by Andy Robinson
The late 1960’s saw a familiar sight in the small pit village of Fitzwilliam in Yorkshire. It was that of famous footballer Peter Knowles of Wolverhampton Wanderers driving around the place in his gold sprayed MGB sports car as he returned to his birth place on frequent visits home to see his mum and sisters. Peter was the son of a former rugby league star and brother of “nice one” Cyril who played for Spurs. For many it appeared that it was only a matter of time before Peter either got the transfer to the big club he was desperately after or with the 1970 Mexico World Cup on the horizon that he progressed from the England under 23 side to Sir Alf’s full squad. This would have been some feat considering his rivals for a shirt in the young England side at the time included Joe Royle, Peter Osgood, Allan Clarke and Brian Kidd. The football world was shocked then when on the 10 September 1969 following a 3 -3 draw against Nottingham Forest, and after Wolves had won their opening seven matches Knowles decided to turn his back on the game in search of the truth and peace he was seeking from his newly found religious beliefs. The story made the front pages. When he finished all the other Wolves players expected him back for training on Monday morning but he was never to return. In fact Wolves continued to offer him a contract extension every year up until 1982 when he was 36.
Knowles was a player ahead of his time. The fashion in the 1960’s was for a second striker off a target man or an old fashioned inside forward but Knowles was more akin to the modern day number 10 that we see today. His passing ability, ball skills and finishing allowed him to perform in either of the two roles on offer comfortably. Knowles was the type of player we all know well. He played with an arrogance and confidence born out of his natural ability where he knew, and everyone else knew, that he was the shining light of the side and as Wolves’ fortunes throughout his time went from relegation, promotion to mid table mediocrity it was no surprise that he sought that move to a bigger stage. His image off the field also reflected in this. After making his debut in the 1963 -64 season against Leicester City he scored in his second match against Bolton and went on to make 174 appearances for Wolves and score 61 Goals. Notable in this list of performances were a fifth round FA Cup tie with Liverpool where he pulled Wolves back from the brink of defeat with two goals to earn a replay and in the days when the only TV camera around was from the newly established Match of The Day he once ran past Georgie Best, dived to the floor and got Best sent off. Speak to Wolves fans in their Fifties and Sixties and many will tell you that he was one of the best in their long history and certainly a loss to the game.
“I remember seeing Peter beat a man, turn beat him again and then sit on the ball. He played football for fun”.
The beginning of the end for the football career of Peter Knowles began when he was on tour in the USA and he answered the door to two Jehovahs Witnesses. Somehow they managed to hit a nerve and the footballer began to read his bible and question not only his lifestyle but also as he later confirmed in a very rare conversation with a journalist “the level of aggression I used to take out onto the pitch” and that along with the adulation he was receiving on a weekly basis began to concern him, feeling that life needn’t be so shallow and that God had chosen a different path for him.
“I shall continue playing football for the time being but I have lost my ambition. Though I shall still do my best on the field I need more time to learn about the bible and may give up football”. Give up he did. Just a few weeks later after the Forest match Knowles was employed as a milkman and was a regular sight on the streets of Wolverhampton and the surrounding towns of the Black Country preaching the words of the Jehovahs Witness movement. Every Wolves and football fan he came across described him as a man at peace and content with all that life had given him. He later worked as a window cleaner and for many years as a warehouseman for Marks and Spencers. Singer Billy Bragg wrote the song “God’s Footballer” in a tribute to him and it contains the following verse:
While the crowd sing “Rock of Ages”
The Goals bring weekly wages
Yet the glory of the sports pages
Is but the words of false idols and tempts him not
Peter Knowles never regretted his decision to quit the game and continues to live a peaceful and spiritual life today in Wolverhampton.
Living a simple life and never losing touch with his faith.