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Still Getting His Kicks
With his debut album about to hit the racks, football legend Paul McGrath talks to Jackie Hayden about music, how soccer has lost its physical side, the fate of the current Irish team, his bust up with Alex Ferguson, the contrasting managerial styles of Giovanni Trapattoni and Jack Charlton, John Fashanu breaking his teeth, Norman Whiteside climbing out windows, and laughing at Vinnie Jones.
Jackie Hayden, 07 Oct 2011
Did you experience racism when you were playing?
Oh, yeah, quite a lot of it.
On the pitch?
Not really on the pitch, but more from fans of other teams, people who were showing off maybe. Or people thinking they were being smart. Most of it is just stupid stuff and the best way of dealing with it is to ignore it. It’s never pleasant.
Would opposing players not use racist comments to taunt you even if they didn’t really mean it? Steve Staunton once told me players used to call him a Fenian bastard, even though they probably didn’t know what a Fenian was. They’d try it on just to rile him.
No, I don’t recall anything like that happening to me on the pitch to any great extent. Besides, there is a point where if a player is having to try so desperately to put one over on you like that it would more than likely make me laugh, because I’d feel I already had the measure of him and that he knew it.
So what players did you laugh at?
Vinnie Jones. He was actually hilarious when he was with Wimbledon. When the teams would be lined up in the tunnel before the match he’d be shouting and roaring at the opposing team, telling us what he was going to do to us once we got out on to the pitch. We just used to laugh back at him. It was like he was playing a part, and he later actually became a film actor. Professional players know that the only way to react to that kind of stuff is to laugh your head off at it.
The atmosphere at some matches, especially against Continental teams, often seems to be extremely hostile. Were you ever scared or worried something might happen to you?
Not at all. Never. It all added to the excitement of the occasion and maybe even helped you to play better. I remember playing somewhere like Turkey, possible against Fenerbahce. The team bus was crawling through throngs of people. We could see that some of them seemed to be shooting guns into the air and they were holding banners up calling us all sorts of names. I always felt totally safe. If anything, it was really exciting and gave an extra edge to a game and maybe to the way you played as well. I suppose if there were guns there really was the possibility that they could actually shoot you, and you had no way of protecting yourself against that happening during a match. It’s never happened and I was never worried about coming to any harm.