The footballer Marvin Andrews tries to perform miracles — both on the pitch and off it through his devoted church work.
God is in the details. The ceiling at the Zion Praise Centre in Kirkcaldy is painted a comforting blue, a hue similar to the jerseys handed out at Ibrox stadium. There is even a Union Jack among the flags furled behind the stage that substitutes for the formality of a pulpit.
Such trivia wouldn’t distract Marvin Andrews. Rangers’ Trinidadian centre-half operates on a sweeter plane than the blue and green sectarian viciousness that has continued to tarnish Scottish football.
On Wednesday nights, at this humble church hall in a room over an office-supplies shop in Kirkcaldy, Andrews preaches the gospel. As a deacon of the church he also directs a Bible study group, leads prayers, delivers his interpretations of scripture and bangs the tomtoms ecstatically when the hymns hit their stride.
Whatever your faith, or lack of it, Andrews exudes impressive conviction. It starts with the simple fact of being a Scottish Premierleague footballer who dedicates his Wednesday nights (not to mention Fridays and Sundays) to a small backstreet congregation in one of Scotland’s less glamorous towns. After all, we live in a secular age when the average footballer’s notion of singing out their joy amounts to taunting opponents about the size of their wage packets. Andrews is obviously an exception.
Get beyond the initial incongruity of the footballer as preacher, though, and it becomes apparent that Andrews is no dilettante. He is the real deal. He isn’t a hellfire and brimstone preacher. He doesn’t go in for artificial emoting, or fake melodrama. He is expressive when he needs to be, punches out the Amens with the whole-hearted enthusiasm he brings to an intercepting tackle. Simply dressed in a T-shirt and tracksuit pants, he looks like he has hot-footed it from the training ground, and brought the athleticism with him to church.
There is little doubt that he uses the confidence he has built on the football field in his ministerial calling. He grins amiably at the congregation’s questions, offering commonsense advice tinged with unassuming spiritual guidance. Listen to Brother Marvin regaling his rapt congregation and it is evident that this isn’t a sportsman who has “got religion”. Religion has got him, and his faith shapes every step he takes.
All the while he cuts a remarkable figure, patrolling the stage like he might patrol the penalty area. His sermon is similar to his defensive style — solid and unspectacular, perhaps a little one-paced, but robust and persuasive. It easily lasts 90 minutes plus stoppage time.
He reads from Joshua, hauling down the walls of Jericho with shouts and trumpets, citing passages from Acts and Psalms to bang home his thesis that God likes to hear his praises shouted out loud. In a sense it’s an extended apologia for Zion church’s style, where the African exuberance, soaring hymns, tambourines and loud testifying might be initially alienating in the drear heartlands of Fife.
Andrews’s first introduction to the Zion Praise Centre was in 1998, when he was playing for the Kirkcaldy team, Raith Rovers, and was suffering from a pelvic injury. Medical experts suggested a steel plate inserted into the groin was the solution. Understandably reluctant to go down that path, he was introduced to the Nigerian Pastor Joe Nwokoye by his West Indian team-mate, Tony Rougier. Andrews’s first miraculous recovery ensued.
The second occurred in the spring of 2005, when Andrews apparently ruptured his cruciate ligament in a match against Dundee. Andrews decided to refuse surgery for this career-threatening injury and play on, trusting God to look after that little cross-shaped ligament.
His manager, Alex McLeish, dropped his jaw at first, but then decided to respect his player’s faith. Andrews’s form showed no deterioration, and Rangers won the title in a manner that must have had even the most profane Rangers fan believing in divine intervention.
“Marvin is defying logic,” said McLeish at the time, but in the heady celebrations that greeted the quasi-miraculous championship, Andrews’s doctor-defying miracle was overshadowed.
In the football world, Andrews has tended to express his faith quietly and firmly. He was singed a little earlier this year by the fallout when Nwokoye suggested Scotland would be afflicted by a plague or economic collapse because of God’s outrage at Lib Dem MSP Margaret Smith’s gay wedding.
It was a reminder that even ostensibly outgoing and generous churches can be defined by their intolerance. Andrews in turn suggested that lesbianism was the cause of an inner demon and could be “cured” by turning to God, which provoked predictable derision and anger in Scotland.
Still, even the layman, in all senses of the word, can understand Andrews’s feeling that he is divinely blessed. He has been player of the year at two Scottish clubs already. The Ibrox fans adore him. He hasn’t played for a while, but should return this weekend. In any case he has already made enough appearances this season to trigger an extension to his contract.
Before making a decision on his future, he probably wants to establish the attitude of Rangers’ incoming manager, Paul Le Guen, who might be less amenable to Andrews’s religious pursuits than McLeish. The ubiquitous football rumours suggest he may join Gretna.
In the meantime, this summer Andrews has the remarkable prospect of a World Cup finals appearance with a Trinidad and Tobago side that had never previously dreamt of such an achievement.
The West Indian team’s second fixture brings them up against England on June 15. The Bible probably doesn’t tell you how to deal with Wayne Rooney (unless he gets a mention in the Book of Revelations), but you know if Andrews lines up against him in Germany this summer, his belief will be no less indomitable than the Scouser’s.