Winning off the field

Orlando City Soccer Club chaplain Andy Searles prays with some of the MLS side's players.

Orlando City Soccer Club chaplain Andy Searles prays with some of the MLS side's players.

In his role as chaplain at Major League Soccer side, Orlando City, in Florida, United States, Andy Searles confesses that no two days are the same. So what does a chaplain do, and in the big money world of professional football, does having a chaplain really add value to what goes on at a soccer club? Adrian Barnard seeks to find answers in the first part of his interview for Planet Sport.

“I think I would define the primary thing that I do as trying to offer some player care,” is how Andy sees his role.

“That expresses itself in many ways,” he continues. “For some of the faith-based players and those who are followers of Jesus, there’s some pastoral care, we have some Bible studies and we have a chapel service before each game in the locker room. But I also offer some services beyond that, to those who maybe aren’t of faith at this time, or have got issues. I offer some counselling services, some support on really anything they need.”

Andy is a pastor, leading a church in Casselberry, just north of Orlando with his chaplain’s work sitting alongside it. 

“I consider my work with Orlando City as an extension of my ministry in the church and in the community where I serve on a regular basis.”

But in the very commercial of Major League Soccer where there is huge investment and a vast number of people involved in the club, what does a chaplain contribute?

“It’s the coach’s job or the manager’s job to help the players win on the field and it’s my job to help the players win off the field.”

“I hope that I’m able to remind the players and the staff, and even the fans on occasion, that there is a life that is really important and that really matters – outside of the game. I hope that I can remind the players that relationships are important, that their family matters, that one day they won’t be playing soccer and what they do with the rest of their life is crucially important to them.”

“I find myself mentoring a lot and just trying to be an encouraging presence towards the things off the field. You need to remember that a lot of these men are very young and they have a pretty big spotlight on them. They probably have more money in their bank accounts than we do. And while many in the world would say that’s a great thing, to have that fame and the money, and everything that comes with that, I think that the gospel says that those two things can cause a lot of trouble, a lot of temptation. Perhaps my job is to help these guys manage those responsibilities in ways that are beneficial to them and their families and their faith over the long haul.”

Andy grew up in England and continues supporting Ipswich Town FC despite now living in the USA. He speaks from personal experience of how football can take over a life.

“Football was such an integral part of my life growing up and perhaps to my shame, to my sin, soccer became kind of like an idol to me. If we [Ipswich] won, everything was great in my world; if we lost, it wasn’t. One of the things that happened was that I moved to the US and couldn’t keep up with soccer as much, that idol was starved within me. So I now kind of feel that God is allowing me to minister into a fallen idol and it’s great to be engaged with the game again.”

Listen to Part 1 of Adrian’s interview with Andy, here:  

Part two of the interview will feature in the Planet Sport programme 2/3/2017 when Andy shares his own journey to faith and tells us why he’s chaplain at Orlando City, when the role is as an unpaid volunteer.