God was always my goal in life, says Stuart Elliott
Former Northern Ireland star Stuart Elliott has spoken about being a Christian in the ruthless and often unforgiving world of professional football.
Elliott enjoyed a fine career, starring for Glentoran, Motherwell and Hull City as well as his country, but he admits throughout it all his relationship with God was more important than the goals, triumphs and some memorable nights at Windsor Park.
Now an evangelical Minister, he has organised a major get together at Mourneview Park from tomorrow night to Sunday called the One Goal Stadium event where a number of sporting stars will speak openly about their faith.
Football dressing rooms are renowned for being tough places where anyone seen in a different light can have a difficult time, but Elliott, be it here or when he was playing in England or Scotland, never hid the fact that he was a committed Christian.
"Sometimes it was difficult, but the way I looked at it was that any fish can swim with the stream and it takes a strong one to go against it," said the 35-year-old.
"The other players, when they saw what I stood for, were very respectful in the main at club and international level.
"I guess they saw that I wasn't just talking the talk, I was also walking the walk.
"I didn't really have any hassles in my career.
"I was very open about it and always encouraged others to be open about it with me."
Elliott maintains that the transfers which took place during his career were blessed by God.
He says: "I loved my Glentoran days and was so proud to be part of the club.
"I had stood on the terraces at the Oval watching the great Glentoran team of the late 80s and early 90s and then to get the chance to play and be part of a successful team under Roy Coyle was incredible.
"After I scored on my debut against Dungannon Swifts I was so overwhelmed I wore my Glens shirt from that night the next day so that everyone knew I had played for the club.
"I was just a kid then and I got my first Belfast Telegraph interview and I thought I was famous!
"When Motherwell wanted to sign me from Glentoran I felt it was a tough move for me to make but I went for it.
"I believed that God had blessed me in Northern Ireland and I wanted to keep him central when I moved on to the mainland.
"There were big name players in that Motherwell side when I went there like Andy Goram, the Rangers great, John Spencer, who also played at Rangers and Chelsea, Billy Davies, who went on to manage Nottingham Forest, Don Goodman, now a pundit on Sky Sports, Roberto Martinez, the current Everton boss, and Lee McCulloch, now the Rangers captain, and here was this little whipper snapper from east Belfast in the middle of them all.
"It was a major step up for me but I wanted to honour God in all that I did and I finished top scorer at Motherwell two seasons running and by the time I left I had 13 Northern Ireland caps so I believe I did a good job.
"It was a daunting dressing room to walk into and it was daunting for my family to leave home and our church but God had blessed me with the move and that's why I managed to do what I did at Motherwell."
After a successful spell at Fir Park came a switch to Hull, where again Elliott excelled.
He recalls: "The wonderful thing about moving to Hull from a Christian perspective was that there was a church in the city of Hull, affiliated to one I belonged to in Belfast and I went on to pastor that church which shows that God wanted me to make that particular move for a reason.
"At Hull I was top scorer for the club for four seasons running, won two promotions and played a lot for Northern Ireland, including in our famous 1-0 win over England at Windsor Park in September, 2005.
"That was probably the best time in my football career.
"However, nothing has ever beaten me doing the work of God."