Football and Religion – the Peter Hart interview

One question that often runs through the minds of football fans is what do footballers do once they hang up their laces up? Some enter the world of punditry and media, others remain deeply involved in the footballing world through coaching or ambassadorial work. 

Peter Hart, on one hand did remain involved in the footballing world but in a very different way to the usual career paths followed by former professionals.

After amassing six hundred league appearances with Huddersfield Town and Walsall, two stints which saw him write himself into folklore at both clubs, Peter Hart retired and turned to the church as he became a vicar. Following the same path as Leyton Orient legend Alan Comfort, Peter took the path less trodden for an ex-professional.

Peter Hart currently works at Walsall football club as their club chaplain.

In the wake of a new book release based on the 1979/80 season, we got the unique opportunity to ask the man who captained Town to the Fourth Division title some questions about Huddersfield Town nowadays.

With Burnley and Huddersfield about to pit their wits in the Premier League for the first time, did you ever envisage this happening in your lifetime?

I would have never have ruled it out and remember Town were a top-flight team when I was starting my career and Frank Worthington was our star player. It’s one of those games that just go to show anything can happen in football so you should never give up hope. You’ve got to be positive and keep working hard.

What do you make of Town’s start to the season?

So far, so good. The points on the board mean it has been a very promising beginning and they have looked very much at home but tougher tests follow and they will need to maintain their focus, not get carried away, work together and listen to their manager.

Can Town take encouragement from Burnley and their ability to defy laws of gravity?

If they need inspiration they just need to look over the Pennines at Burnley They not only survived but in most parts of last season, they actually flourished and even bloodied the noses of the biggest clubs. So with Burnley in mind, why should Huddersfield be any different?

What’s so special about Burnley?

Burnley are a perfect example of the fact that a few years ago it used to be a yo-yo kind of scenario but clubs like them and Bournemouth seem to have discovered what it takes to go up and stay up. Burnley, especially, are remarkable. They don’t overspend and don’t go into the red. The fact they can be in the black at the end of the season and still be in the Premier League must give hope to Huddersfield Town. And surely, it suggests they don’t have to go mad and put the club in jeopardy to stay up. There has to be something that Burnley are doing which will provide hope.

What should give Town fans cause for optimism?

It will be tough for Town to stay up, of course, but is it not one of their strengths the fact that they have got a manager who navigated his way through the Championship having come to England just 18 months beforehand? Burnley and Bournemouth have got good managers and they’ve got stability and their players show a willingness to absolutely work their socks off. That’s why they are perfect role models for Huddersfield Town.

What are your thoughts on the job that David Wagner has done in his time at Town so far and what else can he achieve at the club?

I’ve certainly been very impressed by him and it’s funny but his intense, high-pressing tactics are similar to the ones we employed under Mick Buxton.

As for the future, you would hope and I certainly do think that Wagner has got something in his locker to enable them to prosper, especially as he’s being backed by Dean Hoyle. They have got a very good manager to manage them and given them a strategy to employ.

Which Town player shares the most similarities to you when you were as a player?

I was in Mick Buxton’s side that won the Fourth Division title primarily as a defensive midfielder who could break up our opponents’ attacks and put us on the front foot so I would have to I’d say there are parallels between me and Jonathan Hogg although he’s a far more accomplished player than I ever was.

Who is your favourite Town player in the current side?

I have to say that I’d a big admirer of Jonathan Hogg and Danny Williams but Aaron Mooy stands out because he always seems to be a few steps ahead of his opponents, which bodes well for Town because games are usually won and lost in midfield. I’m looking forward to seeing him action when I come up to watch Town play West Brom next month.

Were you at Wembley for the Play-Off final and what emotions did you have going through you when we scored the final penalty?

I couldn’t get down to Wembley so I watched the game on telly with a friend and I was jumping for joy when that penalty went in at the end. I was delighted when they went up but I actually fancied them to go through on penalties because Danny Ward had already proved he’s a damn good shot-stopper in the semi-final. And did I say a prayer for Huddersfield Town as they headed for the Premier League? Of course I did. I was one of thanks.

People said Town didn’t have a prayer this season but would you say a prayer for Town to stay up?

Of course they have but I wouldn’t say a prayer for them to win. I don’t think that’s the kind of thing I’m into. I would certainly give thanks. Not half. I’d certainly give thanks for the fabulous way that Huddersfield Town Football Club has flourished over the last 12 months and for the opportunities that present themselves. I would certainly want to pray for Town to be blessed but beyond that I don’t think I could pray for them to win or pray to win the Premier League.

But don’t Town need divine intervention?

No they don’t. The players and the manager are big enough to look after themselves. They are grown men and they are in football because they want to give their best and do their best.

God has given them the ability to become professional footballers and they should go and use it in the Premier League. I want them to win and at times when I’m getting a bit excited and stressed, I will offer a prayer.

So they should just get out there and do it, get out there and enjoy it. Win or lose, give it your best shot. That’s my philosophy and that’s why I wouldn’t necessarily pray and say: Please God, help us to win.’

Isn’t being a midfield hard-man at odds with your current role as vicar?

As a player, I was always very honest, fully committed to the cause and passionate about the team. Those qualities can surely be equated with Christian faith. Those are things that translate into faith.

I was never dirty. I never wanted to harm anyone. I was a tough defender, an uncompromising one. I’d have thought those were good qualities as far as being a Christian is concerned.

I’m very positive about the way sport and my faith come together. Football taught me a lot. You have to think about focus, teamwork; being determined particularly when things do not go well. It teaches you a heck of a lot about life, how to handle emotions and remain focused.

How do you see the Burnley-Town game going?

It will be tight and I’ll be happy with a draw, which would represent a good point for Town just to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Peter Hart spoke to Talk of the Town to help promote the new book The 101 Club that is all about the 1979/80 season when he captained Town to the Fourth Division title.  To pre-order the book visit www.gnbooks.co.uk or call 01274 735056.

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