Football people on TV: Niall Quinn

Date published: Saturday 18th February 2017 10:04

Fashion police
Was something of a pioneer of the side-parted mullet which always seemed to undermine the whole ‘business at the front, party at the back’ quality of the classic Kentucky Waterfall. Fair to say he didn’t suit it and it looked more like a Maine Coon cat had curled up on his head and died.

Flirted with the public toilets bog brush look before finally settling on the densely-packed follicle, rich brown utilitarian haircut we see today. Looks to have zero chance of going bald.

Clothing choices are all about smart, clubbable manliness. Dark suits, white shirts and a red and white tie. Might don a more checked or tweedy look for a day at the gee-gees. If you can get him out of a suit, it’s all lightweight jumpers, jeans and undemonstrative open-necked shirts, like this.

Has a generous, wide smile with a mouthful of big teeth that he appears to be breaking in for a racehorse.

As with a lot of Irish lads he looks like he’s been built out of 1% of 100 other Irishmen, making it feel like he’s just one the enormous extended family. A substantial unit, the feeling that behind the keen, blue-eyed bonhomie lies a no-punch-could-hurt-him core of steel, which could and would take you out on the cobbles and give you the leathering of your life.


Lingo Bingo
Born in Dublin’s Perrystown. Loves to drop the ‘n’ at the end of word: “Shoutin’.” Nicely extends a vowel, so Arsenal becomes Arrghsnl. Mother and father is “mudder and fadder.” All of which makes him sound like he’s stepped off a staging of Sean O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock.’

Intelligent and articulate, never short of a word. Doesn’t umm or arr over things. Also quite philosophical, as this interview shows well. Is a proud Catholic, though says he’s not as good a Catholic as he should be, which seems to be the very essence of Catholicism.

The Irishman’s voice adds a nice green burr to those characterless, not-quite-London-not-quite-anything accents that are too prevalent. The feeling that he could lapse into a proper Dublin brogue at any moment, and that he’s unnecessarily poshed-up his voice a bit, pervades.


Hits and misses
As a mere strip of lad he was a top player at the old Gaelic football with the hurly stick thing and won lots of Important Cups.

Obviously had a solid, occasionally spectacular playing career. Was at Arsenal for seven years but only played one full season. Went to Manchester City and did well, but it was at Sunderland, where he played in a classic Little ‘n’ Large partnership with Kev Phillips, that he really hit his stride. Ninety-two caps for his country over 16 years is a wonderful achievement, even if it did all end in Saipan.

While at Arsenal was part of the Tuesday Night Club with Merse, Adams et al. One can easily imagine he could drink all of them under the table and still have room for chips on the way home. When injured at Arsenal, was very much “on the tear” with the drink and then gambling on the nags, despite his fadder telling him not to “do a Jack Doyle.”

Seems to have been saved from the river of drink, drugs and gambling that swept away other prominent Arsenal players, in part by the love of a good woman. And lord knows we all need that.

Looks like he could still have hollow legs. When at City, this happened. I quote it verbatim from The Guardian. It is prose poetry.

‘Peter Reid has had lots of bad ideas as a manager but his decision to take Manchester City on a pre-season trip to Italy in 1992 was one of the worst. On one drunken day, the players stumbled across an empty boxing ring and decided to stage their very own royal rumble. A few playful slaps were exchanged until beanpole striker Niall Quinn landed an unintentionally brutal one on midfield hardman Steve McMahon. The striker scarpered and forgot all about the incident until McMahon found him gyrating in a nightclub later that evening – and decked him. Fortified by rage and booze, Quinn chased his team-mate into the street, caught him and threw him through a shop window. Then scarpered again. The following morning, Reid summoned the pugilists and demanded to know what had happened: McMahon, who had no memory of the events, took full blame and paid for the broken window.’

And thus Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants was born. Not many players have their own song, and even less a song about their trousers.

Always been a bit handy at the old businessman thing, be it the horsey, or now as a chairman of Q Sat, a satellite broadband company providing internet connections to rural locations.

Has spoken well of his post-football depression and how nothing can prepare you for a life which doesn’t involve playing football.

Roy Keane wasn’t a fan of him, calling him Mother Teresa, but they seem to have put that in the past. The whole 2002 World Cup thing divided opinion on Quinny. Some feeling he was a scaredy cat, a backstabber. Others felt that he stood up for what was right.

In recent years, has done a lot of pundit and co-comm work on Sky, so must be well-liked and held in high regard because he’s not the sort who is employed for a haircut, or to merely repeat himself, time and again, in ever louder tones, in the mistaken belief that it makes one an interesting and funny character. Some feel he’s a vacuous gobsh*ite but that seems unfair to me.

Had a go at managing Sunderland but was really terrible, so let Roy Keane do it instead, and to great success. After being chairman, he flogged the club to Ellis Short, which seemed OK at the time, but it turns out they’re ropey old idiots who have ruined a once great northern institution, which is pretty dumb, because the place is a cash cow if you only run it properly.

Writes a decent column for Sky. Doesn’t need some poor journo to write down his idiot ramblings. This, his latest effort, is an interesting mix of insight and self-deprecation.

When in the studio, his natural erudition and educated insight is always a bright colour in the monochrome punditry tendency. Can drift a little. But on co-comms, he’s less stellar. Veers very close to the say-what-you-see cul-de-sac of ordinariness. Is often only rescued by his clear passion for the game and just bloody loving watching football.  One also senses that he’s only strong on the domestic game.


Big club bias
Clearly favours his old clubs when doing the telly, and why not? The demand for all to be impartial seems against the spirit of football – a game where few are impartial about anything. But no general BCB is present, as being a good Catholic boy tends to play against getting any airs and graces, for fear of a slap from yer mammy.


