Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Declan Bogue: Ambrose Gordon's tale is ideal screenplay

Ambrose Gordon

Behold Ambrose Gordon; the gas man to end all gas men. Born in Galway, hurled for Galway, but Galway couldn't contain a character like Gordon. Instead he headed for London to see what was on offer.

In the 60's and 70's, he joined the other heads on summer Sundays up on Hampstead Heath or Clapham Common. They would all be climbing trees and tuning wireless radios into RTÉ, hoping to pick up the commentary of the All-Ireland series.

Something wasn't right with that scenario. There was a gap in the market.

So he concocted a scheme whereby he would take off to Dublin early on a Sunday and stay at the Sunnybank hotel in Glasnevin. He convinced the lady who worked the bar there to tape 'The Sunday Game' for him that day, and he would take off carousing and accepting the delights of Temple Bar.

The following morning his brother would leave him to the airport with his videotape stowed away. He would get home, insert it into the player and record twenty copies off other machines, stacked on top of each other.

A team of motorcycle couriers would be on hand to deliver them to the heaving 'Monday clubs' at places such as the Crown in Cricklewood, McGovern's on Kilburn High Road, and The Archway Tavern. Each pub would be charged £20 by Gordon, and they had three screenings.

The wheeze lasted seven years until he had his collar felt. RTÉ had got wind of it and took him to court, where he enjoyed the showmanship of defending himself. A wrap of the knuckles, a contrite apology to the judge and he was set free.

He continued on, but the world was becoming smaller all the time and soon, RTÉ was being beamed into all the London Irish bars anyway. Ambrose had spotted a gap in the market, but now he was squeezed out of it.

Gordon's exploits were documented in Robert Mulhern's excellent, 'A Very Different County' book, which focuses on the strange and wonderful world of London GAA.

When you think about it, the GAA in London has been among the richest mix of people in any unit of the Association. Part of that comes from the cosmopolitan feel of the city, but mainly from the spirit of adventure that people who seek out their futures in a town like London, yet still are drawn to the games of their youth. The chapter in Mulhern's book led to the excellent radio documentary, 'Sex Flights and Videotapes', where some outlandish boasts were made.

Gordon recalls a time of being on 'The Late Late Show' during Pat Kenny's stewardship, alongside Rod Stewart. He recalled Kenny asking Stewart how many girlfriends he had in his time and the answer was 'around 500.'

Poor Rod, Gordon thought. He estimates his own tally to be around 1,000.

Some of them may be required to fill in the blanks for a possible film about Gordon's life that is in the works right now, although he says that they all must be, "around Rita Fairclough's age by now", considering he first landed in the metropolis in 1961. Oh yeah, a film. And why not?

Films about sport can set the antennae bleeping. It suits some sports to be captured on celluloid, such as the rich canon that boxing has yielded with The Hurricane, Cinderella Man, Raging Bull and the Rocky franchise.

Team sports are different though. The more the plot relies on the athletic performance of the team, the more given to schmaltz the picture will be, and we only need to look at examples such as Any Given Sunday to see that.

As stated on these pages before, the kernels of interest in sport is that of the dramatis personae, in shining light on the characters, with sport merely as the hook.

Last year RTÉ managed this with their superb documentary 'When Ali Came to Ireland.' Chief fascination of this piece – behind Ali himself of course – was the Killorglin-born circus strongman 'Butty' Sugrue, who convinced everyone it could and would come to pass that Ali would fight Al 'Blue' Lewis in Dublin.

Back to Gordon. Last week, we got very excited indeed when we heard a fax had come through to Mulhern, confirming that no less than Vince Vaughan was lined up to play Gordon in the screenplay. That's more like it.

Later on in the week, we learned that was not quite the case. It was a premature declaration, perhaps suggested from the mouth of Gordon himself. A pure melted rogue.

But we await the outcome of the project with anticipation. The GAA needs a film of this kind, not just for posterity, but for artistic expression.

And if not, why not? It would be the Ambrose Gordon way.

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