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Prayer, sport, and friendship were all part of the package at this annual football (soccer) tournament among communities in Europe.

On the first weekend of May of every year, men (and some women and children) from around the European Region of the Sword of the Spirit assemble at one of the communities for the annual Football Tournament. This year’s tournament saw over 100 people hosted by the Antioch Community in London between 2nd and 3rd May.

This is one of the high points of the year for all those who attend. The tournament is not solely focused on football. It is a great time of community and fellowship, too. Many great  friendships have been formed and continue to be formed during the tournament – many of the men have been attending for over twenty years. A distinct male environment really helps the weekend flourish and take on a unique character.

This year the tournament started (as is tradition) on the Saturday morning, although people arrived in London at various points during the preceding week. On the football field, the “group stage” helped identify the four strongest teams as the semi-finalists: Charis Community (from Belfast), Nazareth Community (from Dublin), Antioch Community (hosting, from London) and Community of the Risen Christ (Glasgow). Kudos to the team from Poland who added as much as anyone to the event on and off the field.

The Saturday night is in many ways the cornerstone of the tournament. This year, at a local Baptist church and hall, approximately 200 people (players and spectators) participated in the Lord’s Day celebration and festive meal, followed by a prayer meeting. Many people have come to faith or had their faith strengthened at the Saturday night prayer meeting and this year was no exception as many felt a strong sense of the Lord calling us to turn back to him.

Community of the Risen Christ (Glasgow), 2015 Champions

On Sunday, after attending our respective church services, the football was concluded, after close competition saw Community of the Risen Christ crowned as the 2015 champions. A social time later on Sunday night concluded the event.

While obviously of extreme importance, the tournament isn’t at heart an event about football. It’s more about community and faith and brotherhood than it is about sport. While memories of what happen on the pitch linger on for years and years, it’s what happens off the pitch that truly matters. It’s the friendships that are made and solidified and the profound impact of a Christian event, including the prayer meeting, that change people’s lives. Which is why we’ll do it again next year. See you in Munich, Germany, 2016.

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Great Things from Small Beginnings

The European Football Tournament was started in the early 1990s by young men who wanted to play football and build Christian community. In particular, it was pioneered by Sean Currie and Dan Turner in London and JP Johnson in Dublin, three men who still participate on and off the field helping the tournament flourish.

While the first tournaments consisted of only a few teams, this year we were fortunate enough to have eight: Dublin A and Dublin B, London A and London B, Glasgow, Belfast and the community in Bielsko Biała, Poland – and a Barbarians team (a conglomerate of players). Communities in Belgium and Germany also compete but were unable to field a team this year, for various reasons.

FT Group

On the field, the tournament is open to men from Sword of the Spirit communities and outreaches – from age fifteen upward, although there is often a youth tournament or match, too. The event also serves as a great tool for outreach towards young men who are eager to play football and are often impacted by the community and spiritual aspects of the event.

Hosting of the tournament switches round every year. In its beginnings, the hosting was usually by Dublin, Belfast, and London, but gradually broadened to include hosting by other communities in the region. This year it was in London, but last year it was hosted in Glasgow and will be in Munich next year. Each community in the region hosts the tournament roughly every seven years. This year we were indebted to the generous hosting and service of the Antioch Community, whose homes were filled to overflowing.

Perhaps the crucial dynamic of the weekend is that men from around the region come together to support one another. While they belong to their separate communities across Europe, the tournament provides an opportunity to express and experience being members of one multi-national community of communities.