LEGENDARY commentator Philip Greene passed away early yesterday morning.
For those of a certain vintage he was the voice of a generation for soccer addicts. For the rest, put simply, he was the Micheál O’Hehir of the Irish soccer world.
Born in Dublin, he began his radio career with RTÉ in the 1940s and became editor, producer and presenter of the popular Sports Stadium programme.
At the time RTÉ did not show many live matches and to follow Irish soccer, Greene was a must.
“He was of an era where radio reigned supreme and he was the voice of Irish soccer,” said RTÉ Radio’s sports editor Paddy Glackin.
“He was a wonderful wordsmith. His reports were a work of art. I used to enjoy hearing the reports as much as the commentaries and I worked with him. When he’d a match in Dublin he’d come back to the studio and craft the most beautiful pieces.”
The lifelong Shamrock Rovers supporter made his commentary debut when Ireland took on Argentina at Dalymount Park in 1951. He went on to cover many famous games for radio, including the 1957 world cup qualifier against England where Ireland led until John Atyeo’s late equaliser knocked the home side out of the world cup qualifiers.
Passing as he did, the day after Manchester United claimed their 19th title, did not mean as much to him as his primary passion.
“Philip was a complete Shamrock Rovers supporter. He used to say his shamrock was one leaf for Shamrock Rovers, one for Man United and one for Celtic.
“Last night he would have been happy with United but seeing Rovers on top would have meant a lot more. He loved Rovers and the players loved him. He was a big part of their lives, knew all the players and had a wonderful relationship with them. They trusted him and he trusted them.”
Although best known as a soccer commentator, he also commentated on athletics and cricket and was head of sport in RTÉ Radio.
He covered what would go on to be called the greatest mile race ever at Santry in 1958 where Australian Herb Elliot broke the world record for the mile, the first four athletes to break the existing world record.
“He was committed to his profession and pernickety about standards. If he thought you weren’t pulling your weight, he would not pull back.
“I was working in arts at one stage and got him to review the Paul Mercier play Studs. He did it as a match report and it was a work of art.”
Such was Greene’s notoriety at his and radio’s height that he often told the story of a priest who listened to one of his commentaries through an ear piece while hearing confessions.
FAI chief executive John Delaney said he provided a platform for the growth of the game in Ireland.
“Philip was a gentleman and true professional and he will be missed by everyone in the football family. Irish football fans will remember him fondly as the medium for international matches on Wednesday afternoons and for League of Ireland matches on Sundays.
“I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions and was always struck by his sheer love of the game.”
He will be sadly missed.
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