Pope Francis celebrated his beloved San Lorenzo de Almagro’s victory in the Argentine Primera Division on Wednesday, hoisting a replica of the team’s trophy for all to see.
A small group of the team’s managers and players met with the Pope on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, presenting him with the replica of the title trophy and a red and blue team jersey with “Francisco Campeon” written on the back. A clearly pleased Francis raised the trophy for all to see.
San Lorenzo, named after a saint (after a local priest helped the club’s founders find a plot of ground to train on), and known – among other nicknames – as El Santo, ‘the Saint’, is a club which the then- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not only a fan, but a paid-up member.
The Saints, one of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’ clubs, clinched the Argentine championship last Sunday.
Wednesday was Francis’ last audience for 2013, during which the pope received birthday wishes.
Though the pontiff, who turned 77 on Tuesday, became a registered San Lorenzo member in 2008, he’s been a fan for much longer; when he was a young boy, his father played for the club’s basketball team, and took him to watch the football side regularly. He even got the title of ‘World’s Most Famous San Lorenzo Fan’ Viggo Mortensen before becoming the Roman Pontif.
San Lorenzo aren’t the only football team hoping to benefit from the preferences of the new Pope. Premier League outfit Sunderland and, even the Argentine national team, which has been drawn alongside Nigeria in the 2014 Fifa World Cup Group F, all claim to have the Pope on their side.
In October, Pope Francis was given a personalised ‘Black Cats’ shirt by Father Marc Lyden-Smith, who is Sunderland FC’s chaplain. He was in Rome on pilgrimage.
“As chaplain of Sunderland Football Club, they asked if I could present him with a shirt a shirt that had his name on the back- Papa Francesco,” Fr. Lyden-Smith said.
“It was a bit of miracle really. There were 120,000 people gathered in the square. We managed to get tickets up at the front and the pope was guided towards us.
“Some people from the North East managed to shake his hand and then I asked if he would accept the shirt and he took it and waved it in the air to cheers.”
It was miracle indeed, as Sunderland beat Newcastle 2-1 in the ‘Tynewear derby’ the weekend after the jersey presentation; even though Pope Francis had said “he is very diplomatic and wouldn’t say” he would be supporting the struggling club in that encounter.
Moreover, Sunderland have had a mixed season since September in the light of the sacking of their Italian boss Paolo Di Canio and yesterday’s progress into the semi-finals of the League Cup at the expense of Chelsea, whom they thrashed 2-1 after extra-time- ‘Pope Magic’. I chose the name because Chelsea played the match but Sunderland progressed into the semi-finals and ended Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten cup record (aside penalties).
Nonetheless, the English club which presently sits bottom of league standing will need every moment of divine inspiration to avoid relegation this season. Such miracle could have just started.
But the fact that no sitting Pope has seen his country win the World Cup since the Second World War comes as a relief for Nigerians ahead of their Group F tie against Argentina on June 25.
Nigeria, which like their South American opponents boast a large number of Catholic faithful, also need some of that ‘Pope Magic’ to come top in their fourth World Cup group stage clash against the Argentinians at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil next summer; considering the manner with which they’ve lost their previous two encounter at the same stage.
The good news is that there will be no Taribo West or Adeboye Onigbinde to trade blames in Brazil and Messi would have bore that fright at the sight of Vincent Enyeama in goal for Nigeria.
It’s six months to the world’s biggest football showpiece. If our Nigerian Cardinals, Bishops and Priests have not yet done us a good-enough favour by presenting an Eagles jersey to the first citizen of the Catholic church to add to some of his personal effects, which includes items of San Lorenzo memorabilia, shipped over to his new home in the Vatican, we could count on good preparation- yet not far from what Coach Stephen Keshi is trying to achieve with the home-based Eagles ahead of CHAN.