Where faith and sport meet

IF SOCCER is indeed Pope Francis’ favourite sport, then perhaps the Pontiff could direct some prayers to Canberra’s only Catholic soccer team, which is halfway through its first season in the ACT Churches Football League (ACT CFL).

Named the ‘Cardinals’, the team has struggled so far, managing only a draw in its first 12 matches of the season.

But in a competition where results are secondary to sportsmanship and fair play, the team remains upbeat and positive about the remainder of the season.

“It’s more difficult than we had anticipated, but it’s good fun,” team manager Gerard William told Catholic Voice.

“We want to win a game, and that will be well deserved by the guys for their effort… but at the same time we’re just trying to make sure that everyone’s getting a good run and enjoying the game.”

The ACT CFL was established in 1968, as a competition that aims to provide a place for Christian fellowship through sport and to encourage personal faith in Christ. This season’s competition involves 10 teams representing various Christian denominations.

Mr William, who has played in local soccer leagues for a number of years, said some of the negative aspects of playing in a secular competition are not present in the ACT CFL.

“There’s no verbal abuse, and no one tries to break your legs, so that’s where the spirit of the game is at a high level,” he said.

“On the whole, the attitude of each individual towards the other teams is very respectful.”

About 30 players have taken to the field over the course of the season representing the Cardinals, Mr William said, each with various levels of experience and skill.

“Some guys have played pretty high levels, for others this is their first season they’ve ever played in an outdoor competition,” he said.

“We have players who play every winter season, and then we also have players who haven’t played in 14 years since school.”

While the matches are generally played in a good spirit, Mr William said the nature of a competitive sporting match inevitably evokes passion.

“When you take a bunch of guys who are committed to seeking the good, and you put them in an aggressive football game, it’s a different kind of challenge,” he said.

“But there will always be handshakes at the end of the game.”

President of the ACT CFL Andrew James said there are a number of unique aspects to the competition.

These include the range of skill and age levels, commencing each match with a prayer, and the fact that the competition seeks to engender friendships across teams.

“The competition is designed to be fun and competitive, with self-control important to how the competition is played and managed in the spirit of Christian fellowship,” he said.

“Over recent years participating teams believe they have had a very enjoyable culture in the competition, and some advances have also been made in the quality of refereeing and the arrangements for administration.”

Regardless of how the rest of the season pans out in terms of results, Mr William said the Cardinals’ participation in the competition would continue to be a source of enjoyment for all the players.

“It’s basically a chance for Catholic men to be men – taking their faith seriously, living their professional life well and looking after their physical well-being,” he said.