/ 30 March 2024

The Gospel according to St Geordie

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Redemption: A daily childhood diet of fire and brimstone from his grandfather (above) drove the author away from the church and towards the football stadium. Photo: Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Like millions of Christians around the world, I’m eagerly awaiting Easter Sunday, one of the highlights of the religion’s calendar and the day on which they believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Easter is a time when redemption — and more particularly the need to seek it — is foremost in my mind.

Spending two Easters locked up in the police cells awaiting a bail hearing on the day after Easter Monday will do that, even 40 years later.

There’s nothing like three days thinking about one’s pending court appearance to put the fear of God into one — and to remind one of the need to repent, to return to the straight and narrow.

Not quite what the Nazarene went through, but bad enough, a life-altering experience with its own stigmata — and choices between damnation and redemption — a lifetime later.

I also blame my thoughts turning to redemption at Easter on my maternal grandfather, Geordie Scott.

Geordie filled the first nine years of my life with threats of fire and brimstone, hell and damnation, should I not repent and seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

Geordie was a Presbyterian preacher and a street-sweeper in Belfast — until he set off a pipe bomb with his broom and ended up deaf and with a disability grant.

That left him with all the time in the world to focus on God’s work, which included recording sermons in the kitchen of my Granny Edie’s house in Joseph Street, which he distributed among sailors whose ships had docked in Belfast harbour.

Geordie was a hard-core Brethren type, a real thou-shalt-not kind of a guy — except when it came to his own gluttony at the dinner table — who followed a less than forgiving God.

His God thrived on fear and handed out horrible punishments to those who didn’t see the light and get themselves onside ahead of Judgment Day, which was very definitely coming.

Most things were sinful in Geordie’s book, especially over Easter.

Dancing, television, female Sunday school teachers, the demon drink, any music except that found in a hymn book: anything that might resemble normality — God forbid, fun — was taboo, the work of the devil.

Geordie didn’t preach about Jesus much, or His good works and the feeding of the 5 000 and His other acts of humanity.

Geordie didn’t do “God is love” vibes, focusing more on the blood and gore side of the Bible.

Geordie preached punitive: smitings, plagues and pestilences and turning into pillars of salt from the Old Testament that befell those who did not walk the straight and narrow.

He spent most of his life trying to get sinners to repent — among them Edie, my dad Gerald and my nine-year-old self — or face eternity in the fires of hell.

Needless to say, Geordie’s recorded sermons were terrifying: vivid, ferocious exhortations to the seafarers he pressed them on during his visits to the docks.

Repent now or face eternal damnation; seek redemption or be cast into the pit — forever.

A number of the recordings included Edie’s shouted demands from the washing stand in the back yard that he “turn that fucking thing off and put the tea on”.

After he swept the pipe bomb, Geordie couldn’t hear a thing when he played the tapes back, so his floating congregation must have had a laugh or two at his expense in the middle of the North Atlantic.

It is thanks to Geordie that while Christians await the marking of the resurrection of Christ after three days in the tomb on Sunday, I’m anticipating, somewhat eagerly, the return to premier league football by the Arsenal Football Club, an institution that holds more than religious significance in my life.

There will be a rolling away of the stone of a different kind come Sunday whenMikel Arteta’s team end the footballing Lent that has been imposed upon us by the recent international break.

While Christians will be commemorating Jesus Christ rising from the dead, I’ll hopefully be celebrating Gabriel Jesus banging in a couple against his old team, Manchester City, resurrecting not just his own career but the Gunners’ title challenge after the wobble over Christmas.

That would be an act of vengeance of Biblical proportions — unJesus-like but fitting — if Pep Guardiola’s unwanted son were to return to the Emptyhad and put them to the sword.

Thrown in a goal or two from the Angels Gabriel (Magalhães and Martinelli) — or the Yoruba god called Bukayo Saka and there’s the making of a footballing redemption song worthy of one of Geordie’s Easter sermons come Sunday.