" And on him they laid the cross" Luke, 23:26
In his youth, Pope John Paul II regularly played in goal for both his school and University sides and was described by one of his biographers, Lord Longford, as having something of a "powerful build". Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 put an end to the pontiff's footballing career as he dedicated his life to the Catholic Church. However, whether or not he was infallible between the sticks as a boy has been lost in time
Between 1895-96, Oxford University student and Corinthians club member George Raikes won four full caps for England and may have even have captained the national side. He was highly praised for his shot-stopping efforts in match reports of all of his internationals but stopped playing altogether after he graduated from university and took holy orders, although did continue to enjoy a career in County Cricket.
In 1879 the Rev W Blackmore was selected to play for England in a match against Wales but was unable to play on the day. Rupert Anderson, a 19-year-old centre forward at club level, took his place. Neither player was selected to play for England again.
Dai Davies' football career always had something of a religious theme flowing through it - he was nicknamed Dracula in his heyday because fans thought he was scared of crosses. In later life, he underwent something of a spiritual conversion, which led to him becoming a medium and acquiring a penchant for reincarnation. His transformation occurred after a visit to the pyramids. He entered the King's chamber of the main pyramid and was emotionally moved after reading a spell. So much so that he vowed to change his life for the better. Of course, this didn't stop him saying some very strange things to the press, the weirdest being: "There are fairies somewhere with tremendous energy. I can sense angels." After running a Welsh bookshop in Mold, the former Welsh international keeper now specialises in remedial massages and runs a flotation tank at the Llangollen Holistic Health Centre in conjunction with his Feldenkrais ('awareness through movement') classes.
Ordained a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1931, Leonard Small made the most of his religious calling, rising through the ecclesiastical ranks to become Moderator of the General Assembly and Chaplain to the Queen. Just as well, really, because he gave up a promising football career to concentrate on his work with the church. Captain of the Edinburgh University Football Team, Small was keen to prolong his playing days once he had graduated and joined Scottish Second Division side St. Bernard's as an amateur. He received international recognition in 1929 when he was capped by Scotland at amateur level and was a popular figure in the League, both with his team mates and the opposition. But his footballing antics were curtailed by his superiors in the Church, who felt it wasn't 'the done thing' for a minister to be seen throwing himself in the mud to prevent a certain goal. Small respected their opinion and retired. But his passion for the game remained, he occasionally turned out for his parish side and refereed the odd Scottish League game. Even in later life, he never stopped attending matches. Such was his love for football that he titled his autobiography 'The Holy Goalie'.
In February 1974, Swindon Town's 19-year-old goalkeeper, Jimmy Allen, hit headlines for refusing to play in a League game against Bolton Wanderers. The game was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon kick-off, due to industrial action, and Allen refused to play on religious grounds. Swindon manager Les Allen (no relation!) respected his keeper's decision but as a result Allen lost his place in the side and it was sometime before he re-established himself as the club's number one keeper.
Your club is on the threshold of a place in the Champions League for the first time in its history and your country is about to take part in the Copa America. You're the first choice goalie for both, so what do you do? Well, if you're Carlos Roa, you retire. The Argentinian international, whose save from David Batty put England out of the 1998 World Cup, decided to quit football in order to devote himself to religion after announcing his belief that the World will end in the year 2000. A member of the Seventh Day Adventists, Roa claimed that football was getting in the way of his preaching.
"Sometimes we have wards full of them" - Dr. Heather McKee, Psychiatrist, London Charing Cross Hospital, 1991.
David Icke's football career was not what you would call spectacular. He retired at the age of 21 suffering from arthritis after brief spells with Coventry City and Hereford. But in 1991 he became a household name after claiming to be the Son of God. The declaration occurred at a specially convened press conference at Gatwick Airport where the former Grandstand presenter had just landed with his spiritual advisor, a Canadian by the name of Mari Shawsun. He let it be known that Shawsun would henceforth be referred to as the Daughter of God while his wife was to be called the Spirit of the Angel of God. He also predicted the Second Coming, numerous environmental disasters and said that the Channel Tunnel would never be built. Best of all, he said that Cuba, the Isle of Arran and the White Cliffs of Dover would all disappear. Of course, Icke may have been taken a little more seriously if he hadn't developed a strange passion for turquoise shell suits. Public humiliation followed, particularly on the TV programme 'Wogan' and the Green Party disowned him. Having become something of a recluse in the 1990s, Icke re-emerged in the 21st Century and became a fixture on the University lecture circuit as a conspiracy theorist.
