Footballers, Popes and prayers

Let us pray.

Offside: A City fan looks to the heavens for some on-field inspiration.
Offside: A City fan looks to the heavens for some on-field inspiration.

Congregation numbers may be falling across the numerous denominations, but in football it looks unlikely that praying will ever go out of fashion.

We often talk about the gods of football (or of fate) and their abilities to affect a fixture in our favour during times of illogical desperation. For many though, such forces have a direct impact and affect on their team and chances.

Offside: Notts County goalkeeper Roy Carroll rests his head on the ball as he prays.
Offside: Notts County goalkeeper Roy Carroll rests his head on the ball as he prays.

Even with a sober mind, the game has a way of bringing out a desire for faith in small details and mini rituals, both for fans in their lucky underwear and players in their pre-match habits.

Offside: Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez of Man Utd prays before kick-off.
Offside: Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez of Man Utd prays before kick-off.
Offside: Maradona looks to a higher power.
Offside: Maradona looks to a higher power.

Such are the margins of victory, and the superhuman feats of athleticism and skill required to score the most vital of goals or to stop them, football is prone to appearing rather miraculous.

And when those shots and chances just aren’t coming off, it’s usually a coming together of the hands in silent observance of what went wrong that follows, even for the none religious.

The clasping of hands together in a praying motion is a natural bit of human body language, whether it’s learned through social habits or based on some quirk of bio-mechanical comfort or ease.

Yet whatever the reason for it, whether it is a request to the almighty or merely a physical tick at times of hard luck, the pray action only feeds into the image of football as religion.

Offside: Delia puts her hands together for Norwich on derby day against Ipswich.
Offside: Delia puts her hands together for Norwich on derby day against Ipswich.

Here at Offside, we’re not short of images of players praying at times of difficulty and pressure, and some of our favourites are included in this very post.

Witters: Pope Francis is presented with replica Bayern home shirt signed by goalkeeper Manuel Neurer and utility man Philipp Lahm.
Witters: Pope Francis is presented with replica Bayern home shirt signed by goalkeeper Manuel Neurer and utility man Philipp Lahm.

In the last week however, Bayern Munich went to visit Pope Francis, the San Lorenzo-supporting football Pope, and our friends at Witters were able to capture the moment in pictures.

Funnily enough, Pope Francis was one of the most visible mascots of the Argentinian fans during the World Cup. Perhaps it may have been slightly awkward for the Primate to greet so many of the German players who downed his beloved Albiceleste in the final.

Witters: The team display a replica home shirt with the number 1 and the Pope's name Francis spelt out in German.
Witters: The team display a replica home shirt with the number 1 and the Pope’s name Francis spelt out in German.

If it was, he didn’t show it. Not in the pictures we have at least.

Simon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope.
Simon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope.

The Pope has also been spotted at Premier League grounds over the years, though not the actual leader of the Catholic Church mind, but imitators looking to riff on the Vatican for an away day costume.

Simon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope shouts abuse.
Simon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope shouts abuse.

Often, the final away game of the season, or a festive fixture, is selected by supporters as a sort of fun day in which to throw on an outfit to cause a few laughs and ruffle some sensibilities.

SImon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope fools around with a rather well-endowed fellow supporter.
SImon Stacpoole: A Newcastle fan dressed as The Pope fools around with a rather well-endowed fellow supporter.

A penny for the thoughts of Pope Francis and his aides on this copycat and his associate in the away section for Newcastle United against Wigan Athletic at the JW Stadium in 2013.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic football pictures from the L’Equipe and Witters archives. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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