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Tributes to football mad cleric (96) who followed his NI heroes religiously

Stalwart fan Edgar had been planning to travel to France for Euros

By Ivan Little

A leading Ulster clergyman who was a fanatical supporter of Northern Ireland's football team has died at the age of 96, just two months before he'd been planning to go to France to cheer his heroes on at the Euros.

Canon Edgar Turner was one of the Church of Ireland's most respected figures and an expert on Church law and history.

But it was his travels with the Green and White Army which had gained widespread publicity recently.

He even appeared on television last year doing the fans' famous dance, the 'Bouncy'.

That was last September when the former Rector of Belfast's historic St George's Parish Church in High Street was featured on Sky as he followed the team to the Faroe Islands for a crucial match in their European Championship qualifying campaign.

Friends said Canon Turner was thrilled to meet a number of the players in the Faroes and he had his photograph taken with one of his favourites, Gareth McAuley of West Bromwich Albion.

In a pre-match interview with Sky Sports Canon Turner gave his views about how the game might go, saying: "I know that the Faroese are big, strong, athletic fishermen and mountaineers. But I think we have a good chance."

He added that if Northern Ireland did beat the Faroe Islands, their rivals in the group stages, Hungary, would "shake in their shoes".

Canon Turner was also present at Windsor Park in October when Northern Ireland secured their place at the finals with a 3-1 win over Greece, and he was pictured with Northern Ireland's goalscoring legend, Linfield manager David Healy.

The Canon told friends of his delight at the team's first qualification for the Euros, especially as he had seen Northern Ireland reaching their three World Cup finals in Sweden in 1958, Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986.

The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, paid warm tribute to him. He visited his family yesterday and said: "I understand that Edgar had a ticket for at least one of the matches in France and he had been looking forward to supporting the team over there. It's so sad that he won't see them now."

Canon Turner died in hospital over the weekend and it's understood that during his illness a number of Northern Ireland figures including assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl had rung him to wish him well.

Irish Football Association officials and Northern Ireland supporters have expressed their sorrow.

Michael Boyd, the IFA's director of football development, said: "Edgar was a real character and he was passionate about Northern Ireland.

"He was a really nice man and his whole family were fans. His daughter Kate was on our Football for All advisory panel for a long time and it was through her that I first met her father."

Gary McAllister of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs heard about Canon Turner's passing during a visit to France, where he is helping to plan for games in Nice, Lyon and Paris.

He said: "It is very sad news indeed for the Northern Ireland footballing family, especially as his death has come so close to the European finals.

"Edgar was a very regular attender of Northern Ireland games for many years. He'll be missed."

Edgar, who was also a Derry City fan, was educated at Foyle College, Magee College, Trinity College Dublin and Lincoln Theological College.

After ministering in Birmingham from 1945 to 1951 he returned to Northern Ireland and was dean of residence at Queen's University Belfast for seven years before becoming Rector of St George's from 1958 until 1990. He later became registrar of the Connor Diocese.

He was noted as a pioneering ecumenist who played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association.

Bishop Abernethy said he had been sent to St George's Church to close it down, but turned the parish around.

"He really did put St George's on the map and he quite rightly took a lot of pride in that. He was also there at the height of the bombings around the church and the city centre. He was an amazing man," he said.

The Dean of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, knew the Canon well and described him as a "great, great man".

He edited a "surprise" book of 20 essays about Canon Turner to celebrate his 90th birthday.

The project was carried out in secrecy because the father-of-two had turned down repeated requests for him to write his memoirs or to allow someone else to pen his biography.

The Dean said: "The only way we could get around that was to ask 20 people to write about individual aspects of the Canon's life.

"His knowledge of the Church of Ireland was remarkable and he was always willing to help people.

"He always deflected praise on to other people. He wasn't comfortable with taking credit for things even when it was due to him."

Bishop Abernethy said that a new book was due out soon recording the history of St George's and Canon Turner would be an integral part of it.

He added that the Canon's love of Northern Ireland football was known right across the Church, and he joked: "Some people are already saying that he'll be fixing the results of Northern Ireland's games in France up in Heaven.

"But I'm not sure that even Edgar has that much power."

Belfast Telegraph


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