Bolton Wanderers Football Club

Well, my last `official` sabbatical visit proved to be something special. I met with Rev. Phil Mason (Methodist Superintendent Minister) and spent the day with him following him around as he worked at Bolton Wanderers football club.

It was quite amazing to see how the club have taken him on board into all areas; the staff were quite comfortable with his presence and this was evident from the amount of banter and fun that went on, alongside the more serious moments when his advice was sought. Players, officials, management and catering staff all knew him and had a word for him.

The first person that I was introduced to was the head of Human Resources. She explained to me that Phil was a valuable part of the club. Apparently the club had approached Phil about becoming Chaplain, so in that way they had a vested interest in making the chaplaincy work. However I got the impression that in Phil they had found just the right person.  In post for 6 years Phil had intropduced ino the cluban annual remembrance service (now in its 4th year) where supporters and staff could be remembered. This attracted about 300 people to the stadium to remember loved ones. In addition to this there was a floor of memorial bricks just outside the reception and nearby a book of remembrance with a place for flowers to be laid. This showed how the club were connecting with the eeds of the community. Phil was a regular contributor to the match day programme and was part of the “unity & diversity” group which helped community relationships by recognising the diversity of the community and yet seeking to unite as one.

Phil has also been a part of the reason BWFC had reached the intermediate level for racial equality standards.

On a match day he is wired up so that if necessary he can be contacted quickly to assist in any given situation. There is even a quiet room on the concourse for the supporters if they need a bit of space for peace and quiet, or for use in an emergency.

Phil has also been part of the drawing up of a bereavement policy within the club.

The head of Human Resources described Phil’s role as crucial to the club for he touches every part of the club.

His job description is annually appraised because Phil and the club see it as a means of improving the quality of their work year on year.

On a day to day level Phil’s sees his work as meeting people, exercising pastoral care and teaching core skills and values to the academy youths. He visits on one day each week and on match days. As with all chaplains this adds a stress to his ministry for he is also the minister of Bolton Victoria Hall with a staff of 43 and all of its projects.

The Church/circuit however are largely supportive of what he is doing and the circuit have taken it seriousy re. Phils future work amongst them. I felt that this was quite visionary of them in being prepared to release their Minister into the community. How many churches/circuits are prepared to do that ?

When I quizzed Phil about how he saw chaplaincy he explained it in two ways……………….

1    he felt it was important to show that faith is relevant in all areas of life

2    he saw his work (Victoria Hall, BWFC, and other chaplaincies) as a Fresh Expresion of Circuit

After this Phil took me to the training ground where I was to meet various people, players, manager, coaches etc. While Phil wasn`t around I took the opportunity to ask them about his work. They were all hugely supportive and spoke about him as part of the team. One person even went as far as to say that the club would suffer badly without his input ! High praise.

Why was this ? Well, perhaps the answer lies in the fact that while I was there a particularly sensitive issue arose which needed to be resolved. A small group of people expressed their opinion and all sought Phil for his. Once the decision was made it was left in Phil’s hands to ensure the result was carried out. I felt that this showed how the club understood the need for a holistic approach, dealing with issues from a practical sense, through a business sense, and inclusive of the spiritual realm. In many places I`ve heard the chaplan speak of the need to see their work holistically or see players in a holistic way, but here it was evident that this wasn`t just Phil`s view but it was the view of the club.

We spoke about how sometimes a club would go through depressed times and how the chaplain needed to be the upbeat voice; the one offering support and the one offering the listening ear. Phil echoed the sentiments of Graham Locking (newmarket) when he spoke of the need to listen to anxieties and also to peoples stories.

Phil also recognised that he was the chaplain to all people irrespective of nationality or faith. In the club there are approximately 19 different nationalities with all of the cultural and religious dimension that brings. It was Phil`s job to try and ensure that much of this is met. Consequently he would find Mosques and Churches for players to worship in, he would learn about dietary needs at festival times and so on. Phil also needs to relate to all people from the chairman to the person at the entrance on a match day. Phil was to be Jesus to all people.

This was a fascinating day of just wandering around behind Phil and observing, but it opened up so much in the way of potential and I could see how BWFC embraced Phil in all ways. In many ways it was an exciting conclusion to my sabbatical visits.