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Malcolm Brodie: A taste of Tele’s master at work

It's nigh on impossible to encapsulate the work of a man at the top of his field for more than half a century, but even a cursory glance at the archives show just what a master of the written word Malcolm Brodie truly was.

Sport and football in particular may well have been his bread and butter, but Malky turned his subjects into a sumptuous feast enjoyed by countless readers over the years.

Here are just a few examples of some of his work, the joy of Northern Ireland’s World Cup exploits sitting alongside the tragedy of the Ibrox Disaster and dealt with in the same professional and gripping style for which he was rightly renowned.

This is an extract of Malcolm's reflections on Northern Ireland beating Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals thanks to that never to be forgotten Gerry Armstrong goal

It is almost dawn. Seven hours have passed since Northern Ireland last night defeated Spain to top Group Five of the World Cup and qualify for the second phase. Yet, in the stillness of the room, with the Mediterranean only a few yards away, the heart still pounds, the pulse races, the game is re-lived in the mind like a constant video action replay.

Everyone can remember what they were doing and where they were President Kennedy was assassinated. In years to come they will say the same thing about the night Northern Ireland not only achieved soccer history, but produced one of the greatest ever performances by a British team in any World Cup.

To do so with 10 men for the last half-hour of a match played in a temperature of 34c is bordering on the miraculous. As manager Billy Bingham put it, they killed the Spanish bull in its own ring.

Sweden 1958, those victories over Czechoslovakia; the 2-2 draw with West Germany in Malmo; Peter Doherty's equalising headed goal at Goodison Park just after the war; the British Championship of 1914 and 1980; glories abroad; the triumphs at Windsor Park did not measure up to last night in the furnace heat of the 47,000 capacity Luis Cassanova Stadium. Nothing compares with this in my book after watching every post-war Northern Ireland international match.

I am drained by the tension of it all, filled with pride at how a small country such as Northern Ireland, with its limited supply of talent, can reach such dizzy heights, finding itself almost unbelievably among the elite of the game. Those final 10 minutes were agonising. It seemed as if the electric scoreboard timer was not moving.

Then it was all over and those 10 heroes, the subs on the bench and full-back Mal Donaghy, who had been ordered off in the 61st minute, were swamped with congratulations. Bingham, not the most emotional of men, but with tears in his eyes, his voice quivering, could only comment: “What can I say?”

High up in the stand the chants of Northern Ireland fans, some of whom had travelled six hours just for the privilege to be there, were hoarse by their 90-minute chorus of encouragement. They waved their Ulster flags, they danced, they grasped Spaniards in their arms, they shook hands.

The Spaniards body checked, crunch tackled, niggled constantly and yet the Irish gave as good as they got including 17-year-old Norman Whiteside, whose first half performance was something to behold, the flush of youth, the brain of maturity, the strength of a budding Atlas.

Nobody has had a better World Cup series than Watford striker Gerry Armstrong, who hit the winning goal in the 47th minute, his second out here and the 10th for his country.

No Irish team has ever reproduced a display such as this. That is not a statement made in the euphoria of going through, for it can be backed up by assessment of the records.

In the second half, 36 minutes came up on the scoreboard, 41 minutes, 43 and finally 45, but yet there was no whistle. Suddenly there was that blast and onto the board flashed that never-to-be-forgotten result, Espana 0 Irlanda Del Norte 1.

Extract from Malcolm Brodie’s recollections of the Ibrox disaster — which he covered for the Ireland's Saturday Night in 1971

Never will I forget that eerie scene. A chilling fog swept across the stadium which half an hour earlier had been a vibrant, passionate cauldron.

Now the roar of the crowd was replaced by the wail of ambulance and police sirens.

From touchline to goalposts, bodies covered in ghostly white sheets had been placed before departure for mortuary identification. The date — January 2, 1971. The place — Ibrox Park, Glasgow, where Rangers had drawn 1-1 with Celtic, through Colin Stein’s stoppage time equaliser. Within seconds of that goal, disaster struck with 66 fans killed and over 200 injured.

Initial reports suggested the tragedy had been caused by supporters rushing back up Stairway 13 when the goal was scored and then being crushed by people leaving and the barriers giving way.

A public enquiry, however, dismissed this hypothesis and concluded deaths were the result of fans pouring down the stairway in the same direction and being crushed.

A newspaper strike in Glasgow meant that many journalists left the press box right on the finish unaware of what had happened. A colleague, John Rafferty, Scottish football correspondent of The Observer, asked if he could use my Ireland’s Saturday Night telephone to rewrite his introduction after that Stein goal and was fast approaching deadline.

“Go ahead,” I said. As I finished writing my report I noticed this crowd on the top of Stairway 13 at the Rangers end.

Surely this couldn’t be a row among fans? By now Rafferty had departed and so had most of the other reporters. I kept looking over while dictating and noticed the Stairway 13 crowd hadn’t diminished.

The police control point was situated at one end of the Ibrox Press Box so I kept the line to Belfast open and enquired from them what was the cause.

