By Keith Morris
Former Norwich City footballer Fr Philip Mulryne returned to the pitch only hours after preaching from the heart at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich.
The former midfielder, who was ordained as a Catholic priest in Dublin last July, took part in a charity game at Carrow Road as he played for the Canaries’ Legends team against Inter (Milan) Forever.
Returning to Norwich for the charity game on Sunday, 20th May, to raise money for the Community Sports Foundation, Fr Mulryne, who began his career as a youth team player for Manchester United, was invited to be a celebrant at the 9am Mass at the Catholic cathedral in the city, alongside football-mad Fr Seelan.
The story of Fr Mulryne’s journey from football star to Catholic priest was warmly welcomed both at the Cathedral and at Carrow Road.
Fr Mulryne said: “The response I got at Carrow Road was quite overwhelming. Fans, players and staff at the club were hugely supportive of the path I have taken. It was a wonderful opportunity to share with them the journey that led me to embrace the religious life.
“It felt like I had never left, and the atmosphere in the dressing room before the game was great. Often charity games can resemble a training ground stroll in the park, but the supporters ensured by their singing that this match was competitive and the players responded to them.”
Close Norwich friend, Clare Richards, was at the cathedral to hear Fr Mulryne.
She said: “Phil spoke rather movingly about his life. He said that while at Manchester United and Norwich City he was living the football dream lifestyle and had not gone to Mass for a number of years. He loved his football but felt something was not quite right.
“He said that his sister had been praying for him and that he came to the realisation that the football lifestyle was shallow and he fell in love with Jesus, which changed his life dramatically.
“The cathedral congregation clapped him at the end, which I have never heard before, and there was a long queue of people afterwards asking to be blessed by Phil.
“He then stayed around to chat to people and have a coffee – it was a very special occasion,” said Ms Richards.
“Phil said to me that he was a bit worried about the match in the afternoon as, although he does a lot of running and coaches young footballers at the Dominican school he teaches at in County Kildare in Ireland, he has not played football for a long time.
“In the event, he was on for the whole of the first half and then came back on again later in the second – I thought he was the best player on the pitch.
“I was very lucky as Delia Smith invited me to have lunch with her and her husband Michael at Carrow Road before the match and then to watch it with her.
“Delia really gets involved in the football so there were shouts and yells and she was telling the referee what to do.
“I joined in as well, of course!
Picture: Fr Mulryne with friend Clare Richards (left), her daughter Blanca and grandchildren Cian and Rory, before playing for Norwich City’s Legends team in the afternoon. (Neil Burke).