Talk of miracles in football is widespread at the moment, but Ian Plenderleith discovers that for some such words are meant literally rather than metaphorically, especially in American prisons and universities

First, the good news. Weekly online fanzine First Touch serves fans in the New York metropolitan area, but its content is more than good enough to spread the word further. True, it lists NY bars where you can watch European football, but its globally spread contributors offer mainly well considered commentaries on all aspects of the game.

US-based Manchester United fan Kim Khan’s take on the Glazer takeover admits to sidestepping the financial aspect in order to write: “I’ve heard and read a lot of things about the anti-American aspects of the opposition to Glazer. Well, as an American I find the fact that a person who does not know who George Best is having say over all things United is disheartening at best, disgusting at worst."

There are several interviews and analyses from the eminent writer Dave Bowler, who produced one half of the site’s two-part examination of the recent botched US film about the 1950 World Cup game between the US and England, The Game of Their Lives. Bowler and Jon Rae look at the historical facts about the game and interview some of the players involved, from the English and US views respectively. Quality writing, and it’s free, sitting well alongside its equally excellent compatriot e-zines Round Not Oval and The Global Game.

Second, even better news! Bowler brings attention to Faith and Football , a Christian charity involving Portsmouth’s Linvoy Primus and West Brom’s Darren Moore, who spent some of last summer walking the Great Wall of China to raise funds for underprivileged children in Nigeria and India. Whatever your views on faith and charity as a cure for the world’s ills, it makes a change to see players spending their breaks on something other than a beach, while Primus’s “testimony” makes for compelling reading compared with the usual “I just went out and gave it 110 per cent” platitudes. After years of struggling at Charlton, in the lower leagues (he “grew from a boy to a man at Barnet”) and at Reading, it was by meeting Moore at Portsmouth and accepting God back into his life that the player says he was able to compete at the top level and earn “rave reviews for performances against such players as Michael Owen and Alan Shearer”. Sinfully, he was “tempted to take the credit, but I knew that all the glory was God’s”. And a dodgy knee injury cleared up when Mick Mellows, an ex-Pompey pro who is now a Faith and Football visionary, “laid on his hands” and “I felt an electricity going through my knee.” Miraculously, he was back in full training… erm, two weeks later.

Primus was not the only player to have God work her magic on his knee. According to Darren Moore, “in the autumn of 1999, with Bradford now in the Premiership, [born-again Christian] Wayne [Jacobs] was facing a potentially career-ending injury, but I witnessed him making a remarkable recovery after attending a prayer meeting. Wayne went along to a church where people prayed and prayed for him, and, that night, he felt things begin to happen in his knee. Within three or four weeks he was back playing again.”

 Is this within the laws of the game? Are born-again Christians using Jesus to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents? Can they be tested for that special tingling in their knees using an electroscope?

A search of the internet shows that God is using football to spread the word in all manner of places, including US prisons. The Colorado branch of Soccer Saints reports that “recently we took our soccer team into Four Mile Correctional Center in Canon City. There were 52 inmates in attendance at the game and 45 stayed for the Gospel presentation. Thirty-six filled out blue response cards and 13 accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour!” Hallelujah! What a result!

At Cornerstone University in Michigan you can only enrol on the women’s football programme if you’ve already got God on your side. Coach Randy Strawser says of new recruit Morgan Webb: “Not only is she a solid soccer player, she is a solid Christian role model.” Rookie signing Amber Webb is happy because her new team-mates “are so much fun. They love to play and they love the Lord!”

This news is less good for the rest of us godless strugglers following small-town sides and already fighting against the inexorable growth of greed and drug use at the top level. Now, it seems, ever more players are calling an unknown force to their aid. If God can help the Baggies and Pompey stay up, who knows what untapped religious powers could be unleashed in the coming season? Perhaps Barry Ferguson would be good enough to accept Jesus as his Saviour and, with help from above, take Scotland to the 2006 World Cup after all.

From WSC 221 July 2005. What was happening this month

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday