To all at Bedlington Terriers FC

Around November time I started coming to games, having recently moved up to Bedlington from London. I responded to a long time request for a club chaplain at the Terriers, having been one for both a professional club in the past, and a national side for a short period of time. I am part of Sports Chaplaincy UK, and we provide pastoral support for clubs at every level of the game. I am available to help, through either a chat or if I can offer any advice on mental health, I have a lot of experience. You can confidentially get in touch with me through my email: tom@hopechurchbedlington.co.uk

It is still my hope that we can develop the role together, although it may need to be next season now.

But even though I’ve only met a few of you, I still thought I could write to offer you some encouragement during this time, and maybe help you get to know me a little.

Many years ago I had to stop playing the game I loved. I wasn’t a flashy player, I spent most of my playing days as an old fashioned right back, occasionally playing on the left. But I loved the competition and working out how to win. By the time I was 17 the pain I experienced playing, especially kicking the ball, meant I had to stop. I didn’t even manage one full season of adult football. I occasionally played in goal after that as a back up keeper, but particularly the goal kicks were killing me and so I gave that up too.

At the age of 32, in 2014, I was finally diagnosed. For many years I had been told that the pain and limited movement was due to the various injuries I got while playing. Operations had been unsuccessful. By 2014 I couldn’t walk much at all. The pain had spread from my knees to pretty much every joint in my body. I couldn’t even let my kids sit on my lap, let alone play footy with them. Eventually I was told I had Psoriatic Arthritis – an immune system disorder.

The prognosis is not great. They can’t reverse it, but they blast it with Chemo drugs to stop it attacking your body more, and try to slow it’s progress down. I engaged with the treatment, and found that despite the sickness from the drugs I became stronger and stronger. Within 4 months I was cycling, after having done no exercise for more than 10 years it wasn’t easy! But the strength came and now I have competed in various races, some that are over 100 miles long.

But actually, with all that’s going on right now, I want to focus on the one time I played briefly football again. I started as an assistant coach to an amateur team shortly after I started treatment.   During preseason we went to a one day 5 aside tournament, and we decided to enter 2 teams, but we were short one player. So I played for the first team in goal.

It was a painful experience, that got more and more painful as the day wore on, and as we progressed all the way to the quarters where we were beat on pens.

But despite the pain, it was also joyous. I enjoyed every second. From a minute or so in I realised this would be, not only my comeback, but also my final game. Some people have asked since why I was so happy, how come I literally gave every ounce of myself into that game despite the pain, and why I wasn’t put off by the pain or the disappointment that I wouldn’t play again. Some people have wondered out loud why I was positive even though my recovery wouldn’t go far enough to see me play the game I loved so much again.

I haven’t got a clear answer. But what I have got translates into the situation we find ourselves in.

Way before I was on the road to recovery something had shifted in my attitude. I remember desperately lying awake, sweating profusely, asking God to save me from this pain and life shortening disease. I was really low, without hope, and spent most nights researching online. Despite my prayer I wasn’t miraculously healed, although something Gifted in my attitude around that time. What changed in me was gratitude and a determination to make the most of what I have right now. It was in this moment that I decided to cycle to work, which was a 25 mile round trip. I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to do it for, but I gave it go on that day. It was during this moment that I decided to choose to love my wife and my kids, rather than simply hope I felt love for them, which lets be honest is strong some days, and non existent others! I deliberately chose to make the most of right here and right now, and let go of tomorrow. Through that decision I started living the life I’ve been given, rather than stressing about the life I don’t have.

This can be an important lesson for us today. We are often focussed on what’s ahead, what’s coming up – that can be helpful, but not if it leads to us missing the moment we are in.

So my encouragement to you is to make the most of this moment. If this was a team talk and we were chatting before the game, I would be telling you that the warm up ahead of you is all you have at this point. You don’t know for sure you’ll definitely make kick off. So make the most of it, warm up properly, thoroughly. You can contribute without even kicking a ball. Encourage your team mates. I often talk about speaking to each other in way that builds up, rather than tears down.

We give ourselves this team talk right now. How are you speaking with those you live with? How you are you speaking to yourself? Are you angry, or discouraging? Being negative? Or are you encouraging, speaking truthfully, and building up? When we speak graciously in a way that affirms we are

And do you take the opportunity you are presented with today to improve? Are you road running, getting faster each day? Doing a daily work out, actually getting stronger, rather than weaker? Are you practicing a skill, or your accuracy? Even if you haven’t got a garden, you’ve got a bedroom and you can practice kicking something! These are the opportunities you have been presented with today.

So my encouragement, if you’ve managed to read this far, is make this most of right now – if we’ve been reminded of one thing it’s that we do not know what tomorrow will bring.

If you want to look me up on Facebook, please do. We are running our church service live on our page, www.facebook.com/hcbedlington

Tom Gallagher, Club Chaplain

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