With a goals against average of just 0.26, UCLA Bruins' goalkeeper Eric Reed is one of the most promising footballers ever to emerge from the American College game but the talented youngster has set his sights beyond a professional career in the MLS. The Religious Studies student has ambitions to become a preacher after hanging up his gloves.
Whilst growing up in a remote but deeply religious part of Brazil, goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel often prayed to God for help and guidance as a child, but even he must have been baffled when he received a set of gloves and a keeper's kit for Christmas when he was eight. In an interview with the French newspaper L'Equipe, the future World Cup Winner revealed that he had asked God to help him become a great basketball or volleyball player.
Not many goalkeepers have founded their own religious movement, but Brazil's João Leite can justifiably make such a claim. The former Clube Atlético Mineiro and Brazilian international keeper founded the "Christ's Athletes" movement in his native country during his playing days and his involvement with Evangelist Church earned him the nickname God's Goalkeeper. Now a politician in Minas Gerais, Leite won six caps for Brazil and was part of the Atlético team that won ten Mineiro State Championships.
Having retired from the professional game, former Nigerian international Alloy Agu became a Minister in the Christ Devine Church after finding God. Something of character in his youth, Agu, who counted RC Liege of Belgium and Dutch side MVV amongst his many clubs, repented his ways after being "arrested by God" and hung up his gloves to become a pastor.
Norwegian keeper Espen Johnsen undertook a course on Christian Studies while at college and remains an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway. The Rosenberg goalkeeper has also received attention in his native country for talking publicly about his religious faith and holding open conversations concerning religious and ethical topics.
American Adin Brown, who currently plays for Aalesund in the Norwegian Premier League, has had a career plagued by injury and often has trouble regaining full fitness due to his beliefs. As a Christian Scientist, he refuses many forms of treatment that would normally clear up innocuous knocks.
When Newcastle United and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given got married, he and his wife received a papal blessing from the late Pope John Paul II.
Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Aouate caused quite a stir in his homeland when he confessed to a Spanish football publication that he would play for his club, Deportivo de La Coruña, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur if called upon rather than lose his place. His comments caused controversy throughout Israel, with members of the Shas party calling for his removal from the national team.
Frenchman Sébastien Frey turned to Buddhism to help him overcome a career-threatening in 2006 whilst with Fiorentina and cited Italian superstar Roberto Baggio as the influence behind his decision to convert.
Devout Christian Adriano Basso has had quite an impact on the fans of Bristol City. The Brazilian goalkeeper's motto of "Always Believe" plus his pre-match ritual of pointing to the sky have been adopted by City fans in recent years, so much so that the Supporters' Trust at Ashton Gate produced a line of foam hands with "Always Believe" printed on them and handed them out to supporters before key games during the 2006/07 season. In March 2008 Basso reconfirmed his beliefs by crediting his penalty save from Darius Henderson to the Holy Spirit.
Everton goalkeeper Carlo Nash is another custodian who is also a devout Christian and apparently never swears at referees or cheat on the pitch due to his beliefs. In an interview with the Church Times, the former Stockport County and Middlesbrough keeper stated that he found being a Christian helps me to deal with disappointing moments in football a lot better".
While studying at Oxford University Charles Nepean proved to be something of an all-round sportsman, not only representing the University - and Middlesex - at cricket but also football. He won an FA Cup winners medal in 1874 - having missed the final against Wanderers in 1872 - and went on to represent Scotland during Lord Kinnaird's pseudo-internationals on the early 1870s (despite not having any Scottish blood in him). He retired from both games following his graduation and decision to enter the Chuch of England. In 1876 he was appointed the vicar of Lenham in Kent.
Ernest Blackwell, who played for Sheffield United after World War One, was a devout methodist and practising lay-preacher. He would occasionally miss games if they clashed with key dates in the religious calendar.
Poland international Jerzy Dudek dedicated Liverpool's remarkable UEFA Champions League victory in 2005 to Pope John Paul II. The late pontiff had met the keeper the previous year and told him that he was a fan of Dudek and following Liverpool's results a result. In return, the player present the Pope with a gift of a souvenir shirt.
Nigeria international goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is such a devout Christian that one of his coaches once admitted in an interview that if had not become a goalkeeper he "could have easily opened a church". Nicknamed 'The Pastor' by his teammates, Enyeama leads prayers before meals training sessions and matches while with the Nigerian national team.
Everton and United States goalkeeper Tim Howard is a devout Christian and is involved in the Athletes in Action movement, a ministry arm of Campus Crusade for Christ. While still living in New Jersey, Howard used to meet other devout players at a Barnes & Noble bookstore to study the Book of John.
