A WINNER of a BBC Songs of Praise competition for rugby league fans has said that her faith goes “hand in hand” with her love of the game. Phyllis Thorman, who has won the chance to sing in front of the crowd at Wembley Stadium, said that she was “overjoyed and humbled” to have been chosen.
She was nominated by a friend and selected by the programme to join a choir of 31 other winners, who will sing in front of 90,000 fans at the Rugby League Challenge Cup final, to be broadcast live on BBC1 on Saturday 27 August.
She said this week: “Watching a game certainly tests your faith and your hope because you don’t know what the end result will be. Some things go against you — referee decisions, penalties, sin-binning — but then you have faith that the team will pull through.”
Ms Thorman is the assistant manager for the Live at Home scheme at North Shields Methodist Church, which offers friendship, food, and company to over-60s in the area as part of the charity Methodist Homes for the Aged (MHA). She has worked there for more than 16 years.
“I am so blessed to be working here,” she said. “You do feel you make a valid difference to people’s lives, and though the responsibility and the implicit trust they put on you can be scary, they have such strong faith in you, how can you not reward people for that?”
The choir are to sing the hymn “Abide with Me”, led by Aled Jones, which will also be shown in a special edition of Songs of Praise the next evening. It will focus on some of the winners, including Ms Thorman.
The hymn choice is a “perfect match” for the occasion, she said. “The history of the hymn itself gives you strength; it focuses you and gives you greater belief that you will get through your troubles and trials. Everybody is familiar with it, and enjoys singing it with great gusto.”
Ms Thorman’s three sons have all played professional rugby league, and one captained Huddersfield Giants in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 2006, a game she watched. The emotion on the pitch on the day will be hard to control, she said. “The atmosphere is unbelievable.
“The church is buzzing and has a brilliant atmosphere, too, like a big extended family. And rugby league is such a family-orientated sport. It is the same set up, just a different team of players.”
Other winners include four schoolchildren, an 84-year-old, and a Salford Red Devils fan, Stan Sandland, who in 2013 set up the first LGBT Rugby League team in the UK, the Manchester Canalsiders. The winners were chosen by a panel of judges, including the West End star Connie Fisher, and the Leeds Rhinos and England rugby league player Jamie-Jones Buchanan.
The head of television for BBC Religion and Ethics in Salford, Tommy Nagra, said: “When we launched the competition, we said that rugby league fans were some of the most passionate out there, and we weren’t disappointed. This choir reflects all sections of the rugby league community.”