Sheffield United: Rhian Brewster on Ramadan, faith and becoming a better footballer

“I’ve already got it planned,” Rhian Brewster smiles, detailing his menu for the big Eid ul-Fitr feast he will host at the end of Ramadan. “I’m going to have a barbeque. Burgers, meat and everything else you’d expect. But obviously no pork.”

Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 4:55 pm

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Brewster, the Sheffield United centre-forward and club’s most expensive ever player, is sitting in the players’ lounge at its training complex in Shirecliffe as he discusses his faith, the fast and what it means to him. Having woken at 4am in the morning, to pray and eat for the last time before the sun sets over South Yorkshire, he has understandably chosen not to hold this conversation downstairs in the canteen.

But even though Brewster admits the holiest month of the Islamic calendar can be challenging, particularly for a professional sportsperson, the more he talks, the deeper he goes into why it is so important for a Muslim like him, it quickly becomes apparent the 22-year-old also welcomes the opportunity to prove his devotion. Indeed, outlining the rituals he has been observing for the past 26 days, Brewster believes embracing religion has not only made him a better person but also a more efficient footballer too.

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Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster has been cheering on his team mates since being injured: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“It’s made me much more disciplined, definitely. I used to fool around a lot, play the big kid all the time. Although I still enjoy getting involved with all the banter, I’ve definitely grown up a lot.

“To be completely truthful, I feel like I’ve got a better purpose now. That there’s more of a point to what I do. It’s not why I follow it. Not at all. But that’s one of the things I really feel now. So, genuinely, it’s all good.”

Born in Chadwell Heath, east London, Brewster owes his awakening to his Turkish Cypriot mother and Christian father. “My mum and dad never pushed anything on us kids. They wanted us to follow and find our own path.”

But it was during his spell with Liverpool, after beginning his career on Chelsea’s celebrated youth programme, that Brewster first began to seriously study the Koran’s teachings. Admitting he contemplated walking away from the game altogether after being diagnosed with a serious ankle injury, they helped put his situation into some sort of perspective. The same, although he doesn’t reference it, can probably be said for the first period of his career with United. Purchased for £23.5m, he went nearly 10 months without scoring before bursting into life. Out of action since January, Brewster had netted three times in seven outings when he damaged a hamstring during a Championship fixture at Peterborough.

Sheffield United's lliman Ndiaye is also fasting: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“I went through some difficult times, being out and away from home, all on my own. It wasn’t easy and that’s when I first thought ‘There must be more to life than this?’

“I was obviously always aware of Islam, because of mum and nan and grandad, and it really helped me. It made me realise that there’s a reason why I was doing what I was doing. There’s a reason why I’m here and so I should be making the most of what I’ve got. I’m a better player now because of it. I’ve got a lot more focus, a lot more.”

Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection, devotion and worship for Muslims worldwide, requires those taking part to abstain from food and water during daylight hours. Having started this year on April 1st, it ends at the beginning of May when Brewster is planning his big get-together.

“I get up early,” Brewster says, describing how he designs his itinerary around the suhur (pre-dawn meal) and iftar, which breaks the fast. “It varies, depending on what time the sunrise is, and I pray and eat. Then I go back to sleep a bit and then come into work here. Today, I had to be in for 11 o’clock so I had a bit more time to rest.

Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster says his faith has made him a better person and footballer: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“When I’m at home, I usually sit down to watch some football on the television. It’s good because there’s plenty of matches on the television. Then I might go on the Playstation or speak to the lads on our group chat. I’ll have my food and then go to bed. I make sure I eat good things and the right things, because I don’t want to be too full when I wake up again.

“In the old days, I used to have lots of bacon which isn’t really great for me. I don’t now of course and my habits have changed. So again, all good.”

Although he is still recovering from surgery - “It’s a bit easier at the moment, having to fast, because I’m not actually playing unfortunately” - Brewster’s team mate Iliman Ndiaye is competing whilst fasting.

“One of the reasons behind doing this is to make you more appreciative and give you empathy for people who are less fortunate,” Brewster continues. “I actually think that’s a good thing in this profession because we have a good life and, although things can be tough at times, we get well looked after and well-paid for what we do. So it’s important to remember that not everyone has those things.

Sheffield United's centre-forward Rhian Brewster is observing Ramadan: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“When I have the feast at the end, I’ll also be giving something to charity because of that. There’s two I like to try and help.”

“We all do sinful things, stuff that we shouldn’t,” he adds. “But I try a lot harder now to be good.”

Football, Brewster believes, has become more sensitive to the needs of Muslims at this time of year with some Premier League matches recently being halted to allow players to break their fast.

“My family and sis are great as well,” he laughs. “They don’t eat when I’m on a call with them. They always say ‘make sure he can’t see food’. It doesn’t matter but it shows people care, the same as I do and they’ll all be invited to my barbeque.”