Bonner, Pat

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Fullname: Patrick Joseph Bonner
Pat Bonner, Paddy Bonner, ‘Packie’ Bonner, ‘Big Showaddy’, (N.B.: ‘Packie’ is an Irish short-hand for Patrick)
Born: 24 May 1960
Birthplace: Clochglas, Donegal, Ireland
Height: 6′ 2” (188cm)
Signed: 14 May 1978 (Jock Stein’s last signing)
Left: October 1997 (although 1995 was his last game)
Position: Goalkeeper
First game: Celtic 2-1 Motherwell, League 17 March 1979
Last game: Celtic 1-0 Airdrie, Scottish Cup Final 27 May 1995
International: Rep of Ireland
International Caps: 80 caps
International Shut-outs: […]


“When I came over to Scotland, I came to realise just how important Celtic was to the Irish community, to give them an identity.”
Pat Bonner

[Untitled]Until the arrival of Artur Boruc, Donegal-born ‘Packie’ Bonner was unarguably regarded as the best Celtic goalkeeper since the great Ronnie Simpson.

Hailing from a county which has strong links to the Bhoys and is a hotbed of Celtic support it is perhaps not surprising that Bonner should make a name for himself in Glasgow’s east end.

The big keeper joined Celtic in 1978 from his local side Keadue Rovers and somewhat appropriately made his debut on St Patrick’s day 1979 in a 2-1 win at home to Motherwell. Brave, athletic and a superb shot stopper, Bonner was to become a mainstay of the Celtic team throughout the 1980s and the early years of the 90s. Notably he was Jock Stein’s last signing for the club.

His big break came in August 1980 when the popular Celtic ‘keeper Peter Latchford injured his hand and Bonner was thrown in at the deep end for Danny McGrain’s testimonial game against Manchester United at Parkhead. He gave an excellent performance in a 0-0 draw and from that day onwards he was to be the established Celtic number one.

He won a league medal in 1980/81 despite a rocky spell in November of 1980 when Celtic manager Billy McNeill kept faith with his Irish keeper and he made his debut for the Republic of Ireland in April 1981. Despite his youth he showed a great maturity in his performances and had a fine relationship with his back four of that time – McGrain, Aitken, McAdam and Reid.

In 1982 Celtic regained the title and Pat’s reputation continued to grow. Around this time he gave great performances in the away Euro ties against Juventus and Ajax. He was sensational in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam when Celtic triumphed 2-1 over Cruyff’s Ajax and it was, arguably, his finest game for Celtic.

Throughout the 1980’s Celtic’s defence was constantly criticised as Celtic struggled to find a commanding centre half. The attacking philosophy of the club often meant that the defence was given little or no consideration. Pat Bonner won his first Scottish cup medal in 1985 with the late, dramatic win over Dundee United and another league medal in 1986. However the advent of Graeme Souness’ Rangers team set Celtic back but they retaliated by winning the double in 1988 with new defenders Mick McCarthy and Chris Morris at last helping to bolster the over worked Celtic defence. Unfortunately Pat Bonner spent long periods on the sidelines that season and young Northern Irishman, Allen McKnight, was in the Celtic goal for the 1988 final victory, again against Dundee United.

Injury again affected Pat Bonner after a magnificent showing in the 1988 Euro championships in Gemany for Ireland. He had an especially fine game against England in Ireland’s 1-0 win when he defied the much vaunted England forward line of Lineker, Barnes and Beardsley. Despite signing goalkeepers Ian Andrews and Alan Rough, Pat Bonner was back as Celtic goalkeeper by the end of October 1988, having a great performance in the 2-0 win over Hearts.

Despite Celtic’s deteriorating results at this period Pat Bonner’s performances remained remarkably consistent. He was regarded as one of the world’s best goalkeepers after his magnificent showing for Ireland in the 1990 world cup. He became a national hero when he saved crucial penalties in the shoot out victory against Rumania and Ireland were unlucky to lose to Italy in the quarter finals. On this visit to Italy, Pat Bonner was photographed in the Vatican whilst being introduced to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. The Pope recognised Pat Bonner – ‘You are the goalkeeper’, which pleased Pat Bonner as the he was a devout Catholic and the Pope himself was a former goalkeeper in his day.

