‘Full Time: The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino’ by Paul Kimmage (2000)

I’ve always loved Tony Cascarino. From the joy of an Italian named striker playing for Ireland, his 7 goals in our ill fated qualification group for 98 World Cup and the sheer strangeness of an Irish player playing his club football in France. While I remember bits of Italia 90, my real (as in total recall of where I was and how it all felt) football memory begins with the final qualifier in Windsor Park for the 94 World Cup. By that time Cascarino was half way through his Ireland career, and his best days were presumed to be behind him – but his resurgence at club level in France and his goals in World Cup qualifying (albeit against pretty crap teams), meant he was one of my favourite Irish players.

I bought Full Time as soon as it came out in 2001 – at a time I was finally old enough to travel to Ireland games in Dublin with my mates.  The Irish team became my sporting passion as we cruised to Japan / Korea.  I read Full Time over one night, staying up all night and suffering like hell in school the next day. I couldn’t believe how good the book was. 17 year old me was definitely very shocked by the candid admissions of his demons, his affairs and his inner self doubt. I read Rough Ride immediately after it and became a huge fan of Kimmage (to my mind the best sports interviewer I’ve read with the possible exception of the great Donald Mcrae).

fulltime

Rereading it this week, it struck me that the book is even better than I remember. Its short, its personal, and its very very honest – Cascarino does not present himself as a nice guy but rather as who he is – a complicated, compelling figure who has made a lot of mistakes.   It is easy to judge him but the fact that Cascarino wanted his true self to be displayed is what makes the book so fascinating.  None of us are all good or all bad – but we don’t usually publish books about arguably the worst things we have done.

The book jumps through different periods in Cascarino’s life with the first quarter painting a picture of his recent life (as of 1999/2000) – his new life in France at Nancy, his new family life with his French partner and their child and his later days in the Ireland squad. Already we are introduced to his inner critic – the little voice in his head that tells him he is crap at very unfortunate moments. Its Chapter 5 before we hit the backstory of his childhood – which is told very quickly and focuses on his Dad, Dominic.

The story of his early career is told in a brilliant engaging manner – as much about his self doubt, his growing ego and the his relationship with others – like Teddy Sheringham at Gillingham, Niall Quinn and Jack Charlton at Ireland, Glenn Hoddle at Chelsea and Liam Brady at Celtic.  The stories with the Ireland team paint a great picture of the team that Jack built – but Cascarino remains the focus of the narrative throughout. Most strikingly, once Cascarino pulled a muscle in the build up to USA 94, he doesn’t even mention the game he played in (2nd round exit v Holland) but is straight into the unlikely tale of how he signed for the defending European Champions.

The days of “Tony Goal” in France are the most interesting football wise for me – as he bangs in goals while being unforgivably bad as a husband and father.

Tony

Ultimately, its a difficult read with a happy ending (for Tony) tinged with sadness (for others mostly) – on the pitch in France he ended with a great performance but with Nancy still being relegated. Off the pitch he committed to a new family but the impact of his behaviour on his ex and first two kids still a long long way from healing.   Ultimately, it feels like the writing of the book and the searingly honest admissions it contains is Tony’s attempt and understanding himself.

Kimmage’s quality as a writer really shines through in the books narrative structure – the use of two separate series of diary entries captures the Tony of 1999/2000, and the telling of his life through the rest of the book helps explain how he became the man he is.

As Eamonn Dunphy said of this book, if it was fiction it would win the Booker Prize. It is as much about life as it is about football.  It is a book I will reread every few years and enjoy every single time.

The closest we have ever come to a sequel to Full Time is a 2014 interview between Kimmage and Cascarino that updates a bit on Tony’s life since 2001.   A book is also coloured by what happens next so don’t read it until after you finish Full Time.

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