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Margaret “Paddy” McGroarty
Born: c.1948, Scotland?
Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972
Occupation: Booking clerk (1972)
Often hailed as “the George Best of women’s football”, McGroarty was a cousin of Best’s Manchester United teammate Paddy Crerand. Of Glasgow Irish stock, she was described as “very Scottish” by Wendy Owen (2005) who remained unsure of her pal’s qualification to play for England.1
At 24 McGroarty was one of the older players to make it through the trials into Eric Worthington’s first England team. Footage from Bisham Abbey shows a gallus number 6 charging about in what looks suspiciously like Glasgow Celtic’s hoops.
McGroarty briefly entered a convent in her youth, and was later in the British Army stationed at Bicester. Trashy tabloid The Sun dressed her up in nun garb for promo photos, infuriating the Women’s Football Association in the process.
On the bus to Greenock for England’s historic first ever match, japester McGroarty demanded her team mates produce their passports for the border. Naive teen Wendy Owen was like a cat on a hot tin roof before being let in on the gag. McGroarty started the match and helped England clinch their historic 3–2 win.
She scored twice in England’s 8–0 win over her fellow Scots at Nuneaton, on 23 June 1973. She hit the winner in a 1–0 defeat of the Dutch at Reading’s Elm Park on 9 November 1973, England’s first match on a Football League ground.
Another two goals for McGroarty followed in England’s 5–0 win over Wales at Slough Town in March 1974.
At club level McGroarty represented Cambuslang Hooverettes, Buckingham, Thame and Queens Park Rangers.
A curious one-v-one sudden death penalty shootout between Southampton’s Sue Lopez and Hooverettes’ McGroarty decided the 1970 Deal Tournament. Saints goalie Sue Buckett saved future England teammate McGroarty’s first effort and saw the second kick missed. Lopez also missed her first kick but gave Southampton their first trophy with her second.
McGroarty turned out for Buckingham Ladies after moving to the South East of England but soon left for Thame Ladies in search of a better standard of football in the Home Counties League.
At Thame she played in a WFA Cup semi-final defeat to Southampton in 1972 and a third place play-off defeat to Leicester Emgals, played as a curtain-raiser to the final.
Thame were a team on the up but they lacked basic facilities: after one blood and thunder cup tie the muddy players had to be hosed down pitchside, like barnyard animals.
Boasting the talents of McGroarty and pal “Big Wendy” (Owen), they won the final edition of the Deal Tournament in 1972.
With QPR McGroarty featured in the classic series of three consecutive WFA Cup finals against Southampton in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
She scored a free kick equaliser in the 1976 final to force extra-time but QPR lost 2–1.
The next year QPR were back and McGroarty proudly captained the Hoops to their hard fought 1–0 win in the final at Dulwich Hamlet FC.
A report in The Guardian, bearing the dubious headline Bridge of thighs, called McGroarty: “a busy little whippet… the best player on the field”.
Meeting again the following season, QPR were thumped 8–2 in the 1978 final at Slough Town. Saints’ Pat Chapman ran riot and hit a double hat-trick.
Unbridled speculation without any factual basis
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) belatedly lifted its woman-ban in 1974–75. Despite superb form McGroarty does not seem to have played for England after this.
A result of greetin’ from notoriously sleekit Scots blazers?
Sensitivity around football’s ‘Home Nations’ – a jealously-guarded carve-up – was an issue long before politics blocked Team GB’s rightful place at the 2016 Olympics.
1. Another of Paddy Crerand’s cousins, Charlie Gallagher, became the first Scots-born player to be selected by the Republic of Ireland in 1967. Gallagher had already represented Scotland at under-18 level, but remained eligible for Ireland due to his Donegal parentage.↩