Big Ron’s Role in Leading Paul McGrath to Aston Villa

Big Fat Ron’s Claret and Blue Army

You may have noticed that former Villa boss Ron Atkinson has a new autobiography out called Ron Atkinson: The Manager . There’s been a few excerpts floating around with serialisations in several local newspapers.

Since he was one of MOMS favourite Villa managers in our time supporting Villa, we’ll run a few excerpts over the next few days.

The first one is regarding Paul McGrath. Did you know Big Ron was after him for Sheffield Wednesday and at the same time Graham Taylor actually called him for advice on the player, whom Atkinson had already managed previously at Manchester United?


Ron Atkinson on Paul McGrath

I was at Sheffield Wednesday when I got wind that Paul McGrath’s time at Old Trafford was coming to an end.

I had just sold Ian Cranson to Stoke for £400,000, the kind of deal that makes you think you can swim the Channel, which meant I had some money.

I phoned Alex and told him I would be interested in Paul for £100,000, which could go up depending on how he did at Hillsborough.

Fergie told me he’d think about it and the next day I got a call from Graham Taylor at Aston Villa, whose opening words were: ‘Ron, tell me about Paul McGrath.’

I probably should have said, ‘Don’t touch him. He’s useless.’ But I couldn’t help myself. I told Graham what I thought and he joined Aston Villa for £450,000.

The deal worked out pretty well for me because within two years I was his manager once more.

If any other Manchester United player had done off the field what Paul did, they would not have tolerated it, but because it was Paul and because they knew he had a problem, they let it go.

The pain in his knee and the drink were intertwined. He used one to deal with the other. When I became manager of Aston Villa, Gordon Cowans came up to me and said, ‘Listen, gaffer, we don’t mind Macca. We want him in the team.’

In the first four years of the Premier League he barely missed a game and, if you ask an Aston Villa fan who’s been at the club for 30 years to name the best player they have seen, some might say Gordon Cowans but most would probably tell you it is Paul McGrath.

He didn’t train; he couldn’t train because his knee simply wouldn’t allow it. He would come into the gym at Bodymoor Heath and just use the bikes or the static weights.

He worked very closely with the Aston Villa physio, Jim Walker, and one day Jim said it would be worth increasing the load on the bike.

‘It is as if you’re pedalling uphill,’ he said, adjusting the weight, which prompted Paul to get off. When Jim asked why, he said, ‘Well, outdoors, I always push the bike when I am going uphill.’


If you’re interested in buying ‘The Manager’ click on the book cover image below for full details.


  1. It is a sad commentary on both the modern game and modern society that at one time a professional footballer who was a known alcoholic would play every game even carrying a long term injury. Never when I saw him did he give less than the 100% until the whistle. A Hero.

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