From Cloughglass to Genoa

Almost 20 years after hanging up his gloves, Irish hero Packie Bonner has published an autobiography. So why was legendary keeper so reluctant to write a memoir? Peter Doyle finds out.

Don’t meet your heroes, they say, you will only be disappointed.

The veracity of this piece of homespun wisdom depends on who you’re meeting, of course.

For instance, the other evening, I was in the company of legendary goalkeeper Packie Bonner and was far from disappointed.

The 56-year-old former Celtic and Ireland stopper was in Dublin to promote his autobiography at the International Literature Festival

Written with help from Scottish author and broadcaster Gerard McDade, ‘The Last Line’ is Packie’s first attempt at a memoir. Why the wait?

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Reluctant hero Packie Bonner

‘A man from Donegal, way out in the north-west, growing up thinking I would write a book? No chance!’ Packie tells the audience at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre.

But it’s not as if he doesn’t have a few stories to tell – his playing career of 641 first-team appearances for Celtic and 80 caps for Ireland spanned three decades in the top flight.

Along the way, Jock Stein’s last-ever signing for Celtic enjoyed his fair share of highlights, such as the last-gasp title win of 1986 and three major finals for Ireland.

And, of course, there was that penalty shoot-out save against Romania in Italia ’90 that not only helped send Ireland into the World Cup quarter-finals but transformed the lad from Cloughglass, Co Donegal, into a national icon.

Not forgetting Saipan, where Packie was Mick McCarthy’s goalkeeping coach and had a run-in with Roy Keane before the Corkman threw all his toys out of the pram and flew home.

He may have sent the hearts of millions of Irish men and woman around the globe soaring when he dived to his right to deny Daniel Timofte at Genoa’s Luigi Ferarris Stadium on that fateful June 25 evening in 1990 – but Packie has never forgotten his roots.

Despite the special place reserved for him in the hearts of many Irish football fans, Packie is very much a reluctant hero.

Gerard McDade thought differently and pestered Packie for two years, pleading with the keeper to let him put into print the story of how a former GAA player became Ireland’s hero of 1990.

‘The save, everyone wants to talk about the save,’ Packie says of the memoir shortlisted for Irish Sports Book of the Year.

‘But for me the most important part was what actually got me to that point. What was that journey leading up to it? And, of course, what happened afterwards.’

‘We wrote the book on that basis. When we discussed it, it was about emotion, it was about fun, it was about some true-life experiences. It was about the people I met along the way that had a real effect on me, that made me the person I am today. And Gerry has captured all of that exceptionally well.’

Even so, Packie, a self-professed introvert, finds it hard being the centre of attention and didn’t fancy the inevitable book tours and PR events.

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Packie Bonner's book launch

Gerard explains: ‘The first thing we did was an event at Waterstones in Glasgow. The big fella asked me, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I said that we would do a signing, we would do a Q & A, and you’ll do a couple of readings.’

‘‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘You sit down and read a couple of extracts from your book. People like to hear this sort of thing.’

“I can’t do that,’ came his reply.’

‘What do you mean you can’t do that? You’ve played at Ibrox, you’ve played at Celtic Park. You’ve played in Old Firm games. You’re the hero who saved penalty in front of millions and you can’t sit down and read?’

“Aye,’ he said.’

‘But when he sat down at Waterstones, you could have heard a pin drop by the time he was finished and one woman was actually crying because it was so emotional.’

Packie adds: ‘She was from Donegal. And she had moved over many years before. One of the things we wanted to capture in the book was people going on a journey’.

‘And many Irish people, especially in Glasgow, had made that journey for different reasons and I think she had been reminiscing about her journey, whether it was on Doherty’s bus or the Derry boat.’

‘Maybe her mum and dad also came across. So it captured her imagination. And that was the bit that Gerry wrote for the very first time that persuaded me that there was a bit of a book in me.’

The Last Line by Packie Bonner (with Gerard McDade) is out now in paperback on Ebury Press.

 

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