It was just another Sunday in mid-1970s Ireland. Black and white all over…
My brother Gerard put the newspaper in front of his siblings. We were about to be introduced to the wonderful world of English soccer.
He drew our attention to the First Division League table…and revealed his plan. Each of us were to take it in turns to put on a blindfold, then randomly ‘pick’ a team by scrolling a pin over the league table. Gerard got West Ham. I got Leeds…
Heading for half a century on, I’ve still got Leeds. Still got Leeds. Back then, Gerard and I had three or four great years, the usual teenage brotherly silences punctuated by the teasing and taunting of our developing Leeds United-West Ham rivalry.
He was four years older than me. We were typical teenage brothers. Didn’t talk that much…quite a bit of grunting! We absolutely got on, it’s just that communication was minimal enough. Four years is a significant enough age gap when you’re in your teens, isn’t it? All that changed after that spontaneous blindfolded shaping of our football-supporting destinies.
There were no mobile phones, no social media, the video recorder hadn’t been invented. Looking back, I recall playing marbles on the carpet in our long, narrow hallway in Rooskey; regular kickarounds in the garden, and a mutual obsession with any televised sport.
Once we’d signed up to West Ham and Leeds, there was a new dynamic…for those three or four years. Gerard, being older, was way ahead of me in terms of football knowledge, and was just more into it than I was. When he got some work in Hanley’s factory, he even sent off a subscription to Upton Park to get the match programme from every West Ham home game posted to Rooskey.
Those glossy programmes made our soccer daydreams come to life. The tantalising covers and inside content were savoured…by both of us.
Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard (Senior), Alan Devonshire…and, most of all, Trevor Brooking. Suddenly the exotic world of the English First Division had arrived in Rooskey.
Our relationship, in some strange way, came to be defined by two men: Trevor Brooking and Tony Currie. Brooking was West Ham’s suave, stylish midfielder. Ever-graceful, he moved slowly across the pitch with the superior air of a prince who had reluctantly agreed to mingle with commoners.
At Leeds meanwhile, the fans’ hero was Tony Currie. Slightly paunchy, undoubtedly moody and lazy, he was a gifted, mercurial player…wonderfully enigmatic.
Smitten by our respective superstars, Gerard and I began to live our lives through a Trevor Brooking/Tony Currie narrative. Gerard marvelled at the brilliance of Brooking, I at the class of Currie. We teased one another about their respective merits. We all need heroes.
Leeds, then in transition/decline after the great Don Revie years, plodded along now, mostly in mid-table. West Ham were relegated in 1978. Humiliation for Brooking, but he remained loyal. In those days, West Ham’s team was almost entirely made up of Englishmen, all quaintly devoted to the London club’s tradition of playing with style and flair, usually to their cost.
With an entire division between him and the idealistic but now downgraded Brooking, Tony Currie kept rescuing Leeds, spraying fabulous passes around, while (slowly) joining the attack to guide wonder goals past the opposing ‘keeper. Presumably at full-time he then headed off to the bookies/pub, cigar in hand and admirers in pursuit!
Nothing really stays the same. In August of 1979, to my absolute dismay, Leeds sold Currie to Sheffield United. Meanwhile, the stylists with the brittle backbone – West Ham – were adapting to life in Division Two. Things were changing.
When my brother Gerard co-founded Dynamo Rooskey (while still a teenager) and began playing for them, it turned out that he could spray a tidy pass around too. Happy days. Shortlived days.
When he died in a drowning accident in December 1979, aged 19, time seemed to stop with a crushing suddeness, before callously then stuttering on without us.
The early months of 1980 were a blur. Then, in May, West Ham, playing their ‘Enigmatic stylists’ card from down in Division 2, reached the FA Cup final against mighty Arsenal. Five months after Gerard passed away, his Hammers stunned the overwhelming favourites, winning the FA Cup. Trevor Brooking – my late brother’s hero – produced the winner, probably the only time he ever scored with a header. I cheered him on.
For many years, Dynamo Rooskey held an annual tournament for the Gerard Healy Memorial Cup. We won it one year. I played in the final, grasping the cup and something of the past.
For some time after Gerard’s passing, the West Ham United match programmes kept arriving in the post, with Billy Bonds proud and strong on the cover, and all that magical content inside, that scent of this wonderful, hypnotic world of English soccer. A world that could bond in many ways. (Series continues next week).
Farewell Mick (again)…you did the state some service!
There are rumours that the term ‘no nonsense’ was in use before Mick McCarthy emerged from a maternity ward in Barnsley all those years ago – but they’re unconfirmed.
He’s not a man to mess with, well, not unless your name is Roy Keane. Certainly if I was in a lift and the door was closing and I saw ‘Big Mick’ even ten paces away, I’d be holding that door open.
Mind you, age appears to have mellowed him. In his second term as Republic of Ireland manager, Mick always seemed to be in good form – philosophical and relaxed too – very much like a man who had learnt how to appreciate good times when you’re living through them.
He’s a quirky chap, is our Mick. The ‘blunt Yorkshireman’ has a quick and irreverent wit. Sometimes his comments at press conferences/in media interviews were downright odd, and he could certainly be belligerent from time to time. But often they were very funny. And he was certainly a lot more relaxed this time around.
The no nonsense/gruff/blunt (take your pick) Barnsley lad turned out to be a great Irishman. Like us all, he had his faults, but he certainly did the state some service. I won’t mention Saipan, not this time (other than to say I don’t think it was Mick’s finest moment, though I’d certainly have some sympathy for him).
His second term as Ireland manager has been cut short, due to the chaos visited on us by Covid-19 (Mick led us to the Euro 2020 play-offs, but due to scheduling issues arising from the pandemic, he’s stepped down early and his successor, Stephen Kenny, is now in the hot seat).
The Barnsley lad’s done good. Mick owes us nothing. In fact we owe him our thanks, and best wishes. So all the best Mick, again. Thanks for the memories. And good luck to Stephen.
Screen and heard…
On Newstalk (Off The Ball) John Giles picked his best ever Manchester United X1. Unlike with his Liverpool selection the previous week, there was an abundance of Irish men: Tony Dunne, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and George Best.
The full line-up was: Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Nemanja Vidić, Jaap Stam, Tony Dunne, Roy Keane, Peter Scholes, Bobby Charlton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Denis Law, George Best.
I was pleased that Eric Cantona didn’t get a look in. Understandably, Giles gave honourable mention to Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs. No place for Beckham either (which I agree with). Bryan Robson was squeezed out too, likewise van Nistelrooy.
I would agree with every single selection from midfield up – Keane, Scholes and Charlton in the middle, Ronaldo and Best out wide, Law at centre-forward. Giles was selecting players from his era – early 1960s onwards – so Duncan Edwards and other ‘Busby Babes’ weren’t considered.
It’s quite a team, but they may have needed three balls: one for Best, one for Ronaldo, and one between the other nine!