Price­less sports mem­o­ries

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Letters -

Sir — While en­grossed in the ex­cel­lent On The Sev­enth Day — Thirty Years of Great Sports Writ­ing From The Sun­day

In­de­pen­dent (edited by John Greene, Mercier Press) over the past week, I found my­self reac­quainted with the sports writ­ing bril­liance of one Mr Ea­mon Dun­phy, which I would sug­gest has been largely over­looked due the prom­i­nent role that tele­vi­sion pun­ditry has played in his me­dia ca­reer.

In ac­tual fact, I lost my lit­er­ary in­no­cence to Ea­mon when I was 12 years old.

Ever since a spe­cial Sat­ur­day in May 1985 when a Man­ches­ter United team con­tain­ing Mc­Grath, Mo­ran, Sta­ple­ton and White­side won the FA Cup, the Red Devils have played an enor­mous part in my life.

It would be dif­fi­cult for to­day’s young foot­ball sup­port­ers, who have ac­cess to an en­tire world of in­for­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips, to com­pre­hend how you had to ac­tively seek out news and in­for­ma­tion about your favourite team, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral Ire­land be­fore the ad­vent of the Pre­mier League era.

For ex­am­ple, prior to my dis­cov­ery of BBC Ra­dio 5’s night-time foot­ball cov­er­age, which was car­ried across the Irish Sea on the crackle and hiss of Medium Wave (to pick up any sort of sig­nal that was re­motely au­di­ble dur­ing the day was nigh on im­pos­si­ble), it was not un­com­mon to have to wait for my fa­ther to bring home the news­pa­per af­ter work to find out United’s re­sult from the pre­vi­ous night’s game.

An is­sue of Match, Roy Of The Rovers or Shoot was a semireg­u­lar treat, and credit where it is due, ev­ery year Santa Claus al­ways man­aged to put a Man­ches­ter United an­nual into my Christ­mas stock­ing, which I would pro­ceed to read and re-read un­til I vir­tu­ally had the words of David Meek and Tom Tyrrell learned off by heart.

I had caught the Man­ches­ter United bug and boy did I have it bad, thereby ne­ces­si­tat­ing a com­plete im­mer­sion into any read­ing ma­te­rial on this eter­nally cap­ti­vat­ing sub­ject that I could lay my lit­tle hands on.

Be­fore the suc­cesses of Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, the his­tory of Man­ches­ter United was largely con­nected to an­other knight of the realm: Sir Matt Busby.

Sir Matt rep­re­sented the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of Man­ches­ter United — he was Man­ches­ter United — and oc­cu­pied a myth­i­cal sta­tus in the club’s his­tory, made all the more fa­bled by the lack of on­field suc­cess in Sir Alex’s early years at the club.

So when I read an ex­tract in the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent from Ea­mon’s up­com­ing bi­og­ra­phy on Sir Matt — A Strange Kind of Glory (1991) — I sim­ply had to get this book.

Un­for­tu­nately, a copy was not im­me­di­ately avail­able in any of the very good book­shops where I lived in the Mid­lands, so a spe­cial re­quest was placed with my Dublin-based Aun­tie Mary to source it up in the Big Smoke.

I ad­mit, when I opened the pack­age it was daunt­ing to see so many words on so many, many pages and I won­dered whether I may have bit­ten off more than I could pos­si­bly chew by de­cid­ing to tackle A Strange Kind of Glory as my first “grown-up” book. Nev­er­the­less I per­se­vered.

Even though on the maiden read­ing I cer­tainly didn’t grasp the nu­ance and sub­tlety that would only later re­veal it­self on sub­se­quent re­vis­its, I was left in no doubt about the gritty, and at times un­seemly, truth of pro­fes­sional foot­ball, and in par­tic­u­lar of Man­ches­ter United Foot­ball Club, which up un­til then had resided ex­clu­sively within a fan­tasy-like space in my ju­ve­nile imag­i­na­tion that was lav­ishly adorned with star­dust, su­per­heroes and the oc­ca­sional uni­corn. I had now reached the point of no re­turn, but I im­plic­itly un­der­stood that the real was far more in­ter­est­ing than the idyll.

The ar­ti­cles in­cluded in On The Sev­enth Day serve as a won­der­ful re­minder of Ea­mon Dun­phy’s im­mense jour­nal­is­tic ta­lent. Enda McEvoy. As­sis­tant Li­brar­ian, Por­tar­ling­ton Li­brary, Co Laois

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