LIAM MACKEY: Reeling in the years and tears

There are some who call the ’70s the decade that taste forgot, all too conveniently overlooking the fact that it gave us David Bowie in his prime, Horslips in their pomp and, from glam rock to punk rock, a feast of plenty to bookend the decade on Top Of The Pops.

True, it also gave us a teenage male uniform of long hair and denim jacket which, I suppose, can hardly be regarded as a high water mark in the history of fashion, though I seem to recall me and my mates thought we were pretty damn cutting edge at the time.

It has been a week suffused with memories of that era, the passing of Kevin Heffernan marked by classic television footage of hairy young warriors in blue provoking delirium among the massed ranks of similarly hirsute folk on the Hill.

Ah, I remember it well, though I wasn’t even there, having never been tempted to do anything other than keep my colours firmly nailed to the mast at Milltown, despite the grim reality that, following on from the damage already inflicted by ITV’s The Big Match on Sunday afternoons, the rise and rise of Heffo’s Army effected a double-whammy on League of Ireland football in Dublin which saw the terraces at Glenmalure Park depleted still further.

Happily, however, it wasn’t the case that local football followers were entirely without their own homegrown and no less hairy Dub icons to worship. The news this week that Liam Brady is to step down from his role as head of the youth academy at Arsenal, couldn’t help but bring back memories of the time when, as a callow youth himself, he made an unforgettable debut for Ireland.

It came at Dalymount Park in October 1974, just a few weeks after the Dubs had won their first All-Ireland under Heffo. The opposition was a Soviet Union side which, back then, virtually owned the descriptive term ‘crack’ — this, of course, being an era long before the word was hijacked and reworked for what might be loosely termed Irish cultural purposes.

Nope, it was the Soviets who were crack then and when they weren’t being crack they settled for merely being formidable, which only made the result that day — a thumping 3-0 win for the Republic — all the more astounding. I was in Dalyer that afternoon but can’t ever pretend that I really saw the match: such was the massive crowd , that my school mate and I had our hands full just staying upright.

Don Givens deservedly captured the headlines with his hat-trick but if he hadn’t enjoyed that scoring spree, then the story of the day would have been all about Brady’s ridiculously precocious international debut. Even from my disadvantage point, standing on tippy toe at the back of the heaving crowd, I could see that, as they say, the boy was a bit special.

Already unmissable with his classic ’70s thatch rising and falling in the breeze, the 18-year-old had the faithful in raptures from virtually his first touch which, if memory serves, involved taking a pass from John Giles and imperiously dropping a shoulder to leave his bemused opponent tackling thin air.

And it was ever onwards and upwards from there for the lad from Whitehall though, in the light of this week’s end of era news from Arsenal, it’s impossible not to reflect with regret on the fact that, like George Best, this legitimate candidate for the title of Ireland’s best-ever player, never got to represent his country at a major finals.

Speaking of Best, the passing of another Northern Ireland football legend, journalist Malcolm Brodie, has deepened the prevailing mood of nostalgia this week. The famous story of his ‘magnifico, magnifico, magnifico’ intro to his report on the North’s defeat of hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup has been retold by many, your present correspondent included. Bizarrely, however, one English newspaper somehow managed to attribute the yarn to Malcolm’s coverage of Brazil’s 3-0 thumping of Northern Ireland at the Mexico World Cup four years later — which, when you think about it, would be the equivalent of one of us beginning our match report of Spain’s trouncing of the Republic in Poland last summer with a jaunty ‘Ole, ole, ole’.

No, I don’t think so either.

And a final word on the late Mr Brodie. Another celebrated yarn concerns the ancient night when he was attempting to file a match report from Moscow to Belfast. Long before mobile phones, and in an era when even standard telecommunications between East and West were problematic, Malcolm was having a terrible time contacting his office.

After numerous failed attempts, the Russian operator could do no more than patch him through to Prague, from where he managed to get a connection only as far as Berlin, after which he continued to leapfrog from one telephone exchange to another across the continent, the crackly line decreasing in quality all the while, until finally, with his deadline closing in, he was able to make out the sound of someone answering the telephone in the Belfast Telegraph, albeit as if in a galaxy far, far away.

“It’s Malcolm Brodie!” the relieved reporter roared as loudly as he could.

“Malcolm Brodie?” queried the faint voice on the other end. “He’s not here, he’s in Moscow.”

And then he hung up.

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