One curious impact that Bonner had was to prove to the authorities that a tinkering of the rules was needed, which introduced the pass-back rule. Mulled for a long time before, defensive minded coaches had finally pushed pass-backs to the goalkeeper to the limit, and Ireland were deft exponents of this tactic, with a match v Egypt ending 0-0 and boring the pants off of everyone. So Bonner helped to change the game unwittingly, and at the time it was a major change in a game which has generally been very conservative when it came to rule changes to the game.

In September 1990 he had the game of his life at Ibrox and inspired Celtic to a credible 1-1 draw. However things were not so good at Parkhead and Liam Brady replaced Billy McNeill as manager in 1991. Brady brought Gordon Marshall from Falkirk and for the first time Pat Bonner now had real competition for the number one jersey. In November 1991 Pat Bonner blundered against Motherwell and Marshall replaced him for the rest of the season.

In May 1991 Pat Bonner was given a testimonial against a Republic of Ireland select and a huge crowd turned out to see Celtic win 3-2 courtesy of a Gerry Creaney hat trick. At the end of the game the Celtic DJ played ‘It’s a great day for the Irish’ by Glen Daly which was especially fitting given the occasion.

Celtic’s results did not improve and Lou Macari took over from Brady in 1993 and brought Carl Muggleton as his first choice keeper. Despite this Pat Bonner won back his place and had a fine game at Ibrox in April 1994 when Celtic fought for a draw in a game that saw no Celtic fans allowed into Ibrox stadium. The big Donegal keeper was again at the fore for Ireland in the 1994 world cup in the USA when he inspired Ireland to that famous win over Italy in the sweltering heat of New York.

He was actually axed by Lou Macari in 1994, who brusquely informed him that he was being released after the Aberdeen game on 17 May 1994. Pat Bonner then went to the World Cup as a free agent, and went on to agree to join his great friend Tommy Burns at Kilmarnock. When Burns got the Celtic job he brought Bonner back as player/coach.

Despite his friendship with Burns it was Gordon Marshall who was picked as the Celtic goalie for the new season. Sadly for Marshall, he was deemed at fault by various sections of the support for a late goal in Celtic’s dreadful Coca-Cola cup final defeat to Raith Rovers in November 1994, and thereafter Pat Bonner again returned in the Celtic goal. He had another fine game at Ibrox in January 1995 in a 1-1 draw when a young Celtic outfield team got a result against the odds. He was an elder statesman of the side, and it was buying time till the inevitable end.

In May 1995 Pat Bonner played his last game for Celtic in the 1-0 Scottish Cup final win over Airdrie. It was a fitting way for the big gentle giant to end his Celtic days and the fans gave him a rapturous ovation as he lifted the cup. All in all, he had been Celtic’s goalkeeper for the best part of 15 years and it was an emotional day for him at Hampden.

The main weaknesses to Bonner’s game were the odd handling error and the tendency on occasion to flap at corners and crossballs. The pass-back rule change in 1992 seemed to be a struggle for him at first and knocked his confidence. When you read retrospectives on Bonner, there are plenty of critics out there amongst the support. In highlights of games from his era, there were plenty of goals lost due to his mistakes. On the whole though the man from Donegal was a superb servant to the Hoops and it says much about his ability that Celtic struggled for years to find a keeper of equal class to replace him.

With an incredible 641 appearances to his name it was always guaranteed that the name Pat Bonner would be fondly remembered by Celtic followers, as a person as well as a player.

Few players have enjoyed a better personal relationship with the Celtic faithful than Pat Bonner.

After his 1997 departure from the club Bonner became involved in coaching and after a spell as Tommy Burns‘ assistant at Reading, he was part of the Republic coaching team that travelled to the World Cup in 2002.

Just after leaving Celtic, he knocked back the chance to play for Berwick Rangers against Celtic in the League Cup. He then linked up with Billy Stark for a coaching stint at Greenock Morton in October 1997, before heading to Reading in May 1998.

In time he moved into media and backroom football work. A popular figure, he was intelligent and well spoken on his commentary on the game, and was well respected.

Over the fifty years after WW2, Celtic weren’t as blessed with many great keepers for some reason as it was in the previous fifty years or so. There had been plenty of good keepers in that time but few who could be regarded as having been truly great. He may not be as highly rated as some old Celtic greats like Johnny Thomson and Ronnie Simpson but Bonner’s achievements for club and country mean he is certainly worthy of being classed as a very good player, and is still fondly remembered by all who saw him play.

We wish him the best.


