Dignified John Giles an antidote to almost everything

Giles, a lovely gentle film by Loosehorse, retraced the route through a football life of our greatest football man, writes Larry Ryan.

Dignified John Giles an antidote to almost everything

Yin and yang, I suppose.

Last Monday night: two TV shows, two elegant midfield players, two football pundits.

Waiting for the documentary Giles to begin on RTÉ 2, I risked a few minutes exposure to A League of Their Own US Road Trip 2.0 on Sky.

A silly flick, Gilesy would have called it. Needless.

Jamie Redknapp joined Andrew Flintoff, Jack Whitehall, and James Corden in California to be coached in dance moves by a cheerleading troupe. Naturally, Flintoff’s instincts took over and he pulled down the shorts of Whitehall, who had not taken the precaution of wearing underpants.

The lads dissolved in laughter, helpless in the face of this top top bantz. The women gamely got on with their work, mustering indifference to the flashdance.

Humanity may eventually examine its conscience and explain how 11 regular series, plus two ‘road trips’, have now been made of this stuff.

At least, on this Monday night, the remote control was able to deliver an instant antidote to the guffawing inanity.

Giles, a lovely gentle film by Loosehorse, retraced the route through a football life of our greatest football man.

Gilesy was soon sitting beside a bowling green in Stretford, Manchester, recalling his teenage years when he lived in digs while at United.

He’d never seen a bowling green back in Dublin and on afternoons he would wander down for a game. And often, although they never organised it, Bobby Charlton would arrive too, from his digs.

And they’d play for an hour, maybe an hour and a half. As Gilesy put it, they “wouldn’t say two words to one another”. But in the silence, two lonely teenagers, who would become two of the world’s greatest footballers, were finding their bearings.

It was an evocative image that thankfully displaced Jack Whitehall’s arse.

Gilesy settled quickly into English life. Maybe it helped that Irish life hadn’t offered him much. He didn’t even feel Irish. Footballers were ‘corner boys’ playing the British game, on the margins.

When the corner boys were eventually welcomed in from the cold during Italia ‘90, it was easier for men like Giles and Dunphy to stay detached, and just analyse the matches.

“It was like soccer was invented in 1990. It antagonised the genuine football supporters.”

The beauty of Giles the film, much like Gilesy the player, was simplicity.

It let him talk. Pull the strings. It did the bread and butter stuff right.

There was archive testimony from his old boss Don Revie, hailing the best passer of a ball he’d ever seen. “With both feet.” And plenty of footage to back that view.

And it put Gilesy back centre stage. In the middle of Elland Road, where everything has changed except the pitch. Not a man for false modesty, or false anything, he could recall how easy it felt, how natural, that pass out to either wide man. “Just a clip, left foot, right foot, no problem whatsoever.” Whereas now, watching from the stands, the centre circle looks strangely far away. The footballer’s Fr Dougal paradox.

Back at the corner boy’s Mecca, Dalymount Park - “our Wembley” - he could visualise how the ball bounced up for him on his Ireland debut, from the Swedish goalie’s punch. A little more hunched than he stood in 1959, he still walked onto the chance, felt it arc into the top corner.

“A dream come true.” Out of some mouths, cliches are simply truths.

He got a reputation for cliches, Gilesy. For saying nothing to the media.

In 1975, when he was Ireland player-manager, RTÉ’s Liam Nolan tried an unusual gambit.

“Have you got the ability to be a bit of a bastard if you have to be?”

“I don’t think it’s a question of being a bastard really, Liam. If you’re honest with one person then he knows you’re going to be honest with the next.”

He didn’t give much away except wisdom.

By then, Gilesy was sceptical of football punditry, though he was more sceptical about bullshit in general. “There’s so much jargon attached to it. People are analysing things in the television and in the papers and I sometimes don’t understand what they’re talking about.”

He’d never really master the jargon, or even all of the names, which didn’t suit everybody.

But a young Liam Brady, in seventies mop, explained then what still holds.

“He puts things across very easily. He makes you understand which way he wants you to play.”

Supposedly Einstein first called it. “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Gilesy turned poacher anyway, defacing the world’s pitches with his scribbles.

“If you could just stop it there.” All those times he implored the VT lads to just roll it back another bit. No, back further. Before eventually giving up. A small sigh of exasperation.

In a strange cameo, the programme caught him at Collectormania, a film and comic convention in Birmingham. Walking among the Chewbaccas and Supermen and Wonder Women were legions of retired footballers - Law, Hurst, Banks, Big Jack, even Pele. There to make a few quid signing merch.

Cue the old pro’s lament at the obscene wealth of today’s players? Not from Gilesy.

“When the clubs had a chance to be decent they were terrible. So when I hear about lads getting this and that now, I say ‘good luck to them’.”

An antidote to bitterness too.

During a break, I drifted back to Sky, to see what they were at. A setpiece with Redknapp climbing into a taxi, asking the driver for some tunes and rapping along with NWA.

‘I’m expressing with my full capabilities.

And now I’m living in correctional facilities.’

Fair enough.

Back in Gilesy’s home in Birmingham, a poignant moment. He’s watching Ireland play. Not working on the game. Back on the margins.

“I had a long run at it. It took RTÉ 30 years to find me out so no complaints about that.”

There’s a musical setpiece too, to finish, for the man who has always expressed, on and off the field, with his full capabilities.

The Irish players line up for Amhrán na bhFiann. And in his armchair in Birmingham the kid who didn’t feel Irish hums along, knowing nearly all the words.

Heroes & villains


Joe Brolly:

We’ve long known the power of Joe’s words, but despite Kieran Donaghy’s efforts, has enough attention actually been paid to Joe’s assertion, back in 2014, that the Kerry production line was well and truly broken? Can we date the Kingdom’s minors unbeaten run to that very day? What do you think of that, Joe?

The hype machine:

Very difficult to write in a vacuum yesterday, not knowing if we’d wake up around 10.30am this morning to an unrecognisable sporting landscape, everything changed utterly, a hemisphere bathed in delirium and at least 15 immortals walking among us.

The VAR:

We told you five years ago on this page that it would be madness to hand football over to the machines. The confusion was inevitable, but the full horror hasn’t yet dawned: the waving of imaginary TVs as well as yellow cards.

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