Veteran soccer reporter with encyclopaedic knowledge

Malcolm Brodie reported on a record 14 World Cups. It would have been 15 if one had not clashed with his honeymoon.

Malcolm Brodie reported on a record 14 World Cups. It would have been 15 if one had not clashed with his honeymoon.


Malcolm Brodie: Born: September 27th, 1926. Died: January 29th, 2013.Malcolm Brodie, who has died aged 86, didn’t just know the likes of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Pele, but his soccer memory and knowledge and acquaintanceship with the footballing greats went as far back as that Hungarian and Real Madrid genius Ferenc Puskas and Garrincha, the Brazilian Lionel Messi of his day.

The former Belfast Telegraph sports editor and football writer saw Puskas in the 1954 World Cup final in Switzerland in which West Germany came from behind to defeat Hungary 3-2. That was his first World Cup and in all he attended a record 14 of these tournaments, the last in 2006, and, as he joked, would have managed 15 if it wasn’t for his honeymoon with his beloved wife Margaret.

His colleagues on the Bel Tel recounted how he knew his standing in the journalistic world – a position enhanced with an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster, an MBE, and a special Fifa award for all those World Cups – but that he was also a collegial, supportive, modest and convivial writer.

He was happy to swap anecdotes over a Johnnie Walker Black whisky after his copy was filed – whether that be from an FA Cup or European or World Cup final or an Irish League match.

His knowledge of the game was encyclopaedic and that in most cases was because he had first-hand experience of what he was talking about – he had been there!

George Best frequently confided in him. Once, when asked did he know the east Belfast wayward marvel, Brodie replied, “Yes, but I don’t know him.” He understood, though, that Best was a “talent beyond compare” and that “shy and at times introverted, he possessed a human touch, a kindness, a generosity, [and] was never mercenary or demanding”.

It was telling of Brodie’s insight and global sporting journalistic reach that after Best died, rather than compare him with some fallen Premiership idol, he likened him to Garrincha, who won World Cups with Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

It was apt because not only could these two players mesmerise with their dribbling skills but they also self-destructed through love of the high life and alcohol.

Naturally his favourite World Cup tournaments were in 1958, 1982 and 1986 when Northern Ireland qualified but he had a special appreciation for the magic that Brazil could weave, and probably his most fondly remembered final was that of 1970 when the South Americans defeated Italy 4-1.

Certainly, in everyone’s favourite anecdote, that was his view when phoning through his account of the game to Belfast Telegraph copytaker, the late Bob Young.

“Magnifico, Magnifico, Magnifico,” Brodie opened with his Scottish accent across the bad transatlantic line. “Yes, Malcy, I heard you the first time,” Young barked back.

And that story developed legs. When he was reporting on how Northern Ireland defeated Spain through a Gerry Armstrong goal at the 1982 World Cup in Spain , the apocryphal story grew that he began his phoned report with, “Olé, Olé, Olé” and again, “Yes, Malcy . . .”

Brodie arrived in Northern Ireland in 1939 from Glasgow to escape the war, his parents not mindful that the Luftwaffe might also have their sights on the Harland and Wolff shipyards.

His first cub reporting job was on the Portadown News. He joined the Belfast Telegraph in 1943 as a general news reporter, finally persuading the paper to set up its first sports department which he edited. He was also chief football writer and was responsible for editing the now defunct Ireland’s Saturday Night paper containing football results and reports.

When he was brought into hospital last week he insisted on taking a notebook, pen and mobile phone so he could maintain journalistic contact.

A measure of his place in the sporting world was how those other veterans, Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson went out of their way this week to pay public tribute to their friend of many footballing decades.

There will be a minute’s silence at Irish League games in his memory today.

He is survived by his wife Margaret and children Iain, Kenneth and Steven.