“Pat Bonner once came in with this horrendous coat on to training. It was so bad, we hung it from a flagpole above the Jungle.”
Roy Aitken, former Celtic colleague

“When I came over to Scotland, I came to realise just how important Celtic was to the Irish community, to give them an identity.”
Pat Bonner

“A truly great goalkeeper. A very strong-willed person who was fantastic to have behind you out on the park.”
Murdo Macleod, former Celtic colleague

Playing Career

1978-95 483 55 64 39 641

Honours with Celtic

Scottish League

Scottish Cup

Scottish League Cup



Pat Bonner Inspire Rules Changes In Football

Pat Bonner 1986

Italia 90 (honourable mention goes toIreland 0-0 Egypt)

Until the year of our lord 1990, it was thought right and natural that a goalkeeper could pick up a ball in his penalty box, no matter what way it arrived at him.

It was the World Cup in Italy in 1990, famously the most negative tournament of them all, when panicky defenders – and midfielders – were officially deemed to have taken the piss with the back-pass.

And no team abused the back-pass more than Ireland, for whom Packie Bonner more often than not operated as a kind of deep lying playmaker. Ireland scored two goals in that magical summer, both of which originated from one of Packie’s aerial bombs. Indeed, in both cases, he was the last Irish player to touch the ball in the move other than the goalscorer. So in that sense it was entirely logical that Ireland should feed their most creative player at every opportunity.

In his book ‘The Outsider’, football writer Jonathan Wilson specifically cited the Ireland-Egypt game as a match which highlighted the need for change in bright neon lettering.

Even in Ireland, the match is frequently touted as the worst game in World Cup history, largely thanks to the efforts of Eamon Dunphy. But who knew that the game would prove so instrumental in forcing the FIFA suits to recognise that change was needed?

A general rethink about the laws of the game had been prompted by the negativity of the 1990 World Cup and, in particular one passage of play in the group match between the Republic of Ireland and Egypt in which the Irish keeper Packie Bonner held the ball for almost six minutes without releasing it.

The new back-pass rule was eventually introduced in the summer of 1992. It first came into affect at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. According to the Guardian, German goalkeeper Bodo Illgner has the honour of being the last person to legally pick up a back-pass in a major competition. He picked up Stefan Reuter’s back-pass in the dying seconds of the Euro 92 Final, where Germany trailed jammy surprise packages Denmark 2-0. Presumably, he didn’t hold onto it long. Furthermore, they assert that Steve Nicol’s pass back to Bruce Grobbelaar in the closing stages of the 1992 FA Cup Final is the final such instance in the English club game.

Pat Bonner signs, 16th May 1978 Evening Times snippet.

Aidan Smith’s Saturday Interview: Celtic and Republic of Ireland legend Pat Bonner – ‘Beating Scotland at Hampden lit the fire for our golden era’

The last time I spoke to Pat Bonner he was in a state of suspended animation, possibly a bit like a goalkeeper with a high ball hurtling into the box – stay or go?
By Aidan Smith
Friday, 10th June 2022, 2:35 pm

The dilemma then was which place he called home. Donegal or Glasgow? The former was his heartland. Ah, but the latter was where he became a legend and where he and his wife Ann had raised a family. There was, though, no urgency about the debate and dilemma is overstating things. Really this was a little conversation he liked having with himself, and sometimes his better half.

“For 30-odd years,” he told me over coffee in the Merchant City, “there’s been this joke between Ann and I. It goes back to my Celtic days. I’ll say: ‘Ach, do you know, I’ve got to go home.’ She’ll say: ‘But this is your home.’ She’s right, of course.” A pause, a smile, then: “Actually no. We’re both right.”

So I’m wondering today, now that it’s 40-odd years, is the joke still going strong? “Funny you ask because over the last wee while it’s changed. Where do we see ourselves ending up? Ann, who’s Scottish, doesn’t think that for her it will be Donegal. I’m asking myself: ‘Should it be for me?’ The thing is, we need to be together when that day comes. So, aye, we’re having an interesting debate about where we want to be buried!”
The penalty save against Romania at Italia 90 which made him immortal.
The penalty save against Romania at Italia 90 which made him immortal.

Don’t be alarmed, Packy, 62, isn’t going anywhere just yet. As a kenspeckle voice on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound, he’s just witnessed the revival of Celtic, champions again. And he wants to be around for a similar upturn in the fortunes of the Republic of Ireland, so what better moment for that to begin than this evening.

