Paul Kimmage talks to Tony Cascarino: Still in love with the game and the intrigue of Roy Keane
Published 25/05/2014 | 17:00
A Tuesday morning at Luton airport. He's sitting in a coffee shop, wrestling with his wallet and talking on his mobile phone, when I enter the arrivals hall.
“I can't hear you.”
“Hold on, please.”
He hands me a tenner, gestures towards the counter, and I've just placed the order — skinny mocha for him, espresso for me — when he comes striding towards me with his credit card raised.
“Just hold on please . . . Paul, what's that number?”
“The three on the back.”
“Hello? Yeah, it's 778.”
He has left an open wallet lying on the table.
“Sorry? You want the expiry date?”
He's wearing a blue, patterned, short-sleeved shirt . . .
“Paul, what's the expiry on that?”
. . . a pair of knee-length khaki shorts . . .
. . . and canvas shoes he has converted to slip-ons by trampling on the heels.
Meet Tony Cascarino, the tallest, funniest, and most unfootball-like footballer, I have ever known.
Twenty years have passed since I interviewed him for the first time. It was my first assignment for the Sunday Independent and I'd been sent to the south of France to write about his remarkable transformation as goal-scoring hero of Marseilles. It went well. Cas was a great story and easy to love . . . unless you happened to be married to him.
On my second evening in the city, we went for a stroll along the sea front to the Vieux Port, where he asked me to wait a moment as he slipped into the hotel opposite the harbour. After 15 minutes he emerged and waved to a woman on the sixth floor. He never explained who Virginia Masson was, and I never asked until five years later when we sat down to write Full Time, the story of his life.
There was a lot of pain in Full Time but it was a story with a happy ending: Tony and Virginia were married in June 2000 and looked rock solid for the eight years that followed. Then, out of nowhere, the marriage was gone and Virginia had left for France with the (three) kids. Tony was distraught and as angry as I had ever seen him.
It took him a long time to find his feet. He met Jo James, an old flame of his friend, Teddy Sheringham. They started dating, bought a house, and on Tuesday, when they welcomed me into their Hertfordshire home, the plan was to shoot the breeze about his last game as an international, against Turkey, Ireland’s opponents in Dublin this evening.
I wasn't expecting a hurricane.
1 FULL TIME
The final minutes of the game flash like seconds. Six are added for injuries and stoppages and though I reach and stretch and strain every sinew, nothing drops for me or the team. When the final whistle blows, ecstatic Turkish players and officials come swarm
ing on to the pitch, but for me, there is only the painful sting of failure and the seething frustration that losing brings.
‘Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino’
Paul Kimmage: Tony, what do you remember of your last 10 minutes as an international footballer?
Tony Cascarino: I came on and the centre-half who was picking me up was holding onto me and doing the usual stuff. But he spat at me a couple of times and I remember thinking, ‘If we get knocked out here, I'm going to go for you'.
PK: And you did.
TC: Yeah, and it was typical of me that I'd always do the daftest thing at the daftest moment — there were 40,000 crazy Turks in the stadium!
PK: Remind us what happened.
TC: The game ended and he ran across and started mouthing at me. I flicked out my foot and he tripped and the next thing he has just lumped me. I was shocked to be still standing, to be honest. I thought: ‘Cor! I can take a good punch'. And then I went for him and within seconds it was mayhem. A few of the police hit me with batons. I remember saying to one of them: ‘You're meant to protect me, not hit me!’ Tony Hickey (the FAI security officer) got me out. We went back to the dressing room and there were cuts all over my face and Keaney was there and he just looked at me but said nothing. It was a really weird ending because I left the team at the airport.
PK: You were going back to France?
TC: Yeah, I was (playing) at Nancy and left the team at the airport in Turkey and that was it. My international career had ended in a horrible . . . well, I say horrible, most things end horribly in life, but it was weird.
PK: You say that most things end horribly in life but you read the epilogue in Full Time and it's almost the perfect ending. You have this brilliant career in France that no one would have imagined, marry a lovely French girl and look all set to live happily ever after.
