Originally Posted by GipseT
Can some one cut and paste? please?
The big interview: Niall Quinn
David Walsh on the old warhorse who refuses to torture his body further, and is leaving a game he feels has been spoiled by foreign players
You think it should be emotional but it’s not. Seven years at a football club and when the end comes, you pick a quiet day, take a black bin-liner to the training ground, fill it with your old boots, sweat shirts, tops, socks. And move on. “Quinny was in this morning, got his stuff, that must be it for him then.”
Four days ago, Niall Quinn made that journey to Sunderland’s training ground at Whitbury: a 36-year-old footballer in the morning, an ex-footballer in the afternoon. With the team playing away at Arsenal, it was a good time to empty his locker. He picked up his two pairs of Nike boots, well worn and dull. Apprentices are no longer allowed to polish boots. But he liked his boots that way. Still liked to have them repaired at the cobbler’s.
He remembered, too, that Tracey, the manager’s secretary at Sunderland, had a spare mobile phone in her drawer. So he did a swap, his own dud for Tracey’s. And he could leave without taking some Voltarol. For two years, this old footballer was weaned on the stuff. It eased the pain and lessened the inflammation in his back. More than that, it masked the reality.
As he drove away from Whitbury, he thought about the end. The good times were over. For 12 years, he had soldiered with Peter Reid. Two old-timers, holding out for something they believed in. He isn’t sure why it went wrong, but he knows that when playing for Reid, it had been a pleasure to get up in the morning.
Sunderland brought in Howard Wilkinson and though Quinn had tried to play on under the new manager, it wasn’t to be. Not Wilkinson’s fault, not Quinn’s fault. Time had caught up on an old soldier. “Peter understood my situation, made allowances for the injuries. Howard works his players hard and, physically, I wasn’t able to give him what he wanted. Howard was up-front and honourable with me but I wasn’t any good to him. My body was no longer up to it,” he said.
Quinn went to see Mike Gibson, a surgeon based in Newcastle. “How would it feel if I said your career was finished now?” said Gibson. Quinn doesn’t remember what he said but there was no shock, no sadness. The surgeon told him what he already knew. For 18 months, he had seen it. He would tell people he was gone, washed up, unable to do it anymore. They said, give it one more season? “You only have to sit on the bench, play for the last 30 minutes.”
So he got to play for longer than he thought possible. Even Wilkinson had a mind to use Quinn in this way. In his first game at the Stadium of Light, the new manager sent on Quinn with 29 minutes remaining. The team still lost 1-0 to West Ham but the old striker almost tied the game with a shot that rebounded off the post.
He remembers driving home to Sedgefield with his wife, Gillian, that Saturday night.
“What did you think of today?” she asked.
“Ah, not much.”
“I thought you were unlucky, that shot was so unlucky. It would have made it so different.” So often in the past, Gillian has been his morale. Not this evening.
“No, I wasn’t unlucky. I should have had four or five chances. I didn’t get into the game. It felt like I was on the outside looking in. I just can’t do it anymore.”
Immediately after the game, his back went into spasm. The usual thing. Didn’t stop him taking a bath, just meant that he had to be helped out of it. The end had come without fanfare; a 1-0 defeat at home, some therapy, some stretching, a tube of Voltarol and a laboured walk through the darkness to his car.
Though the night was still young, the footballer was old.
THERE are loose ends to be tied. He has loved his time at Sunderland and wants the end to be as good as all that went before. His adviser, Michael Kennedy, has been talking with Sunderland about the remaining eight months on Quinn’s contract. The terms of the parting should be agreed this week.
And this afternoon at the Stadium of Light, another deal will be closed. Today Quinn hands over £1m to three charities. This is the money raised from a benefit game between Sunderland and The Republic of Ireland last April. He knows it couldn’t have happened without Sunderland’s chairman Bob Murray, the staff at the club, the FAI, the players and thousands of football fans.
And today, people will understand that football is not all about greed: £450,000 will be presented to Karina Butler from the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin (Dublin); £450,000 to Geoff Lawson from the Royal Hospital in Sunderland; and £100,000 to John O’Shea, who runs the Third World relief organisation GOAL. At Crumlin, the money will be used to build a new unit to treat children with infectious diseases. Sunderland’s hospital will have a new paediatric unit and GOAL will use the money to rescue kids caught up in child prostitution on Calcutta’s streets.
Quinn is pleased that the £1m target was reached. “There is pride but there’s also embarrassment. The exposure I have got for this doesn’t rest easy with me. In a few years, when the new hospital units are in place and there is no attention on me, I will be pleased I helped to make it happen. First though, it has to be taken out of the limelight. The one thing I will always remember is the way football people showed their true colours. There is still great heart in this game, especially up here,” he said.
