I don’t suppose you remember Paul McGrath; that is, if you ever knew who he was in the first place.
He was a grizzle-faced footballer of the oldest school - that of hard knocks and hard drinking. He drank his way through a career at Manchester United, propping up the bar with fellow international class boozers Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson.
When Alex Ferguson swept in to Old Trafford, McGrath was swept off to Aston Villa to see out the twilight of his career. It wasn’t supposed to take long.
I suppose it may be relevant that McGrath is an Irishman. Judge for yourself. He didn’t stop drinking. He did carry on playing.
It was a remarkably long twilight. The sort you get in the Arctic Circle. McGrath trudged on for several years at the Villa, successive managers expressing perpetual surprise that, however knackered he appeared off the pitch, he seemed to manage to perform diligently on the field, apparently through willpower alone.
For the last few years at Villa, he didn’t even train. His knees had ‘gone’, and he could only manage 90 minutes of running a week; all of it in front of a crowd.
I don’t know what McGrath’s doing now, but whatever it is, I suspect he’s got something to say about persistence.
I’ve never considered that I’ve got anything in common with Paul McGrath. My drinking, my Irishness, my career as a professional footballer, don’t really measure up to his.
Yesterday, however, I got a tiny insight into his world. I had spent all of the day before on my knees with a belt sander, filling my nostrils with sawdust. Then I got up early on Sunday to paint the floor in question. Another round of kneeling.
By the time I went off to play football, my knees felt like old paperclips that have been bent back and forth almost to breaking point. They felt like a couple of spoons in Uri Geller’s hands. They felt, in short, like Paul McGrath’s knees.
Fortunately, I don’t think they’ve ‘gone’; more like temporarily mislaid. I wonder if Paul ever found his?