TC: Fucking hell! How wrong could I have been? I've been divorced twice. I have three kids living with their mum in Tahiti that I haven't seen in 18 months. I've got a sack of emails (from his former wife) you just wouldn't believe and it has really hurt me. I look at the damage and wonder, ‘How did we get married? Why did we have children?' And I point the finger at myself because I'm the common denominator. The cover of my book says ‘Full Time' but I keep thinking it should be ‘Fool Time'. And it has been really weird how things have panned out, but we instigate a lot of it ourselves with the decisions we make.
PK: What did you instigate? What was your weakness?
TC: In a way, I'm cannon fodder for a certain type of woman and easily manipulated.
PK: But is that not absolving yourself of responsibility? You said the common denominator in all of this is you.
TC: And it is.
PK: So is it that you're attracted to the wrong type of woman or . . .
TC: Do you want me to simplify it for you?
TC: Giuseppe is rowing away from his home on the shore in a boat; his wife is on the balcony pleading with him.
‘Giuseppe, where are you going?’
‘I've had enough. I'm not coming back.’
‘What about the kids?’
‘I don't care about the kids.’
‘What about me?’
‘I don't care about you.’
‘What about this?’
She raises her skirt above her hips and he starts rowing furiously back to the shore: ‘Coming’. (Laughs) That's been my ultimate problem. I can't explain it any other way without it sounding like bullshit.
PK: But that's not just your problem, that's our (the male) problem.
TC: Yeah, but some of us are more vulnerable than others and I was vulnerable. And I think having no father was another part of it.
PK: You did have a father — he just beat the crap out you.
TC: Yeah, but he wasn't a ‘dad'. I didn't have a role model, someone who can nurture you, and guide you and teach you the rights and wrongs. Now I don't want to sound like I think I'm unlucky because I haven't been unlucky at all. There's an independence about me that has got me to where I am.
PK: Because you've done well, really well, since retirement.
TC: Yeah. I've been (a columnist) with The Times for 13 years and have just signed a new deal; I'm an ambassador for Ladbrokes and do a column for the Irish Sun. I work for Sky Sports News at least once a week and do a slot with Today FM (‘The Last Word’). So yeah, I've done really well and have loved every moment of it. I've survived two divorces and still have a nice lifestyle and am trying to do the best I can in a difficult situation.
PK: What has been the most difficult?
TC: Well, obviously the kids are the biggest issue because I've got three living in Tahiti.
PK: And they're not going to have a father, either?
TC: No. I haven't seen Josh (7) or Maeva (18) since February of last year. Will (13) is coming over in June for two months and the flight costs for him are £2,500. Multiply that by three and you're talking about £10,000 per trip for flights, which is absolute madness. And there will never be an end to the problems, I've realised that for about a year now. So I just have to try and deal with it without (pauses) . . .
PK: Allowing it to destroy you?
PK: When you were talking about the Turkey game, you said it was typical of you to do something crazy at the worst time. What are the other crazy things you've done?
TC: I've done some pretty mad personal things in my life.
PK: For example?
TC: That would take another book.
PK: (Laughs) What can you say that won't get us into trouble?
TC: I just think I have a self-destruct button at times. People have told me I'm streetwise but every now and again I'll hit the self-destruct button. For the last year I've been seeing a therapist because I couldn't deal with it. I thought I could deal with it myself but I can't, so I had to seek help to try and understand how long I was going to be angry.
PK: About the kids and breakup of your marriage?
PK: Has it helped?
TC: Yes it has. I've realised that I had to stop being angry because I was getting myself into a right state. In the last year, I've done things with money that I would never have dreamt I'd have done.
PK: You're talking about gambling?
PK: But you've always been very disciplined about that? You keep an account of what you have won and where you are going; you know the games you cannot play in (with the high-rollers) and you know when to fold and run?
TC: Yeah, it's all documented. I've got it all written down.
PK: So what happened?
