Faith & Football: Stuart Elliott speaks. by Nicholas Boldock
It isn't usual for me to attend Christian events. Not being a Christian, they tend to hold a fairly limited appeal for me (and I never know the words to the songs anyway). Last week, however, I was persuaded to go to the Four In Hand pub on Holderness Road, to attend a Christian event entitled "Something To Declare". What swung it for me was that the guest speaker was none other than Hull City's star midfielder, Stuart Elliott, who is probably as famous for his religious beliefs as for his footballing skills.
Having heard Elliott interviewed a number of times on Radio Humberside (usually post-match, having scored yet another spectacular headed goal), I knew he would be an articulate and engaging speaker on any subject, even one I would not ordinarily be interested in. And do you know what? He didn't disappoint.
The evening began with a few moments of reflection, tied in with the recent Remembrance Sunday, followed by a mercifully brief musical interlude. A group of musicians from the East Hull area played a medley of Beatles tracks which must have had John Lennon spinning in his grave. Ho hum.
There was silence in the room as Stuart Elliott took to the microphone. He introduced himself and explained straightaway that although he is primarily known as a footballer, he defines himself, above all else, as a Christian.
Born a Protestant, in June 1978, Stuart was raised in a tough area of Belfast. His parents, not actively religious themselves, taught him simply to "respect other people's beliefs". He learned early on in life that his heart was in football. He had "no interest" in education, although he must have paid at least some attention at school, as he certainly seems well-educated and is clearly more intelligent than the average footballer. Playing football, he says, was his "dream".
He played schoolboy football on Belfast's Shankill Road. On one occasion the boys in the team went off to gain experience with top clubs - Stuart was told by his coach that he was "too small" and wasn't given a placement. Nevertheless, he carried on with his dream and eventually joined the youth ranks at Glentoran, then Northern Irish league champions, at the age of 16.
At the age of 17, he went along to the Whitwell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast and heard the preaching of Pastor James McConnell. He says now, "God started dealing with me that night".
Ever since, God has been a major part of Stuart Elliott's life ("and he's never let me down"). During this period of his life Elliott progressed from Glentoran's fourth team, to their first team, in just one year. He is quite clear about how this happened - he believes that God was guiding him and helped him find the resolve to move so swiftly through the ranks. He went on to make over 150 appearances and score 51 goals for the Belfast side, and was runner-up in the Northern Ireland Player Of The Year.
It is no coincidence that when Elliott left Glentoran it was to sign for Scottish Premier side Motherwell - where there is a sister-church to the one he frequented in Belfast. Initially, after the Scottish side paid around £100,000 to secure Elliott's services, the winger was not exactly overjoyed to be in Motherwell. He could not settle there and desperately wanted to return to Northern Ireland. He prayed for support from God.
Amazingly, he subsequently went on a stunning run of form which saw him finish two successive seasons as Motherwell's top scorer. In total he notched up 23 goals in 75 appearances for The 'Well. On becoming top scorer, twice, Elliott says "God put me at the top of the list".
While Elliott was approaching the end of his contract with Motherwell, the club hit serious financial difficulties. It was clear that he would not be offered a new contract - the club was going into receivership and the future looked bleak.
Faith & Football: Stuart Elliott speaks. continued by Nicholas Boldock
Elliott, of course, turned to God for advice. One afternoon, he prayed for direction, asking God what he should do next.
That same day, Hull City tabled a £230,000 bid to bring Stuart Elliott to Boothferry Park. What is most remarkable about this is that the two churches he attended in Belfast and in Motherwell had only one other sister-church anywhere in the world - and it was in Hull. It was an easy decision for Elliott - made even easier by the fact that the manager at that time was Jan Molby. Elliott is a lifelong Liverpool fan and Molby was one of the players he had grown up watching. He was on the next bus into Hull. And every Hull City fan should be thankful.
At this point during Elliott's talk I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that I was probably the only non-Christian in the room. I was feeling rather conspicuous as I sat scribbling notes while the rest of the room listened attentively. All of this didn't stop me leaping in first when Stuart offered to answer questions from the audience.
I had been curious to know how the rest of the team felt about Stuart's forthright views on faith. In an age where it is not "cool" to broadcast your religious beliefs as loudly as Elliott does, I wanted to know how a group of footballers - perceived by many as the embodiment of machismo - had taken to their team-mate's lifestyle. "You get the banter," Elliott said, then went on to say that it was purely light-hearted - and that he could give as good as he got. He revealed that Tigers skipper Ian Ashbee has been known to use the nickname "Holy Joe" on his team-mate. Elliott smiled as he said this. "Some people are afraid to mention Jesus," he said, "I'm not ashamed to be a Christian".
Another member of the audience asked Elliott how he coped with anger whilst on the pitch. The winger revealed his sense of humour as he reddened, and grinning cheekily, said "Well, erm, I've got five yellow cards already this season!". He did go on to explain, on a serious note, that when a player is as competitive as he is, then it is inevitable that the odd defender will get in the way of his boots.