The 80-cap Bonner will be at the Aviva Stadium for the Nations Cup tie against Scotland. “I desperately wanted you guys to qualify for the World Cup,” he says. Now, though, he desperately wants to beat us.

This time we must chat by phone because he’s already in Ireland, the journey over there taking a bit longer these days. “Since Covid there have been no flights between Glasgow and Donegal. We absolutely must get that route back.”

Here, Bonner might sound a bit like a politician. A few years ago he thought about becoming an MEP. He won 20 nominations to stand for the Fianna Fail party in the seat covering Donegal but ultimately decided against the Brussels gig. “It would have been a big change in my life but I remain deeply interested in politics, in society. I want to see a good society. Scotland I think has one. In my 44 years there I’ve never had any issues. I’m obviously very interested in the Irish story too and if you were in my house in Glasgow you’d hear the radio constantly flicking from Radio Five to Radio Scotland to RTE and – when I can find it – the local Donegal station. Politics or music? It’s politics for me.”

I’m not surprised that, even just for a brief moment, he considered standing for election. A chunk of our conversation last time was devoted to the Celtic Tiger, Bonner’s take on Ireland’s economic miracle of the 1990s and its aftermath. There’s a view that the Emerald Isle’s bountiful confidence during that decade came from the World Cup thrills at its beginning, when a penalty save by Bonner sent the country wild and their football team managed by the buccaneering Jack Charlton into the quarter-finals. Even so, the goalie’s presence on the list of Euro candidates didn’t impress one of his political rivals, an ex-dairy farmers’ leader, who harrumphed: “I think the country has moved on from Italia 90.”

Bonner laughs when I mention this, and at the notion he might have traded on the moment in Genoa when he stuck out a right hand to foil Romania’s Daniel Timofte. “I don’t speak about the penalty, at all, but folk still mention it even 32 years later. This is a generation which is getting older and who experienced a very positive emotion that day so it’s staying with them. They remember where they watched that game, who they were with and what they were doing in life just at that time.”

It was 25 years after the event that Bonner got to speak with Timofte and trade their hero/villain experiences. “We hooked up on a podcast organised by an Irish newspaper. I told him that some pals in Donegal who’d been renovating a little fishing boat – a half-decker, we’d call it – finished the job on the day of the game, were wondering about a name, and then one of them went: ‘We should call it Timofte.’ Daniel told me that after he finished up playing he opened a bar in his home town which he called ‘Penalty’. He suffered a hard time after the miss, and I’m still sorry about that, but he decided that if anyone gave him hassle in his own pub he could have the great pleasure of chucking them out!”

So where did it all begin, this golden age for the men in green? Bonner is in no doubt here – February 18, 1987, Hampden Park. “That was a qualifier for the ’88 Euros. The reverse fixture had been the year before at Lansdowne Road, a grim 0-0 draw that no one remembers so please don’t ask me about it. But could we win in Glasgow against a good Scotland team, maybe not one of the top ones of all time but still with guys like Mo Johnston, Davie Cooper, Alan Hansen, Roy Aitken, Brian McClair and Richard Gough?” Win the Republic did, thanks to a sixth-minute goal from Mark Lawrenson. “That was a huge milestone in the development of our team. It lit the fire and after that we really started to believe.”

Dig out the Irish line-up from these two clashes – combined attendance touching 100,000 – and you wonder why this team was hiding its light under a bushel. Bonner – Jock Stein’s last signing for Celtic, 641 games, five league titles, five Scottish Cups, two League Cups – runs through it for us: “Jim Beglin was one of our full-backs but then he got a bad injury so we had a problem in the position for the Hampden game so Jack moved Paul McGrath from central defence and also brought in Ronnie Whelan.

“Ronnie was a lovely mover, a great passer and read the game brilliantly, while Paul was world-class. And just look at the calibre of club supplying Ireland at that time, your Liverpools, your Manchester United, your Arsenals.

“Directly in front of me were Mick McCarthy and and Kevin Moran, both of them so brave. Kevin wasn’t the tallest and putting his head where it hurts he’d often come away with cuts and need bandaging up. These two weren’t particularly quick, though, and Jack wanted me on sentry-duty, well off my line.” The original sweeper-keeper, then? “Oh I don’t know about that. The boys who do it today at least have perfect playing surfaces for passing the ball with their feet. We won the league once at Parkhead and there wasn’t a single blade of grass to be seen anywhere on the pitch.

