Credit: True Light Catholic Media

Former ManU star advises against treating football as a religion 

A former Manchester United midfielder turned Catholic priest has cautioned against turning football into a religion and treating it as a God.

In a recent interview on St. Patrick’s Podcast with Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly, Fr. Mulryne said that although football is a “wonderful vehicle for teaching great virtues,” people should not take the sport too seriously or risk turning it into a God.

Fr Philip Mulryne, who grew up in West Belfast, played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford and also represented Northern Ireland at international level.

Born in Belfast in 1978, Mulryne was spotted by a scout for Manchester United Football Club and invited to travel to Manchester for a trial when he was fourteen.

After finishing secondary school, he signed a four-year contract at Old Trafford and made his debut appearance in 1997 against Ipswich Town. He played five times in total for the first team before being sold to Norwich City in 1999, playing 135 times over six years. He also represented the Northern Ireland national team 27 times, scoring three goals.

During his time at Manchester United, Mulryne played alongside soccer stars including David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. Whilst most footballers stay engulfed in the elite world of glamour and showbiz after their retirement, Mulryne instead chose the path of spirituality and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2017.

He officially retired in 2009 and entered the Diocesan Seminary of Saint Malachy’s Belfast, studying philosophy for two years at Queen’s University Belfast and at the Maryvale Institute.

He was ordained a priest for the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) in Saint Saviour’s Church in Dublin in July 2017.

Fr. Mulryne is now posted at St. Mary’s Priory Church in Cork as a novice master.

Speaking about faith and football with former Adoration Sisters turned Downpatrick pilgrim guides, Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly on their St. Patrick’s podcast, he described how lockdown had brought more people to the Dominican chapel in Cork.  Fr Mulryne explained how people started to learn about the Domicans’ presence online and were now turning up for mass in person too.

Fr. Mulryne also said that lockdown had provided an opportunity for people to slow down and spend time reconnecting with God.

The former central midfielder said football shared a lot of characteristics with religion and could become a form of worship if people were not cautious, and that the sport needs to be kept in perspective.

“Even the word religion comes from the latin religare – to bind, to rebind yourself,” he said.

“That’s what we are doing when we practice our religion towards God. 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,” he said.

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