When Neil Baldwin loses his job as a circus clown he goes looking for other work. First he takes it on himself to be a one man welcoming body at Keele University, then he approaches Lou Macari, the new manager of Stoke City football club. Lou decides to take on the irrepressible Neil as kit man for the club.
Neil is forever encouraging towards the team and when, one day, he discovers Lou looking a bit down he encourages him to think of the good things. When Lou asks, ‘Like what?’ Neil thinks for a moment and says, ‘The best signing you ever made for the team.’ Lou says he wouldn’t know where to start, but later in the story he comes back with an answer. ‘It was you,’ he says, ‘you’re the best signing I ever made.’ Neil is an extraordinary person, forever positive, kind and encouraging.
Neil befriends everyone, from bishops to MPs. His straightforward take on life means he often finds himself in extraordinary situations. On one occasion he visits parliament in London and asks to see Tony Benn. Sure enough, Mr Benn has time for the good-hearted Neil. Neil doesn’t just believe in being happy, he believes in God too, and when his own university football team take on the Christian union team, he tell his boys, ‘They’ve got the Lord on their side.’ This is a tale which cuts against the grain of grabbing and self-serving. It’s an encouragement to relish the good things, to appreciate life, to look to lift others up instead of pushing them down. Something Jesus was so good at. Time and again he met folks who were marginalised by the in-crowd. Zacchaeus up a tree, a woman at a well, children kept at bay because they might be disruptive. There are so many tales of this extraordinary king, who brought life, laughter and love to people who were hurting, lost, broken and judged. A king unlike any other, not bothering with pomp and ceremony, but instead choosing kindness and hope over despair and malice. Neil’s story reminds me of this, and of the king of all kindness who continues to reach out to help ordinary folks, today and into the future.