Friday 28 July 2017

'Don't do it! You'll crack the lad's skull' - Paul McGrath on the shenanigans the night before Italia 90 quarter-final

Paul McGrath and John Aldridge
Paul McGrath and John Aldridge

Conor Neville

Twelve years before Roy Keane voiced his outrage at being presented with cheese sandwiches on the eve of a qualifier, the Irish football team prepared for the biggest game in their history by knocking back pints and cracking spoons off people's heads.

Paul McGrath appeared on the Late Late Show last night where he talked about his life, career and everything. McGrath presumably has a pain in his face repeating the same stories at this stage but Ryan Tubridy knows what the people want.

The anecdotes about Big Jack's distinctly pre-Wengerian approach to alcohol and pre-match nutrition have become a genre all of their own.

But the Irish tournament tradition of cracking spoons off people's heads has a hidden history. The night of the infamous Saipan barbecue with the media ended in a marathon and very violent game of spoons in the hotel bar. Legend has it a number of prominent sports journalists had their craniums re-contoured. 

And now, 12 years before that, at Ireland's first World Cup in 1990, Paul McGrath revealed that several innocent members of the squad suffered a similar fate.

John Aldridge was the villain in chief. McGrath says the story began with a knock at the door.

"To be honest, I was asleep. But then we got a knock at the door and Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan said 'Jack's ordered a few kegs of Guinness in from Ireland and he said you're allowed go down to the bar and have two or three drinks. Now, saying that to us is like saying that 'you're allowed have as much as you want'."

"Myself and Kevin roomed together. And we were thinking, don't be so ridiculous, look we've got a really important match tomorrow, go away.

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"And back came the knock saying, 'it's true, he's letting us have a few pints!' So, we're walking past the police and they've all got the guns and stuff. And we walk into the pub and obviously the Guinness starts flowing and the lads start playing games with these people who we don't even know.

"(The game) was cracking people on the heads with spoons and stuff. But the funny thing was John Aldridge actually had a ladle. It wasn't a spoon at all.

"You had to hold a normal spoon in your mouth and hit the person on the head with it. It doesn't really hurt them. But John had a ladle.

"And honestly, when it was his (Aldridge's) turn to do it, we were all going, 'don't do it, you'll crack the lad's skull'.

"Well, he lifted it into the air and walloped him on the head. And I thought that was a bit of order because I think he drew blood as well. And your man (who was hit) was trying to laugh it off. He was all over the place to be honest.

"And John Aldridge was lying on the floor laughing. Because he found it very funny. And all the carbonari were all talking to each other going, this is the team that's playing our boys tomorrow."

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