'Tough life' 'In those days you couldn't come back to Ireland with a black child' - Paul McGrath praises 'brave' late mother Betty
Icon: Ireland's Colossus tells how his adored late mother Betty was so brave to bring him back to Ireland
FOOTBALL icon Paul McGrath has spoken of his love for his late mother who never gave up on him as a kid.
In Lucy's Kennedy new Virgin Media series Lodging With Lucy, the legendary footballer poignantly speaks about spending half of his life battling to be Irish because of racism.
He believes he would not make it in today's world of highly technical soccer superstars -and still gets emotional when he gets thanked by adoring Irish fans.
In Lodging With Lucy - filmed in the weeks before his beloved mother, Betty, passed away at the start of September - he spoke of her courage in bringing him back to an Ireland in the grip of the Catholic church as a baby born outside marriage in 1959 in London.
"In those days you couldn't come back to Ireland with a black child, but she was brave enough to do that.
"She's had a real tough life. I think she was a little bit scared to tell her father that she not alone had a baby, but a baby of colour."
As a child, his struggling mother placed him in foster care and later in an orphanage when she returned to Dublin but she would always visit.
"My mum went to London for work, to clean houses, and there was a doctor's house she was working at and obviously he was a doctor of colour and I was the result.
"She's been a brilliant mother to me, and she always used to come and see me when I was away.
"If I was my Mum I would have left me with either the foster parents or the orphanage and I wouldn't have gone back because it was tough for her to come out and keep saying 'that's my kid, that's my son'.
"I loved her for that, and I will always love her for that.
"She started working when she was 13, she started making cakes in a cake factory, she had a tough life."
In the episode, which is dedicated to his mother, Betty Lowth, he told Lucy he greatly looked forward to his mother's visits to the orphanage.
"I was so proud of her. She was a beautiful looking lady."
When he was 15 Paul reconciled with his maternal grandfather and in later years Betty was hugely proud of her famous son during his appearance in World Cups and other international tournaments. "She'd still travel in on the bus to work and people use to be saying 'Jeeney they did great last night' and she loved interacting with all those people."
The former Manchester United star, who told Lucy Kennedy at the start of their chat that his mother was in hospital, was hoping she would pull through.
He said: "For me it's been an amazing journey with my mum, not knowing my father, not wanting to know my father, never met and never wanted to - and it has worked out OK."
He also opened up about his sadness at the recent passing of Jack Charlton, who he had seen a year earlier at a golf event.
"It was lovely to have that day with him because we knew he wasn't well.
"He was absolutely brilliant to me and fair and honest. He was always dead kind to me."
The humble footballer still grapples with the huge esteem he is held in by the Irish public after his glory days in the Jack Charlton era.
"I don't understand the adoration or whatever it is that people come up and want your photograph or older men just coming up to shake your hand saying 'thank you'.
"I get a bit emotional when people do that because it's nice when people say thank you."
It has even more meaning for a young child who had his Irish identity questioned growing up by racist taunts.
"I love the place, always have, even growing up I have always felt safe being Irish or even being called Irish, that was even a bonus to me.
"I used to spend half my life battling to be Irish when I was younger, I think I've made it now.
"In my younger days, I grew up in an orphanage. If someone called me the n-word then there was a punch up - I didn't win a lot of them, sometimes I did.
"If someone called you that sort of word you had to stand up for yourself. You're playing tig in the yard with the kids for about an hour, but it was only when you looked in the mirror that you suddenly realised the black and white difference.
"When you are eight years old, you are thinking 'so why are they having a pop at me and calling me this thing?'"
These days, the footballer told the Dublin presenter, he is happy being single despite Lucy's joking offer to put him on Tinder.
"I'm past all the lovey stuff. I think when you've been with a couple of ladies and you've had divorces, they're bad experiences, especially where they kids are concerned."
In 2020's world of super-groomed, high- performing soccer stars, Paul doesn't believe he would have a place.
"My personality would not have allowed me to become a footballer because I was a nervy kind of person, I didn't socialise very well with other people unless something was involved.
"I don't think I would be able to stick to all the rules they have now."
He touches on his battle with alcoholism which largely stemmed from his lack of confidence in social situations.
He said: "I wouldn't drink a tenth of what I used to. I knew myself it was changing my personality and getting me down. To be honest even to now, I actually like having a glass of wine.
"I think I'm an alcoholic who is controlling things as best he can. I'm not the mad fella I was."
But the 60-year-old sporting icon has no regrets over his career as a footballer which took him to the greatest heights in the game.
"I wish I never drank but then again I'm delighted with the career I've had and not too many get to do the job they adore," he said.
- Lodging with Lucy is on Virgin Media One at 9pm tomorrow.