Black and White Armies
After the final round of English premiership games, the sports pages were dominated by picture of tear-soaked, black and white Newcastle United shirts mourning the relegation of the Tyneside giant from England’s elite. Whilst I was generally indifferent to the magpies before joining the Order, it did seem a shame that a club that wears the colours of St. Dominic has fallen so far in such a short time.
Newcastle United was formed from a merger of Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End. For the first two years the newly formed team wore the red and white of East End. In 1894 it was decided that new colours should be adopted, firstly to appease former West End members but also because many clubs, such as Liverpool and Woolwich Arsenal ( now known as Arsenal) wore red, and kit clashes were common. One of the local league teams represented St. Dominic’s Priory and wore black and white stripes. The team was organised by Dalmatius Houtmann, a Dutch Dominican Friar. Dalmatius was also a keen supporter of United. He was often seen, in full habit, cheering on the team. He became something of a “lucky charm” for the club and so they adopted the black and white stripes, which they still wear today.
Newcastle are not the only team to sport the distinctive black and white of the Order of Preachers: in the Scottish first division, glamorous Ayr United wear black and white because of traditional associations with the friars as do League of Ireland Division One side Dundalk FC. A signed picture of former Dundalk star, Irish national manager, and St. Dominic’s old boy Steve Staunton, graces the friars’ common room in the Dundalk priory.
Europe has other examples of Dominican influence on sporting colours. An obvious example is A.C Siena. The city’s arms are in honour of the great St. Catherine and it is very fitting that the city’s Serie A club should adopt the colours of their patron. In Spain too UD Salamanca wear black and white in honour of the Order’s prominence in the city.
The colours are of course not limited to football. Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna, one of Italy and Europe’s leading basketball teams, based in the city where St. Dominic is buried, wear black and white and have a the star of St. Dominic on their badge . It is worth noting that across the pond the athletic teams of Providence College, founded and run by friars of St Joseph (New York) Province, are nicknamed ‘The Friars’, wear black and white, and have a friar mascot. (Now who does he remind me of?)
The Church and the Order have been and still are great sponsors and organisers of sporting clubs, but alas in the age of “sport-products” many clubs have forgotten their Christian heritage. This has certainly been the case at Newcastle United, where greed and ego have dominated the boardroom for too long. Whilst not resorting to superstition, it is worth noting that the last major honour that Newcastle won, the FA Cup, was in 1955. Until the 1950’s a Dominican Friar was often present at St. James’ Park, (a stone’s throw from the medieval Blackfriars) as a guest of the board. As Newcastle embarks on life in the Championship, I urge all Newcastle fans to seek the intercession of St. Dominic (I am sure he helps Arsenal at times too though!) and to remember that the current superior of the local Dominican house is a life-long member of the Toon Army.