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Peter Knowles: The star striker who gave it all up for religion

Jonny Keen
ANALYST
Feature
711   //    Timeless

Knowles coaching local children after his departure from Wolves
Knowles coaching local children after his departure from Wolves

In the late 1960s, Peter Knowles was hot property. Having established himself as a star player during Wolverhampton Wanderers' promotion winning campaign, he earned himself a call-up to the England under-23s team. Playing well in the top-flight, scoring for fun, he was enjoying the life of a professional footballer.

But Knowles wanted more. With the 1970 World Cup just around the corner, he was determined to earn a spot in England's senior side. He felt the best way to do that would be to join a big name side, one of the English giants. Liverpool were interested and he knew so too, though Wolves had him tied down to a long contract and understandably reluctant to let their star jump ship.

It was the summer of 1969 when Knowles took the trip that would change his life forever. Wolves were invited to the USA to partake in a tournament designed to promote the beautiful game in America. Knowles was typically in good form, bagging five goals as his side went on to win the tournament.

However, off-the-field events were somewhat less conventional. Knowles ran into a group of Jehovah's Witnesses, who spoke to the young striker about their religion. Many youngsters might have simply laughed and dismissed such a meeting, but he instead began to think deeply about his life, questioning his motivations as a footballer while wondering whether his desire to sign for the Reds and play for England was down to arrogance.

When Knowles returned to Wolverhampton for the new season, he spoke with teammates about his encounter, revealing he was now a Jehovah's Witness and seriously considering leaving football behind to focus on his newfound faith. Few believed such a talented player could really walk away from a bright future in the game but, just days before his 24th birthday, Knowles played his final game for Wolves.

What happened next?

Despite the best efforts of a succession of Wolves managers, the forward would not be persuaded to make his return to the sport. It took a whopping 13 years for the club to admit he'd never return and finally cancelled his contract.

Later, Knowles worked a succession of menial jobs, as a milkman, a window cleaner and a shelf stacker. But he never regretted giving up football, insisting he never once regretted his decision. This wasn't the last time a footballer gave up their career for religion - former Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Jeremy Helan retired aged 24 to focus on Islam in 2016.

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