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Sunderland AFC veteran recruited to coach clergy football teams

31 January 2020

Keith Blundy

The Revd Poya Heidari (left) with Maurice Hepworth

The Revd Poya Heidari (left) with Maurice Hepworth

A FORMER Sunderland player, Maurice Hepworth, has been recruited to help to coach Church of England clergy football teams — the idea of a priest in Durham diocese.

An Assistant Curate of St Gabriel’s, Sunderland, the Revd Pouya Heidari, a former professional footballer who was ordained priest last year, has enlisted Mr Hepworth’s help for his scheme.

Mr Heidari said: “Football was always a passion of mine, and, throughout my training for ordination, I have been thinking how this journey of discipleship grows different bits of your life — and, for many people, sports, and especially football, is one of the big ones.”

His scheme, which hopes to reach out to communities through football, includes teams for men and women. He is now captain of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s men’s team.

Speaking last month, he said: “Part of my proposal to the Archbishops’ Council was that we would like to have both men’s and women’s football teams. So far, we have a full men’s squad, made of 18 vicars drawn from across the country, and we are well on the way to building the women’s squad also. Clearly, all involved are passionate about football and how it can be used for outreach into their various communities. It’s all very exciting.

“Our immediate focus is playing in friendlies and tournaments in this country against teams from different faith of groups, religious communities, and secular clubs, not just Christian teams. Some of them may be semi-professional, or even professional. Currently, we are scheduled to play in the National Christian football festival that is happening in Wales in July 2020. We are also exploring tournaments further afield — with the Catholics in Rome, and with the Lutherans in Germany — but we will have to see what happens. For now, we are really excited about where this is going to take us.”

Mr Hepworth spoke of the way in which football helps people to communicate. “There’s something special about how they affect people’s emotions, their thinking, and how they come together in communities, and we felt that this was an amazing opportunity to take what we do in this team, and have that taken into communities across the country by the individual members of the team.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, commended the initiative: “Many football clubs were founded by local churches. My own predecessor, Bishop Lightfoot, founded ‘The Two Blues’ of Bishop Auckland. So I am delighted Pouya has led this initiative. I hope it will . . . help people recognise that faith and football can go together.”

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