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Apr 25 Barnsley FC & Muscular Christianity

Today we remember the life and death of the English clergyman Tiverton Preedy. The founder of Barnsley FC, winners of the FA Cup in 1912, now owned by a consortium of Chinese, Indian and American businessmen. Rev Preedy was inspired by a loose movement within the church called 'Muscular Christianity' which promoted the moral and physical beauty of athleticism


Muscular Christianity had emerged in England during the Victorian era as a method of building character in pupils at English public schools. It is most often associated with English author Thomas Hughes and his 1857 novel Tom Brown's School Days, however it soon crossed the Atlantic. American President Theodore Roosevelt was raised in a household that practiced Muscular Christianity and was a prominent adherent to the movement. Roosevelt promoted physical strength and health as well as an active pursuit of Christian ideals in personal life and politics. The Muscular Christianity movement was never officially organized. It describes a cultural trend that can be traced back to Paul the Apostle, who used athletic metaphors to describe the challenges of a Christian life. However it wasn’t until 1762, and the influential book on education, Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which described physical education as important for the formation of moral character. This was the first explicit advocacy of sport and exercise in Christianity.

In 1887 Twiverton Preedy was appointed to the position of Assistant Stipendiary Curate at St Peter's church in the centre of Barnsley. During his time at Theological College, Preedy had become keen on the concept of using sport to engender moral values. He joined Barnsley football club, but resigned in protest at the team's decision to play a match on Good Friday. Shortly after his split from the rugby club, Preedy overheard a group of young men discussing the idea of forming an association football club. Realising that football was seen as the "poor man's sport" and his involvement would therefore bring him into greater contact with the poor people he wished to help through his ministry he formed a football club Barnsley St Peter's F.C in September 1887. Preedy was principal fundraiser and organiser of the club, and even played in its first match. He secured the use of the land on which the Oakwell stadium still stands after being refused permission to hire a field belonging to the owners of the Barnsley Brewery. Tenacious and resourceful, Preedy appealed to the wife of one of the owners and this ultimately led to the club being granted permission to play at Oakwell.

In 1883 he moved to London to become curate of a church in Islington, then a tough and deprived area in North London. On his arrival. He lived in a dilapidated cowshed, with no furniture and no bed, sleeping on the floor using his coat as a blanket. He opened a boxing club at the mission and organised dances for local flower sellers. His club produced a world flyweight boxing champion and eight Olympic wrestlers. He became known as ‘The Boxing Parson’ and would use is his boxing skills for pastoral reasons. He had the window of his study specially constructed as a bay so that he could see the two pubs that stood at each end of the street. Drink blighted the lives of many of the urban working class at this time and if a wife reported to him that her husband had gone to the pub with his weekly wages – Preedy had no hesitation in putting up his fists to ensure that the weekly wages were not wasted on drink. In recognition of his work, he was appointed a prebendary of St. Pauls Cathedral in 1926. He died two years later and is buried in Islington Cemetery. In the 1990s supporters of Barnsley F.C. located and restored his grave.


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