The Black Pearl of Dalkey, Inchicore, Manchester and latterly Birmingham

I am not a big reader when not at my job. I’d be lucky to get through (cover to cover) a half dozen books in a year. I read a lot of newspapers and online commentary but not entire books. Fiction bores me for the most part; keeping track of all those characters is something I didn’t develop as a child. I read a little science fiction once in a while but only short stories. It might be fair to say that I flirt with reading, never committing fully and then blame them for not being what they promised they would be.

All that being said though, I picked up a paperback copy of Paul McGrath’s shadowed book Back from the Brink last weekend in Sligo and finished it last night having read through large swathes of it in a few sessions. I do like biographies and this was one I liked very much. McGrath was a fantastic footballer and I’ve watched him perhaps 35 times on the pitch at Lansdowne at international games. The book is principally about the struggles that he has had off the pitch and although it reads sometimes like every other footballer’s biography (‘I knew then that my time with United was over’ kind of thing) there are a few key chapters that recall what an inhuman place Ireland was in the late 1950s and 1960s and the difficulties that McGrath has faced in trying to make up for that time.

Tranquillizers, vodka, wine, beer and the odd bottle of Domestos made up the off-pitch life of McGrath who responded badly to changes in his life – transitions to new orphanages and later clubs – and fundamentally just missed his mum. She is given a chapter in the beginning of the book and her story alone tells you an awful lot about the hypocritical tenor of the times: have your baby by a Nigerian man but go to England to do it and then come back and hand him straight to an institution of the Church. What an awful country, crazed on its own sense of self righteousness. We are repeating the same mistakes now with the free market having replaced the holier-than-thou attitudes.

Kevin Moran, former United team mate and international room mate, claims to have known little about Paul’s alcohol / drug / household cleaner troubles until later in the 1990s. This probably says more about the culture within football in the 1980s than Moran but a problem remains: how much crying out for help did McGrath have to do before that second attempt on his own life?

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