After that yet another member of the audience - obviously a City fan - jokingly asked about the theory that Stuart has "angel wings" - such is his prowess in the air. It is true that he does seem to hang in the air for an inordinate amount of time when rising to meet the ball. It's hard to recall City possessing a player so adept at scoring goals with his head.
A female audience member wanted to know if Stuart would become a preacher when he retires from football. He said that it was his "heart's desire … to share the love of God with people".
When his time was over, Stuart Elliott left the stage to warm applause from the crowd. Elliott went back to sit with his wife, also a Christian, as people milled around eager for a one-to-one chat with the young footballer. At this point I began to think that it might be polite if I went over and explained who I was and why I had been taking all those notes throughout the talk. Easier said than done - his table was proving popular. I would have to wait for my opportunity.
Eventually, I collared him by the excellent buffet which the local church had provided for the occasion. He listened patiently as I explained who I was and why I was there - as well as making sure he knew I was working in cahoots with Hull's coolest website, thisisUll.com! He is, I can honestly say, a gentleman. He told me he had no problem with me writing the story. I said that he would be welcome to read through my notes and to veto anything he didn't want me to write. I told him to check out the story on the website and let me know what he thought.
"This Is Hull?" he said.
"No - 'thisisull'. No 'H'," I explained.
I don't think he understand the significance of the dropped consonant - but forgive him - he's not from these parts.
Our chat was brief. I thanked him for his time and we shook hands. And that was it.
Left to reflect on the evening, I found it strange that I enjoyed it so much. The concept of faith is alien to me - I've looked into Christianity, briefly (I even completed the Alpha Course a couple of years ago) and it just isn't my thing. I'm happy enough without religion. Yet regardless of that, it remains a subject I find interesting, and I cannot overstate what an excellent speaker Elliott is.
As a final thought I will say this. Today's footballers are increasingly becoming the role models of the Playstation generation - Elliott himself said that to many people today, "football is a religion". And in this modern football era, where the headlines are all too often generated for the wrong reasons by a breed of wealthy young footballers you wouldn't like to think could be influencing your children (you know who they are), it is reassuring to know that there are still some professional footballers out there who remain a good example to our children. And Stuart Elliott - softly spoken, polite, intelligent, articulate, skilful as anything, and yes, Christian - is one of the finest.
I work for a Video/DVD production company in town called GH Productions. We do a lot of work to promote Hull and that's why it's nice to see a website doing the same thing!' (Thanks Colin - Editor).
Since working there, Colin has been involved in productions for such clients as The Deep, KC Stadium, Ferensway, Children's University and The Zone, to name a few.
Interviews - Making Friends With Emma Rugg
Emma has found music a means not only to express herself and her life, but also a terrific channel for her positive life energy. She is determined. She is intelligent. She is truly beautiful. She is many things but at 21, she lives alone, her mum having moved a couple of years ago into sheltered accommodation to help her deal with debilitating health problems.
Interviews - Robert Needham Sculptor
That's when I met Robert Needham. My first impression was that maybe he was a member of the clergy, presenting me with a warm smile and outstretched hand,
smartly dressed, little thin maybe, definitely an interesting looking character.
Music Reviews - A Champion Night - Welly Club 16th January By Cilla and Greg
One cold night in January (actually it was bloody freezing) my mate Greg and I went along to the Welly for a night with Champion Sound, the Reggae and Dancehall magicians who are currently gracing the Hull night club scene with their individual and blistering repertoire.
We arrived early - about 10.15 and the club had a cold feel.
There was a steady trickle of people arriving and after an hour or so, so the music began to build ..
Music Reviews - Pave - Promotional CD by Nick Quantrill
It's often said that bands use the opportunity of recording as a means of 'capturing the live sound.' What a load of cack! It's an opportunity to sound better than you do live!
Due to the pressures of working far faster than a signed band would be expected to, and in lower quality studios, the recording process must be incredibly difficult for your average Hull band.
Music Reviews - The Landau's - Sweet But True (single/ DAGALOST Records) By Steve Rudd
Hull's something of a hotbed for cool indie-rock bands, and The Landau's - along with Still Life - are one of the freshest bands forging ahead within such a musical genre.
An exclusively laddish quartet, this is the young band's first major release, and has been recorded at the city's famous Fairview Studios.
The production qualities are fantastic,
Music Reviews - Pave - Linnet and Lark 05 February 2004 by Nick Quantrill
2004 hasn't been the greatest years so far. It kicked off more than adequately in the Old Town Square of Prague but went rapidly down hill from there.
Returning home I battled unsuccessfully against tonsillitis for a couple of weeks before slipping on the ice and breaking two fingers! Almost recovered, I decided to unleash myself upon Hull once again.
The return of 'The Sesh' at Linnet and Lark seemed as good any place...