A late night knock turns Vinny’s world upside down

A visitor from Manchester brings sad news

Thorbjorn Olesen: Vinny’s 50/1 fancy for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Thorbjorn Olesen: Vinny’s 50/1 fancy for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.


THE knock on the front door came at an unexpected hour as it was close to 11 on Monday night, not a usual time for visitors to call at Mount Prospect Avenue.

Vinny Fitzpatrick shot Angie a quizzical glance before hauling himself out of his favourite armchair.

Always nimble on his feet, he padded softly to the hall and undid the latch with a mixture of curiosity and mild consternation. To say the portly bus driver was unprepared for what happened next was an understatement.

Standing in the porch was an attractive brunette in her late 20s, tear-stained and clearly shook. She was not alone. Sitting in a buggy at her feet, fast asleep was a burly toddler, no more than eight or nine months old.

It took a moment or two to realise the latecomers were his daughter Niamh and his grandson, little Vinny, complete with his grandfather’s bulbous nose. “Jaypurs tonight, Niamh, ‘tis yourself and the chiseller. Come in, come in and make yourself at home.”

Immediately, Niamh flung herself into her father’s arms and burst into tears. As the waterworks flowed, Vinny patted the dark tresses of the daughter he didn’t know existed barely three years ago and struggled to make sense of it all.

Little Vinny
Why had Niamh and little Vinny arrived unannounced from Manchester in the middle of the night? Clearly, something was afoot. “There, there, Niamh. It’s alright.”

By now Angie was on the scene, a figure of calm, as always. As she steered the buggy into the kitchen she tapped Vinny on the shoulder. “Let’s put the kettle on love, and go from there.”

It took a few minutes before Niamh composed herself but bit by bit the sobbing stopped and the story unfolded. As the blanks were filled in, Vinny’s emotions toughened and he felt bile rising in his throat.

As he had suspected, on Niamh’s most recent visit for little Vinny’s baptism in January, the burn-like mark on her arm wasn’t accidental. It had been inflicted deliberately by her husband Roberto.

The abuse, for that’s what it was, had started shortly after they returned from honeymoon in Florida. Niamh had made a casual remark about a strange scent of perfume on Roberto’s shirt and he had responded by smacking her across the jaw.

“He said it was to punish me for daring to question his love. I felt so bad that I ended up apologising to him even though I had to apply lashings of makeup to cover the bruise,” she explained.

After a few months in the good books, Roberto had complained one morning there was no freshly squeezed orange juice in the fridge and had beaten Niamh about the head with an empty carton.

After that, the hidings became more regular, the cigarette burns more pronounced, as Roberto made Niamh’s life a living hell. His infidelity was rampant and he bragged of his conquests.

Respected figure
Niamh felt trapped as she suspected few would believe her against Roberto Rossi, a highly respected figure in the Professional Footballers’ Association, and an ex-pro who clocked up over 600 senior appearances for Bury, Rochdale and Morecambe.

In the male-dominated world of the sports department at the Manchester Evening News, where Niamh covered the Manchester City beat, it was not a subject she felt comfortable talking about.

Sadly, many of her colleagues were a mirror image of the professional players they followed; superficial, vain philanderers who were chiefly stimulated by football, skulling beer and shagging.

After confiding in her mother, Niamh had been told that it was a man’s world and she should try and please Roberto more. That way, he might look at her differently, treat her with more respect.

When Vinny heard that, he felt fierce resentment and anger at Fionnuala, and a part of him wished he’d stayed sober in the Rathmines bed-sit in the winter of 1982. Then it struck him that Niamh would never have arrived on the scene if he had.

Gobsmacked, he tuned in to his daughter’s tale. “I didn’t plan to run away but once I sent in my report on City’s final game yesterday – they were brutal by the way – I realised this was my chance,” she explained. “Roberto has gone to Newcastle on PFA business and isn’t due back until Thursday.

“When I picked up Vinny from the crèche, I just kept on driving to Ringway and waited for the next available flight to Dublin. I just had to get away.”

With that, her voice tailed off, and the tears welled up again. Vinny was torn between compassion for his daughter and outright rage for the cad from Calabria. A part of him was ready to hop on a flight to Newcastle and dispense some old-fashioned Irish justice, via his meaty fist.

He was no Klitschco, but at 55, could still plant a haymaker when provoked as Roberto found out on his last visit when Vinny lost his rag.

Reverie of revenge
It was Angie who snapped Vinny from his reverie of revenge. “Let’s get you and little Vinny settled Niamh and we’ll work out a plan tomorrow.”

Twenty minutes later, after Niamh and little Vinny were settled in the spare bedroom, and Angie had called it a night, Vinny sat at the kitchen table, nursing a large whiskey.

He thought of Roberto, with his slick-backed silvery mane and healthy tanned glow. He should be envious of a guy who looked like Andrew Pirlo, only he wasn’t.

His priority was the welfare of Niamh and his grandchild, who first saw the light of day in Foley’s ladies toilet – an evening none of the lads would ever forget.

Nearly three years had passed since he had first met his daughter, when she came looking for her hitherto unknown father. Niamh was since married, a mother and had reported on her beloved Manchester City winning the FA Cup and Premier League.

Yet, nothing was standing still, not in her personal life or her professional life. Alex Ferguson was gone, Roberto Mancini was gone. As the winds of change blew through the streets of the great football city, Vinny wondered if it was time for Niamh to move on too . As he poured another dram, it struck him that Causeway Avenue needed a lodger and a daughter in distress needed her old man’s help.