Obituary: Alan Godson

Date posted: 30/05/17

 Alan Godson

Alan Godson (right) chatting with former Christians in Sport Director Andrew Wingfield Digby (left)

Christians in Sport pioneer Alan Godson, who has died aged 86, was a remarkable, one-off man. Alan, or Godders as he was known, combined his two great passions of Jesus and sport to help found our movement in 1980 and played a pivotal role in its growth.

Born in January 1931 in Manchester, Alan attended William Hulme Grammar school where he excelled at cricket as a fearsome fast bowler, also starring at rugby and lacrosse. After completing National Service he went on to study theology at Cambridge University. He was already known as a top rugby union player at this point, having formed a reputation at both Manchester and in the Army as a dynamic and mercurial centre, and as an equally dynamic Christian likely to share his faith with all he met.

At Cambridge, he played in two Varsity Matches, famously teaming up with his friend Kenny Scotland whom he’d played with in the Army, to score a try of outstanding flair in the 1960 contest, which can now be seen on YouTube. Normally a centre, Alan was part of the Cambridge team who defied predictions to win the Melrose Sevens and it remained a puzzle to many that he was never awarded an England cap.

Following his time at Cambridge, Alan began training for Church of England ministry at Clifton Theological College, Bristol, where he earned the nickname ‘Noddy’ for his habit of sleeping during long lectures. Here, he played for Bristol RFC side as well as the university, which he helped to win the universities championship. His first curacy followed in Preston at All Saints, where he continued his rugby career with appearances for Fylde and Lancashire and began an enduring career in clergy cricket

Never one for convention, Alan then moved back to Manchester to oversee a Christian coffee bar, the Catacombs, seeking to bring transformation through the gospel to the young and disaffected, often delivering challenging messages from the stage through the novel medium of a hand puppet named Charlie Catacomb. Alan then had a brief but prestigious posting to the embassy church in Paris where he made many lifelong friends. Ever after he would remain a Francophile, even if his uniquely colourful take on the French language often left locals baffled.

It was in the 1970s that three pivotal moments took place, which would shape the coming decades. Having first met in Bristol when they were both studying, Alan married the love of his life, Lesley, in 1973. In all senses he met his match and it was this enduring and extraordinary partnership which allowed so many other significant things to take place. They had three sons. Twins Andrew and Jonathan came first, followed by Stephen.

In 1969 Alan had moved to Liverpool to take up what was at the time an entirely unique role of Diocesan evangelist with a roving commission from Bishop Blanche to, in his own words “flare the Christians and surprise the rest”.  Despite his Manchester heritage, Alan (pictured below with Christians in Sport's first Director Andrew Wingfield Digby) felt called to Liverpool and it was in 1972 that he took a more permanent role as the vicar of St Mary’s Edge Hill where he would stay for close on three decades.

Alan GodsonWhile the transient nature of many of the congregation dictated that the numbers were rarely huge, over the years many people from all walks of life passed through St Mary’s.

With Alan’s oversight and ministry, Lesley’s ever–present, wise counsel and a talented, faithful and characterful group of friends, something special was built in inner-city Liverpool. St Mary’s became a uniquely dynamic and challenging, but at the same time caring and nurturing environment. Many people would look back on their time at St Mary’s as transformative.

There are a great many ‘Alan Godson’ stories of evangelical boldness and challenge from this time, with congregation members often inspired, amused, startled and sometimes affronted but always given the good news. There are an equal number of stories of the less well advertised side of Alan’s ministry; the man who was pastoral and deeply caring, willing to tend to the needs of the vulnerable and needy and put faith and time into those who had not found it elsewhere.

Throughout Alan’s ministry, his deep passion for people endured. He had a low tolerance for pomposity, which could often bring out his mischievous sense of humour, and would not brook dishonesty, but otherwise his ability to deal with all people equitably, no matter their station or background shone through.

By now clergy cricket was his main sport and while his bowling pace was somewhat diminished, as an attacking opening batsman his ability to pull off the unconventional and hit outrageous boundaries (similar to his approach to much else) meant he was an integral part of the Liverpool Diocese side that won the Church Times Cup on a recurring basis. He continued to turn out well into his 60s!

It was from this background that the seeds of Christians in Sport were sown. The idea of a Christian sports fellowship was put to him when one of his great friends, the tennis commentator Gerald Williams introduced him to American pioneer Eddie.

Former Christians in Sport Director Andrew Wingfield Digby said: “Alan met Eddie at Wimbledon in early 70s. He got the vision immediately and that was confirmed by a trip to Orlando in 1976, which saw Gerald converted. From then on, Alan was utterly committed to sports ministry. I think it confirmed what he always wanted to believe and do.”

With this vision in mind, in the second half of the 1970s, Alan was a galvanising influence on the incipient and local networks that went on to become Christians in Sport. He helped bring together sportspeople’s dinners and gatherings to encourage Christians in the sporting world to meet, share fellowship and reach colleagues.

As this movement became more formal, he became one of the founders of Christians in Sport in 1980, going on to be chairman of trustees and help drive the growth of the organisation. Alan, who was critical in securing the funding to appoint Andrew as the first Director, was directly involved with our movement into his late 60s (standing down from the trustees in 2001) and remained a big supporter long after he retired from parish work at the age of 70.

We are so grateful to God for how he called Alan to serve him and help establish sports ministry in the UK. Throughout his life Alan was known as a bold and faithful evangelist – never passing up an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus or challenge people about their faith – which, with the aid of an oxygen machine, he was even doing just a few hours before his death. People who knew him are thus full of amazing stories.

Christians in Sport General Director Graham Daniels recalls: “Godders was chairman of the trustees when I joined the staff in 1989. The first time I ever met was when I arrived for a meeting at a church in Watford. He met me at the door and he had two black eyes. I was astonished! He said I'm Alan Godson, the chairman of Christians in Sport.

"The night before, a local thug had been blaspheming in the chip shop and Godders had asked him not to as he was talking about a friend of his and the guy had head butted him. That was my first introduction to Alan Godson - standing up for the name of Jesus.

“I also took a friend to the interview who was a fairly new Christian. Godders asked about him and then said 'we'll see how good Graham is'. He gave my friend some tracts from the church foyer and said go out into Watford High Street for an hour and see how you get on. He was absolutely remarkable. I never met him without him finding a way of sharing the good news with somebody in his presence. I have never met anyone like him in all my years.

“I tell stories to our staff and leaders as often as I can to remind them that God makes us all individuals. There will never be another Alan Godson. He always took a risk to share the gospel because he cared so much about it. If you get a fraction of that motivation for people's souls, then you'll be all the better for it.”

Andrew Wingfield Digby said: “I could fill hours telling Godders stories and I loved doing stuff with him. I learnt a lot, regularly died of embarrassment but rejoiced when he hit the evangelistic jackpot.”

Andrew added: “Alan was one of the first to catch the vision of sports ministry. As such he was a lead pioneer of Christians in Sport. He drove my appointment as founding Director. There was no way I could have done it without him.”

Alan’s family are very much in our prayers at this time. We will be forever grateful for God’s work in Alan’s life and in the life of Christians in Sport.

A thanksgiving service for Alan’s life will take place at 2pm on Friday 2nd June at St Mary’s Church Grassendale, Liverpool,  L19 0NE.



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