“To people who knew Malcolm Brodie, he is unforgettable.”
His is head and shoulders the greatest name in Northern Irish sports journalism history.
In fact, take the word ‘sports’ or the word ‘journalism’ out of that sentence and it could still be argued to hold true.
The first Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor is known and loved not just throughout Northern Ireland, but also amongst the great and the good of the wider sporting and media worlds.
“But I wondered if these people really knew him,” says his one-time apprentice and would-be successor John Laverty - now the paper's Executive Editor.
Brodie's record of reporting at 14 World Cups and countless other now mythical sporting occasions is the stuff of legend.
By now, for the first time and thanks to Laverty’s new book entitled ‘Malcolm Brodie (& Me)’, those who didn’t enjoy such close proximity to the doyen of his industry can finally get to know the man behind the iconic figure.
“He worked with a lot of people, but he never revealed himself to them," Laverty explains. "I had a unique situation for probably 20 years, we travelled around the world together and spent a lot of time in each other's company. We fell out together, reconciled together and did all that.
“I got to know an awful lot about him. A man of his stature deserves a book dedicated to him for what he achieved over 70 years in journalism, 50 of those at the top of his profession.
"I thought I was maybe the man to write it.”
It was, ironically, after 1991 when Brodie ‘retired’ – officially if not in practice – that the pair’s adventures really began.
It was in hotels, bars and restaurants in the USA, France, Japan and other exotic locations that Brodie's old tales were told and new ones made, all the while filling the pages of Laverty’s book, which further immortalises his beloved mentor.
“Any time journalists my age get together, inevitably the ‘Malky Stories’ come up – some of the scrapes he got involved in and things that he did,” explains the author.
“One that people still love to tell is when he toppled over 'mid-boast'. He’s talking about the young pretenders to his throne; ‘Nobody will ever beat me. I’m this, I’m that, I’m the BES…’ and he falls over. Jackie Fullerton was in stitches laughing at him.
“He was such an inspirational character to us all. He was iconic, yet nobody had written those stories down.
"Most of them I wasn’t directly involved in but some of them I was and the others he would tell me during our travels.
“Initially I thought about writing a biography but it wouldn’t have been very authentic as a lot of what he achieved was before I was born. So the book is how Malcolm told me his old stories and of my relationship with this iconic figure who was famous across the world but yet not really known well by many at all.”
Brodie was a man who could count legendary West Indian cricketer Sir Everton Weekes as his best friend and the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson among his closest companions; a man for whom recently crowned World Cup winners England would accept a reception in the Belfast Telegraph offices in 1966 and one who had interviewed the likes of Bob Hope, Glenn Millar and Frank Sinatra.
“It was a time when print journalists were often just as famous as the people they were writing about,” continues Laverty. “Malcolm was the behemoth of them all.”
And yet, it’s the normal, human side gives the book its life. Who was Malcolm Brodie when the notebook was set down and the phone hung up?
“It was never going to be a book that said Malcolm was a great man every minute of every day,” admits Laverty. “He had his dark side, as people who got to know him knew. He had his ego, which was gigantic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in journalism either – I think you need a bit of that. I wanted to paint a round picture of the great man, not just indulge in hagiography.”
Professionally at least, there were few flaws to pick at. From breaking the astounding story of Jackie Milburn’s 1958 signing for Linfield to his magnificent summation of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup final dismantling of Italy, his work is the standard to which the rest aspire.
And this book gives a little window into how it all was done.
“It’s the story behind the story,” Laverty explains. “For example, there's the story about Scotland's Willie Johnston getting sent home from the 1978 World Cup. Such a globally sensational story, and it came from Malky drinking Scotch with the FIFA vice-president in his suite in Buenos Aires when the fax about Johnston's failed drug test came through.”
Such were his contacts, his aura and his character, following in his footsteps would be no easy task, professionally or personally: “I was the David Moyes to his Alex Ferguson, and as with David, I found that my 'Alex' was never far away.
“It was one of the top three most influential relationships of my life, professionally and personally,” said Laverty.
“With no disrespect to my own father, who I loved dearly, he was maybe even more of a father figure to me in some ways.
“He was very influential in my life. I learned a lot from him, and I think I’m a a better journalist for the things I learned from him.
"He really is unforgettable to the people that knew him."
Now thanks to ‘Malcolm Brodie (& Me)’, we can all feel a little bit more like we did.
- Malcolm Brodie & Me can be bought on Amazon, priced £8.99 paperback and £4.99 on Kindle.