Tears flow and anecdotes abound in a fond farewell to legend Malcolm Brodie
IT was, of course, inevitable that Malcolm Brodie would have the last word. For even as the heartfelt tributes to Northern Ireland football's 'special one' ran into extra-time at his funeral yesterday, it was what the man himself said before his death which provided the most significant news lines of the day to reporters who were working as well as mourning the journalist they called Mr Belfast Telegraph, writes Ivan Little.
Firstly, his son Iain revealed that he and his two brothers didn't dare hold his funeral last Saturday because they "could hear" their dad saying that his sportswriter colleagues would lose money if they had to give up their coverage of weekend football matches to attend a service.
But, poignantly, another son, Steven, disclosed that his Scots-born father hid a dark secret from his family until just before his death in hospital a week ago.
In April last year doctors diagnosed Malcolm with congestive heart failure and told him of his anticipated life expectancy. But he didn't tell his relatives until a couple of weeks ago because he wanted life to go on as normal.
His three sons were among the pall-bearers who carried the coffin, topped with a huge wreath of white lilies, carnations and roses, into a packed Cregagh Presbyterian Church to a stirring air called Highland Cathedral, which could have been written with Malcolm Brodie in mind – a tune penned originally for Scottish bagpipes.
It was an emotional start to the service. Munich air disaster hero Harry Gregg, a star of the favourite of Malcolm's 14 World Cup Finals – Sweden 1958 – fought back the tears as the cortege arrived inside the church.
But any tears of sadness were quickly replaced by tears of laughter as former colleagues and friends started regaling mourners with their stories about Northern Ireland's most famous sports journalist who was as unerringly – and sometimes unwittingly – funny away from his typewriter as he was gifted as a wordsmith at it.
Jim Gracey, the Belfast Telegraph group sports editor, said his old boss was more than a legend – a colossus, a consummate professional who wasn't just a great journalist but also a great man who had contacts right across the world.
He read a note from former Linfield and Northern Ireland international footballer Bobby Braithwaite who lives in South Africa but whose brother was killed in an accident in the shipyard in Belfast in the seventies.
Hearing about what happened, Malcolm contacted Donald Woods, the South African journalist of Cry Freedom fame, and asked him to break the news to Braithwaite face to face.
On a lighter note, he told how Malcolm had once stopped a name-dropping journalist in mid-flow with the immortal words, "As Irving Berlin once said to me!"
Gracey recalled how Malcolm was a stickler for steak – but liked his meat extremely well done. And he said that once, in Japan, he was having great difficulty getting his message across to a waiter that he wanted his steak cooked even more. Conceding his ex-boss wasn't politically correct, he said an exasperated Malcolm told the waiter: "For heaven's sake. Hiroshima."
Mourners ranged from top administrators to ordinary football fans who grew up with the journalist's musings in the Belfast Telegraph and Ireland's Saturday Night, including Transport Minister Danny Kennedy.
BBC sports presenter Jackie Fullerton spoke of how "the football icon" could move seamlessly from Windsor Park to Wembley from Ballymena to Barcelona or from Institute to Istanbul, giving each game his full attention.
Olympic Gold medal winner Dame Mary Peters spoke for many people in the church when she said Malcolm had been an inspiration to countless sports people and how, after her 1972 pentathlon triumph in Munich, he had set in motion a drive to realise her ambition of opening an athletics track in Belfast.
But as the Rev Paul Dalzell who conducted the service said, there was more to Malcolm than journalism. He remembered the family man who married his 'rock' Margaret in 1949 and who still asked his sons to ring him to say they were home safe ... in their 50s.
To Amazing Grace, Northern Ireland World Cup icons Gerry Armstrong and Pat Jennings were among the people who bore Malcolm's coffin from the church. It was taken to Roselawn crematorium, passing within a few yards of where George Best is buried.
And so serendipity dictated that the final prayers of thanks were offered in the same confines to the greatest Ulsterman ever to play football and the greatest 'Ulsterman' ever to write about the game.
It was an emotional day of sorrow and smiles for a one-off, and 86-year-old Dr Malcolm McPhail Brodie MBE, while ruing missing the biggest story he never wrote, would doubtless have viewed his farewell as "magnificent, magnificent, magnificent".
Or words to that effect.