The player who led out Brighton at Wembley for the 1983 FA Cup Final against Manchester United was an experienced Republic of Ireland international who went on to play for West Bromwich Albion.
Tony ‘Paddy’ Grealish, sadly no longer with us having died of cancer aged only 56 in 2013, was given his international debut against Norway in 1976 by the legendary Johnny Giles, who knew a thing or two about midfield play.
In fact it was Giles, in his second spell as WBA manager, who took Grealish to The Hawthorns in 1984 as the break-up of the Brighton cup final squad continued.
After his untimely death, Giles told the Irish Times: “I obviously knew him at that stage from the Ireland set-up and knew what to expect.
“He wasn’t the classiest of players but he was one of the most hard working and you knew exactly what you were going to get.
“He was a great lad; a social animal who liked a drink after a game but gave you absolutely everything during it.”
Born in Paddington, London, Grealish qualified to play for the Republic through his father, Packie, who was born in Athenry, Galway, and his mother Nora’s parents, both from Limerick.
He began his career across the other side of London, at Orient, and played 171 games for the Os, one of the last being the memorable 3-3 draw against Brighton in 1979 which featured on The Big Match. One of his teammates that day was Henry Hughton, brother of current Brighton manager, Chris.
The previous year Grealish had been part of the Orient side that made it through to the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal, played at Stamford Bridge, but they were beaten 3-0 (the Gunners lost 1-0 to Ipswich in the final).
In 1979, David Pleat signed him for Luton Town for whom he played 78 games in two seasons.
The managerial upheaval at the Goldstone Ground in the summer of 1981 saw the arrival of Mike Bailey in place of Alan Mullery, and one of his first moves was to bring in Grealish as part of a swap for Brian Horton, the ageing, inspirational captain who led Brighton from the old Third Division to the First.
Grealish was definitely what you’d call a players’ player, someone who did the hard work in the engine room of the team to enable players with more flair to shine.
He talked about just that scenario in an interview with the Daily Mail after Brighton had beaten Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in that 1983 cup semi-final.
Referring to an incident when he’d charged down a free kick, he told Brian Scovell: “That’s my job. I’m the bloke with the ugly mug so they get me to do it.”
It was Grealish who rolled the ball to Jimmy Case to smash home that memorable opening goal and he relished his teammate’s strike, saying: “It wasn’t just the power, it was the way the ball swerved away from the ‘keeper that did it.”
After the disappointment of missing out in 1978, reaching the cup final was extra special for Grealish and he found himself thrust centre stage as a result of usual captain Steve Foster’s suspension from the first match.
Even all this time later, people remember how Grealish wore the trademark Foster headband as he led Brighton out. “It was a small protest over Steve’s exclusion from the final,” he told the media after the game.
In the News of the World, Fred Burcombe began his report: “Tony Grealish, Brighton’s stand-in skipper, yesterday entered the Wembley arena with a gesture of defiance and left for home in a blaze of confidence.”
In fact, Grealish was involved in both Brighton’s goals in the 2-2 draw. James Mossop reported in the Sunday Express: “Brighton stayed on the attack after a corner. Tony Grealish collected the ball and his teammates began to fan out, all eager for a pass. He chose Neil Smillie on the right. Smillie gave young Gary Howlett the chance to centre – and as the ball curved in Smith met it ideally, sending his header over the ‘keeper’s outstretched forearm and into the net.”
And with the clock ticking down, United by now 2-1 up, it was Grealish who drilled the ball hard into the penalty box where Gary Stevens controlled it and fired the ball past Gary Bailey to net the equaliser.
Grealish lived in Peacehaven during his time with the Seagulls and clearly enjoyed the social life with his teammates.
“The atmosphere at Brighton is particularly good,” he told Tony Norman in a club programme feature. “There’s always plenty going on. I enjoy our Wednesday golf games. There’s often as many as 10 of the players there. That’s always a laugh.”
Following relegation to the second tier, the Seagulls squad was broken up bit by bit; Gary Stevens and Michael Robinson going first. Grealish lasted a little longer and played two thirds of the 1983-84 season before being sold to West Brom in March.
It didn’t stop him being selected alongside teammate Jimmy Case in the PFA representative side that season (the centre half selection was Mick McCarthy and the forwards included Kevin Keegan and Mark Hateley).
In total, Grealish played 116 games plus five as a sub for Brighton, and his last game for the Seagulls saw him score in a 1-1 home draw with Manchester City, who he would subsequently join in 1986-87. He played 65 games for West Brom, and 11 times for City, who also had former Seagull Neil McNab in their line-up.
In 1987, Grealish moved to Rotherham United and played 110 games for the Millers before moving to Walsall (36 appearances).
During his time at Rotherham, in 1988-89, he once again found himself in the PFA representative selection, this time for Division Four.
By the time the curtain came down on his playing career at non-league Bromsgrove Rovers in 1995, he had played a total of 589 league games, plus 45 for the Republic of Ireland; 17 of them as captain.
Little surprise, then, that when he died in 2013, the Football Association of Ireland paid a warm tribute. FAI president Paddy McCaul said: “He will be remembered as a great servant of Irish football who was part of the international set-up under John Giles and Eoin Hand that came so close to qualifying for major tournaments and helped change Ireland’s fortunes at that level of the game.”
FAI chief executive John Delaney added: “Tony Grealish was one of my footballing heroes when I was a child and I always remembered him as a great competitor who always gave his all for Ireland.”
It was during Alan Kelly’s brief reign in charge, in 1980, that Grealish was first made Eire skipper – against Switzerland – and he was a central figure in successor Eoin Hand’s team.
“He was a great character,” said Hand. “I don’t think I ever selected a team during my time in charge that didn’t have him in it.
“I think it’s fair to say he raised his game when he was playing international football. I’d say he was a great club player but the commitment he gave for Ireland; he just couldn’t have given that on a twice weekly basis playing club football. He gave absolutely everything.
“He contributed so much (including eight international goals), had an infectious enthusiasm for it all. If ever there was someone who showed how proud he could be to represent his country then Tony was it. He was very much part of it all; a great ambassador; very generous.”
Hand added: “He was a great example to others in the way he dealt with people; other players, supporters, kids….a really wonderful guy. I was very lucky to have him around when I was manager.”
- Pictures from my scrapbook show Grealish on an Albion matchday programme cover, a Match magazine pic of him in WBA colours via Football Past on Twitter, on the front of the 1983 FA Cup Final preview edition of Shoot!, and, below, a montage of various headlines and images.