Paul McGrath (footballer)

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Paul McGrath
McGrath, Paul.jpg
McGrath in 2018
Personal information
Full name Paul McGrath [1]
Date of birth (1959-12-04) 4 December 1959 (age 61) [1]
Place of birth Greenford, England
Position(s) Centre back [1]
Youth career
Pearse Rovers
Dalkey United
Senior career*
1981–1982 St Patrick's Athletic 26 (4)
1982–1989 Manchester United 163 (12)
1989–1996 Aston Villa 253 (9)
1996–1997 Derby County 24 (0)
1997Sheffield United (loan) 7 (0)
1997–1998 Sheffield United 5 (0)
National team
1985–1997 Republic of Ireland 83 (8)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Paul McGrath (born 4 December 1959) is an Irish former professional footballer, who played as a defender. Mainly a centre back, he also played as defensive midfielder. McGrath is widely considered to be one of the greatest Irish players of all time. He spent the majority of his career at Aston Villa and Manchester United (seven seasons apiece). He is one of only six defenders to have won the PFA Players' Player of the Year award. He also played for St Patrick's Athletic, Derby County and Sheffield United.


Also a long-time member of the Republic of Ireland national team, he appeared at the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, as well as UEFA Euro 1988, the team's first-ever international tournament.

Early life

McGrath was born in Greenford, Middlesex [1] to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. His father disappeared soon after his conception. His mother, Betty McGrath, was terrified that her father would find out she had become pregnant outside marriage and in an interracial relationship. She travelled in secret to London to have her child, who was considered illegitimate, and gave him up for fostering in Ireland when he was four weeks old. [2]

When he was five years old, one of the daughters of the family he had been fostered by came to Betty to say they could not control him. At that stage his mother had him back for a number of days before having to put him into an orphanage. Despite being Paul McGrath on his birth certificate, the admission form required the name of the father, hence he was known as Paul Nwobilo for a time. [3]

Club career

St Patrick's Athletic

McGrath made his debut in a League of Ireland Cup clash with the Shamrock Rovers on 30 August 1981 at Richmond Park. Manager Charlie Walker stated in his notes in the match programme that "Since the end of last season I have been acquiring new players: three are local lads from junior clubs- Billy Reid (Fatima Rangers), Paul McGrath (Dalkey United) and John Cleary (Ballyfermot United). Given a time and a little encouragement I feel that by the end of the season they will have done the club proud." [4] He ultimately excelled at The Saints, earning the nickname "The Black Pearl of Inchicore". [5]

Manchester United

In 1982, McGrath moved to Manchester United, then managed by Ron Atkinson. He missed out on a place in the FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion the following year, but soon ousted Gordon McQueen to become the regular partner to Kevin Moran in the centre of defence. [6]

In 1985–86, it appeared that McGrath was on course to pick up a league title medal after United won their first 10 league games of the season, but injuries to key players including Bryan Robson soon took their toll on the side and they eventually finished fourth in the table, 12 points behind champions Liverpool. [7] A dismal start to the 1986–87 season saw Ron Atkinson sacked as manager and replaced by Alex Ferguson in November 1986, but McGrath initially remained a regular member of the first team. United finished second behind Liverpool in the league a year later. [8]

By the 1988–89 season, McGrath was struggling with knee injuries and was becoming a less regular member of the first team, facing competition from new signings Steve Bruce and Mal Donaghy. His relationship with manager Ferguson was becoming strained. [9]

Aston Villa

During the late 1980s McGrath was offered terms at S.S.C. Napoli, but the deal did not come to fruition. [10] McGrath signed for Aston Villa in August 1989. While at Villa, McGrath played some of the best football of his career, despite recurrent problems in his knees. Villa came close to winning the title in McGrath's first season, finishing second to Liverpool. The next season saw the club fighting relegation for much of the campaign, after boss Graham Taylor left to take control of England. Despite the managerial upheaval, McGrath's performances continued to impress. Under Jozef Vengloš, the first top flight manager to hail from the European mainland, McGrath became a consistent mainstay of the Villa line up. After Vengloš' solitary season (1990–91) at Villa, Ron Atkinson took over, building one of the finest sides of the early Premier League era. In the inaugural season of the Premier League (1992–93), Aston Villa again finished as runners-up, behind Manchester United. As a sign of the regard he was now held in by his fellow professionals, McGrath won the PFA Players' Player of the Year award at the end of the season. [11]

Later career

He played his final game as a professional for Sheffield United against Ipswich Town on 9 November 1997, just before his 38th birthday. He officially retired at the end of the season. [12]

