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Former Manchester United player turned priest Philip Mulryne warns against turning football into religion

Fr Philip Mulryne, pictured during his inaugural mass at St Oliver Plunkett Church in west Belfast following his ordination

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

Fr Philip Mulryne, who grew up in the Lenadoon area of west Belfast, played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford and represented Northern Ireland at international level.

But he became disillusioned with his life as a professional footballer and was ordained a priest for the Dominican Order in 2017.

Speaking on St Patrick’s Podcast, Fr Mulryne said he believed football was a "wonderful vehicle for teaching great virtues", but should be kept in perspective.

He said football shared a lot of characteristics with religion and could be a form of worship.

"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."

Fr Mulryne was scouted in west Belfast by Manchester United aged 14 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.

Speaking recently about faith and football with former Adoration Sisters turned pilgrim guides, Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly, he described how 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.

He also said it had been an opportunity for people to slow down and reconnect with God.

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