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What were the odds?

A ragtag soccer team and an upstart soccer website find unexpected success

Flint and Ollie Baines (left to right) chat to Premier Christian Radio. Handout

What were the odds?
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Perhaps Elvis is alive. Those odds are 2,000-to-1. And despite 5,000-to-1 odds, Leicester City players on May 2 became champions of England in their second year in the UK’s top soccer league.

“They’ve got no real history, no pedigree, on the face of it,” baffled Englishman Liam Flint said of the ragtag champions of the Barclays Premier League.

The same could be said of Flint, 23, and friend Ollie Baines, 22. Two of England’s newest sports journalists, Flint and Baines are in their second year combining authentic soccer news and the biblical gospel at the website Cross the Line. Baines and Flint now have followers on virtually every continent, all from seeing a need in the British evangelical community.

“There’s not many young guys—not enough for our liking anyway—who are on fire for God,” Flint told me. “I think there need to be more men raised up, more leaders, and actually just normal guys.”

The two normal guys who enjoy writing and soccer decided to build a bridge to their demographic, combining basic news and faith-based content. But if told in December 2014 their website would get more than 1 million unique visitors in its first year and Leicester would win the title, laughter might have been the response.

“When we first started it up, we didn’t have all the gifts, talents, and qualifications to actually do this,” Flint told me. “We had to rely on God to kind of provide for us.”

Messaging lower-league English Christians on social media led to an expanding network and reputation, to “players recommending other players.” Today, Baines and Flint are compiling into a book interviews from top European leagues and virtually every Major League Soccer locker room in North America. They have a team of web writers they vet and coach, one of whom is 16.

“Obviously, we believe the reason we’ve been able to contact these clubs and to actually get their approval is because God has given us massive favor,” Flint said. Professed Christians they contact don’t always have a strong or well-lived faith. But they see themselves as encouragers. “We’re about building them up,” Baines said.

Cross the Line’s simultaneous foray into straight soccer news allows them to speak the truly global languages of English and soccer.

Leicester City also took an unusual path to the top. Imagine a AAA baseball team in the United States taking the Atlanta Braves’ place and winning the World Series by 2018. Just last April, Leicester sat in last place and barely escaped relegation, or demotion back to a lower league. This year, new manager Claudio Ranieri bolstered his team not with top players, but with the promise of pizza for holding opponents scoreless.

“They’re all basically rejects from higher clubs,” said Flint, who along with most of England expected Leicester to “implode” or “choke” under pressure. “Their team ethos has just been incredible.”

Cross the Line’s team ethos is growing, too. Baines said they see themselves growing in the biblical skills of leadership and encouragement: “We’re just [God’s] stewards of this, so we’re kind of just going along with the flow and seeing what God’s got planned.”

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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