Preacher Ben Jones retains ultimate faith in spreading the good word to fans

Preacher man: Ben Jones will be familiar to fans of Spurs, Chelsea West Ham and Arsenal as he evangelises outside stadiums (Dom Smith)
Preacher man: Ben Jones will be familiar to fans of Spurs, Chelsea West Ham and Arsenal as he evangelises outside stadiums (Dom Smith)

Megaphone in hand and with his trouser legs tucked inside his jade socks, Ben Jones is as excitable as he is prompt.

“I arrived an hour early for our interview, so I got the loudspeaker out and proclaimed the message for a bit,” he says, jovially.

If you ever attend football matches in London, chances are you have stared curiously at the 47-year-old, preaching the Bible as you filtered past him towards the stadium. If John Motson was the voice of football, Ben Jones is the voice of God at the football.

Jones, who cuts an awkward figure, lives alone in his Finchley flat. He balances his days between preaching the Pentecostal faith, administering his late father’s estate in California and studying a PhD in electrical engineering at Queen Mary University, London.

Jones has been football’s foremost evangelist for two decades, preaching at what he calls “the big four” stadiums: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.

“I have also been to Fulham in times past, but Craven Cottage is smaller, so I’ve given up,” he admits, perking up when I tell him they’ve expanded the Riverside Stand. Fulham is suddenly back on the cards.

Sometimes people will yell something, obscene things, down the megaphone... I try to quickly switch it off

“Wembley is one of my favourite places to proclaim the message. As you come out of the Tube station, on the left there is a good place for me to position myself.

“Waterloo Station, too, but I have to be careful, because the authorities can move me on. I don’t know the specifics of what the law says. I’m quite ignorant on that, actually. Usually, if they ask me to move, I go quiet for a while and then keep going.

“I studied mathematics and physics at Oxford University,” Jones says, a sternness clouding over his face. “It didn’t go well for me at all. Bad stuff happened in my life when I was a student there. I ended up getting involved in a lot of occult practices, like the ouija board.

“I don’t have a lady friend or wife or children, but I did come back to a close spiritual relationship with Jesus in the year 1997. That helped me come away from the occult and towards God.”

Football fans do not always act with a generosity of spirit, but Jones has developed a thick skin.

“At Arsenal I was once relating Jesus Christ’s message to being on the great football pitch of life — the need to be on his team,” Jones recounts. “Let Jesus be our personal team captain. And God is the referee: he gives us the yellow card, the warning in life. I had those cards in my hand and one Arsenal fan grabbed them and threw them all in the air. I had to pick them up.

“Someone near me started running after him. A few minutes later, the police had him in a really uncomfortable headlock, and they said, ‘He’s come to apologise’.

I accept quite a few church people don’t agree with this style ... there are different ways of getting the message across

“Sometimes they yell something, obscene things, down [the megaphone]. I try to quickly switch it off. I’ve been nervous. You can sense whether the crowd are in a rowdy mood. It’s good that these events are quite heavily policed.”

He adds: “It is important not to let it get to you. I can put up with the insults and the heckling. I’ve taken the occasional slap or punch. I learned kung fu moves as a child but, thankfully, I never actually had to use them.”

While most opposition to Jones’s methods is purely born of alcoholic means, some dissent is slightly more fundamental.

“At West Ham, there’s a Christian who goes to games. At least three times he has said, ‘That’s the worst, most ineffective form of evangelism’ as he walks past. I accept quite a few church people don’t agree with this style. I say there are different ways of getting the message across. This is a way.”

Does the football preacher actually like football? “I have watched the World Cup, but the past one in Qatar I didn’t,” he admits. “Part of the reason is I don’t have a TV in my flat. Well, there is a TV — but it would need a day to get it plugged in and I probably couldn’t even do it myself.”

Jones lives a simple, stripped-back life. It may feel apt to consider ways in which the football world could learn from his self-discipline. Instead, he ponders what he can learn from football fans.

“When you watch a football match, you really see the passion. As Christians, we can challenge ourselves: are we as passionate about serving God as football fans are about their team?”

Perhaps, in essence, football fans and theists like Jones are much the same. They have hopes and dreams and, to quote Clive Tyldesley (and the Bible), desires to “reach the Promised Land”.

Evening Standard’s Dom Smith scoops top award

Standard Sport’s Dom Smith has been named Hugh McIlvanney Student Football Writer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.

Smith, who is completing his post-graduate journalism course at News Associates in London before joining the Standard full-time this summer, has been recognised for his interview with a Christian evangelist who preaches outside big football matches in the capital.

The 22-year-old will receive his award at the FWA Footballer of the Year 75th anniversary dinner in London next Thursday, when Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Chelsea’s Sam Kerr will be presented with their men’s and women’s FWA Footballers of the Year awards.