UEA researcher Ben’s world of football and faith

Iraqi cardinal urges Christian unity in Walsingham visit
June 30, 2023
Pupils’ winning East Anglia prayers and paintings
July 3, 2023
Show all

UEA researcher Ben’s world of football and faith

There is only one thing which German football expert, UEA researcher and podcast presenter Ben McFadyean is more enthusiastic about than the “beautiful game” – and that is his Catholic faith. Keith Morris reports.

Podcaster Ben, aged 53, has interviewed scores of footballers and managers, including several from Norwich City, for his popular Borussia Dortmund fans podcast and he is the founder and president of the Dortmund supporters club in London.

Norwich-based Ben is a PhD researcher in German football literature at UEA and he lives and breathes football. His diagnosed Asperger’s gives him an edge in remembering the multitude of facts and figures necessary and a keen focus on detail.  But Ben will admit that it is his Catholic faith which is the most important part of who he is and it is what drives him.

Born in England, Ben spent a large part of his childhood in Dortmund in Germany where he acquired a love of the beautiful game, especially Borussia Dortmund and learnt to speak German. 

Via Mallorca, Spain where his family still live, Ben ended up at University College London studying German and after graduating, spent time working in finance and later in charity fund-raising for the Lord Mayor of London, the Red Cross, a refugee project, called the ‘United Oxford Cup’ which he developed with Oxford United in 2017, and which went on to win The FA’s ‘Grassroots Project of 2020’, and a project with The Big Issue and Southampton FC.

He later spent five months working with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity with orphans in Ethiopia and volunteering with the chaplaincy at the John Radcliffe Children’s Hospital in Oxford.

A keen charity fund-raiser, Ben’s most recent project was raising £800 for the DEC Earthquake appeal for Turkey/Syria by organising a friendly football match between Chelsea and Dortmund fans in London in February, to coincide with the two teams meeting in the last 16 of the European Champions League. He also organised a joint Anglo-German party for 400 ticketless fans to watch the game. 

“Faith has brought me to a place in football and in my life which I would never have expected,” said Ben. “I cannot say I have made lots of money from my writing yet, but I am a fulfilled man and I try to do things for others whenever I can.”

“God often gives you a natural leaning towards something. Life is so much easier when you follow your calling of what God wants you to do.”

Ben’s faith was inspired in his youth by his grandmother Jean who was a church-warden and it was rekindled when he met his estranged father at the age of 30.

“My father, Francis, was an off-shore banker, made money but developed issues with substance abuse addiction while working on Wall Street in New York,” said Ben. “After he broke his back in a bob-sleigh accident he became a born-again Christian and said it had saved his life.

“He bought me a Bible and I started going to Mass at the Brompton Oratory in London and I realised that there was something special there which was beyond comprehension. It was a bit like the football – it lifted me up and made sense to me – a reverence for something higher. It also reminded me of my grandmother and gave me a sense of peace.

“I found football as a child and played at a decent county standard. I excelled in every kind of sport but could not do maths because I have dyspraxia. Five years ago I found out that I also have Asperger Syndrome, which explains why I sometimes have difficulties in social interaction.”

Conversely, the Asperger’s has helped Ben with his football journalism: “It has made me brilliant at focusing and given me an encyclopaedic mind and memory for all the important details and stats. It has also given me patience and the ability to give players time in a world which is incredibly pressurised.

Ben writes for FourFourTwo magazine, the BBC, Gulf News and a number of German publications. He has appeared on numerous TV and radio stations in Germany.

A member of the famed Dortmund supporters’ Yellow Wall, Ben’s passion and commitment to promoting the team in the UK has helped to spark the fascination with Dortmund in this country. He has run the London fan club since 2013 and organises tickets,  travel details and accommodation for fellow supporters.

Ben’s local club, Norwich City, of course have a strong German connection with former manager Daniel Farke, present manager David Wagner – who was best man at the wedding of Jurgen Klopp. Both are reputed to be church-goers.

Former Norwich players Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann are both Catholic and Christoph regularly attended St John’s Cathedral, where Ben is a parishioner. Ben has interviewed them all.

“The story of German football is one that has not been told properly in the UK,” says Ben. “The integrity of the German football model of cheap tickets and a fantastic atmosphere at grounds – is an authentic football experience. I feel that the Bundesliga is the world’s most authentic football product.

“German players and coaches bring so much to the  English game in terms of their sheer competence and traditional English values such as determination, discipline, hard work and ingenuity.”

Ben also has a great admiration for openly Catholic footballers from countries such as Brazil, Argentina and from Africa, players like Willian, Sergio Aguero or Victor Wanyama: “They are such an example to me because they come from very humble circumstances and make it in football and it is often because of their devotion and love for God, in my opinion. It comes back to following your calling.

“You can bring the Gospel to people around you in daily life, whether you are a doctor, a mechanic or a journalist. What has inspired me the most is that I can still be of service to others ‑ taking down someone’s story and writing it with sincerity and devotion and not looking for the scandal, or angle or the distortion that will get the story sold to a tabloid paper.

“I am someone who cares about the people I write about and want them to come across in the right way –  to tell their story the way they want it told. I am devoted to getting it right and expressing their story and being respectful of them.

“I think there is a reason it is called the ‘beautiful game’ because it breaks down barriers and it can lift people up. It does some of what the church is meant to do. It reaches hearts and minds and inspires and lifts people up even in dark times,” says Ben.

So is football a modern religion? “I feel that football is now the opium of the people rather than religion as Karl Marx said,” says Ben.” It is a universal language now and a world religion and so if you have a role in it you can reach a vast number of people.”

Ben is keen to highlight the role of his faith in his work and life: “Without God I am useless, I am a broken man. But by letting God work through me I can do extraordinary things. I have felt the presence of God in my life very strongly since I found God in 1999.

“I am really lucky in what I do and really focussed and determined. It’s my life and I couldn’t lead another one.”

Ben’s podcast the Dortmund Fan Club London Podcast can be found at: https://mcfadyean.podbean.com/

Pictured above is Ben McFadyean (on the right), with Norwich City manager, David Wagner.