Keylor Navas, who kept goal for Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup finals, once confessed in an interview that he prays to God before each game and asks him to protect his posts with two angels, one for each side. Navas, who also turns out for a charity team called Evangelical FC, claims that praying helps him to concentrate during a game and quotes Galatians 1:10 as his favourite passage from the Bible.
Carlos Vítor da Costa Ressurreição stunned the football world in Brazil in January 2016 when he announced that he would no longer play matches scheduled for the weekend after he was baptised into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. With followers required to observe the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until sundown the following Sunday, the decision left Ressurreição in a tricky position, as the vast majority of games in the Brazilian leagues take place at the weekend. The goalkeeper was ultimately left without a club after Londrina Esporte Clube announced they would not be renewing his contract, having turned down a big-money move to top flight side Chapecoense due to his new found faith.
Another Brazilian goalkeeper to suffer as a result of his religious faith was Rio Preto goalie Senhor Isadore Irandir, who was beaten after just three seconds at the start of game against Corinthians at Bahia Stadium. The scorer was Brazilian international Roberto Rivelino who, having spotted the keeper on his knees, took a speculative shot from the half-way line from the kick-off. The ball whistled past Irandir, who was finishing his pre-match prayers in his goalmouth and hadn't noticed the referee had blown to start the game.
In 2002 Gaziantepspor goalkeeper and Turkey internation Ömer Çatkiç was sacked alongside teammate Mert Kork-maz on the grounds that "excessive piety was adversely affecting their performances". He was later reinstated before leaving for Gençlerbirliği
Former New York Red Bulls and San Antonio Scorpions goalkeeper Jeremy Vuolo decided to hang his gloves up in November 2014 and turn his back on the game of football. He become a preacher after being ordained as pastor in Laredo, Texas.
Irishman Des Kelly, who had spells as a reserve goalkeeper with Norwich City and Colchester United in the early 1970s, was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope Benedict XVI for his work in Catholic Education, evangelisation and bereavement in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood in 2010.
Lord Arthur Kinnaird, one of football's leading lights in the 19th Century and a former President of the Football Association, held quite a few senior positions away from the football field including the presidency of both YWCA and the YMCA in England and the position of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1907 to 1909.
Wrexham's Gordon Livsey went from saving goals to saving souls as a cornet player with the Salvation Army in his spare time. The goalkeeper was a regular in his local Salvation Army band.
Another goalkeeper who became a regular in his local Salvation Army band was former Accrington Stanley and Berwick Rangers stopper Tom McQueen, father of Leeds United, Manchester United and Scotland defender Gordon. McQueen senior was a Salvationist who like Livsey also played the cornet before moving onto the bass drum.
Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy refused to accept his Man of the Match award for his heroics against Uruguay during their group game at the 2018 World Cup Finals. Devout Muslim El-Shenawy had produced a stunning display to frustrate the South Americans but snubbed the accolade after the game because it was emblazoned with the logo of sponsors Budweiser.
Former Nigeria international Idah Peterside turned his back on the game of football a year after making his international debut for the Super Eagles to become a pastor, setting up his own church - the Christ Ambassadors Church - in his home in South Africa.
One-time Sierra Leone goalkeeper and captain Mahmoud Turay, who won the national title with the Ports Authority club side in 1973, became an imam after moving to the United States following the civil war that tore the country apart during the 1990s.
In March 2019 Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes announced that he was going to retire at the end of the season to become a pastor and footballing agent in his native Brazil. Gomes announced that he had been offered a number of coaching positions but turned them down saying that he felt it would not leave him time for his pastoral life after receiving a call from God. However, a couple of months later he signed a new contract with the Hornets to extend his career by another season
United States goalkeeper William Yarbrough was born and raised in Aguascalientes, Mexico after his parents emigrated from Texas to become missionaries. Yarbrough inherited his parents' religious beliefs and is a devout Christian.
Back in January 2020, Liverpool's Roberto Firmino was baptised into the Christian faith in a swimming pool by his teammate and Reds goalkeeper Alisson Becker and Brazilian musician Isaias Saad. Firmino shared a video of the baptism on his Instagram page, where it was viewed over 3.2 million times in one day by his own "followers".
Having been invited for a trial with AS Roma back in 2010, Ostia Mare goalkeeper Samuel Piermarini was offered the chance to sign for the club's youth team as back-up goalkeeper but the youngster turned the opportunity down as he did not want to sit on the bench. The following year he gave up the game completely to become a priest. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rome by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica in April, 2021.