Interview: Gavin Peacock, football pundit

by
30 October 2007

I have just finished filming my first Songs of Praise. It was shot at Rochester Cathedral, not far from where I live. I really enjoyed it, but I won’t get the public feedback until the New Year, when it comes out.

Songs of Praise is a British institution and watched by a lot of people. In an era when everyone is questioning what is Britishness, it is easy to forget that Christianity is part of our heritage. It is also one of the totally Christian programmes that have not been marginalised.

It’s not just Chelsea and Newcastle, I feel a certain loyalty to all the teams I have played for, so that includes Bournemouth, Gillingham, QPR. . . But I have to admit my 14-year-old son is a Chelsea supporter; so I enjoy following them. Because of my work, I don’t get to sit through that many matches in the stand. I tend to watch the ones they want me to talk about.

During the 1993-94 season, I scored against Manchester United [for Chelsea] at home and away. I have to say United were the better team at the time: they won the league that season and beat us in the FA Cup final.

There is always uncertainty at a club when a successful manager leaves. Mourinho leaving Chelsea has created this problem: there is currently someone in charge without a brilliant track record. Ultimately, I think they will get in someone else.

If I had to pick a player of the moment, it would probably be Frank Lampard. He is a very good player, and a midfielder, as I was. He is an intelligent guy who conducts himself well on and off the pitch.

Linvoy Primus is also someone who impresses me. I have known him since I was at Charlton. He is a great role model for younger players, and leads a prayer session before every Portsmouth match. He is someone whose life has been transformed by his faith. Portsmouth is a unique place as there are a number of Christian players as well as the physio (Features, 10 November 2006).

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The Football Focus team asked me to present a Faith in Football programme [screened at the end of last year]. I looked at three faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. After the programme, there were a lot of letters, particularly from parents, saying how helpful it had been to see something in players’ lives other than football. The young Christian players like Linvoy and Jermaine Defoe seemed to strike people most.

I don’t regret not getting an England cap: it was just one of those things. I was called to the training squad, and I was an England schoolboy. The other side of it was that I played more than 600 professional games with no serious injuries, which was quite something.

It is hard to be a good role model as a top player nowadays. Along with lots of money comes responsibility, and, inevitably, temptations come along as well. When I was based in London, I used to host a Christian footballers’ Bible study where we would get a speaker and discuss things that footballers have to deal with.

Football can be a very uncertain profession. After I had been married for about a year, we bought our first house in Bournemouth. Then I was suddenly signed for Newcastle, and we moved. That is what life is like, although, I think, the press have enjoyed making a lot of the story that top players won’t move if there aren’t good enough shops for their wives.

We attend an Anglican church in Kent. People know us well; so we are not treated as celebrities. Our vicar [the Revd Richard Arding] lets us do all sorts, although my wife has probably contributed more than I have because of my work. But we lead a house group, and I preach.

I came to faith because of my mum. She started attending the local Methodist church when I had just become a professional football player. I noticed a real change in her: she was much more at peace. So I thought I’d go along to the youth group. I had a rather nice car, but not much else in my life. I wasn’t dramatically converted: it was a gradual growth.

I am studying for a degree at Ridley Hall; but if I’m not reading a theology book, I love a novel. I like anything by Tracy Chevalier or Philip Roth, but recently I have most enjoyed The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I also read a lot about leadership and training. It is an important thing to get right, not just in football, but in the Church.

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My family is very important to me. My dad was a professional footballer, and was a great inspiration in my life. My son is a top karate expert for his age; and my daughter loves netball.

As a child, I always wanted to be a footballer. I got good GCSEs, but then left school. I studied for A levels at night school, when I had become a professional player. That was where I met my wife. Becoming a Christian and getting married are my two most important life choices.

I don’t really do regrets. When I was nearly 35, I chose to move out of professional playing despite offers. I never regretted it; I knew it was the right time.

I would like to be remembered as someone who was a good role model.

Apart from my dad, I have been greatly influenced by players like Kevin Keegan, Glen Hoddle, and the Brazilian Pelé. I have always been a great fan of Bobby Charlton as I think he is a great ambassador for the sport.

Being so busy, I tend to listen to a lot of online sermons. The art of preaching is a bit like football commentary: you have to be clear and concise.

In the Bible, I regularly turn to Matthew 6.25: “Do not worry. . .”

Traffic jams and congestion make me angry. I do a lot of driving from Kent to the TV studios in west London. I am happiest when I am with my family in the Canadian Rocky Mountains: they are such a peaceful, spiritual place.

I would like to get locked in a church with Muhammad Ali, and have a conversation about why he is not the greatest.

Gavin Peacock was talking to Rachel Harden.

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