TC: I went into a casino at the Ritz Hotel in London one night and lost about £13,000 playing cards. I got a bit a unlucky — it can happen — Teddy (Sheringham) was in the game and was down a few quid as well. It was about two in the morning and we walked across to the roulette
table. Normally, we'll put 50 quid on a number before going home but I'd been talking to solicitors all week and the cards had really stung and it was a moment of madness really. I thought: ‘Fuck it! I'm going to spin it up'. I put £20,000 on red.
PK: What does ‘spin it up' mean?
TC: To double it, I was going to chance my luck basically, like flipping a coin. And I could see Teddy looking at me from across the table but the £20,000 came in.
PK: You won?
TC: Yeah. I'm driving home and the phone rings, it's Ted. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he said. ‘I've watched you playing cards for years and you've never done anything as stupid as that.’ I tried to make an excuse that a lot had happened that week but he was right. I'd paid for two divorces by playing poker and being disciplined but this was car crash; this was how you go skint. I couldn't afford to do 20 grand.
PK: But that was a one-off?
TC: No, I'd done it before. And Teddy didn't know I'd done it before. He'd just seen me on this occasion.
PK: And before? Did you win?
TC: I lost a 20, won a 20 and lost a 13.
PK: So you're ahead?
TC: Yeah, but you're going to lose because you're spinning coins when you're on the wrong end of the odds.
2 The Messiah
Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah.
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
‘Monty Python: The Life of Brian’
PK: There's World Cup coming up. Does that excite you?
TC: I love the World Cup; 1970 is probably my earliest memory of football, being at my (paternal) granddad's flat in Elephant and Castle and listening to him
slaughtering the Italians after they lost the final. And maybe it’s just nostalgia getting the better of me, but that still feels like the most amazing World Cup I have seen.
PK: Apart from the two you played in, obviously.
TC: Yeah. I played one in Italy, which is an incredible place to play. And I played one in America, which isn't. You're walking down the street and some guy says, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing here? Oh, the soccer World Cup? Yeah, we've heard about that’. To play in a World Cup in South America would have been my dream but this tournament to me will bring back memories of the '70's and I'm looking forward to every game.
PK: Given your memories of your Italian grandfather in 1970, it must have felt odd when you played there for Ireland 20 years later?
TC: It did, everybody knew me. There were numerous occasions at the hotels where someone would say, ‘One of your family is at the gate’. And I'd go out and there'd be some distant relation looking for tickets but I'd have no idea who they were. If there was an O'Malley (his mother's maiden name) playing for Italy at the World Cup, everyone would say, ‘Well, he must be Irish’. But it was very strange.
(I walk across the room and take a small, framed portrait of the team from Italia '90.)
PK: Tell me about this?
TC: That's the only thing I've got hanging up from my football days. Jo (his partner) put it there. She got all of my caps cleaned and has been pushing me to hang them up: ‘Why would you not show what you've achieved?’ But I don't want a shrine. I look at the letters and the shirts and it feels really good but it doesn't make me want to put them out.
PK: Where are they?
TC: They're all in the garage.
PK: So that was Jo's pick?
PK: It was interesting that she chose a photo from Cagliari?
TC: She didn't choose it; she just liked the picture and showed it to me. I said, ‘That was 1990, a great experience’.
PK: Mick McCarthy described it as the ultimate experience of his career. Was starting against England that day the ultimate experience in your career?
TC: At the time, most definitely; I can remember the build-up and doing the pre-match interviews with Jack and it was as close as you can get to a World Cup final for us. And we were a better team than them. I think we underachieved from '88 to '94. Everyone talks about it as our most successful period but I think we could have gone further. I think we had a really good side. But playing for Ireland was, without a doubt, my greatest experience. Anything I experienced at club level didn't come close. And yet, somebody told me a few years ago that I hold the European record for coming on and going off (as a substitute), which is not an achievement you should be proud of (laughs).
PK: What about these other guys in the photo (Chris Morris, Steve Staunton, Packie Bonner, Mick McCarthy, Paul McGrath, John Aldridge, Kevin Sheedy, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, Kevin Moran)? Do you still keep in touch?
