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.
Martin O’Neill made the point yesterday that Brodie could upset him with his reporting of Northern Ireland games, in part because Brodie “mattered”. But then, O’Neill added, Malcolm would come back to him as if there had been no sting to the criticism. O’Neill and other Irish players accepted this because of Brodie’s personality but also because he had been there. In O’Neill’s case he knew Brodie had been at the 1971 Irish Cup final when he scored two for Distillery against Derry City.
Malcolm was indefatigable. Alex Ferguson was on the phone to Radio Ulster as soon as he heard of Brodie’s passing. A fellow Scot who, as Ferguson noted, “never lost his accent” despite living in Belfast for 70-odd years, Brodie shared that Fergusonian energy.
Hugh McIlvanney once called Malcolm “a one-man industry”, a Glaswegian who rarely hid his viewpoint.
As McIlvanney said: “If Malcolm wanted an opinion from Irish sports officials, he gave it to them.”
Brodie’s gregariousness and capacity for work inspired the legend. A favourite tale dates from 1965 when Coleraine were playing Dynamo Kiev in the old Cup Winners’ Cup.
Malcolm, who liked a whiskey, was late for the post-match drinks which inevitably flowed and someone joked that he was “probably off filing 400 words for TASS”, the Soviet Union’s news agency in Moscow. Eventually Malcolm arrived and offered his apologies: “Sorry, lads, I was just filing 800 words for TASS.”
They read Malcolm Brodie behind the Iron Curtain in Pravda. They read him in the Belfast Telegraph for nigh-on 70 years. It’s enough. Farewell, Malcolm.
From Eastham to Odemwingie Freedom of contract struggle turns sour
George Eastham was one of those Irish League players whom Malcolm Brodie will have reported on, known and spoken to. Eastham played for Ards – where his father was manager– before moving to Newcastle United and Arsenal. It is meant as no insult to Eastham that his name sprang to mind as Peter Odemwingie made a clown of himself outside Loftus Road on Thursday night.
It was in 1963 when the court case Eastham v Newcastle United began. It led to players having the first sniff of freedom of contract and freedom of movement that would then be taken up by Jean-Marc Bosman four decades later. The transfer of power from clubs to players has since spiralled to £150,000 aweek incomes for the likes of Mario Balotelli. And to the behaviour of Odemwingie.
You would like to describe Odemwingie’s antics as misguided, but they were less impressive than that. It’s not what George Eastham went to court for.
QPR host Norwich City today. In the history of the game, this is not a fixture that grabs like, say, Tottenham v Manchester United. However, it does today. Should QPR fail to win there will be a told-you-so frisson throughout these islands. It is not just that Christopher Samba was bought for £12.5 million on Thursday, it is that his wagesfor the next 4½ years are £100,000 per week. That’s £5.2 million per year, which is £23.4 million over the course of his contract. In total QPR have just committed to £35.9 million for one defender. Meanwhile, in other news, Portsmouth are second from bottom in League One, bankrupt, facing a third relegation in three years.