BY Amanda Connelly | August 3 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

11-TONY

A man for all seasons

Spotlight on Tony Fitzpatrick, CEO of St Mirren FC, who talks about football, Faith, youth and his gift as an author

Q.Tell us about your early life.

I was born in Eagle Street, which borders Possil Park and Port Dundas, Glasgow. My mum, Mary, came from Maryhill and my dad, James, from Cowcaddens. They met in the Vogue Cinema where mum was an usherette. They had six children—I was number three.

Eagle Street was a typical Glasgow tenement council housing scheme and it was given the nickname of ‘Evil Street’ because of the violence, unemployment, and poverty in the area. Despite that, we soldiered on. We had our ups and downs as a family, but the experience of living in such conditions was to be a lesson for me in the future.

Q. Did you play for your school football teams?

Interestingly, one of the pupils in St Joseph’s [Primary] at that time was John Keenan, now the Bishop of Paisley. Despite being only eight, I joined the 10-year-olds in the school team thanks to Mr McNulty, who said he saw something in me that would help the team. I wore the Number 10 jersey.

However, when I made the team in the big school we were hopeless, hardly winning a game. But the team below us were winning everything—and no wonder, they included Charlie Nicholas and Billy Abercromby!

Q. Tell us about your first job and how and when you broke into football.

I started with Robertson & Dunne sawmill in Anniesland, but I didn’t last long. I fell off a stack of wood, dislocating my shoulder and that was that!

I then tried my hand at painting and decorating, but it was football I wanted to do and my first break came with Possil YMCA, and thanks to my mentor Bobby Dinnie (OBE) who ran the team, I was spotted by Joe Hall, chief scout for Aston Villa, who got me into training with St Mirren. It wasn’t long before they signed me.

I was captain in Sir Alex Ferguson’s championship winning side in 1976/1977 and captain when St Mirren won the Scottish Cup 1987. I captained the Scotland league team when we drew 1-1with Italy, the same team that went on to win the World Cup. I also captained Scotland Under-21 on seven occasions. I was in many Scotland teams, including the squad of 40 players for 1978 World Cup in Argentina. I also played for Bristol City, and in one game against Liverpool which included Dalglish and Souness.

Q. Apart from football you are an author—why did you first start writing?

I write children’s books in memory of my son, Tony, who sadly passed away when he was six on January 9, 1983, from acute myeloid leukaemia. I relate the stories through a character called Babakoochi Bear, a nickname I gave Tony when he was born as he looked so cute, just like a small teddy bear.

Five Little Stones, my publishing company, is in honour of Our Lady of Medjugorje. The five stones are: Rosary, Eucharist, Holy Bible, Fasting and monthly Confession. It’s the messages Our Lady gives on the 2nd and 25th of each month.

Q. You do voluntary work with young people who have gone astray. Why did you get involved in this?

I’ve always had a deep passion to work with the youth as I really think they get a raw deal in life. They are growing up in different times from us when values and morals are disappearing.

The world has changed so much. You only have to look to Ireland to witness what has happened there. I never thought I would live to see that Ireland would change its morals and values. When people can celebrate the murder of innocent babies in the womb then we have reached barbaric times.

And it’s not just Ireland, it’s happening all over the world. I can’t write or say words to describe this horror against humankind. We must get our message across to the youth of today to help them find a way back to a civilised society.

Q. Is your Catholic Faith important to you?

Yes, it is very important, but it wasn’t always the case. I left the Church for over 35 years. I had lost my way completely.

I chased material things such as money, big houses and big cars. My ego was huge. I achieved all these things but I was never happy or content. There was always something missing in my life and I found out what it was: my Faith. It was difficult but I started to put God first in my life. I still struggle, but realise it’s a constant battle. But through the help of Our Blessed Mother Mary and Padre Pio, I am getting there. Slowly but surely!

Q. You are a frequent visitor to Medjugorje in Bosnia Herzegovina, the scene of the alleged apparitions to six children in 1981. Why do you go there?

