Faith and football: How Darren Moore's beliefs help shape him
When Darren Moore went back to Fratton Park with Albion as a player, he used to take the unusual measure of meeting up with the opposition players before the game in the kit room.
But this was not a catch-up with former team-mates, it was an opportunity to pray with Portsmouth’s flourishing Christian contingent.
A huge, hulking centre-back, Moore was a formidable presence on the pitch, as any striker who competed against him would attest to.
Off the pitch there is still the same determination driving the man forward, but there is also a calming warmth and amiable manner.
Moore found Christianity during his time at Bradford City, and since then, faith has played a huge role in his life.
Linvoy Primus was one of those members of the Portsmouth prayer group, and remains close to the Baggies boss to this day.
“There were nine players at Portsmouth who were Christians,” Primus told the Express & Star. “There was a core who met once a week, prayed together before games in the kit room.
“It wasn’t just us, it was open to whoever wanted to come in. At some point there were up to 20 players with staff as well.
“Whenever Darren came back with West Brom he would come in and pray as an opposition player.
“It was a unique thing that happened but it was a place where you could get some peace.”
In 2002, Primus and Moore helped set up the Faith and Football charity with former player Micky Mellows and Primus now offers support to Christians in the game through another charity called Christians in Sport.
Primus added: “In football you know about other players and you spend a little bit of time with other players but you don’t build many friendships, it's a transient sport. But me and Darren had something that was a little bit beyond.”
Moore’s faith has already played a role during his time in charge of the Baggies.
Wayne Jacobs, who was his team-mate at Bradford, is a Christian too and one of the reasons Moore turned to the religion when he was at the Bantams.
Jacobs was the unseen member of Moore’s coaching staff during his spell as caretaker, a fresh pair of eyes who came in on Thursdays and Fridays to bounce ideas off, and Moore is planning to use the man he trusts again next season.
Primus believes Moore’s faith will play a huge role in his approach to management.
“Darren’s been in the industry for a very long time,” said the former Portsmouth defender. “What you see is what you’re going to get.
“His identity isn’t going to be defined by the job he’s got, his identity is in the person he follows, which is Christ.
“He’s a thoughtful guy anyway and his support for people is going to be number one in that.
“What you’ll see from him and what you’ve seen already is whatever the situation or the pressure that comes with the role, he will be fully determined to be successful, and fully determined to empower the people who work for the club.
“Not just on the football side on the pitch, but the people who work in the offices, and on the training ground. He’ll empower them so everybody is reaching the same goal.
“The industry of football has got a very quick turnaround in terms of staff and managers and players and it’s very hard to build a legacy, but I think Darren will, through his faith, be able to show the value to every single person involved to make going forward as a club successful.”
Managing with faith
Lee Bradbury was also playing at Portsmouth near the start of the century, and remains close friends with Moore.
He is now manager of Havant & Waterlooville, and has just guided them to back-to-back titles that have taken the Hawks into the National League.
The 42-year-old employs a chaplain at his club and believes Moore’s faith will support him in the season ahead.
“Darren’s got some really good tools, he’ll be hardworking, honest and transparent with the players,” said Bradbury.
“And they know those qualities that he’s got are genuine, rather than for an ulterior motive.
“He’ll stay true to himself and his faith will help him along the way. Jesus has helped him get to where he is, so he’s more than happy to put his faith in God.”
Bradbury came up and stayed with Moore on the weekend of Albion’s stunning victory over Tottenham at The Hawthorns towards the end of last season.
At the time, Jake Livermore’s 92nd-minute winner kept alive the club’s slim hopes of survival.
“The place was buzzing!” recalled Bradbury. “You could feel that the fans wanted him to get the job because of the connection they have for him.
“They might not have met him, but he’s a family man, and he’s trying to instil those qualities at the club.”
Bradbury expects Moore to employ a club chaplain at Albion in the coming months, and it’s something he’d recommend.
“Some players don’t want to talk to managers, so to have someone who people can trust and speak openly to is really important,” he said.
