There are soccer players around the world whose lone moment will be remembered forever. Even a stellar career can be ruined by an embarrassing own-goal or a costly penalty miss. Luckily for Packie Bonner, he belongs to a more encouraging breed of people.
Due to one very special save, the beloved Irish goalkeeper will forever be synonymous with his name for the rest of his days and doubtless beyond.
Despite being one of the best he had ever played, it was by no means his best. Patrick Joseph Bonner played 642 matches for Celtic, his only club, and made 80 caps.
In the 1990 World Cup, one of the most memorable dives was the one that blocked a penalty and sent the Republic of Ireland national team into the quarterfinals by saving a penalty from Romanian Daniel Timofte. Even today, many Irishmen can say where they were when ‘Packie’ took his place in history as the nation’s “JFK moment.”
The Early Years
Packie Bonner grew up in Cloughglass, Donegal. As a child, he played football and Gaelic religiously. When he was a youngster, he played soccer for Keadue Rovers, a local youth team. Growing up, his goalkeeping idol was Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, the South American great.
Packie trialed for Leicester City at 16 years old. Following a guest appearance against English team Stoke City Football Club, Bonner agreed to sign for League of Ireland side Finn Harps FC on a 6-month contract.
Celtic scouted him in Ireland and invited him to Glasgow for a trial. Once the opportunity presented itself, the lad from Donegal did not look back. Packie Bonner became Celtic’s most prolific goalkeeper in history finishing his career with five league championship medals and five Scottish cup trophies.
Having joined Celtic in 1978, Packie won Scottish League Championships, Scottish FA Cups, and Scottish League Cups with the Glasgow club while performing with distinction for his country following his senior level international debut against Poland in 1981. His debut was actually on his 21st birthday.
Under Jack Charlton, the soccer goalie became a regular on the international side, achieving legendary status during Ireland’s European Championship campaign in 1988.
However, the moment Packie Bonner will always be recalled for involved that famous save from Daniel Timofte in the nerve-wracking penalty shootout against Romania at Italia ’90.
As with the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the World Trade Center atrocity of September 11, most people can recall where they were at the moment when the Republic of Ireland reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup.
“The reaction was incredible,” Packie says regarding the impact of Italia ’90. “To think that the national team could capture the imagination of the Irish public the way it did was remarkable.
Young and old, men and women, people who probably were very traditional Gaelic people just got caught up in the 1990 World Cup. It became more than a game of soccer, and we were all proud to be part of Irish sporting history.
“Everybody got involved in the celebrations, so it wasn’t just the players out in Italy and the fans that went out there. We missed out on the parties in Ireland, there’s no doubt about that. Everybody had barbecues and people were setting up plans for the next barbecue. So while we were under pressure out in Italy, everybody was enjoying the celebrations in Ireland.
The unfortunate thing was that you couldn’t be in both places at the same time.” In a program packed with memorable archive recordings, Packie Bonner recalls his major career highlights and he also talks about his loneliness at Glasgow Celtic during his early years with the club.
“I had a few tears in the eye thinking about home,” Bonner says. “At the time we didn’t have mobile phones. In fact, we didn’t have a phone at our house in Donegal, so it wasn’t easy to keep in contact. I found that a really hard problem.
“Looking back, people say: ‘If you were 10 years younger and you were just going through your career now, look at all the money you could earn.’ But I wouldn’t change anything for all the money.
I might be a little wealthier. But money can’t buy you that feeling of happiness and success that I seemed to achieve.”
Packie Bonner told the History Of Soccer team that he is still amazed at the impact that save has made on everyday folk. “Every day, people come up to me and talk about it. This one save has been a milestone in my life in regards to recognition. It’s beautiful, although there are times when you do feel like saying, “I have made other saves too.”
“However, I still feel very fortunate because the World Cup experience brought the nation together in a way that has never happened before. It was a time of economic weakness in Ireland, a time when there was some pessimism, and seeing us out there in Italy, taking on the world, fighting our corner against the very best, I believe, changed the country’s mindset.
I truly believe that the national team can be that important,” said Pat Bonner.
Approximately 500,000 people packed Dublin’s streets when Jack Charlton’s team returned from Italy, scenes that Pat Bonner will never forget. The Republic of Ireland had become a force to reckon with on the world stage. They returned to the international stage four years later. However, something was very different in the USA.
“Coming from a soccer-crazed country, Italy, to the United States, where most people are not even aware of the World Cup. I remember the game in New York against Italy the most, not because we won but because the Irish fans completely took over that stadium. If we had been in that part of the country for the whole tournament, I think we’d have enjoyed it much more.”
Packie Bonner Coaching Career
After ending his 15-year reign as Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper in 1996, Pat Bonner worked for Celtic and Reading before returning to the Republic of Ireland as goalkeeping coach under Mick McCarthy.
He then became technical director of the Football Association of Ireland. Bonner said it was a big task. Regarding developing our players, we could not have professional academies as they have across the water in England and Scotland. So an effective plan from grassroots to the senior team had to be implemented.
“We had 110 staff working for me, and we hired a performance director, (former Netherlands international) Wim Koevermans. I’m thrilled to have contributed to Irish soccer development and hope to have contributed to its future success.” During a wave of redundancies in 2010, he lost his job as technical director. Pat Bonner has worked in a part-time coaching capacity with UEFA and said he would appreciate the opportunity to discuss returning to Irish soccer someday.
Since his niece Una was born with spina bifida 30 years ago, Pat Bonner has been an SBHI ambassador. “After Una was born, I played my benefit game here in Ireland and decided to donate the money to the cause that was closest to my heart.
Packie Bonner has become a respected sports pundit and has appeared on TV3, Sky, and BBC TV and Radio in Scotland. I still get out to the matches, which is excellent,” he says.
Bonner is exceptionally proud of both his career with Ireland and Celtic. His entire career was spent with one club. As it would have been challenging, he would have loved to play soccer abroad. However, Pat Bonner is most proud of his soccer career.
Packie Bonner Facts And Figures
Full Name: Patrick Joseph Bonner
Birthplace: Cloughglass, Ireland
- Keadue Rovers: 1975
- Glasgow Celtic: 1978–1997
- Republic of Ireland 1981–1996 (Ireland’s Most Capped Goalkeeper)
- 1978–79, 1980–81, 1981–82, 1985–86, and 1987–88: Scottish Premier Division Champions
- 1979–80, 1984–85, 1987–88, 1988–89, and 1994–95: Scottish Cup Winners
- 1982–83, 1997–98: Scottish League Cup Winners
- 17th Place – Ballon d’Or: 1989
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!