Belfast Telegraph

You were brilliant, Boycie, but now it's time to let go

By John Laverty

They called it a storm in a teacup. And, in many ways, it was.

The incident, after all, only lasted a few seconds and both protagonists emerged completely unscathed.

Yes, at the end of the day it was only a brief but heated exchange between two people from the Irish FA.

And there's little doubt that both Howard Wells, the Association's chief executive, and Jim Boyce, the former president, regret their little contretemps at Windsor Park last Wednesday night.

Indeed, the statement from IFA headquarters last Friday made that emphatically clear.

It revealed that the two men had had clear the air talks, brokered by the Association's recently elected new president Raymond Kennedy, earlier in the day.

The outcome was that Boyce was made fully aware of what his new role as "honorary life president" entailed.

Prior to Wednesday's unsavoury spat in the Linfield boardroom, he had no doubt presumed that one of the tasks involved would be entertaining visiting officials and dignitaries, something he is renowned for and particularly adept at.

It must have come as a bit of a shock to Boycie, therefore, to find out that he wasn't even invited to the pre-match bash with the Liectenstein FA .

And, then, the salt in the wound moment, when "President Kennedy" was quoted as saying that he'd have been better off "sitting in the car park" if the gregarious former prez turned up at the do.

There's little doubt therefore that the normally unflappable Mr Boyce was, to use the Ulster vernacular, raging by the time he got to Windsor Park.

And not even Northern Ireland's 3-1 win, which got new team boss Nigel Worthington off to a promising start and keeps the boys in with a chance of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals, seemed to pacify "The Voice."

That famous voice was heard, noticably raised, during the subsequent altercation with Wells, an incident prominently reported in this newspaper last Friday.

But why did we bother with such big headlines?

After all, the subsequent IFA statement said, and I quote: "On the issue of the incident between Howard Wells and Mr Boyce, both parties have agreed that this has been a storm in a tea-cup..."

Well, if that's all it was then why on earth did the IFA feel it necessary to get the two men together in the first place?

And why did the Association then feel it necessary to take the highly unusual step of issuing a statement about it?

Why would a mere "storm in a teacup" precipitate such unprecedented action from local football's governing body?

I'll tell you why - because anyone who has had any interest in the goings-on at 20 Windsor Avenue will have seen this particular "storm in a tea-cup" brewing on the horizon a long time ago.

It's no secret that, despite the sterling work both Wells and Boyce have done on behalf of the IFA over the past few years, they were far from bosom buddies.

The local press didn't exactly help that situation; after all, both men are, to their credit, very media-friendly, and always willing to help the hacks in any way they can.

And that's great if you're a football journalist needing a quote to complement your story; with both Boyce and Wells listed on you could hardly fail.

But that scenario was hardly ideal for the IFA, especially on those occasions when their two major "spokesmen" weren't exactly singing from the same hymn-sheet.

I'd left the front line of football reporting some time before Wells took over from David Bowen as IFA chief executive, so I don't know him as well as I do Boycie.

But I've yet to meet a colleague who found the Englishman anything other than courteous and helpful, even at awkward times such as last Thurday night when he was being grilled about "what happened at Windsor."

As for the globetrotting Boyce, in my opinion he's the finest ambassador the Irish Football Association has ever had, and he's popular with other football bodies all around the world.

But perhaps his main fault back home was in trying to please everybody; sometimes, when you attempt that, it all goes pear-shaped and you end up pleasing no-one.

Another irony is that Boyce's undoubted popularity outside the corridors of Windsor Avenue could well have led to jealousy inside the old building...

Whatever the reason, after 12 years there were enough dissenters ready to make Boyce's re-election to the IFA presidency a far cry from the traditional rubber-stamping job.

And a couple of months back, when the votes were counted and the result was a tie between him and Kennedy, Boyce (in his own words) "got the message" and immediately stood down.

You need to know this highly emotional man to understand how devasted he must have been that night.

Boycie loved that job, and even staying on as the IFA representative at FIFA appeared to be little consolation to him.

But, following the unfortunate and uncharacteristic bust-up at Windsor, my advice to an old friend is this: let it go, Jim.

You presided over the Association through one of its most challenging times, when the international team's results were the laughing stock of world football - but you left the job on an unprecedented high.

And through good and bad, thick and thin, you never ran away, never hid, and there are many people both within the game and without who will always appreciate you for that.

The new president has to have room to breathe, and I'm sure the old president realises that.

The Voice will be at the next international at Windsor, make no mistake. And I've no doubt that, this time, the trademark Boycie smile will be there too.

Belfast Telegraph


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