By Paul Mason
Book Review – The Lost Soul Of Eamon Magee – Mercier Press – RRP £14.50
One thing Paul D Gibson’s book about the life and times of Eamon Magee cannot be labelled is boring. The book is a rollercoaster ride of the ups and downs of the former WBU Light Welterweight Champion (Super Lightweight for the modern!). How Magee is still alive is nothing short of a miracle. Following the publishing of the book, Magee has faced violence and has regularly had to fend off people that are unhappy with his warts and all, tell-all book.
To highlight all of the stories the book offers wouldn’t do it justice, there are simply too many unbelievable tales from Magee’s life and the book was hard to put down. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for people picking the book up, so I’ll provide an overview of an extraordinary life still being lived.
Magee’s life has been a constant battle. Whether this is with the troubles in Northern Ireland, alcohol dependence, drugs, or dealing with the death of his young son. The book has it all. It’s a wonderfully constructed and written book that lays bare the demons that Magee has constantly had to live with from near beginning of his life to the present day. Born into a fierce loyalist family, with his father, Terence “doc” Magee, a leading figure within the PIRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) it didn’t take long for Eamonn to slip into the troubles in the country himself. The way the author describes, in great detail, the troubles in Northern Ireland, and tying Magee’s life in with this, is immaculate.
Magee slipped into the youth wing of the IRA. He loved rioting but, also began taking and dealing drugs. This lead Magee onto the IRA’s radar, and was more than frowned upon. An IRA punishment shooting usually meant being shot in the kneecap or worse, but his dad informed the paramilitaries that Magee was fighting in the Irish championships. As Magee puts it himself: “If my dad hadn’t stepped in they were talking about me getting the six-pack – elbows, knees and ankle. But my father convinced them to only give me one bullet.” One bullet it was, in the calf, and Magee lived to fight another day.
Quite how Magee became a Champion is a mystery. He constantly drank and abused drugs throughout his career, but still managed to capture the Commonwealth and WBU Titles in a colourful career. He was robbed in his first Commonwealth Title fight in November 1998 against Preston’s Paul Burke, when the referee, Paul Thomas, inexplicably scored the fight in Burke’s favour, with Magee clearly doing more than enough to win. It would be ten months before Magee would gain revenge, knocking Burke down three times, and stopping his man in the sixth.
Magee would defend the Commonwealth crown five times, including against the likes of Shea Neary (Points) and a commanding stoppage win over John Thaxton.
This lead to a WBU Title tilt against Ricky Hatton in 2002. I found it staggering that fans found him outside the Manchester Arena, smoking a cigarette, a matter of minutes before his fight. Magee liked to think that this “cleared his airways” for the fight ahead. It seemed to do the trick, as Magee floored Hatton in the first minute of the contest, but, by his own admission, this was way too early, and allowed “The Hitman” to come back into the bout. Magee would fall to a points defeat in a competitive fight.
After a failed bid for the European Title over in Germany against Oktay Urkal, Magee finally landed a World Title in December 2003, when he clearly outscored the dogged Brummie, Jimmy Vincent in Cardiff to lift the WBU Welterweight Title. This was to be as good as it got for “The Terminator” as trouble again reared its ugly head.
In February 2004, following a long-running dispute with a notorious hard-man neighbour, Magee was attacked in Belfast. He was pulled out of a car and beaten repeatedly with a baseball bat, leaving him with a compound fracture of his leg. Magee was due to sign to meet Sharmba Mitchell, the then reigning WBA Super Lightweight Champion, but this would be the least of his worries. Doctors were doubtful of Magee ever returning to the ring, but he proved the doubters wrong, returning in March 2005 after a fifteen-month layoff to stop Allan Vester in Belfast. He would relinquish his belt at the same venue in May 2006 after a flat performance, in a majority decision loss to Takaloo. Magee’s swansong was to be in Motherwell in May 2007, in a wide points loss for the British Welterweight Title against Kevin Anderson. He was more than ready for retirement at this point.
Magee then made the transition to trainer, assisting John Breen with his up and coming stable. While still being a fully functioning alcoholic, Magee requires alcohol throughout the day and is heavily dependent on it from the moment he wakes up, until the moment he sleeps. There are unbelievable stories about being a partner in crime (literally) with the great Northern Irish Snooker World Champion, Alex Higgins.
The book poignantly ends with the story of the tragic loss of Eamonn Magee Junior. He had just begun a new relationship and was murdered by his partner’s jealous ex-husband, who stabbed junior to death aged just 22. This is something that understandably senior has yet to come to terms with, and breaks down at every mention and thought of his son. The emotions are still very raw, and Magee is crestfallen at the start of the book as to the light sentence that was handed down to Juniors attacker, Orhan Koca.
Quite simply, this is a stunning read and is gripping from start to finish. How Magee is still alive is staggering, and how he has the strength to carry on with his demons always not too far behind is commendable.
The quote from Eamonn Magee himself on the rear cover puts it best:
“A book? Listen, I’ve been beaten with baseball bats, I’ve had my throat slashed, I’ve been kidnapped and exiled out of the country. I’ve been shot twice, I’ve been in prison and my son’s just been stabbed to death. Amongst all that, I was the welterweight champion of the world, while drinking the bar dry and doing enough coke to kill a small horse every night. My life’s not a book. It’s a fucking movie script.”