Challenge SPORT

By Joanna Delalande

There is more to it than being a better player

What happens when you fail at the thing that makes you, you?

John Bostock in Lens
LENS, FRANCE - JULY 22, 2016: John Bostock (left) in the RC Lens away strip takes on Jeff Reine-Adelaide of Arsenal during a pre season friendly. (Photo Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

As a child I knew the colours red and yellow, sang et or, (blood and gold), were more significant than other colours in that they represented the RC Lens soccer team of the cold, grey town in the north of France where I was born.

"For years my dad has followed the team, offering us occasional updates at the dinner table of how they were tracking."

Last July, the team signed English midfielder John Bostock to play in Ligue 2.

John made his professional debut for Crystal Palace at 15, becoming the youngest player in the club's history; then signed for Tottenham in 2008 and Royal Antwerp after he moved to Belgium in 2013.

But there's more to the 25-year-old than a knack with a soccer ball. Today, he tells his story.

“No one had to convince me I was a sinner”"In my life football was always number one, from a very young age," he begins.

"My mother tells me stories of when I was two years old and I would take other kids' footballs. I think sometimes you choose your passion, and sometimes your passion chooses you."

John's career started at five years old when his stepfather took him to the games. Before long he was receiving contract offers from the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Manchester United, but ultimately chose to play for Tottenham in London.

But, as often happens, the joy of innocently kicking a ball around slowly faded with the growth of John's success, when nothing short of the very best was no longer acceptable.

He remembers, he says, how sometimes an average play on a Saturday game meant his stepfather wouldn't talk to him for four or five days.

"This was my father's way of punishing me to make me become a better player, but for me it meant if I didn't play well, I was a failure," he says.

"I put all my value and my identity in how I played."

John Bostock
John Bostock in Leuven, Belgium. (Photo by Getty Images)

Painful days of silent treatment aside, John had a great relationship with his stepfather. He was only two months old when his father left, and saw the man that entered their life soon after as a loving and admirable father figure.

His older sister, Tara, struggled to feel the same way. "She had relationships with guys, went to parties, drank," John explains.

"And one day when I was 15 years old, I just saw a different person in her.

"I asked her, 'What's happened to you?' She said, 'John, I'm a Christian now. I'm living for Jesus'.

"And I laughed. I said, 'What do you mean, Jesus?' "

For all his amusement John couldn't deny something had changed in her, and it interested him. So when she invited him to church, even though he says it was "the last place he wanted to go on a Sunday", he went.

The pastor preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, and though it was nearly 10 years ago John remembers all of it.

"The bad news is, we've all sinned," he says.

"No one had to convince me that I was a sinner. My relationships with girls, the things I watched, pornography, lies, stealing; even just my thoughts.

"We are all sinners. And there's only one way to be forgiven and to be made right with God and that's through Jesus Christ, and [the pastor] shared about what Jesus had done on the cross. All of my sin, all the bad things I'd ever done, He took the punishment for me.

"I just started crying. I was in tears," John continues.

"Everything it seemed that a young player would want, I had. I had a girlfriend at the time. I was in the newspaper and going to school. Life was good.

"But when I heard the gospel, nothing else really mattered to me because if this was true, if this story was true in the Bible, I needed it.

"And so I gave my life to Jesus that day. I prayed, very simply, 'Lord forgive me for my sin. I give my life to You, and from this day forward, I want to live for You.'

"And that was the beginning of my journey as a Christian. I have a relationship with Jesus now, and that's changed my whole life. It's been an amazing journey and God has been with me every single step."

The home and away strips of Racing Club de Lens

An amazing journey it might be, but John clarifies it was not an easy one. During his time at Tottenham his game started to suffer, and his confidence took a hit.

"Sometimes when you become a Christian you think, God is going to bless me. Life is going to be easy," he says.

"Well, I experienced something very different.

"My football, my identity, the thing that made me John Bostock, it was like it wasn't working anymore. I couldn't play.

"[God] told me, 'John, football can't satisfy you. Money can't satisfy you. Women can't satisfy you. Even if you win Ballon D'Or it won't make you happy. It's a great achievement, but inside you have something that can only be satisfied by Jesus Christ.'

"God really humbled me, and He taught me a lesson: it's not about me, really. It's about Him."

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