Racing: He's fat, he's round, a new career he's found, Mick Quinn

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The Independent Online
Francis Lee sets the ball rolling while Kevin Keegan and Alan Ball play a peripheral role and Niall Quinn and David Platt attempt to get into the action. Now Mick Channon passes it on to Mick Quinn, the latest footballer to take his involvement in racing beyond the betting shop.

Mick Quinn told an owner on the telephone that the man from The Independent was with him. "Any tips?" was the query from down the line. "He says don't put black polish on brown shoes," trainer Quinn replied on my behalf. "And don't wipe your backside with broken glass because it hurts." This was going to be different than talking to Major Dick Hern or Captain Tim Forster.

Trainer Quinn still remains a posting difficult to accept. Mick Quinn may have been granted a licence by the Jockey Club, but he has yet to have any runners (that will come in the next fortnight) and in most minds he is still implanted as one of the great renegade football strikers of the last 15 years.

When you think of Quinn, you think thick moustache and a glinting smile, the sort of face that ought to be under a sombrero. You think bon viveur, a man who used to terrorise defences by blowing into their faces and rendering them unconscious with the alcoholic fumes from the night before. They said Mick Quinn had a sixth sense for great accuracy in his playing days. He could find a party from any range.

The statistics hardly underpin this ungenerous cliche. Quinn scored 230 goals in 507 League appearances and was a player of considerable ability who found no marker more troublesome than his reputation. "A lot of top clubs probably steered clear of me because I did enjoy myself while I was playing," he said. "Any manager I played under will tell you I trained as hard as anyone, but I liked to enjoy it at the same time.

"That doesn't mean I was stupid and went swinging from chandeliers with just my underpants on, but I did go out and have a drink and a good time. But I did get a name, especially as I was outspoken as well, and that went against me while I was playing."

Now Mick Quinn must convince a different theatre of sport that he is for real. The 35-year-old Liverpudlian's interest in the turf stretches back the requisite years. He was brought up near Melwood, where the post code is Knowsley, as in the safari park, but Quinn does not go there any more. He does not retain the fondest of memories as his car broke down in the monkey enclosure and the inmates defecated on his windscreen before ripping off the wipers.

Quinn prefers to recall his early interest in racing. "Being brought up in Liverpool I always used to go and watch the Grand National through the fence at the side of the Melling Road," he said. "And I used to pick horses against my Dad's in an ITV7."

A career in football hardly militated against interests equine. "You had a lot of time on your hands," he said. "So it was a combination of going to the pub, the snooker hall, golf, in the bookies all day or going to the races." Someone had to do it.

Mick Quinn was a quality act on the football field and spread himself across many clubs. At Newcastle, he was the bearer of that mystical garment, the Tyne shroud they call the No 9 shirt. The player himself most fondly remembers "the bunch of mongrels" at Pompey, men such as Mick Kennedy, Vince Hilaire and Noel Blake, who was so rugged that one of his managers, Howard Wilkinson, said "he even had muscles in his spit".

Also at Portsmouth was Mick Channon, who had already laid a bedrock for a racing career. When Channon started training, Quinn sent him a horse, Land Sun, who became his first two-year-old winner. There have been 31 others since.

Quinn became such a regular visitor to Channon's Kingsdown Stables in Lambourn that he was close to being a pest. The Scouser worked in the yard over the summer and, two years ago, when he returned from Greece and PAOK Salonika with football out of his system, he picked up a pitchfork on an official basis. "Mick started me off from scratch as a stable lad. I was up at six every morning mucking out," he said. "After a year of crash courses I'd been a stable lad, travelled in the horse box to Hamilton for nine hours and stayed in the lads' digs. Then I was up to being his assistant, looking after horses while they were away, staying overnight, and entertaining owners."

More officially, he has been on the Jockey Club's trainer training course at Newmarket and successfully completed three modules of a formal programme. He is now the first graduate to be granted a licence. After a decade and a half of having his pyjamas put on for him and tucked up in bed with a hot-water bottle, Quinn is now enjoying the fresh responsibility. He is the boss at the East Manton Stables at Sparsholt, near Wantage, from where Mattie McCormack sent out the Royal Ascot winner Horage.

These days he is out at 6.30am, a time when you could imagine him passing his old self on the way in from the disco and kebab van. Those who still think of Quinn as a hedonist should have been at the yard this week. Raindrops were bouncing off his Atlanta Braves baseball cap, his shoes were covered in the gallops porridge of straw and sludge. Mick Quinn was enjoying every moment of it. "Getting up in the morning, mucking out and basically wiping a horse's arse twice a day is not too glamorous," he said. "But it's a genuine passion that I've got and that's why I decided to give up football.

"You couldn't beat the idea of buying a yearling at the sales, educating it and then seeing it run, because a piece of you goes out on to the racecourse with the horse. That's much more exciting than scoring a goal in front of 55,000 people."

None of this new career, though, will be supervised from the saddle. "I've attempted to ride but I haven't found one big enough yet really," Quinn said. "When they race shire horses I'll have another go.

"I remember when the Jockey Club asked Mick [Channon] if he could ride and he told them that he rode as much as Jeremy Tree [the rotund and now late trainer]. It's egotistical really, some of these trainers on their big, white flashy hacks. You can't concentrate on your string if you're on a horse that's jigging around. And you certainly won't find me being one of those flat cap and tweed trainers driving a Land Rover. I'm more comfortable in a shell suit."

Quinn's moustache has gone now, and he is an even more fleshy character than the man whom the terrace troubadors identified with so closely. You could compile an album from the chants: "you fat bastard", "Sumo", and the hit single "he's fat, he's round, he's worth about a pound". The next time Mick Quinn hears shouting from the stands he trusts it will be to signal his first winner in a new life.

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