Sunderland invited Quinn to accept the Freedom of the City. He turned it down. “I just didn’t deserve it. There are great people who do a lot of work in the city, who would merit it far more than I do. I appreciate that for Sunderland, it would have been good PR to give the Freedom of the City to someone like me but it wouldn’t have been right. I didn’t want to say no to the city but I couldn’t say yes,” he said.
“A big thing in my mind is that plenty of other sportsmen are doing similar things and no one talks about them. Laurent Blanc organised a charity match in France the other night and raised almost £1m for flood victims. There is word that David Beckham is going to have a big charity game. If such games catch on, I can live with the embarrassment that came with mine.”
Quinn leaves the game with enough money to be able to do what he wants to in the future. He will have to work but has the financial wherewithal to choose his new career. First though, some time out. This last year has been tough and the well from which he draws his enthusiasm has been depleted.
Sunderland’s poor form has been a constant, Ireland’s World Cup turned out to be a bitter-sweet experience and when it was over, only the sweetness disappeared. Reid got sacked. Then last week Mick McCarthy. Men he worked with, men he stood by. What was it for? For the team, he would say. Because on the bad days, you’re in it together. And yet he knows it doesn’t work like that anymore.
The game he discovered at Arsenal 19 years ago is not the game he leaves. And when he kids himself about not missing the Saturday afternoons and mid-evenings, he thinks pasta and agents and psychologists and footballers who think only of themselves. As a kid at Arsenal, the part that he most loved was the coach journey after the team had won away from home.
There would be cans of beer and laughter and camaraderie and the sense of achievement. Unwilling to let that feeling die, the players found a pub when they got back to London. Teams were forged on those journeys and during the sessions that followed. Reid came from the same school and on journeys home after Sunderland won, he directed the bus driver off the motorway and into a quiet village pub. Quinn loved it.
“Even though we were off the beaten track, fans would drive by, beep their horns and remind us of what it was all for. Doesn’t happen any more in the game. And we stopped doing it too: our foreign brethren had to be home for their yoga teacher. I’ve seen this great change in our football culture and I don’t think it’s as good for the game as people think. “On paper, the view of the foreign player makes sense. You eat better, you look after yourself better and no fan can ever say he saw you drunk in the pub. But often the dedication of the foreign player stops when he drives out of the club’s car park. The thrill of doing it as a group can help you more than one individual eating pasta for the five days before the next game.
“I was in Manchester when Alex Ferguson’s team was becoming a force. They’re not big drinkers but you used to see them out together. At Sunderland we stopped calling into pubs on the way home because it was clear the foreign lads didn’t want to be there. As a replacement for this, the manager organised things like a paint-balling day in the hills but you could see the foreign lads were there on sufferance. How long do we have to stay? Can we go now? “People say they prepare better than us. I think you are better prepared when your team spirit is at its pinnacle. Getting that right is as important as training itself. There are tons of people in the game, non-football people in my opinion, who have become very influential because they know about diet and physiology and psychology. They are clever people but their point of view is not as important as it is made out to be.
“In the teams that I played, the ones that did best were the teams that went out and died for each other. I look around at the teams in today’s Premiership, with their five or six foreign players, and I ask myself ‘if I was on their team, would I die for them?’ No I wouldn’t because I know they would never die for me.”
In part, Reid was a victim of the changed culture. He would stand before the players and tell them that at the very least, the opposition should have to work incredibly hard to beat them. But the spirit that took the team to the Premiership and allowed it climb into the top 10 had waned. “In the end, Peter had a very tough job. Did we as players work hard enough to get out of it? No. Were we in the comfort zone? Yes. Those of us who had been at the club from the beginning of Peter’s reign were earning four or five times what we were getting at the start. Were we working harder? No. That tells a story. In time, people will fully realise what a fantastic job Peter Reid did at Sunderland.” The paths of Quinn and Reid could soon cross again. Reid is listed among the candidates to manage Ireland and if appointed, it is likely he would want Quinn as part of his backroom team. “There is the possibility that Roy Keane wouldn’t play if I was involved and in that case, I wouldn’t be involved,” says Quinn. “This may sound contradictory: I have no desire to be a coach and yet I don’t believe I could ever say no to Peter Reid.”
Quinn is still asked about Keane and McCarthy and Saipan and how it all went wrong. How the most-together international team became the most divided? He wrote a book and tried to get it all out of his system. “I say ‘look, it is there in the book, complexity upon complexity, calamity upon calamity’. It was a horrible experience from which no person can take anything good. Not Mick, not Roy, not the FAI, not the players, not the media, not me.