TC: Andy (Townsend) is a good friend. I've known him since I was 11 and we played on the same Sunday team, but they're all good lads. I look at Sheeds who has been battling cancer for the last year or so, and I was close to Sheeds. I really liked Kevin.
TC: He was calm and a great footballer, not that being a great footballer mattered, but I just thought he was a good lad, a nice lad, and someone I enjoyed being around. I haven't seen Sheeds or Chris Morris for years but if we met tomorrow, we'd give each other a big hug. And I would say all of that team would be the same and that takes a lot of doing for a whole team.
PK: So what was it? What made that?
TC: We were like a group of mates playing football together.
PK: You got a jersey signed after your last game in Turkey.
TC: Did I?
PK: It's in the book.
TC: Okay, I must have done so.
PK: One of the names on the shirt was Roy Keane. ‘We have always got on well,’ you said. But it didn't last?
TC: No, it was a bit like my marriage. In fact, the day I knew it was all over with my missus, was the day he finished as Sunderland manager and I went on radio and let him have it. (Laughs) I wasn't in a great frame of mind.
PK: What was your criticism based on?
TC: The way he handled his players. Roy has a lot of qualities but I think one area where he has always struggled is dealing with people. I remember one incident with Jason McAteer before a game; we were sitting around the dinner table and Jason says, ‘Roy mate’ and Roy stops him and says, ‘I'm not your mate’. And Jason says, ‘What?’ And Roy says, ‘You said mate. I'm not your mate. I don't have mates in football’. Jason was just a kid at the time but Roy went for him and totally embarrassed him. And I remember saying to Roy at the time: ‘What did you do that for? He's just a kid’. But that's enough about Keaney.
PK: No, tell me some more, everyone is fascinated by him.
TC: Well, I am.
PK: You are?
TC: I was fascinated by his comments the other week when he mentioned the horoscope.
(In a recent interview with the Irish Independent, Keane said he had made the decision to become a pundit after consulting his horoscope: “There'd always been offers and I'd always said no,” he says. “But I was offered the Champions League final between United and Barcelona at Wembley. I really wanted to see the match but didn't want to be bothering anyone for tickets. ITV got in touch through my lawyer on the Wednesday. They called at 11:45am and said they needed an answer by 12pm. In that 15 minutes, I looked at my horoscope and it said something like ‘You can't keep saying no to things'. So I said yes.”)
TC: I thought that was hilarious. It was so Roy.
PK: I don't know, for me that doesn't sound like him at all. I can't imagine him checking his horoscope for anything.
TC: Well, what I meant by ‘so' Roy is that there's some stuff I don't believe from him, and yet there's other stuff . . . Do you know what he used to call Mick McCarthy?
PK: Go on.
TC: Phoney hard man.
PK: Phoney hard man?
TC: Yeah, I remember him telling me once, ‘He's a phoney hard man'. He didn't believe Mick was a tough Yorkshire lad because he had tested him in '92, remember?
PK: The incident on the bus.
TC: Yeah, on that famous (US) tour. Mick didn't get involved, he was just taken aback like everyone else, but in Roy's mind Mick had backed away and he was always looking for that challenge again. I can remember training sessions where you just knew he was testing Mick, and for me Saipan was the ultimate.
PK: The ultimate test?
TC: Yeah, I mean, you talk to the people at Man United — and it wasn't just Teddy who told me this — but he carried on like that with Fergie; he undermined Fergie on numerous occasions or moments in the dressing room when he should have been challenged but was let go. It happened with Jaap Stam; he had a right go at Jaap Stam and all of the guys were like. ‘Ahh, Jaap’. They thought Stam might be the one to . . .
PK: To stand up to him?
TC: Yeah. And that's what Roy did, he challenged people all of the time. He did it to me at
Heathrow Airport. We'd had a few drinks before we got on the plane, it might have been before that US tour, and he came up to me when I was taking a piss: “You f**king big c***!” I said: “Have you had a few drinks, Roy?” And I washed my hands and walked off but he did that to certain people. That's how he was. That's how he worked.
PK: But he was obviously drinking then?
TC: Yeah, which we understood.