“There has been a crush and quite a few casualties,” was the reply.

At that moment I realised this was a big story and concentrated on ascertaining the facts.

The two managers, Jock Stein (Celtic) and Willie Waddell (Rangers), both now deceased, walked together towards the pitch through the fog to the scene. Tears were in the eyes and emotion filled the bodies of these hard-bitten men.

Gradually over the next hour the horror of what had happened emerged. Thousands had left the stadium unaware of what had unfolded and but for that telephone request I could have been one of them.

This disaster led to a huge development at Ibrox, spearheaded by the progressive-thinking Waddell, who visited Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion for guidance and ideas. Ibrox was subsequently converted into an all-seater stadium and awarded the Uefa five star status. Gone was Stairway 13.

This is an extract from Malcolm Brodie's popular ‘Down Memory Lane’ column which appeared each week in the Belfast Telegraph, this time remembering the great Rinty Monaghan

A cold day in March, 1950. A lunchtime stroll in North Street, Belfast. A chance meeting outside the old Alhambra Theatre with Frank McAloran, manager of undisputed World flyweight champion Rinty Monaghan.

“I’ve thrown the lot in — just been to see Jack Woodhouse, the BBBC secretary,” revealed Frank.

“What do you mean?” I queried.

“Rinty’s titles — World, European, British and Empire. The heap. If he can’t breathe, he can’t fight,” he said.

Momentarily I was stunned. Wasn’t Rinty due shortly to meet Honore Pratesi of France?

Relinquishing the crowns without a final pay day fight? It seemed incredulous despite the breathlessness signs evident in some of his previous fights.

When I returned to the Belfast Telegraph building, colleagues including Johnny Caughey, who wrote under the pen name ‘The Timekeeper’, cried “Nonsense — you don’t throw money away like that.”

Alas, a quick check with Woodhouse, who worked in Belfast Water Office, revealed it was correct. The career of Northern Ireland’s colourful boxing legend was over.

Rinty captivated people not only with his fists, but those after-fight ring renditions of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ and ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’, and whose song and dance act entertained troops throughout Europe, including on a trip to Normandy shortly after D-Day, and who also appeared in local pantomime and variety shows.

Let’s play back the Monaghan tape to July 31, 1938 when he was knocked out in the fifth round by a Glasgow novice, appearing only in his second professional fight, at The Oval, Glentoran’s headquarters. His name — Jackie Paterson, who was to figure prominently in Rinty’s career after the end of the War.

Revenge came eight years later when he stopped champion Paterson in the seventh round of a non-title fight in Belfast.

Now the coveted World title loomed on the horizon.

All he needed was a chance and Belfast promoter Bob Gardiner steered him towards it.

He floored Londoner Terry Allen, outpointed French pin-up Emile Famechon over 10 rounds in London, and in October 1947 he won the vacant World title after a points triumph at Harringay over Salvador Dado Marino of Hawaii whose manager Sad Sam Ichinose proved a newspaperman’s dream in London and Belfast with brilliant stories.

Unfortunately, the contest was not recognised by the British Board after Paterson had won a High Court injunction preventing them from recognising the bout’s status.

Five months later the greatest drama of all was enacted on March 23, 1948 at the King’s Hall. Rinty finished off Paterson in the seventh round amidst unprecedented euphoric scenes. He was at last champion of the world.

This is an extract from Malcolm Brodie's last ever match at the World Cup finals, the dramatic 2006 Berlin final between Italy and France when Zinedine Zidane was red carded

What a way to end an amazing career. Several hours have passed since Argentinian referee Horatio Elizondo signalled the end of this dramatic World Cup penalty shoot-out and Italy became champions.

Italy, the victors, celebrate into the night with car horns hooting incessantly, the TV screens flashing joyous scenes from Rome.

The heart still pounds with the drama of it all in that stadium drenched in history, a match not a classic like the Brazil-Italy Final, Mexico, 1970 — but one that will forever be remembered as the Zinedine Zidane Final for all the right and wrong reasons.

Never will I forget those staring eyes of Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in a shot caught by the TV cameras as he raced to a linesmen, protesting that Zidane had head butted Mario Materazzi — ironically the two goal-scorers in normal time.

The referee had apparently missed the incident but such was the vehemence of Buffon and his team mates annoyance that he consulted the linesman, raced to Zidane and ordered him off in the 109th minute.

Zidane knew he had committed an out-of-character misdemeanour.

Out came the red card and he walked in ignominy, discarding the captain's arm band, into retirement.

The script had been ruined. Yet, it should have been a night of glory for the 34-year-old had once again produced an astonishing show of skill, individual artistry and inspiration as a captain. He took France almost to the top of the hill but then came tumbling down.

While it may tarnish his reputation it doesn't take away from him being one of the greatest footballers of all time — up there with Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Best, Eusebio, Di Stefano and the others.

What pleasure he has given to millions. How sad, therefore, it should end in this way.

Belfast Telegraph


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