Gavin Peacock’s Column: The treatment room and true identity

Former professional footballer, BBC Sport pundit and now church pastor; Gavin Peacock kicks off his brand new Cross The Line column in true style! Gavin opens up about the harsh reality of being sidelined through injury as a footballer, but also offers a new insight regarding the physio table as a Christian.

In 1993 Newcastle was heading for the Premier League. We had stormed the old 1st division up until the end of January and had three months to see it through. Then in February I pulled my hamstring! I was club captain and the leading scorer with 18 goals but suddenly found myself injured and unable to play much part in the run in.

The treatment room at a football club is a great leveller. I found myself there several times over my career, particularly towards the end of my playing days. While you’re on the physio’s table you might be the team’s star player but you have as much influence on a Saturday as the tea lady. The treatment room is also a place where insecurities are revealed. Footballers know they have a short career and a limited length of contract. Alongside this they know that injury can cut that career short or severely impact it. Injury takes you out, another player takes your place and then that player keeps you out. And so often players with long-term injuries get extremely down or even depressed. Consequently part of the physio’s job has always been to get the player physically fit and keep him mentally strong. That’s a tough mandate. The treatment room levels players, and it also reveals where someone’s identity lies.

In all of us there is a desire for identity, a desire to belong and be accepted, and a desire for glory. Footballers find this in simply being a footballer. They find pleasure in the sense of belonging and camaraderie. And their desire for glory is fulfilled in victory on a Saturday, personal performance and adulation from the fans. However, if your identity is found in being a “footballer” (insert any other sport) then when doubt is cast on the stability of that identity your world is rocked.

Football is a great game. In my opinion, it’s the best. But if you look to football for ultimate identity it won’t last, it won’t satisfy and it won’t eventually save you. Because it doesn’t address the real problem we all have and the real need.  The real problem is sin in the heart of each man and woman, which separates them from God. The real need is for a substitute; a true champion to enter the arena and sort out the problem. When, Jesus the God man,entered the arena of human history he led the perfect life of obedience to God that no man could ever do. And on the cross he took the judgement for the sin of whoever would believe in him (John 3:16). The resurrection proves the truth of who Jesus is and what he achieved, as victor over sin, Satan and death and he will return again. Now, true identity and hope is not found in sport, it’s found in Jesus, into whose image Christians are gradually being transformed.

Christian footballers, in fact all Christian sports men and women, find themselves in a type of mission field. They regularly rub shoulders with non-Christian teammates, all struggling to find their identity, many trying to find it in sport. Which means they can present these teammates with the solution – the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is that when things are going well people don’t see the need for Jesus. But when they suffer, the door is often open, as the things they have put their trust in are taken away. That’s why the treatment room has great purpose for the Christian footballer. So when you are injured and disappointed remember that God may have placed you there to show someone where your identity truly lies and to offer them the hope of the gospel.

Keep an eye out for Gavin’s next column – coming soon!

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