PK: And you made allowances for him?
TC: No, he got away with it because he was a good footballer. As a manager, you can't clash with your best players; they're the first person on your team sheet when they're good, and the first person out the door when they're not good. That's my only answer. I don't question Mick and I don't question Fergie and I'm not saying they were afraid of him, but there was always a consequence when you clashed with Roy. Think about those two endings, Saipan and United. They were not little fall-outs; they were major disaster areas. I think if Fergie was brutally honest he would say that managing Keane was the most difficult thing he had to do in his career. And Mick would be the same. He (Keane) gave an interview to one of the papers (The Sunday Times) last weekend that was full of contradictions. He was asked how he would have managed himself in Saipan and he said, I wouldn't have acted like that.
Q: As a manager how would you have dealt with a player like yourself in that situation.
A: It wouldn't have happened if I was the manager.
Q: The preparation?
A: Not just the preparation, but criticising or questioning a senior player in front of a group of players. That would never happen.
PK: What's the contradiction?
TC: Everything with Roy is a contradiction, that's why we can't get him. When I read that he wouldn't have dealt with himself like that, it's just absolute garbage because if the two of them had met in real life, it would have been a car crash.
PK: You mean Roy the player and Roy the manager?
TC: Yeah, I can't think of a worse scenario. They would have been at each other's throats.
PK: So, again, his flaw is his inability to deal with people?
TC: Yeah, and that's what I find intriguing about his role with Ireland. I can understand why it was done; we had a half-empty stadium for internationals and needed to generate some enthusiasm and put bums on seats. So I understand the whole logic and Martin O'Neill is very good at dealing with people. Look at his career, he has dealt with some difficult characters, people like Stan Collymore, and they've all loved him and worked well with him. There's a calmness about Martin, he's a bit like a therapist, and he knows he can handle Keane because he's a really sharp guy. So it's a really weird structure and I've no idea how it will end but in some ways this is the last-chance saloon for Roy.
PK: In terms of his management career?
TC: Yeah, and being out of football is a scary prospect, even for Roy. Why else would he have done punditry? He hated it. He admitted he hated it.
PK: He looked at his horoscope.
TC: (Laughs) Yeah.
PK: You've obviously watched him on TV. What's your opinion of him as a pundit?
TC: I've always admired the brutal honesty of Irish punditry. I watch the Irish channels and things get said in Ireland that would not get said in England. There are too many cliques over here, they're friends with the Redknapps or pals with the managers and they don't want to upset the applecart. But they've got to say something bad about someone so it's always ‘Johnny Foreigner' who gets it in the neck. That doesn't happen in Ireland. People like Dunphy and Giles just call it as they see it and Roy has brought a bit of that to the table. When he was asked about Fergie (after Ferguson had released his book), you knew he would say something that would touch a nerve. We haven't seen that on TV over here. People like Eamon Dunphy are whipped off.
PK: So why hasn't Keane been whipped off?
TC: Because he's the Messiah.
PK: The Messiah?
TC: Have you seen the Life of Brian? ‘He's the Messiah. He's the Messiah’.
PK: Of punditry?
TC: (Laughs) Yeah, and in some strange way, because he is such a huge name and isn't really upsetting anybody, it's working for him.
PK: Right, that's enough Keane.
TC: (Laughs) I could give you 20 articles about him.
PK: Do you think any of them would make his book?
TC: I don't know.
PK: Do you think he has the ability to stand back from himself and see his faults? Because that's something you've always been good at, that ability to say: ‘This is where I fucked up’.
TC: Well, he may have the ability but whether he has the will, I don't know.
3 EXTRA TIME
Yaya Toure's Manchester City future thrown into doubt after ‘birthday snub'
Headline from Tuesday's ‘Guardian’
PK: Okay talk to me about Ireland and the team now. What do you see as the challenges? Can we ever get back to the World Cup?
TC: No, not to a quarter-final, I can't see it. And I think the end of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane is probably the last time we'll see great players playing for Ireland. I can't see it in the next decade. I don't know if James McCarthy will be a great player; I think he's a very good footballer but the John O'Sheas that have gone before . . . I don't think we're going to have them. I don't see it.
