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'I cried myself to sleep' | Packie Bonner on Celtic, sectarianism & bridging the divide

Packie Bonner joined Off The Ball and spoke about his intense homesickness for Donegal during the...


'I cried myself to sleep' | Packie Bonner on Celtic, sectarianism & bridging the divide

Packie Bonner joined Off The Ball and spoke about his intense homesickness for Donegal during the start of his football career, as well as bridging the sectarian divide.

Bonner joined us to look back at a colourful career that spanned jubilation at Italia '90 and dark periods early on.

His first experience with Celtic would cow many young players, being signed by their legendary manager Jock Stein, before he left the club shortly after.


Aberdeen's Eric Black (l) scores the opening goal against Celtic goalkeeper Packie Bonner in the the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Aberdeen retained the trophy by winning 2-1.

"For him to even give up his time to come over to Donegal to sign Packie Bonner, for him to do that was a big break," said Bonner.

"I think back on that moment as a big turning point in my life. Jock walked in, with Fran Fields of Finn Harps behind him.

"I just remember signing, him offering me a contract of £70 a week and £1000 signing-on fee.

"I remember him saying 'look after your parents with that - so I gave them £500 and kept £500 myself to get a new suit.

"For Jock Stein to have signed me, and for me to be his last-ever signing, I'm very proud of that and I thank him very much for  that."

England's Gary Lineker looks certain to score but his shot is saved by Ireland goalkeeper Pat Bonner. Also pictured for Ireland is Kevin Moran (l).

The change from rural Donegal to urban east-end of Glasgow was tricky for Bonner to adapt to - thankfully, there was family there to help out.

"I was lucky that I had an aunt and two uncles over there.

"But it was huge going from a country background to a city background, catching the right bus and going into the city.

"Sean Fallon used to pick me up and take me in; the first day he brought me into the first-team dressing room.

"There was Danny McGrain, Tommy Burns, Pat Stanton, Roy Aitken - all these famous Celtic players and he brought me straight into introduce me."

Bonner's move from Glasgow moved him away from his parents, his five sisters, grandmother - but, most strikingly, his twin brother Dennis.

"I was homesick - at that time, there were no mobile phones, and we didn't have a home phone. I had to arrange times to phone my dad at my neighbour's house.

"Letters were a big thing for me. But I admit it now that some nights I would cry myself to sleep.

"It sounds a bit stupid, but I was 18 years old and I was away from my family, from Denis and I was in the city.

"If I was in an academy - the way kids go over now when they are 15 or 16 - I would have found it really tough.

"If I wasn't in with the first-team, training with the first-team on an almost daily basis, I would have found it really tough."

Packie Bonner

Glasgow is one of the most intensely football-oriented cities in the UK, and Bonner remembers that Old Firm games used to bring out the best (and worst) in Glaswegians.

"If you won the game, you were alright to walk around - if you lost the game, you just stayed in your house to let things calm down!

"[Sectarianism] was never an issue in my family - my wife's brothers and dad were Rangers supporters and season-ticket holders.

"When we married, [my father-in-law] came to support me and watch me with Ireland."

A great story of a man, recognising that his son-in-law had lost a father figure, and bridged a divide to help Bonner.

"He was brilliant,  because he was having a hard time from his fellow Rangers supporters, but in general terms he stepped into the breach to support me after my father died.

"At that time, it wasn't the done thing. He couldn't admit to his friends or people around him that Packie Bonner was going out with his daughter - so whenever they were giving me stick, he was standing up for me!

"I look back on it now and think: not every man would do it!"

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