BARNSLEY FC’s new club chaplain was brought up almost 4,000 miles away from Oakwell but wanted to be ‘part of the town’ since his childhood.
Zac Zachariah, 48, is of Indian descent but was raised in Oman, on the Arabic peninsular, part of the Christian minority in the majority Muslim nation.
As a child, he loved the stories of James Hudson-Taylor, the 19th-century Christian missionary to China who was from Barnsley.
Zac came to England for bible training at a college in Doncaster in 2001 then became a pastor at Solid Rock Church in Havercroft, where he has worked for almost two decades.
He learned about Barnsley FC and their founder Reverend Tiverton Preedy, and has followed the Reds ever since.
Zac told the Chronicle: “I knew about Barnsley since I was a kid because I heard the stories of the missionary James Hudson-Taylor, who was from there.
“That is why it has always been in my heart to be part of this town.
“When I came to the area, I heard about the football club and that it was started by Reverend Tiverton Preedy in 1887.
“That was kind of a buzz for me.
“I have been a strong supporter for the last 20 years.
“I have not been to every game, because of work and family commitments, but the club is close to my heart.
“It’s been brilliant to now be involved with the football club and I am really enjoying my role as chaplain.”
Zac became Barnsley chaplain earlier this year when previous chaplain Peter Amos, who was retiring, gave him a ‘surprise phonecall’ which led to him being offered the job.
He can now be spotted on matchdays, walking around the stands at Oakwell speaking to supporters and staff.
He said: “My role is to give pastoral care to every individual, from cleaners to directors.
“I just want to help them if they need it.
“I come into the club every Thursday.
“I go around and offer myself for anyone who wants to share or have discreet conversations, in or outside the club.
“Once requested, I give prayer or spiritual guidance, but it is more about my pastoral role.
“I am here for every home game.
“I visit every stand and try to introduce myself to as many people as I can.
“There are people who really pour out their hearts about issues they are going through.
“I am always there to be a listening ear.
“I visit the disabled stand very often and every other stand.”
What are the differences between being a church minister and a football club chaplain?
“It’s all people, whether it’s church or a football cub.
“My heart and passion is for people.
“I did training with Sports Chaplaincy UK.
“They are involved with 47 clubs around the country. They have given me a very good foundation.
“There are certain protocols you have to follow, especially to do with disclosure.
“They tell you what to do and what not to do and how to administer pastoral care.”
Zac says the Barnsley squad have been very welcoming to him.
“The players have been absolutely brilliant.
“I have been well-received.
“It’s a brilliant culture in the club.
“Walking through the atmosphere of the club, it feels like a family that is knit together.
“I can see that.”
Zac’s predecessor Amos was at the club for 27 years.
“I have big shoes to fill.
“But Pete set it up nicely and introduced me to everyone.
“He did a lot of good work at this club for the last 27 years.
“I am still finding my feet and it’s a big learning curve for me.
“But I am excited about the club and its future.”