It was through a good friend that I first got to know about Medjugorje. I’ve now been five times and it has played a major part in returning to my Faith.

Joe Livingston entered my life when I gave a talk in the shipyard that he worked in. I shared my life story with them and afterwards Joe approached me, smiled and said: “I have to tell you that Our Blessed Mother Mary is calling you back to her son.”

I was completely stunned. But Joe’s voice, and his eyes when he looked at me and shook my hand will live with me forever. He hit my heart and my soul. Joe had given me his card if I wanted to meet up with him again. When I looked at it later there was a picture of Our Blessed Mother standing with her hands open wide.

At that moment a surge of energy flowed through me. That’s the only way I can describe this feeling. I really felt Our Lady was inviting me back! The card was Our Lady of All Nations. I truly believe Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Mother Mary worked through Joe to save me.

As I got to know Joe, he suggested I go to Confession with a friend of his, Fr Alex Stewart, who sat with me for a few hours, listened and gently asked a few questions about different times in my life.

After Confession I can honestly say I became a new person. I started going to daily Mass. Not so long afterwards Joe and Fr Alex invited me to go to Medjugorje with them. It is indeed Heaven on Earth. I would urge everyone reading this to visit the place. The peace you will find there is unbelievable! Your life will change.

Q. Finally, back to football. St Mirren are now in the Premiership. How do you see this developing?

If I’m being honest we’re back a year or two earlier than we expected! Jack Ross, our young manager who has sadly left us now to go to Sunderland, achieved incredible success in his short term with us. He blew away the seven-year plan we had as directors of the club.

However, we’re now there. We know it is going to be difficult as the league is very tough. But we have appointed a very good manager in Alan Stubbs, along with his back room team of Brian Rice and Darren Jackson. It’s incredible to think that only two years ago we were facing relegation to the lower of divisions of Scottish football!

 

The day Sir Alex told me I’d captain St Mirren

I was just 16, setting out on my professional football career and married to Elizabeth when Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at Love Street.

I suffered from pleurisy in the lungs at the time and had only played one game, but I was training hard.

Like all new managers Sir Alec announced he would be making a decision on who was staying and who was going.

At the time my confidence was low and I had got it in my head I would be shown the door!

So I had promised Elizabeth that I was going to leave football, concentrate on her and our baby daughter Lorraine, and go back to my trade as a painter and decorator.

Sir Alex had called a meeting of all the players. We were in the dressing room waiting to be summoned. We were nervous. It was like sitting at the dentist’s!

The door opened and coach Ricky McFarlane came in, scanned the room and pointed to me saying: “The gaffer wants you up first Tony!”

I nearly fainted. I felt a sickness from the pit of my stomach. I remember one of the senior players coming over and saying: “Be careful Tony, he will want to make an example of you.”

I left the dressing room, stood frozen at the foot of the stairs leading up to the manager’s office and thought: “Do I go up or run out the front door and go home?”

I was very confused.

Ricky appeared at the top of the stairs and shouted down: “Tony, hurry up the gaffer is waiting on you.”

It startled me into action. I ran up the stairs and very quickly I was standing outside Sir Alex’s office. My fear and nerves took over again, but I found the courage to chap the door. I heard a sharp ‘come in.’ I opened the door and Sir Alex was sitting behind his desk.

He looked up at me and said sit down. I was so nervous I could not speak.

My mind was racing. I wanted to say, ‘listen I know you want me out, but I am leaving anyway,’ but I could not find the words.

He stared right at me and said: “Tony, I’ve been watching you very closely.”

My head and shoulders dropped, but I soon picked up with his next remarks.

He said: “You have great potential, just like this club. We will be challenging Celtic and Rangers. We will be in Europe in five years’ time—and you are going to be my captain.

“Do you believe we can achieve these things?”

I nodded and answered ‘yes’ and left the room in a daze. But there was also excitement in the air! I was going to be captain at 17!

And the rest? Well, as they say, that’s history!

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