Meet Your Neighbor: Matt McDonagh
One of the great things about the land we live in is the diversity that makes America one of a kind. 909 recently got a chance to sit down with an Irishman, Matt McDonagh or as his friends call him Matteo. So how did an Irishman become known as Matteo?
In 1960, with dreams of a sunny place implanted by a neighbor, Matt McDonagh headed to LA with the help and sponsorship of his cousin, who had the same family name and served on the LAPD. Within 10 days the spirited and wide eyed Irishman’s famed Irish luck continued as he landed a job with the teamsters. Matt happily recalls one of his first experiences on the dock and his first cultural awakening into his Americanization. “On that evening I was on the freight dock a 57 year old 6’7 black gentleman, named Henry Lax, and I mean gentleman, greeted yours truly and exclaimed: ‘Tell me Irish-Kid, have you ever met a black man before?’ ‘No sir I haven’t’ says I, he then asked : ‘Well kid, what do you think?’ My response: ‘Sir, you look all right to me.’ Another middle aged gentleman with a mustache named Rudolpho Cena arrived heard the conversation and asked me jokingly ‘Irishman, have you ever met a Mexican before and how old are you?’ My response was the same ‘No sir, but you look alright to me and I’m eighteen.’I’m thinking to myself-‘so this is America’. These two memorable and charming fellows, may they RIP, were my introduction to the new world.”
Matt continued to live the life of a true American, even serving in the Marine Corps and upon completion of his Military duties, returned to his employer until retirement in 1997. Most would think that in itself was eventful enough, but that was only a part of Matt’s journey. His biggest passion and legacy is the Celtic Soccer Club, formed in 1979.
The Celtic Culture can be proudly shown in the team uniform of white and green. Thousands of boys and girl have competed for and against the Celtic through the years. They all leave with important life lessons that Matt instills in them from what he has learned in his 75 years, lessons that can be taken and used long after their field playing days are done.
Rafael Gamboa form the Celtic ’76 team fondly reached out to Matt in a heartfelt email and stated “I never told you how much I appreciate you picking me up for practice and games because my parents were working. I was fortunate to have you to keep me from getting into trouble and teaching me so many valuable lessons. I have no doubt that I would not have the success that I have without your presence. I still use one of your famous lines with my kids and students to this day. Whenever they get hurt, I walk up to them and check them out and say ‘Well lad, it could be worse, it could be me.’ That usually frustrates them (which it used to do to me) but then they smile and move on.”
It was evident that Matt has made just as big an impact on so many lives as America made an impact on him and how his perspective changed that day on the docks so many years ago. “When you change your perspective, you change your life.” He fondly stated.
Matt had many stories. I wish I could write a book on the interesting life he has lived. A man who came in as an outsider, but found his heart and soul in a common sport and a father figure to kids of all nationalities. A true gentleman. He lives with his gorgeous wife Mary in Upland and can still be found on the fields every Saturday and Sunday.