I talked about this and other matters
with Baptist pastor Allan Dunn, chaplain to the
Essendon Football Club, one of Australia’s most popular football clubs.
“There are players in football who have
a really strong faith,” he told me. “It means a lot to them. But they are
not flamboyant about it. It’s not like America. In Australia our culture is
The concept of sports chaplaincy is
relatively new in Australia. When Allan was appointed in 1991 there were few
others. How did it come about?
He grew up in Essendon, in Melbourne’s
west. Some of his classmates became famous players. He followed the club
passionately. Even while serving as a missionary in Ethiopia in the 1960s he
used to listen to match reports on Radio Australia.
Then, back home in Melbourne, a promising
Gavin Wanganeen – soon to become one of Australia’s footballing greats -
arrived from Adelaide to play for Essendon. For several years he stayed with
Allan and his family, via an introduction by Allan’s brother, an Adelaide
“I used to take him back and forwards to
matches. They were looking for a chaplain at that time. They said to me they
had trainers and dieticians and doctors and physios and so on, and they
wanted to cover the spiritual side as well. I was asked if I would be
What does a football chaplain do?
“I’m there up to 15 hours a week during
the season. I go to training two afternoons a week, and I’m in the dressing
room before and after the games. I try to do the same with the reserves as
well. I’m there as a counsellor and also to encourage and help in any way I
“There are unique stresses that affect
elite athletes. There are personal crises from injury and recuperation, and
stresses from the high expectations that the public can place on players.
Depression levels can be high. There’s a lot of marriage counselling. And
I’m there when tragedies hit a family. In a sense I’m like their pastor. I
marry them and christen their children. So far I haven’t had to bury
He said that one of the times of greatest
stress was when a player is delisted from the club. “Their whole life
changes. I spend a lot of time with them. I keep in touch.”
He described his work as a privilege. “I
take it seriously. A lot of those guys wouldn’t see Christian values but for
my presence. I’m God’s representative. But you know something – it’s been
better for me than for the players. It’s helped me see life as it really is.
I understand the world and world views better. I’m a better person as a
August 27th, 2002