Priceless sports memories
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