Malcolm Brodie, the legendary sportswriter whose stories from around the world in his heyday inspired too many headlines to count, has died. He was 86.
He passed away in hospital and is mourned by players, managers, promoters and readers who revered and trusted him.
“My father died as he would have wished — still checking the football results and arranging coverage of matches from his hospital bed,” said his son Iain, an accountant.
“Right until the end he was studying the Irish League tables.”
Malcolm, a Scot who came to Northern Ireland as an evacuee in 1939 because his parents in Glasgow thought he would be safer in Belfast if Hitler bombed the Clyde, never lost his home town accent.
“The family forgot that Harland & Wolff could be a target, too,” he once told me. “But I didn’t mind. I fell in love with Belfast and Northern Ireland and knew for sure, even as a little boy, that I would never go back.”
Only two weeks ago I spoke to Malcolm for the last time when we were arranging for him to write the obituary of another talented sportswriter, Bill Clark.
When I was stuck for a name, a date, or an angle for a story, I always gave him a ring. He had instant recall of events — and not only in sport.
His induction into the Belfast Sports Hall of Fame a while back was a ceremony which met with universal approval across Northern Ireland.
No sports journalist, anywhere, attended more World Cups. Malcolm sat in the Press box at an incredible 14 in succession, and his reporting from places like Germany and Peru, to name but two, earned him an MBE.
Even as a child at Park Parade Public Elementary School in his adopted city he dreamed of sports journalism.
“I always had a passion for football,” he explained. “But I knew I wasn’t built to be a player, so I dreamed of describing great matches and goals instead. I thank God that it all came true. I am a lucky man.”
However, it would be a mistake to conclude that Malcolm’s journalism was confined to football, boxing and other sports.
His first newspaper job was on the Portadown Times as a junior news reporter.
He arrived at the Belfast Telegraph in wartime 1943, when the editor was RM Sayers.
It was the start of a long and successful career with the Telegraph, first of all on the news reporting staff, witnessing arrival of American troops here to prepare for D-Day, and interviewing band leader Glenn Miller, who came to entertain the troops at Langford Lodge on the Lough Neagh shore in 1944. Malcolm didn’t get a lot of opportunities to shine in those early days because paper rationing meant the Telegraph was restricted to just four pages.
He was promoted to the political staff and became the City Hall staffer, and reported from the seat of Government at Stormont, too.
With his heart and his pen firmly in sport, he persuaded Sayers to let him set up the Telegraph’s first sports department, with himself as the first sports editor and the late Brian Munn as his assistant, the late Jack Magowan as his boxing specialist, and Billy McClatchey, who has also gone, as football columnist ‘Ralph the Rover’.
When I came to the Telegraph the sports department was in a cramped little room at the end of a corridor, but what an honour it was to be allowed to cover a junior football match for the Ireland’s Saturday Night sports paper, of which Malcolm was also editor.
Eventually I graduated to Irish League matches around the province and I was proud to be on the Malcolm team of Saturday afternoon football writers.
After a spell of years elsewhere in the newspaper world, I returned to the Belfast Telegraph and joined Malcolm’s sports department, which already had talented writers like the late Derek Murray, Sammy Hamill and Jimmy Walker on side.
That spell of several years was probably my most satisfying time in journalism.
I was always entranced by Malcolm’s wife Margaret. She told me more than once that she cared not a jot about football, but was happy it was there because soccer kept Malcolm happy.
‘He detested growing old. Malcolm was forever young’
“We usually went on a cruise after every World Cup and I loved that holiday, so long as he remembered there had to be no mention of football,” Margaret told me. She still loves the story of how Malcolm — a fan of big band music in the Tommy Dorsey era — once reviewed a Frank Sinatra concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
The warm words of the review tickled Ol’ Blue Eyes when he read them. So he sent a personal note of thanks to him in Belfast.
Malcolm’s sweetest memory down all those years in journalism was Sweden 1958, when the Northern Ireland team managed by Peter Doherty and with names like Blanchflower, Cush, Peacock and Gregg in the line-up, became part of sports folklore with their do-or-die performances on the field.
“That squad in Sweden was the best team of individuals the province ever produced and Peter Doherty was — and is — my own personal hero,” Malcolm once told me.
I could go on about the superstars from Northern Ireland, like athletes Thelma Hopkins and Mary Peters and, of course, George Best, who became his friends.
Best, in particular, kept in close touch. When he went missing on one of his sprees, Malcolm always knew where to find him for the family and his dad Dickie.
On a personal note, I’m going to miss Malcolm, particularly those phone calls with another idea for a good story. And I’ll no longer have that razor-sharp mind to recall a name or a date.
It was refreshing to sit beside him in the Press box at Windsor Park or Solitude on bitterly cold Saturday afternoons.
Like me, he only got prickly when the word “veteran” was mentioned. He detested growing old. Forget the years, Malcolm did. He was forever young.
He is survived by Margaret, their sons Iain, Kenneth and Steven, and grandchild Claire.