“Lawro [Lawrenson] was a centre-back who Jack liked to put in midfield to protect the defence. He was a very modern player and would have excelled in the game now. Liam Brady was our genius. He was reporting back for Ireland duty from Juventus, then Sampdoria, then Inter. He was criticised for not always bringing his club form, but that’s a common issue when so much can be expected from the most glamorous player, sometimes too much.

“Liam was great at linking up with his old Arsenal team-mate Frank Stapleton who I’d describe as a self-made striker. Every day after training he’d stay out to work on his little drills and just about every time – with me as his guinea pig – he’d hit the target. Then there was Ray Houghton who provided us with great energy. He was born in Castlemilk but you guys never capped him! Jack didn’t know Ray’s father hailed from Donegal until he came to Oxford United to watch John Aldridge. Both John and Ray moved quickly to Liverpool after their performances for us.”

If that Hampden win was crucial for Ireland then so was Gary Mackay. The Hearts stalwart scored the goal in Bulgaria which confirmed the Republic’s place at their first-ever finals. “Scotland had nothing to play for that night but thankfully they, and Gary, did us a huge favour. I watched the game at home with my son Andrew, then just a tot, on my lap. When the goal was scored the wee thing went right up in the air.” (The keeper caught him on the way back down).

At the tournament in West Germany Bonner produced an outstanding performance, maybe the career-best, to repel Gary Lineker and John Barnes. Victory over England was followed by a draw with the mighty Soviet Union team of the period – “We could have won” – and defeat through an 82nd-minute goal by eventual tournament winners Holland.

Right away, a national debate began over Ireland’s tactics. Could they – with the personnel at their disposal – have achieved more? “That discussion continues today. The purists very much think we should have done.” Charlton was criticised for an agricultural style of play but Bonner won’t hear a bad word against his old boss, who died in 2020.

“I loved the man, loved his company. He held the room, treated us as adults and loved a debate – not just about football but everything. Folk who never met Jack loved him from what they saw on TV and read about him. For Irish folk, although coming from England, he was very close to our culture in many ways.”

Following their first Euros with their first World Cup, the Republic kind of stole Scotland’s clothes. “We in Ireland were very jealous of you guys when you were habitual qualifiers. Growing up I watched Scotland in ’74, Davie Hay and Danny McGrain, and then in Argentina. Our country at the World Cup seemed just a dream. Then in Italy when Scotland moved out of Rapallo that became our base. And when we kept qualifying [America in ’94 and the famous Giants Stadium victory over Italy, Houghton scoring the winner and Motherwell’s Tommy Coyne playing the game of his life] Scotland kind of fell away.”

But Ireland haven’t been back to the finals since the Far East version in 2002 when Packy, part of the coaching staff, witnessed Roy Keane’s walkout in Saipan over what he called poor preparation. “A magnificent player, difficult to get to know and, no question about it, a man of independent mind,” is Bonner’s summation.

Since then for the Irish, just like Scotland, there has been a procession of managers, a foreign experiment, the odd appearance at the Euros but no more World Cups. But the Football Association of Ireland were also left reeling from the ill-starred reign of CEO John Delaney. Before a government bailout the debt had topped 70 million euros.

Among the excesses the FAI were found to be stumping up the rent of Delaney’s home to the tune of 3,000 euros a month while an infamous James Bond-themed birthday party for the man cost 80,000 euros of association funds. “Some of the stuff was incredible,” says Bonner, who’s joined the FAI board as part of a complete overhaul of operations.

“Toughest for us right now is trying to bring through the young players. In Scotland, Celtic, Rangers and some of the other clubs can provide youngsters with European football. Celtic are going into the Champions League and Rangers have just performed magnificently in the Europa League. These experiences will be invaluable but in Ireland where will they come from? Our brightest prospects are no longer getting to go to the likes of Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal and Brexit is a problem here because England clubs and Scottish ones, which used to act as a finishing school for our talent, can’t sign under 18s anymore. That’s a paradigm shift. We’re going to have to develop kids in a different way. A new academy system has been put in place but that’s going to take time to establish itself.”

The future may be uncertain but for Bonner the Scottish-Irish links grow ever stronger. Next month his daughter Melissa marries her Glaswegian fiance. Son Andrew is also married to a Scot. “And my grandson Alan, who’s 14, is football-daft, plays all the time and supports both our countries. It’s so important for his generation that they get to enjoy the experiences we lived through so I’d love for him to see Ireland and Scotland back at the World Cup.”