I am sitting in a cubicle, the width of a Portaloo, handcuffed to the side. A fist keeps thumping the panel by me head. A voice keeps searching. 'Who's in that one? Who's in there? Cat got your fucking tongue, mate?' Doors are banging.
–P McGrath with Vincent Hogan - Back from the Brink - c. 2006 - Chap. 1 Borstal Boy - pg. 1
Paul McGrath is probably Ireland’s best loved sporting star. Known as god to many an Aston Villa fan, he was one of our greatest players ever. And we all knew he had a drinking problem, there were the disappearances. And a bit of rumour, but, as fans, we didn’t care. He played great football and that was all that mattered. Ooh Ahh Paul McGrath.
But McGrath didn’t just have a slight problem with drink, he had a huge battle with alcohol and depression, and the fans weren’t the only one who didn’t know the extent of his troubles.
[Kevin Moran:]So I walk around the side of the bed and there’s six bottles of Heineken, partially hidden, two or three of them empty.
And, for me, that’s when the penny drops. That’s the moment that slams it home to me. To think that, after all that’s happened this day, the thing he’s turned to is another drink. It may seem ridiculous having been his roommate for so long. But that’s the moment I realise the extent of Paul’s problem…
Somehow he managed to keep the suicide attempts hidden, playing football with wristbands to hide the scars. Somehow the stories of him drinking bleach never made it into the papers. And while some of his friends and teammates may have realised when he played while drunk, for most of watching he was just Paul McGrath, footballing genius.
This autobiography hides nothing, maybe it was a release for McGrath to get it all out and in the open, off his chest, but it is almost horrifying to read about all that he went through. All is problems, and how little he seems to realise how great he was. Lack of confidence off the pitch, and the impression that he didn’t belong in the company of his teammates. That is what comes through reading this book. When in fact he was the best out there.
It isn’t a straight walk through of McGrath’s life, the book hops around in time a little as he explains about certain things. In places other people narrate what happened, sometimes because McGrath can’t recall the events, sometimes to give a different point of view. And there is much of his personal life that he doesn’t go into, which is understandable, especially regarding his second wife.
A must read for any football fans.