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Beesotted contributor, Rev Peter Crumpler, offers his tongue in cheek thanks to VAR

This Sunday Wembley Stadium will host a special celebration of the links between football and the Christian faith.

As a Church of England minister and Bees fan, I welcome the initiative. It’s part of the FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

Many of today’s Premier League clubs – including Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa – have their roots in local churches. Many clubs in all leagues have chaplains who support the players and backroom staff.

Yet I’d like to voice a minority opinion about how the FA and other governing bodies have done wonders to increase spirituality in recent years. (And with my tongue firmly in cheek.)

Step forward…VAR.

Yes, the controversial Video Assistant Referee has probably done more to promote prayer than many thousands of religious services, rituals or sermons.

Just last Saturday evening, the hush around the GTech while we waited for Leandro Trossard’s first half goal to be ruled offside was quieter than many prayer gatherings. Fans around me could be heard pleading ‘Please no…’ to the gods of football.

Supporters who previously only appealed to whatever deity they believed in during edgy penalty shootouts, now find themselves in prayer almost every match.

There’s a silence that descends when the mystical VAR words appear on the screen while remote powers deliberate over vital decisions.

Managers may fume over VAR outcomes, and pundits suggest all kinds of ways that VAR can be improved, but I love the way it’s transforming football grounds into places of prayer – alongside fans’ worship of teams and top players.

I’ve long said there’s something religious about a football crowd. It’s about devotion, commitment, ritual and singing.

It’s about joyously coming together, as different generations and increasingly diverse crowds enjoy a shared experience. ‘Hey Jude’ always resounds like a hymn around the ground, with hands lifted high.

As the festive season approaches, I’ll regret – as I do every year – that we no longer have the Salvation Army playing carols and collecting money for the homeless before the final pre-Christmas match.
But maybe there’s a whole lot more spirituality around now that the blessed VAR has entered our lives, and given us all so much space to reflect, and maybe pray, during our toughest matches.
It’s sometimes hard to remember what life was like before VAR, when matches just used to flow…

Rev Peter Crumpler is a lifelong Bees fan and, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts.