SAIPAN TO PARIS
Exclusive extracts from Shay Given’s new book
MICK doesn’t get another word out. Roy is up for this, he’s out of his seat and he’s into Mick. A minute ago I was laughing, singing along to the band. I’m now slunk in my chair, in complete and utter shock. Roy is going personal, Roy is going heavy and it feels like Roy is going too far.
“Why the fuck are you, asking me a question? Who the fuck are you? You were a shit player and you’re a worse manager. You’re a wanker as a man, you’re a wanker as a manager and you shouldn’t be managing my country. Fuck you, and you can fucking stick your World Cup.”
Mick edges in a word here and there, asking why Roy had not played in the second play-off leg with Iran, and that makes it worse. He implies that Roy was fit to play and he has let his country down, which would make anyone angry, let alone someone like Roy.
For about eight or nine minutes Roy keeps it up, slating every last thing he doesn’t like about Mick, the Ireland setup, our preparations for the tournament, the delay in the delivery of our training gear, the state of the practice pitch, our professionalism as a squad, everything he can think of. By the end he’s not even raging any more, it’s just a total destruction of Mick, personally and professionally.
Roy is hemmed in because of the way the seats have been arranged around these tables for dinner. The only thing between him and Mick is Kev Kilbane, who just so happens to have sat in the worst place in the entire room at that moment. He’s like a tennis umpire, looking left and right, left and right, wondering where the next volley is coming from. The boss stands there, absorbing Roy’s abuse. He’s clearly taken the approach that it’s best to let Roy get it all out, in front of everybody. Finally, after 10 minutes — or several lifetimes, depending on how you feel about it — Roy sits down. He’s said his piece.
TO me, Roy had seemed a bit ‘off’, a bit distracted, for the entirety of the build-up to the World Cup, even from the moment we left Ireland. He complained about how chaotic our preparations were and, to be fair, he had a point. If you believe in omens there were plenty to choose from. When we got to Dublin airport for our flight, it was bedlam, full of fans, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was there for some reason — was it election time? — and there were people dressed as leprechauns with Guinness hats on, you name it.
The atmosphere wasn’t helped by the fact reporters were also mingling with the squad, including some who had criticised Roy for missing Niall Quinn’s recent testimonial. Neither Roy nor Quinny had any issue with that because Roy needed treatment for an injury at the time so it had all been paper talk but, nevertheless, it was an unwelcome hiccup in the build-up to the tournament.
After leaving Dublin, we had to stop at Amsterdam en route to Tokyo which, again, wasn’t ideal. Roy was looking tense when we eventually landed in Tokyo and awaited another plane journey to Saipan. Yet it would be unfair to say he was being completely unapproachable or argumentative with Mick or anyone in the squad at this point. It was a 23-hour trip from Dublin to Tokyo and that’s enough to put anyone in a quiet mood. Roy was just keeping himself to himself.
There’s a radio station in Ireland called Today FM that does a show called Gift Grub which is a mickey-take of famous Irish people. One of their recordings was a spoof impersonation of Roy and Alex Ferguson having an argument about wages and not being paid on time. Roy was going mad at Fergie down the phone on this radio clip and I had a copy of it, so to lift the mood at Tokyo airport, I played it in the lounge as we waited for the remaining connection. Although the Roy on the radio was fuming, the real Roy was fine, he was laughing about it with the rest of us.
Some people are nervous around Roy because he can be unapproachable at times but I just treated him like anyone else and enjoyed the craic.
The Gift Grub spoof was only a laugh, and Roy was more than happy to go along with it. He was a bit distant from the lads but that was just Roy sometimes. I never gave it any real thought.
“WELL,” Mick says, still as calm as anything. “I don’t know what happens now. Because either you go or I go. And I’m going nowhere.” Roy gets up again, takes one look at us all and goes,“Good luck lads, all the best”, and walks out. We sit around, staring at the tablecloth, staring at the ceiling, staring at our flip-flops. Nobody wants to say a word, nobody can say a word. I’ve never felt collective shock like it. Twenty-five blokes, mute, stunned, tongues cut out, heads scrambled, minds blown.
ROY KEANE is one of the greatest players in the world, he’s the finest player in our squad, a true Irish great. And he’s just walked out on a World Cup campaign.
The room remains tense and silent, the mood is surreal. Somebody needs to do something or say something to make us all come back to planet Earth from whatever trip we’ve all just been on. Dean Kiely sticks his hand up. He’s a good lad Dean, a really fine goalkeeper and trainer and we’ve always got on. “Boss,” he says. “If you need a midfielder, I can play there — I’ll do you a job.”
Perfect. The room falls about laughing, the tension and the embarrassment disappear in a split-second. Gary Kelly joins in as well. “GET THAT FUCKING BAND BACK IN HERE,” he shouts one last time, before getting serious. “We’re with you Mick,” he says. “We have to stick together. Now are we behind Mick or not?” The room breaks out into a round of applause for Mick, who still looks pretty shocked by everything that has just happened. In the space of about 15 minutes, Ireland have just become the biggest sporting story on the planet. For all the wrong reasons.
I NEVER want to be in a room with an atmosphere like that, ever again. It had always been my dream to play at a World Cup and now I was there, now I was actually there and it was all falling apart around me. It was without doubt the biggest bustup I witnessed in my professional life. “Did that really happen?” Quinny asked me as we walked out of the ballroom.
I just couldn’t get my head around it all. On the one hand, I didn’t think there was a way back for Roy after what he’d said but also, this was Roy Keane. He was a giant of a player, he was the captain and I didn’t want to lose his influence on the pitch. Ireland were a better side with Roy Keane in the team, no question, so
despite the chaos there was part of me that knew we’d miss him. However, the part of me that mourned Roy going was smaller than the other part of me, which was screaming that it’s a team game and the team comes first.
I understand that as the captain Roy was probably trying to make a point and remain professional but the bigger picture for me was the fact Roy was our best player, our leader on the pitch and someone we all looked up to. If every other player had accepted the situation, could he not have just got on with it like the rest of us? Yes, the balls and bibs should have been there, yes the pitch should have been better. I get all that and I agree with it. But life doesn’t always go to plan, does it?
My issue wasn’t that Roy was raging at the shambolic set-up. What I couldn’t believe was that Roy had chosen to go now — a week before our opening game against Cameroon in the biggest sporting tournament on earth. If the pitches had been bobbly at Malahide and we’d had no kit to train with before a mid-summer friendly against whoever, then I’d be next to Roy, telling both Micks, McCarthy and Byrne, and all the support staff, that it was a disgrace and we deserved better.
It’s a timing thing for me. Nothing matters more than playing in a World Cup for Ireland — I would’ve jumped in a canoe on the Liffey and paddled there myself if that’s what it took to get to South Korea and Japan — so surely to God we can put anything and everything to one side for the good of the job that’s in front of us? Crossing that white line and representing Ireland should’ve outweighed every other issue.
He was a bit distant from the lads but that was just Roy
I couldn’t believe Roy chose to go the a week before our opening game