MEETING CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

 

On a warm summer’s evening in June, 1990, the whole of Italy – and Ireland - came to a standstill. In the Olympic Stadium in Rome, the Republic of Ireland team prepared to take on the Italians in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The Captain of the Irish squad was Yorkshire born Mick McCarthy, former Manchester City and Millwall player. He laughs as he remembers the moment the two teams met. ‘The Italians were jumping about, stretching and messing with hair and boots. They looked very nervous’. Turning to his boys. he told them. ‘They’re nervous . let’s go and do ‘em’. And they did!

That was the day Mick McCarthy became Captain Fantastic. That was also11 years ago. These days Captain Fantastic is the Manager of The Republic of Ireland football team and lives locally in Bromley with his wife Fiona and their three children. Anna (16), Katie (14) and Michael (12).

Although brought up in Barnsley, Yorkshire, Mick thinks of himself as Irish. As a child he was very aware of his Irish heritage. ‘My Dad, who had come over from Waterford, would always tell us we were half-Irish’. Brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, he attended Our Lady’s Junior School together with his brother Kevin and sister Catherine.

It was when he was 13, that Mick decided he wanted to be a footballer even though he was constantly told he was not good enough!

‘Even the day I signed on as an Apprentice with Barnsley, I was told I wasn’t good enough by one of my former teachers’. He laughs. ‘I haven’t done too bad, though’.

Mick has come a long way from that 13yearold wannabee footballer. From Barnsley to Manchester City, Celtic to Millwall to Republic of Ireland. ‘I’m doing what I want to do. I’m Manager/coach of the Republic of Ireland but there are still unfulfilled ambitions. I miss the day-to-day running of the football club and the inter-action with footballers on a daily basis.’

His son Michael, who attends Bishops Challoner School in Bromley, loves playing football for his school but his father does not see him following him into the sport. ‘He hasn’t had the background of it like I did. These days the kids can’t play in the streets.’ Mick’s father often played football with him and Mick claims he learnt much of his football skills from his Dad. ‘He played with us when he could ‘he worked 12-hour shifts every day. He drove articulated lorries ..’ Mick also thanks his parents for his values and balanced outlook on life. ‘I have a chip on both shoulders’, he jokes.

Did being a Catholic in sport cause him any problems?

‘I’ve had a big involvement with Catholics in sports ‘cause I played for Celtic. Celtic versus Rangers is the big battle. It is huge and very much for real. There is huge rivalry even in life. A lot of people only take the mantle up four times a year when the games are played but a lot of other people would be anti Catholic or anti Protestant. at all times’

When he joined Celtic, it was a big surprise to him. ‘I knew it happened but I had no idea of what to expect. You know, I’d be in a pub and someone would call out ‘you dirty Finian b******. It didn’t happen to me too often. Being 6’2” and 14 stone probably helped’. He admits that for the first twelve months it did have an affect on him. ‘I t did tend to taint my feelings towards Rangers and their supporters. In Glasgow you are either one of the other.’

He remembers going away to the European Championships in ’88. ‘Being away from it, being out of that environment, the penny dropped and I thought ‘what’s it all about’. It’s nonsense. There I was playing against the Dutch, the Germans, the French, Egyptians. No one mentioned religion. I never let it bother me again. If someone wants to call me a name because I’m a Catholic, it’s their problem. Not mine. It genuinely doesn’t bother me’...

The complete interview was commissioned for the launch of 'Spirit' Magazine, 2004.

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