So much has been written about Ivan Toney, Brentford’s top striker and England player now facing an eight-month ban after accepting that he broke Football Association betting rules.
Bees fans and supporters of rival clubs have taken to social media and radio phone-ins to have their say on the future of the soccer star. Was the ban too lenient? Was it excessive? Was Toney unfairly singled out? There’s even wild unfounded speculation that Toney might go overseas to try and get round the ban.
It’s a tragic story of a super talented and inspirational 27-year-old athlete facing the consequences of his actions while having a superlative Premier League season and making his national debut. And true, full details of the judgement are yet to be released.
But what about the man?
I’ve no idea if Ivan Toney enjoyed the hundreds of bets he placed on matches. I haven’t got a clue if he got the buzz from each of those wagers and won a good many of them.
I hope that he got some enjoyment from what he did, rather than being driven to just one more bet…
After all, given Premier League wages, he was probably not desperate for the money.
And my prayer, as a Christian priest and lifelong Bees fan, is that Ivan Toney is surrounded by good people. Family and friends who will support him and encourage him. Management and team-mates who will stand by him.
I pray he will have people who will help him – the ace penalty-taker – to come to terms with the FA penalty he is facing. Toney loves competitive football – we see that every time he graces the field. He’s going to have to live without it for a long stretch.
All Brentford fans have taken Toney to our hearts. He’s been a key part of the team that’s done so well getting to the Premier League and establishing ourselves in the top ten.
Now, without condoning Toney’s actions, we need to stand with him, support him and look forward to welcoming him back to the team.
And yes – there are lots of questions about the role of gambling in football. But for me, for now, I want to focus on Ivan Toney, the man, and pray he’ll make the best use of his time of suspension.
That he’ll reflect on what he’s done, what he shouldn’t have done, and come back with a renewed passion for the beautiful game that he loves.
It’s a prayer I’ll say Amen to.
Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister, and a lifelong Brentford FC supporter.