ASK Barry Bridges now about his Dublin days and you expect the familiar names of Gordon Banks or Terry Venables or Neil Martin to immediately tumble from his lips. Instead, a soft chuckle delivers a different name, one of rather more reserved renown.
“Paddy Munroe,” smiles the 78-year-old from the native Norwich house he has called home since returning to England. “Now there was a fella who had real spirit.
“A game in Home Farm, the pitch like a swamp. Our ‘keeper Mick O’Brien gets injured conceding a penalty – 1-0 down, our midfielder Seán Byrne goes in goal.
“We equalise but straight away Dermot Keely gets sent off. I make my last sub but then another guy goes off inured.
“Twenty minutes left and we’re hanging on at 1-1 with nine men against 11. But I’m reasonably happy. I’m telling everyone to stay back. Then, five minutes to go, there’s a clearance.
“The ball gets stuck in the mud about 40 yards out and there’s Paddy Munroe running after it.
“I’m yelling, ‘Get back! Get back! But he keeps running. And then I’m thinking, ‘S**t, he has a chance here’. And he scores!
“I’ve a brand new suit on and I throw myself in the mud. We all go absolutely potty. It summed up the spirit, It was the most amazing match I’d ever been involved in.”
All these years later, not all the names and the games may trip off the tongue as easily now as they once did, but the feelings run deep. Bridges may have played four times for the emerging England World Cup heroes of 1966 and scored over 200 league goals while becoming Chelsea’s 11th all-time leading scorer.
But as new manager Frank Lampard (below) brings his side to Dublin, the one-time St Patrick’s Athletic manager still reflects on his time in the dank grey of Emmet Road in the 1970s as fondly as that spent on the King’s Road in Swinging Sixties London.
Bridges’ arrival in Ireland mirrored that of several high-profile guest players in the 1970s, from World Cup winners Uwe Seeler, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton to entertainers like George Best, Jimmy Johnstone and Rodney Marsh.
The highly-paid “guests” were normally at the fag end of their careers, seeking one last pay-day in an era of moderate wages, most of them stopping off en route to the nascent MLS.
Bridges had been topping up his post-career salary in South Africa and, like his contemporaries, only intended stopping off for a few games after pitching up in February 1976.
Before he took what he presumed would be his final flight from Dublin, he was offered the job as player/manager and found himself living in one of the club’s two houses in Newlands Cross.
“It was difficult when I took over as manager at first. The Troubles were raging and being an Englishman in charge of 25 Irish people was not easy.
“It really did take time to get the players to believe in me, to lower that barrier and make them see that I was just like one of them.
“Our first pre-season they had never trained as hard as they did before. They were all part-timers and maybe weren’t used to that.
“Our results in the League Cup, which took place before the league, were good. The players realised things could happen.”
Despite his relatively promising start, Bridges still felt a tad isolated from the squad and surmised that the easiest way to oil the troubled relationship was to lubricate it.
“They probably thought I was some flash b*****d because I played for Chelsea and England and all that,” he smiles now.
“But I was an ordinary guy and they had seen me play a couple of times so they knew that I was a grafter. Yet I knew I had to do something.
“The club had a connection with a hotel (the Spa in Lucan) which had a dinner and dance every weekend. So I said to the chairman invite all the players and their partners. And that probably helped it.
“That was so successful, I said to them before the league proper started, ‘If you give me your all on a Sunday, the first drink in McDowell’s, the pub beside the ground, is on me.’
“We won our first match, then retired to the pub and I thought one drink would be it. But we stayed until 11. And I was drinking vodka and coke.
“‘F***ing vodka and coke?’ they’d laugh. I told them. ‘You keep your Guinness and I’ll keep to my vodka and I’ll drink you under the table.’ And that’s what we did every Sunday that season until 11pm.”
That time, 11pm, is prompted by mischief as Bridges was no stranger to late nights.
Under Tommy Docherty, Chelsea’s title challenge in 1965 had gone awry when a remarkable collective – including Terry Venables, George Graham and John Hollins – broke an 11pm curfew only to be snared by the Doc, resplendent in a fluffy dressing gown with a dressing-down at the ready as his eight miscreants filed into their Blackpool hotel via the fire escape.
Docherty dropped eight players for their penultimate match, inevitably lost; Bridges would lose his place to a certain Peter Osgood the next year; in Dublin, Bridges didn’t want to be cast in the role of the bad guy, hence the Sunday sessions.
“Dermot Keely was my main man. He came back to me a couple of weeks of later. ‘You’ve cracked it.’ That convinced me that I’d earned the right to be there.”
St Pat’s belied their modest status with an income deriving from ownership of bingo halls; other highly-paid guests arrived; Derek Possee, Neil Martin, the latter a Scottish international; Alan Harris, brother of fearsome ex-Chelsea stopper ‘Chopper.’
Venables, too. ‘A word on St Pat’s, Terry?’ this spotty teenager shouted at him in Tolka Park in 1990. “I’ll give you two. Twice and rubbish.”
He actually played three games – and apparently was quite decent in two of them – although his old friend does little to disabuse the latter-day confession.
“He was well past it, he said, ‘I’m taking the p**s, I’m taking your money and not performing.’”
And, of course, Banks, at 39; one eye; one great save from Eamon Dunphy; one cash windfall. A well-worn tale.
“Pat’s wanted to give him £50. Fifty f***ing quid for the greatest goalkeeper of all time!
“I didn’t want him to see our ground but when he got there he said, ‘Weren’t we here last night?” I said, ‘Are you happy with your 500 quid? Well from now on I take no responsibility for what happens. I’ll lock you in if I have to, you b*****d!’ But he treated that game the same as a World Cup final.”
When Bridges returned for his second year, Pat’s had sold their bingo halls and the money ran out.
“I was on a hiding to nothing. But when I left, two of the younger guys, Mick Collins and Barry Murphy, came to me and cried.
“I knew I’d made a difference.”