Former professional turned priest warns against worshipping football

Former professional turned priest warns against worshipping football

8 September 2021

A FORMER Manchester United player has cautioned against turning football into a god and treating it as a religion.

Fr Philip Mulryne — who spent most of his career with Norwich City — said football was fundamentally good and was a wonderful vehicle for teaching great virtues, but should be kept in perspective.

Speaking on St Patrick’s Podcast, the Dominican priest said football shared a lot of characteristics with religion and could be a form of worship in which there is collective adulation and chanting.

“Even the word religion comes from the latin religare – to bind, to rebind  yourself. That’s what we are doing when we practice our religion towards God,” he said.

“We bind ourselves to God and Him to us. In a sense people bind themselves together into a particular club and so it is a form of worship in some way. From our perspective [it] can be quite disordered if it takes over one’s life affects and starts affecting one’s family life and marriages and your moods and things like that.

“Taken to an extreme it can have a detrimental effect on one’s life. While there is a fundamental goodness in it, there is that temptation to turn it into a god.”

Fr Philip was in conversation about faith and football with former Adoration Sisters turned pilgrim guides, Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly. 

The podcast is produced by The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, the world’s only permanent exhibition to St Patrick in the world.

As a youth of 14, Fr Mulryne was scouted in west Belfast by Manchester United and went on to spend most of his career with Norwich City. 

In 2009, the former central midfielder turned his back on professional football and entered the seminary to train as a Roman Catholic priest. 

At the end of the podcast he was asked what he would like to ban from Ireland, in the Spirit of St Patrick. “I would like to ban Liverpool supporters,” he joked.

He added that he would also like to ban “indifference” especially around faith and would rather have an argument with someone about faith than meet with an attitude of “I don’t care.”

He said that lockdown had brought more people to the Dominican chapel in Cork as people became aware of their presence online and were now turning up for mass in person.

Fr Philip also suggested lockdown was an opportunity for people to slow down and reconnect with God, and shared how he had found peace and joy in religious life after the highs and lows of football. 

“The life around the game was superficial and shallow,” he said.

“And I remembered when I was most happy in life and it was when I was a teenager and I was praying and going to mass and maybe not realising it at the time that it was sustaining me.”

He told the podcast that he felt called to the priesthood when he realised the that he truly believed in his Catholic faith. He said that St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, had much to teach us about the worship of God, the Trinity and prayer.

Fr Mulryne said he was still interested in football and kept an eye on scores but said he no longer had the time to watch matches.