Alex Ferguson and the Boys’ Brigade

Sir Alex Ferguson sings the praises of the Boys’ Brigade in the current issue of Life and Work (not yet available online), the magazine of the Church of Scotland. The church youth organization, founded in Glasgow in 1883, states its mission as “the advancement of Christ’s kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.”

In addition, the group helped spread the gospel of football domestically and abroad.

Ferguson famously grew up in Govan, a shipbuilding district in Glasgow on the south bank of the River Clyde, where he participated in Boys’ Brigade outings and football training from age nine to 16. In particular, Ferguson, 65, mentions the influence of Johnny Boreland, youth leader in the 129 Glasgow Company:

Johnny was an absolute fanatic for the game. When we went to camp in places like Stonehaven we were given a list of everything we had to bring with us, and at the bottom in big capital letters, he’d put “and football boots.” As soon as we arrived, it would be “right, everybody, get your football boots on.”

Journalist and author Billy Kay, in our May 31 podcast, notes how the Boys’ Brigade helped spread football to Presbyterian mission outposts such as Malawi, as well as at home. “Now other people have taken on this mantle of organizing teams of boys, but [earlier] it was the Boys’ Brigade that organized it, and you would have, in a town like Dundee, maybe 20 teams representing different companies of the Boys’ Brigade. A lot of great footballers came out of that tradition.”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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