“Sometimes I feel guilty when I think of how Roy must have felt when none of us bothered to go up to his room in that Saipan hotel and see him the morning we left. How bad was he feeling, knowing he was about to miss the greatest show in football? Normally I am good in situations like that but I got it wrong that morning. That will always be a regret. But the book is out there now and I want to leave it at that. I can never feel good about it but it’s over.”
Though Quinn feels sympathy for McCarthy, he believes that the only way that the Irish team can begin again is to have Keane back. “Ultimately my sympathy is not with Mick or Roy but with the team. Five months ago everything seemed so promising: the team, the fans, the prospects at the World Cup. We waited for the Ireland of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff to go to a level higher than anything Jack Charlton had achieved. Instead we found ourselves an Irish joke. Did anyone else cause this? No, we brought it entirely on ourselves.”
A few days before the start of the World Cup, an emotional Quinn said some time in the future he would bring his daughter Aisling and his son Michael to Lansdowne Road to see Roy Keane play for Ireland. That still holds, he says. This ability to see beyond the perceived grievances and to bear no animosity is part of Quinn’s nature. Saint Niall, always prepared to make up.
The halo, though, is not constantly in place. They still talk in Sunderland of the scene in the manager’s office after the game with Manchester United. Keane had been sent off and Quinn’s attempted handshake with his former international teammate had drawn the wrath of Ferguson. When they met afterwards, Ferguson accused Quinn of having deliberately tried to provoke the Manchester United captain.
The accusation incensed Quinn and the conflagration that followed astonished all those who saw it. At first it was two men having a serious disagreement, then Quinn’s anger rose to a point where he was doing most of the talking. Ferguson backed away and sat down, Quinn kept going, Ferguson turned away, Quinn kept on. Reid suggested everyone should have a drink but knew he had to let the player’s fire burn itself out. Eventually, it did. Quinn had done a Keane on Ferguson, someone said.
A year or so from now, he imagines himself in a County Kildare field shovelling horse manure into a wheelbarrow. The picture makes him smile for it is a life he would willingly embrace. In his ideal future, there is Gillian, Aisling, Michael and horses. Plenty of horses. Through the tough days of the last year, the horses were a comfort. He might have been sitting in watching a movie on television and though it was cold and miserable outside, he looked forward to seeing the horses. They waited for him, depended upon him. He liked being among them. He loves the smell of horses.
Since he moved to Sedgefield with Gillian seven years ago, they have kept a few mares. They now breed from three of them and Bernice, God bless her reproductive system, has turned out to be a little star. They have a couple of horses in training with the North Yorkshire trainer, Kevin Ryan, and through Sunderland’s travails and Ireland’s self-destruction, the horses just flew.
“Our two horses with Kevin both had good seasons and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better year punting,” Quinn said. Halmahera, whom he owns in partnership with a friend, John Duddy, finished second in the Stewards Cup at Goodwood and went on to win the Portland Handicap at Doncaster. Quinn can’t talk about the gallant seven-year-old without recalling his own folly.
“We did something wrong with Halmahera. When he won the Portland, Kevin’s stable jockey, Fergal Lynch, was injured and Darryl Holland had the ride. A week later he was favourite for the Ayr Gold Cup and though Fergal was available, we decided to go with Darryl. It was an horrendous decision for somebody who is in the game for the reasons I am,” he said. “It was wrong because this winter, at seven in the morning, Fergal, who is a bloody good jockey, will be riding our horses when we’re tucked up in bed. Without making me feel absolutely terrible, Kevin let me know it was a mistake. Me telling Kevin I wanted a different jockey was like him trying to tell me how to play football.
“I think the world of Kevin, who is one of the best young trainers in England and has the kind of passion for his sport that I adore. We would meet at a pub near his stables on a Sunday night, we would talk about his runners for the following week and he would tell me what he thought.”
Quinn gambled on the strength of Ryan’s judgment and had a profitable year. Now you don’t need to ask which is his first love, racing or football, because the answer is obvious. He has a dream about buying some land and establishing a high class stud farm in Ireland.
“With our three mares, the last seven years have been a fantastic education and it actually paid for itself. What I would like to do now is get some investment, buy some serious mares and give this a real go,” he said.
There are other options. He has bought into two pubs in Ireland and a friend wants him to get involved in health and fitness clubs, also in Ireland. Television and newspapers have offered him work and he sees it as a distinct possibility. But ultimately nothing excites him as much as breeding racehorses. “At night, when I’m watering the horses and giving them hay, I’m there talking to them and feeling totally content. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been on a bender all day, I want to be there. Michael White, sales director at Doncaster, comes to look at our yearlings before they go to the sales. Once he said to me, ‘if only everybody looked after their horses like you do’. Michael will never know how much that meant to me.”
The future may already be decided.