Friends fear for the star with a new goal in life

Friends fear for the star with a new goal in life

The Daily Mail (UK), 6 May 1997.
By Nick Craven

Marcus Gayle’s 13 goals for Wimbledon this season have made him one of soccer’s hottest properties.

With a œ100,000-plus salary and a œ5 million price tag, the 26-year-old striker appears to have it all.

Gayle has no doubt about the source of this success – his born-again Christian faith. He believe his life has been turned around since his baptism into the American-based London Church of Christ (LCC) last July.

He said recently: “I wanted to be a more pleasant, humble person. I was never wild or reckless but I used to get angry. Friends encouraged me and I joined the church.

“I wanted to become connected, to be a practising Christian, and since I’ve taken that step I’ve mellowed and matured.”

Behind the image, however, is a man facing turmoil and the conflicting demands of his career, a loving family and his church leaders.

The church has lost no time in using Gayle’s name – and that of Premier League Wimbledon FC – to boost membership and coffers.

There are many Churches of Christ in Britain which belong to mainstream Christianity, but the LCC (also known as the UK or the International Church of Christ) has little in common with them.

It has been called a “dangerous mind-bending cult” and its leaders or “disciplers” accused of brainwashing recruits against family, friends and careers.

Members donate ten per cent of their salary to the church, often more. Their whole lives are taken over and questioning of orders is deemed “Devil’s talk”. They are told who to date, who they can marry, even how often to make love. Consultant psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Tylden has treated a dozen former LCC members, several of them “extremely mentally ill” by the time they leave. “They had become unable to make decisions on their own while in the church, constantly having to refer back to their discipler for guidance,” she said. “The symptoms were similar to those described in the literature on mind control, and the techniques to which they had been subjected fitted in with that.”

After initial “love-bombing” to establish trust and dependency, recruits were isolated. “This cut them off from the natural family and previous friends. In some cases all contact had been severed. They become dependent on the cult regime”.

Marcus Gayle agreed to take a Daily Mail reporter to a church meeting. He did not show up. Asked why the next day, he said frostily: “I was busy. Life is full of disappointments.” A family friend said: “That’s par for the course with Marcus these days. It’s so different from the polite, diffident guy he used to be. he would have checked with his discipler after talking to you and they may have told him not to show up.”

Friends of Gayle’s family believe church leaders may try to persuade him to give up football. “They are interested in him for his celebrity status which can act as a poweful magent for young, especially black, people,” said the friend.

“But the church believes the impact of Marcus hanging up his boots for Christ would have far more effect in demonstrating his committment to the church.” Each new member has a discipler. Gayle’s value is shown by the fact that his discipler is Chris McGrath, the charismatic ex-boxer and second-in-command of the church’s UK operation.

McGrath, 37, oversees the church HQ opposite King’s Cross station. With his ex-model wife Jacqueline, 32, he visits church satellites in Britain and sometimes Boston, its world HQ.

His effect on Gayle seems incomplete. There is some unease in the church that he is not yet fully “open”, a byword for showing obedience without question.

Gayle’s mother Sonia Downes declined to speak to the Mail for fear of driving her son further into the church’s clutches.

He was recruited by girlfriend Andrea George, 24, who moved out of Gayle’s semi in Isleworth to live with her mother because sex before marriage is banned.

Her mother Norma Clarke, a member of the mainstream Apostolic Church, said: “The people at the church seem too anxious to get new members. I want to talk to my children about it, but I don’t want to drive them further into the church.”

The International Church of Christ has just released a video, Radical Discipleship, using Gayle to sell its message. He is seen being baptised into the church in a water tank. Later he talks to McGrath, who persuaded Wimbledon coach Joe Kinnear and captain Vinnie Jones to speak about his confidence and soccer ability.

Gayle says: “I put the fact of my confidence down to being in the church and I draw my strength from Christians. I put God first in my life.”

McGrath says in a thinly-veiled recruiting message: “Marcus Gayle has seen his need to become a Christian, even though he had money, prestige, and he’s on TV.”

In Britain the group uses several names, controlled by McGrath and his boss, American Mark Templar. They include: The Two Steps Project, Hope WorldWide Ltd, Central London Church of Christ, South London Christian Fellowship, Manchester Christian Fellowship, Edinburgh Christian Church and Birmingham Church of Christ.

Membership is put at between 1200 and 2500, nearly all young, more than half of them black. Former LCC treasurer Ayman Akshar was thrown out of the church in 1993 for speaking out about it. His organisation, Triumphing Over London Cults, helps members’ families “free” the minds of loved ones.

Mr Akshar, 38, said: “They sometimes break up families and leave people unable to make decisions. It is an evil organisation based on building up power and money.”

Wimbledon FC and the LCC refused to comment.

Back to other media reports about the International Churches of Christ.