I'm a former top footballer who was compared to George Best but I quit at 23 to become a Jehovah's Witness | The Sun

NOBODY expected Peter Knowles to actually go through with his decision to retire from football aged just 23 in 1969.

His club Wolves, for whom he was something of a rising star, kept laying out his kit each day – ready for his return.

But he never came back.

Knowles had played four times for England's Under-23s and had even drawn comparisons with Manchester United legend George Best.

A trip to the United States to play games on loan at Kansas Spurs would change everything for Knowles, however, when two local Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on his door.

"At the time, I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in a God. I was happy to be a professional footballer, to play for Wolves," Knowles said in 2018.

“I am not bragging here. But I loved it and I was good at it. One day, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door. I said to them: ‘Why did my dad and my two sisters, who’d done nowt wrong, die?’

“They came in and answered that question. They answered another question and then another I had never got an answer to.

“That’s how I became a Jehovah’s Witness. If I hadn’t met them I’d have carried on playing football."

Upon his return to the UK Knowles went back to Wolves, but his heart was no longer in the beautiful game.

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Knowles waves goodbye to the Molineux faithfulCredit: Alamy
The forward had scored more than 60 goals for Wolves by the age of 23Credit: PA:Empics Sport

He banged in three goals in his side's opening four games of the 1969-70 season and even had a chance at making Sir Alf Ramsey's Three Lions squad for the following summer's World Cup.

But he abruptly called it quits, giving up football for good.

Everyone at Wolves thought he'd be back, and even kept contracts for him until he turned 36.

His brother Cyril, then a star of Bill Nicholson's Tottenham side, also felt it was only a matter of time – but Knowles held firm.


When his former striker partners Derek Dougan and Frank Munro were suspended later that season, Knowles popped into Molineux to grab his old football boots as he prepared to coach local kids.

Boss Bill McGarry made an impassioned plea for Knowles to return in his old team's hour of need, and Wolves' former star was tempted.

But feeling that he wouldn't be able to give it all up a second time, Knowles turned his old boss down.

Rather than return to football, he performed a variety of odd jobs; a milkman, a window cleaner, a tile salesman, an M&S warehouseman.

While it may seem an extreme career change for most, Knowles has no regrets.

He continued: "Everybody – the manager, the players, my family, all the Wolves supporters – they all said, ‘He’ll be back in six months.’

“My family couldn’t cope. My mum was upset, so angry. My brother Cyril (who played for Spurs) said: ‘Give him six months.’ They couldn’t cope.

“Wolves put my strip out for about a year. Contracts were sent to me for ten years. They thought I’d sign it.

“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve never regretted it. Not once.”

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Knowles subsequently spent over 50 years preaching the word of God with wife Jean – and he has enjoyed every second.

"When I was younger I used to do all that, the nightlife, the cars. Well, I’ve done all that,” he added.

“Basically I work, preach, read the Bible and go to meetings – that’s my life. And I am dead chuffed with it."


Knowles isn't the only former Wolves player to give up football for the church.

Striker Richard Leadbeater, who came through the Molineux side's academy in the 1990s, retired at 26 to become a reverend after studying theology at the University of Brimingham.

Asked about Knowles by Wolves Heroes, the 42-year-old said: "I think you can be a Christian footballer, just as you can be a Christian lawyer or a Christian professor. But it should change the way you think.

“You see things through Christian lenses. To get to the top, you have to sacrifice a lot, make it the most important thing.

"But being Christian is a case of putting others before self, doing things to the honour of Jesus and not yourself.

I can understand how Peter Knowles felt

"The amount of time, dedication, energy and ambition to get to the top is very difficult for a serious Christian. You see life as about not being for your own pleasure but about proclaiming a different message.

"It is possible – and needed – to be a Christian footballer. We need Christians in the football world. We need Christians everywhere. But I can understand how Peter Knowles felt.

"I had a professional footballer friend in Scotland who stopped because when he played, he could not do it in a Godly way. Of course it may be possible for some."


Juggling the adulation that came with fame with his faith was something that Knowles struggled to reconcile with.

He said: "The Bible says ‘All men are created equal’.

“But when I put a football shirt on, there was a difference. People began to worship me. They idolised me.

“They treated me differently to an ordinary person. So, I thought: ‘What am I going to do?’

“The biggest problem as well was becoming a Jehovah’s Witness.


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“People would say: ‘Why don’t you mix the two?’ I said to them: ‘I can’t. I’ve got to give one up or the other.’ And I decided to give up football."

He scored 61 goals in 174 games in total for Wolves – before becoming one of English football's great "What if?" stories.

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