A distinguished sports career taught Packie Bonner that football is like business and requires the same qualities
Packie Bonner knows what it’s like to succeed in his profession. He made 642 appearances for Glasgow Celtic, represented his country on 80 occasions, won a host of silverware and played at two World Cups.
He also knows what it’s like to stand alone, with his team’s expectations on his shoulders and the hopes of millions in his hands. And in his career-defining moment, Bonner stood, and delivered.
The date was May 25 1990, and it was deep into a sultry evening in the north of Italy. Ireland, playing in their first World Cup in their history, were facing dark horses Romania in a penalty shoot-out for a place in the quarter finals. With the scores tied at 4-4, Daniel Timofte stepped forward, eyeballed Bonner and planted a less-than convincing penalty to the keeper’s right. Bonner dived, thrust out his palms and became a hero.
David O’Leary did the rest, dispatching his subsequent spotkick with aplomb, and Ireland were through to the last eight.
What this glorious episode showed Bonner, was that football is a lot like business and the qualities needed to succeed in life are the same across the board. He explained this at an Irish International Business Network event at the Bloomsbury Hotel last week in front of an audience of established businesspeople, community leaders and adoring fans.
Bonner is just a nice guy. A gentle giant, his huge goalkeeper’s frame encases an equally huge heart.
He bases his success partly on talent, a pre-requisite in professional sport, but mainly on hard work and values honed in his native Donegal. Born and raised in the very northwest of the county, he and his six siblings were cared for by their beloved parents, Andrew and Grace. It was here he was taught that whatever path you take in life, it is important to maintain a set of principles – namely, but not exclusively, humility, politeness, hard work and focus.
He was certainly focused when coming up against Timofte in Genoa 26 years ago, and he believes that this is arguably the key attribute to success. You have to know what you want, and you don’t lose sight of this until you achieve it.
Read Packie Bonner’s predictions for Ireland at the Euros 2016:
As for humility, Bonner told the audience that they would need to look no further than his manager during that tournament, Jack Charlton. He explained how the Englishman never spoke about his 1966 World Cup win; he didn’t use it as motivation for big games, and he wouldn’t laud it above his players. Jackie was the ultimate leader in Bonner’s eyes, and he transferred some of his former coach’s wisdom to the audience that evening.
He fondly remembered how he wouldn’t hesitate to hand responsibility to some of his younger charges and how he would effortlessly assert his authority, but in an unoppressive manner.
Charlton, he recalled, would manipulate the atmosphere as was necessary, harness his players’ emotions, and would, without fail, end every team talk with an informal, humorous quip. Those following Ireland in France this summer will be pleased to hear that Bonner sees some of Charlton in the team’s current boss, Martin O’Neill. When it comes to the Northumberland man’s infamous short temper, however, perhaps one should look to O’Neill’s deputy, Roy Keane.
Speaking of Keane, Bonner winced as he remembered his time as part of Ireland’s coaching staff at the 2002 World Cup. He confessed that the infamous ‘Saipan fall-out’, when the Republic’s captain clashed with the team’s manager, Mick McCarthy, over accusations of unprofessionalism and was ultimately sent home, was mismanaged.
Bonner said that despite their poor handling of the situation, it showed him once again that incidents of severe confrontation can occur in all surroundings, be that on the training ground or in the board room.
He added that he was grateful that things such as Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp were not around at the time, appreciating the irony of the importance of social media in business today. The talk ended with a Q and A session, in which Bonner quoted newly-appointed Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson.
They are both excellent leaders, both hugely successful managers and both people who, in a business sense, you can admire but also criticise. The final question turned not to ‘The Save’, nor the impending European Championships, but an upcoming event affecting Europe, and Ireland, nonetheless. Asked simply whether he was in or out when it comes to Brexit, Bonner was unequivocal.
He spoke of the importance of embracing a melting pot of cultures and personalities, whether you were in the dressing room, at your desk or on the streets. He counts himself fortunate to have been able to work with so many nationalities and to have gone to Scotland, where he still lives, and experienced all he did.
In Bonner’s opinion, the decision is a no-brainer – Britain, for the benefit of everyone, should vote to remain in the EU on June 23.
The Last Line: My Autobiography by Packie Bonner is out now