Loved or loathed?
Everywhere he’s gone, he’s very highly regarded. Especially in the Land of Green, and the North East. And it’s hard not to have some affection for a man who, unusually in football, talks, acts and behaves like a normal, intelligent person, aged 50. Indeed, sometimes it’s now hard to imagine he was ever a footballer at all, coming over more as a businessman, or someone’s helpful dad.

My appeal for views on him garnered the biggest and most poetic response yet. There were some who find him intolerable. Indeed, just occasionally, there was a properly vitriolic tweet about him. Many felt he was a better pundit than co-comm (agreed). But many people said nice, funny things and nice, funny things make our lives happier.

‘His book depicts the rare case of a man transitioning from the PFM inner sanctum to responsible & mature member of society.’

‘My name sounds like his, restaurateurs were disappointed when I clarified I was not him when making a phone reservation.’

‘Good honest, almost statesmanlike demeanour, doesn’t say anything stupid, but not very much actual insight.’

‘Remember him playing for Arsenal and looking like Bambi on ice. Seems like a lovely bloke… But not someone to anger.’

‘Footballer/chairman/pundit = modern day Jimmy Hill. But a poor man’s Jimmy Hill. Not for me, Clive. Seems a lovely bloke mind.’

‘Seems nice but no original thoughts or analysis.’

‘Lovely accent, but so bland I don’t think I can recall a single thing he’s ever said in co-comms. Would not mess with.’

‘We Irish like Niall Quinn. He’s pleasant articulate and was a mighty man in the box.’

‘Dull, lack of insight and don’t recall any time when he’s pointed out something I’d not noticed. Even worse in the studio.’

‘In the words of Eamon Dunphy: “Niall Quinn is a creep.”‘

‘He is awful. Why has he a gig?’

‘Too polished & calculating. Spoofer.’

‘Gobsh*te. Stabbed Roy Keane in the back. Mother Teresa Keano calls him; a spineless chameleon. Looks like he cuts his own hair.’

‘Not Gary Neville, but not Robbie Savage either. The middle ground of pundits.’

‘Once presented a business series on RTÉ.’

‘Once read in a Sunderland programme he was A Question of Sports’ go-to-guy if someone dropped out as he lived near the studio.’

‘The footballer we would all want our sister to marry.’

‘His dulcet Irish tones feel like a warm blanket and seems to make an effort to not be a PFM.’

‘The only pundit to have been granted the freedom of Sunderland.’

‘He went to the same school as me – years apart- but his name was carved on my desk.’

‘ROI Legend, old school CF, as you’d expect from a hurling county like Tipperary could mix it with the best of them.’

‘He was at my cousin’s 21st just after he broke into the Arsenal team and he spent the night snogging some bird. She was tiny.’

‘Sounds like an old Irish guy you’d find in the bookies; full of enthusiasm but his pockets are empty.’

‘Seems like a nice guy, almost in-awe of being around football. Some points he makes are good, some not; difficult to dislike.’


Proper Football Man?
Has a membership card but doesn’t use it. The boys hate that. Such a waste. C’mon Quinny, I blame you for getting me on the booze train to oblivion. We all got brain damage drinking at Arsenal; how come you’re still clever? Running businesses? Not for me, Clive. I prefer being paid to sit in a TV studio looking dazed, saying the first thing that arrives in what’s left of my synapses, then just repeat that until the producer shouts at me to stop. Sweet. Why are scorpions crawling up the wall, Chaz?

A long and happy marriage to a model? Put the Joop down, Pards, she’s class and not blonde. A woman who loves you through the bad times? That’s not proper PFMing at all. No drink driving? Dear me. This isn’t good. Still, he does work on the boys’ favourite broadcaster, Sky. And he had good feet for a big man, which the boy’s still proffer as a well-considered observation of any tall footballer.

Loved the gee-gees, did in some money at the bookies early in his career, but seems to have realised it was a pathetic waste. How is betting a waste of money, Jeff? You can actually win money. That’s different.

Played under George Graham, one of the PFM’s top, top managers back when Arsenal wasn’t full of weedy boys who look like hairdressers. Also in his plus column is the fact that he played under Reidy for two different clubs. Oh yes. Bloody hell. Listen to that. That’s the sound of the boys purring like a panther sleeping up a tree. Hang on, it’s actually the boys sleeping up a tree, and with a sodding panther, stolen from a zoo as part of a hilarious joke involving a beaver. Steady, Chunky. I never knew the Hair Bear Bunch was just a cartoon, Jeff. Bears can ride invisible bikes, can’t they? Ha ha, the panther has eaten TC.

But of course, after a career of team-bonding drink-ups, Quinny would be good value in the bar. You can see him being presented with a pint of Reidy’s finest Irish concoctions, involving Potcheen, Baileys Cream, Cider, Orange Miwadi and Knock Shrine Holy Water, necking it in one, wiping his mouth and asking when the proper drinking is going to start. But as for the rest of the PFM lifestyle, he’s too mature and too much of a good Catholic boy for any shenanigans with Miss Kerr’s Pink Rear of the Year 1989 in the infamous Kildare nightclub, The Potato Molly. No, she doesn’t want cottage cheese on that, Chunky.

PFM Status: On Hold.


Beyond the lighted stage
His charity work is well-known, famously giving his million quid testimonial match money all to children’s hospital. Fifteen years on, in an era when appalling greed is amorally passed off as merely “maximising your income”, that seems like a big, if now distant, win for decency. Similarly once paid out £8,000 for taxis for Sunderland’s fans to get home from Bristol after being bumped off the plane.

All in all, in the weirdly narrow, sometimes venal world of football broadcasting, he seems to be a genuinely decent person with roots and soul.


John Nicholson

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