Editorial

Brian McNally – a tribute to The Beast by his friend Ian Murtagh.

For those friends and former colleagues wishing to pay tribute to Brian McNally, who sadly passed away earlier this week at the age of 76, the details are:

3pm on Friday 5th July 2024 Tynemouth Crematorium, Walton Avenue, North Shields, NE29 9NJ

His friend Ian Murtagh has written this tribute.

BRIAN McNally was a giant of North East sports journalism.

Indeed, his reputation as one of the finest writers around was not confined to the region he championed all  his life.

At Italia 90, he briefly shared the limelight with three of our finest, Bobby Robson, Paul Gascoigne and Jack Charlton for his role in protecting an innocent girl who became the victim of a media sting when England and the press corps were staying in Sardinia.

Those who couldn’t match the journalistic standards of The Journal’s finest learnt a harsh and brutal lesson that week.

You don’t mess with the Beast.

It was a nickname he revelled in and throughout his professional life, invariably lived up to.

No-one can recall who actually came up with the legendary sobriquet which lives on in the numerous tributes which have enriched social media since his sad passing at the age of 76.

Those fortunate to be in his company during a lively refuelling session after a hard day’s work may conclude it owed much to his Epicurian personality, booming vocal delivery and innate ability to hold court at a bar.

But surely it stemmed from his journalism which roared with passion, conviction and opinion.

Oh, Brian was opinionated. Sitting on the fence was an anathema to this proud scribe.

Whether it was his socialist convictions,  his lifelong love affair with Celtic or perhaps, any burning issue of that particular day, we all knew where he stood.

And when it came to our local football clubs and how they were run, his readers were all too aware of the stance he took in a career which took him from his local weekly in Whitley Bay to the Sunderland Echo and the Evening Chronicle.

Then this literary colossus really came into his own as Chief Sports Writer at The Journal and the Sunday Sun before a richly merited move to Fleet Street and the Sunday Mirror.

And  – not too many of his mates probably know this – he wrote for many, many years a football column for the Northern Cross, the Catholic organ of the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.

As a newspaper man, it’s probably fair to say the Beast found much of the day-to-day stuff mundane and boring.

Transfer speculation and injury updates left him cold – unless he had an exclusive of course.

No, Brian truly blossomed compiling those memorable, forthright, magnificent columns for the Sunday Sun.

Whenever there was a thorny issue to address, he’d launch himself at it with fearless vigour.

If a crusade took his fancy, he’d prove the most inspirational standard-bearer.

Leading figures in North East football discovered that, often at personal cost.

His relationship with former Sunderland chairman Sir Bob Murray fractured irreparably due to his belief that the hierarchy of a club he watched regularly as a child, did not match the ambition of the fans.

He wore the ensuing ban imposed on him like a badge of honour.

Brian didn’t get off to the best of starts with Sir John Hall and his Magpie Group during the Newcastle power struggle which dominated the sports pages in the early-nineties.

While sister paper The Evening Chronicle took up their cause, Brian sided with the establishment (for probably the only time in his life!) producing a conveyor belt of newsbreaking copy from within the club.

Was it out of devilment or a (mistaken) belief that Newcastle was in better hands under the patriarchal Gordon McKeag?

It doesn’t really matter. The Beast may have fallen out with a few in his time but he loved falling back in with them and Sir John and his board became good friends – and contacts –  over time.

A few personal stories to end with.

 Like Brian, I’m a Celtic fan and many times after he finally retired, we’d chat on the phone waxing lyrical about the latest win over Rangers or moaning about the latest Champions League anti-climax.

In the press box, Brian was the consummate professional, cold, surgical and focussed on the job in hand.

But in the stands in Paradise (Celtic Park to the uninitiated), a very different character emerged.

A few years ago, I managed to obtain tickets for myself, the Beast and another fine journalist Steve Brenner, who was keen to sample an Old Firm derby for the first time.

Steve, I recall, was quite stunned to witness the Beast, by now into his sixties, leading the singing, standing on his seat and being well…..er the Rhebel Rouser of his youth.

It was a more tactile McNally who emerged one night after a pre-season friendly between Celtic and Newcastle.

Manager Martin O’Neill had already held his press conference when he was approached by Brian looking strangely sheepish.

Taking the Treble-winning Irishman’s hand, he leant forward and whispered: “God Bless you, Martin. Thanks for everything.”

Brian wasn’t perfect, especially when it came to knowing the rules of the game he reported on.

Back in 1990, the North East press were invited to take on the cast of Byker Grove in an exhibition match at the Gateshead Garden Festival.

Now the Beast was more Brian Blessed than gifted footballer so we stuck him in goal – almost to our collective cost.

These were in the days before the new backpass rule so in the opening seconds, I decided to give our keeper an early touch.

Touch, Brian, touch!!!

He kept the ball for what seemed like an eternity and when it was pointed out to him, he was exceeding the four steps permitted, he shouted back “It’s ok, I’m bouncing the ball,” before an exasperated team-mate pointed out to him the rules he was playing to went out with the Ark.

For more stories about the wonderful Brian McNally, we’ll all have to wait for the book some budding author must surely write one day for a guaranteed best seller.

I doubt it will be me but I can suggest an apt title.

THE BEAUTY OF THE BEAST

Rest In Peace, Brian

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