Exclusive: Short FCF interview with Mick McCarthy
Very few people dislike Mick McCarthy. Something about a straight-talking man with a severely crooked nose makes for an endearing combination, one that perhaps you wouldn’t go to bed with, but would certainly make you think about it. As he walks into the cafe, situated in mid-1980s Wolverhampton, as per his request, I’m thinking about how far I’d go with Mick, but an impressive handshake rocks me back into interview mode. “Hello Mick,” I begin, like a fucking pro.
From the moment he starts to speak he is utterly engrossing. He has just been sacked as manager of Wolves and I can hear the pain in his voice when I ask him what it feels like not to be able to do post match interviews anymore. “I’ve never cared for football,” he tells me “but when I get to stand in front of that camera at the end of a match, perch one hand on my hip and knowingly, incredulously wobble my head from side to side before answering a question, it makes me feel alive, I’ll admit that.”
He almost stops, but then he goes on. “ I’ve grown to love the camera. The television crews all know me well and we have a laugh. Sometimes I stand facing the wrong way entirely as a joke, tricking everyone with just my nose aiming in the direction of the camera. It’s just a great time for everyone involved and I’m really sad that that part has had to end.” At this point we stop for a liquor break – I have an apple juice, Mick has a cocktail, and adds an umbrella to it which he has brought with him from home.
What makes Mick McCarthy special isn’t just his nose, it’s his wisdom. If he loves the camera, the relationship is consensual. He’s a quote machine. I ask him for some of his own favourite lines and he’s happy to oblige. “I remember my classic a couple of seasons back after a defeat to Stoke City – I said: ‘well, that was a bit rubbish, wasn’t it?’” And though he was modest enough to stop there, we can all list classic McCarthy quotes: from the marvellous “that just wasn’t good enough” to the memorable “I don’t know what to say to that defeat, I really don’t.” All genuine gold.
But, if you go back through some of those quotes carefully enough, you do start to notice some semblance of a theme. I ask Mick about it. “Mick, have you noticed that the inspiration for your straight-talking persona seems to have come from having to own-up for something every week? A loss, usually?” He’s quick to reply. “I have,” he jabs, raising his eyebrows as he does, “In fact, I started to realise a while ago that I was losing quite a lot of football games for a football manager. But it just didn’t seem to matter – I mean, is it about winning football games or is it about being glib and pulling out a wry smile?” And deep down, we all know that he’s right.
“It came about because I had to find a niche,” Mick goes on. “Once you’ve become known as the man “monstered” (Daniel Harris, 2012) by Roy Keane, it’s difficult for people to look at you and think of anything else. I remember after the World Cup in 2002, people would just walk up to me and try to stick the World Cup up my arse. I kept having to explain that Roy meant it figuratively, but they’d all already bought the replica trophies by then.”
“Carving out a reputation for telling it like it is in a mildly sexual manner was all that I could think of to turn off the abuse,” he explains. And there it is: Mick McCarthy, a tortured soul, not just another world icon.
Leaving the 1980s cafe and returning to the present day, McCarthy looks haunted and lonely. He packs away his martini kit and winks at me as he leaves. Somehow, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this hero-figure. If there isn’t room in football for a bad manager who is happy to point it out, what is there room for?
Photo via http://www.welloffside.com