The football lodge playing for keeps

Friday, 07 December 2018

The perfect match

Whether it’s a World Cup final or Sunday morning kickabout, football permeates our culture. Matthew Bowen finds out how the founders of Football Lodge want to harness this power to breathe new life into Freemasonry

Looking out over the pitch from the hospitality box in a football stadium, you can feel the theatre of what happens on the pitch and in the stands. There won’t be another match until next weekend, but echoes of last Saturday’s chants still linger in the air. The empty ground exudes a sense of limitless potential, much like Football Lodge, No. 9921, which is engaging at a grass-roots level to bring Freemasonry into their community.

Surveying the ground, Lodge founder and Primus Master, David Lallana (Liverpool and England player Adam Lallana’s father), explains the thinking behind forming the lodge. ‘The ‘F’ word was very important to us when we launched the lodge,’ he says. He’s not talking about Freemasonry, or football, but ‘fun’. 

Football Lodge’s quirky take on masonic ritual made headlines after featuring in Sky’s Inside the Freemasons documentary. Members enter the lodge to the sound of the Match of the Day theme tune and can receive a card (yellow or red, depending on severity) for social faux pas. But there’s method to the madness. 

‘We stick to the tenets, but see no point in suffering through meetings,’ says Lodge Secretary Bill Starkey, who’s joined David in the hospitality box. ‘Visitors to the lodge enjoy themselves, and the word is spreading.’ More than 280 guests attended the lodge’s consecration, and meetings regularly attract 100-plus members, who travel to Botley in Hampshire from as far away as Devon.

FOSTERING A TEAM SPIRIT

The popularity of the lodge is no doubt helped by its high-profile members, among whom is former England player and current Birmingham City coach James Beattie. Stars such as this may make the headlines, but the lodge uses its popularity to support the Province’s football community from the ground up. In its first year, Football Lodge granted £100-£150 to each club in the Mid-Solent Youth League to assist with forming under-nine’s teams. They also provided a new kit for Hamble United FC – with a square and compass logo on the breast – after a fire devastated their ground. 

‘We’re proud of our community work and it’s a two-way street,’ says Worshipful Master Leon Whitfield. ‘Some people still see Freemasonry as elitist, but at Football Lodge, we’re just another team.’

To strengthen its presence within the community, the members understand that they now have a responsibility to convert the initial excitement into a lifelong commitment to Freemasonry as they guide the light blues through the ranks. David Lallana is on a mission to take Freemasonry into the 21st century – but he knows he can’t do this without bringing on the next generation.

‘We stick to the tenets, but see no point in suffering through meetings. Visitors to the lodge enjoy themselves, and the word is spreading’

MORE MEMBERS WITH EVERY MEETING

Ahead of each Installation meeting, the Loos Football, which was kicked across no man’s land by British soldiers towards German trenches in 1915 during the Battle of Loos, is transported down to the masonic hall by the Royal Irish Regiment. It sits on a pedestal on one side of the Worshipful Master. On the other side sits an identical football to the one used in the current Premier League season. 

‘As experienced masons, we have a responsibility to create a pathway for junior brethren to take the Chair of King Solomon,’ says David. ‘We hope people aspire to our position, but it’s not about looking up to us, it’s about the future of Freemasonry.’ The lodge has initiated new members at every meeting so far as it looks to build the perfect team who can take it to the next level.

Newly initiated members include referees, semi-professional managers and ex-players, including Richard Appleton, who is an Academy scout for Portsmouth FC. For Richard, Freemasonry has echoes of the team environment he enjoyed when playing high-level football, but it goes beyond that. ‘Football Lodge has changed my perspective on Freemasonry,’ he says. ‘I thought it was a bit stuffy to begin with, but I enjoy the history. I like to get involved in all the parts in the Temple, and think it’s making me a better person’. 

In order to achieve their goals, the founding members know they have to be sympathetic to the time limitations of younger men. ‘We’re very careful to not impinge on anyone’s lives,’ says Leon. ‘If you’ve got time, let us know. If you don’t, sit back, enjoy the meetings and relax. Not every member can make the same commitment, and we fully respect that.’

In addition to being professionally involved with football, Richard also works 14-hour days in construction, commuting to London most days from his home in Portsmouth. ‘I don’t find it easy to commit, but I believe that if you love something you make it work. I’m excited by the challenge of taking on what these guys have started and, along with the other light blues, carrying on our traditions and maintaining the buzz that surrounds the lodge.’ 

NEW SET OF GOALS

It’s clear something special is going on at Football Lodge. Their formula works, but they’re not resting on their laurels. ‘We see the lodge like a football club,’ says Leon. ‘When a club finds success, the hardest thing to do is maintain it.’ He’s keen to form affinities with other lodges to sustain this momentum. Farming out passing and raising ceremonies to other lodges in the Province that are struggling with attendance creates a buzz and, more importantly, an ‘interaction between a wider circle of brethren’. 

If the growth continues, Football Lodge may become just the first in a line of football lodges around the country. ‘People are looking at what we’re doing here,’ says David, who is keen to share the lessons he’s learned, not only with others looking to set up similar lodges, but with Freemasonry as a whole. ‘We’ve adopted a young way of thinking to attract younger members. First and foremost, we want to create something that people enjoy.’

‘We’ve adopted a young way of thinking to attract younger members. First and foremost, we want to create something that people enjoy’

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