wall, Arsenal's general manager, said: “Playing football and making profits on a Sunday is wrong. We will not disturb the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood of Highbury on that day.”

However, not enough people agreed with Bob.

• On Sunday, 6 January 1974, four FA Cup Third Round ties were played, with the first match on a Sunday being the Cambridge United v Oldham match which kicked off in the morning.

• Two weeks later, on 20 January, a dozen grounds staged League football for the first time on the Sunday, the first of those kicking off in the morning being Millwall v Fulham in the Second Division.

• Only a week later, on Sunday 27 January, the first match in the top flight was played, a Geoff Hurst penalty giving Stoke City a 1-0 home victory over Chelsea.

Sadly, Sunday football had arrived.

I found it quite incredible to read an article on Thursday, 9 February 2017, that made reference to a game played last Lord’s Day, regrettably featuring a club for which I have considerable sympathy, Leeds United. The focus was not on Leeds, but on the winners of this match, their Yorkshire rivals, Huddersfield Town. What piqued my interest was the fact that the The Huddersfield Daily Examiner chose to open this news item with a reference to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation!

“The Reformation and the radical thinking of Germany’s Martin Luther, during the 16th century, eventually spread throughout Europe.

It was a reaction to the prevalent corruption and lax indifference of those in authority and it lead to cultural and social change on a scale that could never have been imagined and probably has never been witnessed since.”

My interest quickly tailed off as Rory Benson’s article made links with a couple of Germans who have been instrumental in Huddersfield’s rise towards the top of the Championship table this season – manager David Wagner and central defender Michael Hefele, dubbed “the Bavarian Lion.”

The point that lodged in my mind was this: when virtually everyone is speaking about the Reformation this year, would it not be a total shame for the Church of Jesus Christ to miss maximising our opportunity? And should we not ensure that, as we respectfully observe the Lord’s Day and assemble for worship, we devote at least one of these occasions – Reformation Sunday, 29 October 2017 – to the proclamation of those tremendous biblical truths that served to propel the grand work of God’s Spirit across the countries of Europe five centuries ago?

Would to God that should our world continue to exist for another 500 years, people would look back to 2017 as the date of yet another revival of true biblical religion.

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