Between soccer field and chapel

Between soccer field and chapel

"Faith helps you stay grounded" © dpa

Chanting, rituals, outward signs of recognition: Religion and soccer have some things in common. Some fans even see the sport itself as a religion. A film accompanies them with a curious but also critical eye.

In its strongest moments, the documentary itself becomes a game. Right at the beginning, for example, she plays with the viewer's expectations: sacred-sounding chanting resounds. But to be seen are soccer fans, then players striding across the pitch. The images alternate with people praying and altar boys waving an incense burner. And after a few notes, you recognize the song: a variation of the soccer anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone".

Its lyrics are an example of the parallels between soccer and religion that director Janos Kereszti wants to show. "Don't be afraid of the dark," the song goes, for instance. The refrain is sung by fans in stadiums around the world: "Keep running, with hope in your heart – you'll never run alone." ARD shows the search for traces between soccer field and chapel on Sunday at 17.30 in the series "God and the World".

"We live Schalke"

The Hahn family are all Schalke fans. "We live Schalke," says grandpa Wilfried. Grandma Jutta adds that family celebrations are sometimes postponed for matches. Exaggerated, some might say. On the other hand, the Ruhr Association keeps the family together: From grandparents to grandchildren, everyone maintains the ritual of attending the stadium every week.

Along with his family, his love for the club is the constant in his life, says Wilfried Hahn. And just as faith used to be passed down from generation to generation, so too is soccer enthusiasm inherited.

"Close to religion"

When Christoph Daum says soccer is his life, it's less surprising. The 62-year-old was coach of several Bundesliga clubs, including 1. FC Cologne. Before he stumbled upon a cocaine affair in 2000, he was supposed to be a national coach. In 2006, he returned to Cologne "as a prodigal son" and experienced a "sporting resurrection," as the film says – these metaphors are perhaps used a little too often.

Today Daum appears reflected. "Football is not a religion. That would be going too far for me," he says. Director Kereszti also explains in an interview with the Catholic News Agency that he "can't quite understand" when soccer becomes the absolute center of life. Many fans meant by the comparison to religion "that there is nothing more important to them, that it touches them emotionally – and that they experience community there," he explains. "It's close to religion."

Outcome uncertain

Eugen Eckert, Protestant stadium pastor at Eintracht Frankfurt, confirms these commonalities. In the film, he asks a group of confirmands what belongs to soccer. "A well-groomed foul," one says. Eckert smiles and asks: What a foul actually is? A breach of the rules, it turns out. In this respect, a soccer game is an image of life, says the clergyman: "The game has a kickoff and a whistle – we are born, we die."And: "No one knows how it will end."

But religion goes "far beyond" the Germans' favorite sport, Eckert emphasizes. She asks questions of meaning: Where do I come from?? Where to go? What carries me? Kereszti agrees with this assessment. "Perhaps soccer today has functions that were once offered mainly by the church. But I don't think soccer can replace religion." Pastor Eckert does not see any competition between stadium attendance and religious services. The church is present in the stadium, "so that a togetherness is possible."

Food for thought and starting points

The soccer fans in the film are true originals, and Daum and Eckert provide some food for thought. So the coach says that in Turkey – where he worked after his public fall from grace – coaches are called "hodja," as Islamic religious scholars are called. Many resisted this comparison – in vain. The appreciation is "incredibly high," said Daum.

Players are also often "turned into supermen," Eckert adds. The fact that this can lead to excessive demands or how some stars are helped by their faith to stay grounded – these could be exciting starting points for a possible sequel. For now, the documentary offers what Daum primarily expects from a soccer game: good entertainment.

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