Soccer in North and further afield was illuminated by prime of Malcolm Brodie
Hugh McIlvanney called Malcolm Brodie "a one-man industry", a Glaswegian who rarely hid his viewpoint. "If Malcolm wanted an opinion from Irish sports officials, he gave it to them." Photograph: Presseye
SOCCER ANGLES:Veteran of 14 World Cups shaped soccer in North over seven impressive decades, writes MICHAEL WALKER
At the end of the lengthy telephone call, once the key facts had been checked again, the context established and clarified once more, Malcolm said by way of his own personal emphasis: “And you quote me on any of that. I was there.”
Malcolm Brodie was always there. That was how it felt because more often than not, that was how it was.
This was a conversation held 20 years ago about a game some 40 years earlier. It was an Irish League match and Malcolm Brodie was at it. Brodie was always at Irish League matches and as the years became decades of his reporting in the Belfast Telegraph, Brodie became part of the fabric of the Irish League, of Irish football, of what became the Northern Ireland football team.
When Brodie began sports reporting, in 1943, Northern Ireland were just called Ireland, as they always had been. Brodie spans all that, he spans the second half of the 20th century, which is why his death in the 21st, on Tuesday night, sent such a tremor through a place not immune to them.
As Billy Kennedy of the News Letter put it: “His passing has grieved me terribly.”
It has grieved a lot of people. At today’s Irish League games, there will be a minute’s silence followed by a minute’s applause.
Malcolm Brodie was 86 when he died and was still working. Should he file a report from his funeral in east Belfast on Monday, who could be surprised?
This will be an event that provokes an outpouring of Malcolm Brodie stories. He covered 14 World Cups, beginning in 1954 in Switzerland. Fourteen.
In 1958 in Sweden, Brodie was with Peter Doherty’s squad which reached the last eight. There Northern Ireland were beaten by France, for whom Just Fontaine scored two.
Brodie knew Peter Doherty and saw Just Fontaine. It’s enough.
Cover one World Cup and you feel privileged, cover 14 and you’re an historian, not just of the game but of the passing of eras. This is what has been lost with Brodie’s death – living history. It is the same with anyone who reaches such an age but in particular in the case of someone like Brodie, who could remember the details of matches and personalities from the mid-1940s onwards.
The feeling in the North is akin to that which accompanied the passing of Con Houlihan in Dublin last year. These are two of Irish sport’s history men and they have departed the pitch within eight months of each other. What they saw, how they understood it and wrote about it remains in print, but so much else departs with them.
Brodie and Houlihan
Men such as Brodie and Houlihan were able to give accounts of things as they were, not just as they are seen today. Whenever witnesses like these say “and by the way” you knew there was going to be insight. Brodie would not just understand the symbolism or meaning of the famous Belfast Celtic, for example, and players like Charlie Tully, he saw them, knew them.
That doesn’t mean they got it right all the time. They didn’t, but who does? But they were there and if they didn’t get it right first time, they should have been able to do so next time – longevity must have talent behind it to matter.