PK: What about Seamus Coleman?
TC: Probably our brightest talent, Seamus, but our brightest talent is a right-back! And yeah, he's a very good right-back but we had a very good midfielder, a very good right-back, a very good centre-half and a very good centre-forward. Look at that photo (the team that started against England at Italia '90): there's three Liverpool players there, an Everton player, an Aston Villa player, a Blackburn player, a Celtic player . . . you know?
PK: There was also a bond with the fans that seems to be missing now.
TC: Well, they're only going to love you if you're successful. We didn't win a World Cup or a European Championship, but we went deep and gave them a run and I think they loved us because they could still identify with us. I'll give you an example: Barcelona signed this player and he turned up at training and told one of the regulars that he was thinking of buying a McLaren Mercedes. ‘You can't drive that to the training ground,’ he was told. ‘It's disrespectful to our fans. You have to drive the club car to the ground’. That's how we were with our fans. We never shoved it in their face. But it's all changed now. The fans can't get to the players anymore. They can't watch training or get to the ground and the players aren't interested anymore. They live in different worlds.
PK: As we've seen today with Yaya Toure.
TC: How ridiculous was that? Every player I know would have seen that and laughed. These guys are so precious. Is the money not enough? What's this big thing about wanting to be loved? They act like children. He's a 31-year-old man!
PK: Do you like football?
TC: I fall out of love with the modern game every now and again, but I think most of us are like that. I think the biggest problem for the game is the penalty decision. How many football matches these days are decided by penalties? And when you think about how good these guys are now at diving and getting penalties, what's it going to be like in 10 years’ time? It's the biggest challenge for football. And you have pundits slowing down the replays.
How ridiculous is that? ‘I can't see anything if we just run the replay but I'll tell you everything if we can see it in slow motion’. And I'm only laughing because I've done it myself when I'm trying to make a point. But do I like it? Yeah, I love football. I love how tribal it is and find it amazing what it does to people — how they can hate someone because of the team they support. And I love watching football, I watch about seven games a week, Spanish football, English football . . .
PK: Is that not work?
TC: Yeah it is, and I do sometimes wonder would I watch it if it wasn't but I would.
PK: But maybe not with quite the same eye?
PK: You mentioned pundits. Everyone has been raving about how good Gary Neville is but is there anyone you make a point of tuning into?
TC: To be honest, the best out of all of them are the journalists, the guys like Gabriele Marcotti who know football inside out. You've mentioned Gary Neville, and Jamie Carragher has also done well, but the reason they've done well is because they have listened to the way journalists have analysed the game and how it has become. You've now got footballers who are whizzkids with iPads and computers and they're coming on with a lot of information.
PK: Because that's the way the game is taught and played these days?
TC: Yeah, you have to do your prep work. One thing I learnt early on was that you have to do your prep work. In the old days, we could sit there and say (he mimics a grizzled old pro) ‘How much more do I fucking need to know? I've played the game for 20 years’. And of course, that does give you something the journalist doesn't have but he still knows more than you. So it's no longer a justification for not doing any work, and the reason Gary Neville has done so well is because basically he has done his homework. He talks sense because he has done his homework and 90 per cent of the guys they had before didn't do any homework.
PK: Does Roy do his homework?
TC: I thought we were done with Roy?
PK: Sorry, we are.
TC: I think his role is a bit different, and there's an unpredictability about Roy that keeps people on their toes. I don't know if it's deliberate but you just do not know what's going to come out of his mouth sometimes. I've had loads of conversations with him over the years and thought, ‘That's random. Where did that come from?' I found him intriguing. I find him intriguing today. I mean, if we died tomorrow, we'd probably both put us in in our top three of people who have intrigued or mystified us.
PK: Yeah, he's in my list . . . but you might not be far behind him.
TC: (Laughs) I keep thinking about another book. So many people have said to me in the last year, ‘Why have you not done another one? Hollywood does sequels for fun. That book was set up to have a sequel’.
He has the title.