“Everyone’s got different faiths, if you can help them be comfortable in the workplace, that’s half the battle.”
It’s not just the players that need that support network. The man himself also needs someone to lean on, even if it looks like nothing would ever topple him.
Every six months, Moore meets up with a support network for Christians in football ran by Primus through the Christians in Sport charity.
Depending on availability, the group can range from between half a dozen people to upwards of 30.
They meet in hotel foyers, restaurants, and even training grounds, whatever is convenient.
“There’s a number of Christian footballers and coaches in the Midlands so we try and get the group together,” explained Primus.
“It’s a safe place to talk and share. If there are difficult issues going on, you’re able to talk about your experiences that other people might have had in the industry.
“Forget the job you’re doing, you’re all young men, you’re going to face things in life that you’ve not faced before.
“Ultimately, we ask how does God say you should deal with these things?
“The nice thing is, you’ve got young men in the room who are just starting out on their football journey, many are teenagers.
“Cyrille Regis used to come along as well. There is a vast amount of experience from a number of different people who have been in the game.”
Regis was a Christian too, and used to attend the same large family church as Moore, the Renewal Christian Centre in Solihull.
The legendary Albion striker was Moore’s mentor and would have been a part of his team next season had he not passed away in January at the age of 59.
Regis was one of a kind, but Primus hopes that gap on Moore’s journey ahead will be filled by others from the church who will offer their support.
“Cyrille was one of those guys, his presence in a room was huge,” said Primus. “Not only was he a mentor to Darren, he was a mentor to many men in the Midlands for a number of different reasons.
“I’m sure he would have been working with Darren in some way on a practical level as well as a mental level.
“It’s important that Darren gets that support, and he will get it.
“His local church will be part of that support, and with that support he will be able to move forward and get through. It’s more about the man than the job that he’s doing.”
Football is a fast-paced relentless industry, and it has a habit of chewing people up and spitting them out. But those that know him best are confident Moore will succeed.
“He’s got every badge going,” said Bradbury. “He’s prepared himself well for it with the under-23s and he’s done a lot of courses at St George’s Park.
“He’s prepared. But whatever happens throughout his career, it will be dignified. He’ll handle it in the right way.”
Albion’s new head coach has a strong affinity to the surrounding community. He grew up playing football in an underpass in Handsworth, and is well aware of the importance of the club to those who follow it.
Sixteen years ago he helped set up Faith and Football with Primus, a community charity aimed at serving local areas in Portsmouth and Handsworth.
“We really wanted to look at the way we serve the community,” said Primus. “We knew football would be an easy draw, everyone likes football.
“We could use the football as a handshake with the local church to support the community they’re in.
“We started little football leagues in some tough areas in Portsmouth and Darren replicated that in Handsworth.
“The parents would see the local church doing what they’re doing and all of a sudden relationships would build.
“That expanded into reading programmes for schools and we also started a business programme.
“The biggest thing is we offered it for free but we wanted the church to be the hands and feet that delivered these things.”
Restoring Albion’s identity
After Moore left the Baggies to join Derby in 2006, the leagues in Handsworth died down without its talisman, but his community feel has been evident in his return as coach.
Many supporters felt the Baggies had lost their identity as the glittering lights of the Premier League morphed into a long slog for survival.
But Moore’s “we not me” message has already gone some way to repairing the club’s links with the community it serves.
“He knew in his heart, it was about restoring the identity of West Brom,” said Primus. “He would have seen behind the scenes, the way people were thinking, the separation.
“That’s a gift, being able to bring everybody together. That reconciliation involved everybody.
“It might be one man up the front that will get the plaudits but actually it’s every person doing it well and being valued, that’s why you saw an immediate reaction.
“He said it’s not about me, it’s about us, that’s a great place to be.
“It’s not about his ego, he knows he’s in a blessed position and doing the best he can for the people who work with him.
“I think it’s an exciting time for the club. This is what he’s wanted to do, he’s always wanted to be the manager.”