Phil Mulryne on his journey from professional footballer to Roman Catholic priest

Former City midfielder Philip Mulryne was a popular figure during his time at Carrow Road, but the former Northern Ireland international has since attracted wider attention for the unusual path he followed after his football career.

His spell with the Canaries included the memorable Division One Championship success of 2003-04, but in 2009 he left the footballing world behind, rediscovering his faith to eventually become ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. 

Now based at Newbridge Dominican College in Co. Kildare, Ireland, the popular Ulsterman will return to Carrow Road on Sunday for the Norwich City Legends match against Inter Forever.

We travelled to Newbridge to catch up with Father Mulryne ahead of the game.

What are your lasting memories from your time at Norwich City?

“It was really when I came to Norwich that I felt at home at a football club.

“We had two or three wonderful seasons. Certainly scoring on my debut at Grimsby was a wonderful memory to have and the year that we won the championship.

“I love the club and I loved the players that we had there at the time. I have nothing but positive experiences from the club.”

What was it like to be part of that championship-winning side in 2003-04?

“We were so successful because we were so close-knit. We just went on an unbelievable run and the momentum just carried us right through to the end.

“The celebrations in the city are just etched onto my mind, just going round on the bus and at city hall - they’re wonderful memories to have.”

How did your journey from Philip Mulryne footballer to Father Philip Mulryne begin?

“It’s hard to pin down a particular moment. I would say it started in my last year at Norwich, not explicitly and I wasn’t thinking about it at that time but I started to get dissatisfied with the whole lifestyle.

“We have a wonderful life as a footballer and I was very privileged, but I found with all the surrounding stuff that eventually there was a kind of emptiness with it. I was quite shocked - why am I not happy when I have everything that young men want?

“It started me on a journey towards exploring my faith again, the faith that I had as a young man. I took a decision to come home for a year and it was really during that year that everything turned upside down.

“I volunteered at a homeless shelter for a while. I started going back to mass and I started praying again on a regular basis. I just found a real sense of fulfilment with it.

“Football was huge highs and lows and here was something that was giving me a steady sense of contentment.

“My vocation to priesthood and religious life came later in the course of that year - I felt this strong desire for this way of life and I stayed with it for a few months and then got the courage up to explore it and I took the decision and it’s now eight years later.”

Are you looking forward to the match against Inter Forever?

“I’m very grateful for it, just to come back because I haven’t had the opportunity over the years to come back to Norwich and it was a really beloved place for me. So just to meet all the characters again and the people around the club and all of the old players – it was too good to turn down.

“Hopefully I won’t embarrass myself and the touch is still there naturally despite the fact that the legs might not be!”

“Being on the same pitch as Jurgen Klinsmann will be amazing really and Javier Zanetti - I was always really struck by him when he was playing, just his style and his consistency, just pure class.”

What are your impressions of the Community Sports Foundation and the Build The Nest campaign?

“(Norwich) is not just a football club, you have this outreach into the broader community.

“I saw the plans for The Nest; it looks really spectacular. It will be a place where people can come together and feel connected with the club and that’s what you’re trying to create because football is such a huge channel for that.

“When I first came to Norwich you’d be going into hospitals and you’d be going to visit in the community and you saw the real connection between the players and the fans.”

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