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  • Brendan Rodgers: My road to Paradise began in Carnlough car park

    Brendan Rodgers: My road to Paradise began in Carnlough car park

    By: Paul Cuddihy on 26 Oct, 2017 14:01

  • BRENDAN Rodgers tells the story of his Road To Paradise in his autobiography, which is published this weekend. And the Celtic manager will also be in conversation with TV broadcaster and personality and fellow countryman, Eamonn Holmes, in two special events in Glasgow (Friday) on Belfast (Wednesday, November 1).

    The book charts the manager’s journey from his childhood in the village of Carnlough on the Antrim coast through to becoming manager of the team he has always supported and leading them to a historic invincible treble-winning success.

    In this exclusive extract from The Road To Paradise, Brendan Rodgers talks about his early football experiences, the influence of his parents, and a letter from a relative to Billy McNeill back in 1987…

    ‘I always loved playing football. In Carnlough, although there was a senior team, we didn’t have any recognised boys’ teams at that time, but I was always with a ball and played with my friends.

    'The leagues were in Ballymena and Larne, so we’d have needed an adult or even a group of people to take the initiative and form a team. I can understand that the travel involved, having to go from Carnlough to all these places to play, made it difficult, and the circumstances around going into different areas at that time were restrictive as well.

    ‘There was maybe a wee idea from others that I had some talent, although I just knew I loved football, so I was always practising and trying to be my best. When we played in the village, there would be a big game in the car park during the summer evenings, when everyone would just descend on it. It would be a twenty versus twenty game.

    ‘It was mainly older teenagers and men who played, and if you were really young and light, you normally wouldn’t be allowed to join in, but they always let me play because I think they quite enjoyed having me in amongst them. The older boys all wanted to win and they didn’t want a skinny little guy taking them on and showing them up. That was what toughened me up as well. Everything’s more organised now and that bit of spontaneity has been lost from a social perspective. So I got an inkling at that time about my ability. I also played with my own pals, and there were other boys who played who were very good, so there was a real passion for football in Carnlough…

    ‘I’d been spotted because I’d got into the Northern Ireland schoolboys’ squad, while I also played for Ballymena United in the 1988 Milk Cup, which was, and still remains, a top youth tournament in Northern Ireland. So it was brilliant for me. It was what I always wanted, playing in a team, doing something that I loved and then hoping for the call to tell me Celtic were interested. That was what I was always waiting for as a schoolboy.

    ‘The Celtic scout for Northern Ireland back then was a guy called Dessy McGuinness, and I’d always ask my dad on the way home from games if Dessy had been there.

    'It was only after I became Celtic manager that I discovered my Uncle Kevin had actually written to Billy McNeill back in September 1987, telling him about me and suggesting that Celtic should take a look at me. He was trying to do everything to get me into Celtic, bless him, because he would have loved nothing more than that. Kevin was also a great fan of Big Billy and had hoped to arrange to meet him.

    ‘Sadly he never got to do that, but he’d mentioned me in the letter and he got a lovely reply from Billy. I didn’t know he’d actually sent that letter, but it is amazing to think that, 30 years on, I became the Celtic manager.

    ‘There was interest from a few English clubs, however, and at that time it was a schoolboy form I would have signed. My dad didn’t really know a lot about the game. He was brilliant for his energy and his enthusiasm to help me, but with me being the first as well, he probably didn’t understand the dynamics of it all. He was getting advice from various people, and they were telling him, ‘Brendan’s got talent, so let him go around a few of the clubs and then see which one he enjoys best.’

    ‘My dad was always very supportive in whatever I wanted to do but he would still push me to work hard, to do my best and to train in every which way I could to improve. Sometimes he’d hear of different things. For example, if you ran with weights round your legs you’d get faster and stronger, so that was it. He bought me weights and I would be running for miles with them strapped on my legs. The support I got from him, however, taking me all round the country to play football, was great.

    ‘There’s no doubt that my mum and dad’s influence as a child growing up is with me to this day, and I hear their voices in many things I do in life. I enjoy the mornings because they were always up early in the morning. We had a big family so there was never time for lying in bed, or sleeping in, so I love the mornings of my life because we were always up early.

    ‘There were lots of influences, but in particular there was the work ethic – you get out of it what you put into it. That was something which was very clear from my dad.’

    Brendan Rodgers' autobiography, 'The Road To Paradise' is on sale at official Celtic stores from this weekend.

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