The news that Sheffield Wednesday footballer Jeremy Helan, a devout Muslim, is hanging up his boots for his religion prompts a theological flashback to similar stars of the game whose goal became God.
We all know of evangelical Glenn Hoddle finding God “with one hell of a pass” but arguably most famous is Peter Knowles, Wolverhampton Wanderers winger immortalised for scoring and saving in Billy Bragg’s God’s Footballer.
He quit the changing room to become Jehovah’s Witness in 1969 but, such was his initial promise, the club held on to his registration until the early ‘80s.
“His career will be over soon, and the rituals of a Saturday afternoon, bid him a reluctant farewell, for he knows beyond the sport lies the spiritual,” sings the Bard of Barking in reverential lyrics (published in full below).
British football’s first £1 million teen, former Sheffield United, Watford and Barnsley striker Bruce Dyer established with fellow born sgain Christian wife Love Life group that saw up to 500 teenagers attend off-the-street rollerblading events in Sheffield.
A one-time clubber before his conversion to Christianity, his love for Jesus even overtook his passion for the game that saw him play in top two flights of English football for most of his career.
Raised in a Pentecostal family, he left home at 16 to peruse a life of drink, women and wild partying. In 1998, realising fame and fortune hadn’t found him happiness, he turned to God.
He recalled: “It was weird and strange. I supernaturally changed. I tried to battle issues with women and partying for years but could never overcome them with my own strength. As soon as I asked the Lord Jesus Christ into my life everything changed. I remember going into the changing room and saying to the lads that I’d become a born again Christian. They looked at me like I’d gone crazy.”
Former Doncaster Rovers captain Barry Miller also joined “God’s team”. The one-time centre half returned as chaplain to the club where he was a popular player during 69 Conference appearances. He took breaking his foot twice as a sign he should quit pitch for pulpit on Sundays.
The full-time teaching assistant is also an elder at Bentley Baptist Church, which has long enjoyed strong links with professional sport with former pastor Peter Amos still chaplain at Barnsley FC and Dave Miller overseeing spiritual needs of Doncaster RL Club.
Priesthood called for Phil Mulryne, 27-capped Northern Ireland international and highly rated Manchester United youth prospect, who competed for first team place against giants of the game such as Scholes, Keane, Beckham and Giggs, before moving to Norwich City.
Catholic Dominican Order theology and pastoral studies are a far cry from playing days when he dated model Nicola Chapman and was axed for two 2005 World Cup qualifiers for curfew-breaking.
He said: “One of the major reasons that attracted me to the religious life was to give oneself completely to God. To take him as our example and, despite our weakness and defects, trust Him that He will transform us by His grace.”
Ex-Chelsea, Newcastle and QPR star Gavin Peacock, who scored 108 times in 542 league appearances, famously hitting the bar in The Pensioners’ 1994 FA Cup final 4-0 defeat to double winners Manchester United, took a masters course in divinity before becoming a Canadian preacher.
A Christian since the age of 18, the father of two recently became embroiled in a sexism storm after social media comments, suggesting to 5,000 followers, women should submit to men as it is “God’s design”.
His stance prompted former BBC colleague Jacqui Oatley, Match of the Day’s first female commentator, to respond: “’Not ideal timing to be talking about female submission with the Ched Evans story ongoing”.
William Comfort, of QPR, Cambridge, Leyton Orient and Middlesbrough, was forced to retire aged 25 after suffering a knee injury. “Apart from football, the only other thing I really cared about was my belief in God, so I decided to look further into that,” he said. The former winger long worked as Orient club chaplain, resigning from his post at St Mary’s Church in Great Baddow, Essex, after airing “controversial” opinions on same-sex relationships.
Short but skillful Kevin Street didn’t wait to retire from football but was a practicing Christian, whose goal was to become a lay preacher, while still playing for Crewe Alexandra before studying for a divinity degree as a Stafford Rangers stalwart ahead of Nantwich Town management.
Former Walsall and Huddersfield midfielder Peter Hart became a reverend following his retirement from the game. “Whatever I do I like to do it wholeheartedly and to the best of my ability,” he said. “I chose to enter the Church, although that only became the case later in my career when I became a Christian at Walsall and started attending a local church, before I sensed God’s call to ordination.”
On the world soccer stage former Nigerian defender Taribo West founded a Milan church, Chase Hilgenbrinck quit MLS to become a Catholic priest and Argentina ‘keeper Carlos Roa himself hoped to be saved, acting as ‘priest’ for his family during brief seclusion in a mountain retreat awaiting “the end of the world”.
Do you know of any other born again Christian footballers? Let us know.
God’s Footballer - Billy Bragg
God’s footballer hears the voices of angels
Above the choir at Molineux
God’s footballer stands on the doorstep
And brings the good news of the kingdom to come
While the crowd sings ‘rock of ages’
The goals bring weekly wages
Yet the glory of the sports pages
Is but the worship of false idols and tempts him not
God’s footballer turns on a sixpence
And brings the great crowd to their feet in praise of him
God’s footballer quotes from the gospels
While knocking on doors in black country back streets
He scores goals on a Saturday
And saves souls on a Sunday
For the lord says these are the last days
Prepare thyself for the judgment yet to come
His career will be over soon
And the rituals of a Saturday afternoon
Bid him a reluctant farewell
For he knows beyond the sport lies the spiritual