“He was a smashing man. He knew how to approach parents, he knew how to get on with the schoolboy clubs, he was welcome wherever he went. He was a man who loved the game, who loved watching football and he just had this idea that Arsenal were missing out.”
Liam Brady is paying tribute to Bill Darby, Arsenal’s former chief scout in Ireland, who passed away at the weekend.
Brady is not the only one with reason to be grateful for the ball which Darby set rolling in the late sixties in his native Dublin.
Frank Stapleton, David O’Leary, John Devine and Niall Quinn are just some of the other illustrious Highbury and Ireland names who will forever be associated with a man whose eye for footballing talent was matched by a vision which would help bring about the now famous greening of the Gunners.
“Just look back at all the good players in Dublin who had been going to Manchester United at the time,” Liam observes.
“There was Giles, Eamon Dunphy if I dare say his name (laughs), Tony Dunne.
The United scout here, Billy Behan, had been big around the schoolboy scene for many years. If Billy Behan was at the match everybody kind of knew it.
And Bill looked at that and thought, ‘well, hang on a minute there should be other clubs interested in Irish players.’ And one club in particular.
Bill Darby had inherited a love of the game from his father, a life-long Arsenal supporter, and had developed his own talent-spotting as a scout for a number of League of Ireland clubs.
“Bill wrote to Arsenal saying Man United have got a clear run here, all the players seem to go there, and Arsenal don’t seem to have any presence here,” Liam recalls.
“So he basically pitched for a job.
"Gordon Clarke, the Chief Scout in Arsenal at the time, thought there was some mileage in it and he sent their scout Malwyn Roberts over from Wales to follow it up. And Malwyn arrived in Dublin on a Saturday morning and said to Bill: ‘Take me to a good game where I’m going to see good players’.”
Which is how Arsenal came to get their first official sighting of a young Liam Brady, starring for St Kevin’s Boys.
“We were probably the top schoolboy club at the time, in that U13 age group, and Malwyn saw me playing and said, ‘I like him’,” says Liam. “So himself and Bill came round to the house and it started from there.
I went to Arsenal and Bill got the job as their Irish scout on the back of that. Then very quickly Frank Stapleton joined, then David O’ Leary and John Devine.”
Liam notes that not only did all four early 70s exports to North London later achieve senior international honours with Ireland but that a fifth, Johnny Murphy, another talented footballer of the time, would go on to be capped for his country as a rugby full-back.
And, a decade later, Bill Darby’s successful strike rate was still in evidence when he alerted Arsenal to a lanky all-rounder by the name of Niall Quinn.
1983 saw Quinn playing football for Lourdes Celtic and Drimnagh Castle and hurling for the Dublin minors, with whom he experienced defeat in the All-Ireland final against Galway.
He also toured Australia with the Dublin Colleges gaelic football team.
Into that hectic schedule stepped Bill Darby with an offer that, ultimately, the young Dubliner couldn’t refuse.
“It was the Tuesday night after we had lost the All-Ireland minor hurling final to Galway when Bill came to the house,” the Deputy CEO has told FAI.ie.
“I’d spent the summer playing GAA and hurling, touring Australia with the Dublin Colleges and training for that minor hurling final.
“I hadn’t played football since May, when Drimnagh Castle beat Ballymun Comprehensive in the Leinster Schools Final (in which Quinn had scored twice in a 2-0 win), so it was a surprise to say the least when Bill knocked on the door.
“He explained that Arsenal wanted me over for two weeks the following Monday for a trial. I was worried about my lack of football but he was adamant that I’d be fit enough from the hurling and it wouldn’t be an issue. He assured me Arsenal would be happy to work around that.
“Bill also told me that he was sending me to Arsenal as a centre-forward and that really meant a lot to me.
"There was only ever one other man who regarded me as a centre-forward and that was John Molloy, our teacher and coach with Drimnagh Castle.
I’ll always be grateful to Bill. He saw something in me that very few other people saw and he had faith in me. Without him, who knows what would have happened.
“When I started at Manortown as a nine-year-old, I was playing for their under-12 team as a goalkeeper.
"When I got to 12 and went back to playing with my own age, they put me as an outfield player but never as a striker.
"When I moved to Lourdes Celtic, I was always a midfielder or a centre-back, never put upfront.
“John Molloy was the only man who regarded me as an out and out centre-forward until Bill came along.
"Bill saw something in me as a number nine, just like John.”
Of what was an early defining night in his career following trials with the club, the Ireland legend recalled:
“Holland came to Dalymount for a European qualifier. (Arsenal manager) Terry Neill and (coach) Don Howe came over to look at Ruud Gullit and Bill brought us to meet them in the Skylon Hotel before the game.
“Terry was a charmer. He persuaded my mum that I could do A-levels at Arsenal and the deal was done. We all went to Dalymount and after the game Bill introduced my parents to John Devine, whom he had also sent to Arsenal, to talk about the move.
“Everything was agreed and that night Arsenal got an Irishman instead of a Dutchman — they had an option on Ruud Gullit as well but his agent wasn’t as persuasive as Bill Darby and they turned Ruud down, even after his two second-half goals helped Holland to a 3-2 win.
“I never really got to know Bill after that.
"He did send me a letter to look after a young Irish lad who came over on trial after me and I did just that — after that he knew I’d look after anyone he sent our way and we always did.
“I’ll always be grateful to Bill. He saw something in me that very few other people saw and he had faith in me. Without him, who knows what would have happened.
“My thoughts are with his family now — Bill Darby did so much for me and for so many other Irish players, so much for Arsenal. May he rest in peace.”