International career

In 1990, the Republic of Ireland qualified for its first FIFA World Cup, in 1990 in Italy, eventually reaching the quarter-finals, where they lost to the hosts (1–0 in Rome), with McGrath ever present in the lineups (five matches, 480 minutes played). He captained the team four times in 1992 after the retirement of Mick McCarthy. [13]

In the Republic of Ireland's opening game of the 1994 World Cup – a 1–0 win against favourites Italy, thanks to Ray Houghton's early goal – in a perfect example of his commitment to the game, McGrath put up an astonishing defensive performance in spite of excruciating knee problems, including blocking a shot from Roberto Baggio with his face. [5]

Post-professional football life

McGrath suffers from alcoholism, and missed occasional matches as a result. [14] In an interview with FourFourTwo, he admitted to playing football while still under the influence of alcohol; additionally, his recurrent knee problems resulted in him undergoing a total of eight operations during his career. McGrath's autobiography, Back from the Brink, co-written with journalist Vincent Hogan, was the inaugural winner of the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year (2006). [15]

Upon retiring, he settled in Monageer, County Wexford. In 2004, one year after being taken to court, charged with a breach of the peace, [16] McGrath returned to the football world after five years, moving to Waterford United in Ireland as director of football. [17]

In 2011, McGrath recorded a cover version of the Gerry Goffin and Carole King song "Goin' Back". [18] He followed that single up with an 11 track album released in 2011 with going to his two designated charities the Acquired Brain Injury Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Ireland. [19]

On 29 June 2013, McGrath was arrested over an alleged public order offence at a hotel in County Offaly. He was bailed and appeared at Tullamore district court on 17 July. [20]

Career statistics


Appearances and goals by club, season and competition [21]
ClubSeasonLeague FA Cup OtherTotal
St Patrick's Athletic [22] 1981–82 League of Ireland 264264
Manchester United 1982–83 First Division 1431010163
1983–84 First Division910030121
1984–85 First Division2307220322
1985–86 First Division4034091534
1986–87 First Division3521040402
1987–88 First Division2220021243
1988–89 First Division2015010261
Aston Villa 1989–90 First Division3515070471
1990–91 First Division3502070440
1991–92 First Division4115020481
1992–93 Premier League 4244041505
1993–94 Premier League30120120441
1994–95 Premier League4002070490
1995–96 Premier League3024060400
1996–97 Premier League00001010
Derby County 1996–97 Premier League2402000260
Sheffield United 1997–98 First Division1200020140
Career total4782544270359230


Appearances and goals by national team and year [22]
National teamYearAppsGoals
Republic of Ireland 198570


Manchester United

Aston Villa


See also

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  2. McRae, Donald (24 October 2006). "I remember the blood pouring and the nanny screaming". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  3. Gibbons, Margaret (1927). "Margaret Aylward (1810-1889.) (Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Faith)". The Irish Monthly. 55 (647): 247–259. ISSN   2009-2113. JSTOR   20518114.
  5. 1 2 Philip, Robert (20 October 2006). "McGrath loved by all but himself". The Daily Telegraph . London. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  6. Austin, Simon (4 November 2006). "Ferguson's human side revealed". BBC Sport. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  7. "Paul McGrath: One-on-One". FourFourTwo. January 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2016. I got an enquiry from Napoli when Maradona played for them and they were Italy's best team in the late '80s. I was holidaying near Naples on the coast in Sorrento when a delegation of Napoli officials came to see me at my hotel. I was amazed that they knew I was there. We had a big chat, but nothing came of it.
  8. "Only here for the peers". BBC Sport. 20 April 2001. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  9. "Games played by Paul McGrath in 1997/1998". Soccerbase. Centurycomm. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  10. Byrne, Peter (1996). Football Association of Ireland: 75 years. Dublin: Sportsworld. p. 229. ISBN   1-900110-06-7.
  11. Austin, Simon (27 October 2006). "McGrath back from the brink". BBC Sport. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  12. Staff writer (6 November 2008). "Sports stars longlisted for Irish award". The Bookseller . Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  13. "Ex-football star in court". BBC News. 12 November 2003. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  14. "McGrath gets Waterford post". BBC Sport. 13 February 2004. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  15. "Ex-Manchester United and Aston Villa star Paul McGrath begins music career". The Metro. 8 September 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  17. "Paul McGrath arrested over alleged public order offences". The Guardian . London. Press Association. 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  18. Paul McGrath at the English National Football Archive (subscription required)
  19. 1 2 "Paul McGrath". National Football Teams. Benjamin Strack-Zimmermann. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  20. "Paul McGrath and Anne O'Brien inducted into FAI Hall of Fame". Irish Mirror. August 2020. Retrieved 19 August 2021.