By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
Malcolm Brodie, a life member of the Football Writers’ Association, was unique in sports journalism – he had covered 14 World Cups and it would have been 15 had he not been on his honeymoon. He was awarded the Jules Rimet Trophy by FIFA as the journalist who covered more World Cup finals than any other.
Brodie, who awarded an MBE for services to journalism and an honorary doctorate by the University of Ulster, has died at the age of 86. His contribution to sports journalism was unparalleled and though he grew up in Scotland, it was in Northern Ireland that Brodie became the doyen of football writers. Jim Gracey, the current Belfast Telegraph sports editor, said Brodie had “taught a generation, maybe two or three generations everything we know about journalism, including myself.” Everyone who was anyone in football knew Brodie and Gracey said: “When you walked through the press centres at the World Cups everyone knew him, people like Pele and Bobby Charlton…he was on first name terms with them. The man was beyond a legend.”
As a young reporter finding my feet in the world of football writing, I shall never forget the help and encouragement Brodie gave me. He was as far from aloof as is possible and a 10-minute conversation with him was like a masterclass in journalism. Last February, when I asked Brodie to help with the question and answer section for footballwriters.co.uk (reproduced below) typically he replied: “Thanks for asking me to participate.”
TV presenter Eamonn Holmes has similar recollections and said: “Malcolm Brodie – always a kind word for me as a young journalist and even kinder ones as I grew older. I’ll always be thankful I knew him. RIP.”
Brodie “got a foot in the door,” as he put it, at the Belfast Telegraph in 1943 when he saw a vacancy for a copy-taker advertised. At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, where Northern Ireland defeated the host nation,a copy-taker for the Belfast Telegraph became legendary. Brodie told the story: “I started my match report ‘Magnifico, magnifico, magnifico…’ She said: “I heard you the first time.’”
In 1944 he became a news reporter, covering the courts – “I remember being baffled by the legalities” – and attending council meetings at Belfast City Hall. He went on to be appointed Acting Deputy Parliamentary
Correspondent but, after becoming disenchanted with the lack of real authority at Stormont, decided to pursue his dream of working in sports journalism.
Brodie remembered: “The Belfast Telegraph didn’t have a proper sports department at that time so I suggested to them that they should. Billy McClatchey, who was known as ‘Ralph the Rover’, and Jack Magowan helped me form the basis of what is the sports department as it is today.”
His first World Cup was Switzerland 1954 and in a chapter for Forgive Us Our Press Passes, a book in which FWA members wrote a unique chapter with proceeds going to Great Ormond Street Hospital, Brodie wrote: “Switzerland, therefore, was my Jules Rimet trophy baptism. This was the era when football controlled the competition without starting time edicts from television, commercial enterprise or vested outside interests.
“The era when the media had virtually free access to the training camps and not, as happens so often today, be looked upon by the authorities as pariahs to be banished at all costs. Stadiums did not have an overpowering security presence. Yes, there were the flare-ups on the pitches but primarily the World Cup meant football.
“But Switzerland 1954, in an idyllic Alpine setting, was not without its ugly side, pinpointed by the infamous Battle of Berne, where the Brazilians invaded the Hungarian dressing room, went on the rampage, created havoc and tarnished their name – a scar which remains to this day despite their unquestioned supremacy in the competition.
“The Hungarians were by no means innocents. Allegations that Magyars captain Ferenc Puskas, who was injured and watched the match from the dug-out, had thrown a bottle at the Brazilian as he left the pitch could never be proved.
“Only the professionalism of English referee Arthur Ellis, who sent-off three players, ensured the match finished, with the Hungarians winning 4-2. Villain of the piece to the Brazilians but for the neutral it was a classic textbook example of professional refereeing.
“Underlining the freedom given to the press, I reached the corridors of the players’ dressing room shortly after the mayhem ended. The Brazilians shouted and protested behind a closed door as Ellis, from Halifax, was escorted to safety through rows of irate Brazilian supporters by Scottish referee Charlie Faultless.
“Can you imagine a newspaperman loitering near the dressing rooms of a World Cup finals today? No chance. The nearest we get is the so-called mixed zone where journalists wait behind wire for players to emerge from the stadium and be interviewed in an undignified scramble. I find this somewhat embarrassing, like waiting for crumbs of bread to be thrown to the starving.
“Hungary qualified to meet Uruguay at rain-lashed Lausanne. What a pity this game was not televised live as it proved to be one of the World Cup classics. The conditions were appalling, the standard awesome. ‘This is what I call football,’ commented Charlie Buchan, the former England and Sunderland defender, publisher of his monthly magazine and my companion in the Press tribune that night. ‘Who said these teams could not play in these conditions – they could perform anywhere. Yes, that is football.’
“Uruguay, inspired by Juan Schiaffino, one of the most accomplished inside forwards of all time, lost 4-2 after extra-time but earlier they had destroyed a mediocre Scotland, managed by Andy Beattie, former left back and manager of Huddersfield Town, in a nightmare occasion at Basel. Beattie resigned because of interference from officialdom, turmoil reigned in the camp and the Scots, who had helped give the game to the world, were given a douche of cold reality and a signal they were not the power many of their patriotic fans imagined them to be.
“The media facilities were efficient if somewhat spartan. Calls had to be placed with a central desk in the media centres; it cost a fortune to have a telephone installed while there were interminable delays on calls, many of which never materialised. Most of us in the overspill for the Germany-Hungary final at the Wankdorf Stadium, Berne, were soaked to the skin as rain fell incessantly. Many correspondents without early deadlines opted to return to hotels and file copy from there. Again it was a question of contacting the international operator which was quite a daunting task, but sometimes Irish charm worked. Latops and instant dialling were a world away. Still, it was fun.”
It was always fun working with Malcom Brodie, as Jim Gracey said – a man beyond a legend.
MALCOLM BRODIE on the best of Best…the wrong result and covering 14 World Cup finals
Your first ever newspaper?
Briefly Portadown News, County Armagh .and then Belfast Telegraph for almost five decades
Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
No, I was trained and worked in all aspects of journalism before specialising in sport; then appointed sports editor and football correspondent to create and develop a sports department whose reporters and columnists were given a global canvas for coverage of Irish and main international events.
What was your finest achievement playing football?
Deciding as a young schoolboy I wasn’t good enough to become an established player so opted to enter journalism which would, perhaps, retain my fanatical interest in football. A fortunate step which I never regret– if only you could turn back the clock!.
Most memorable match covered?
Difficult to answer as there have been many glory days with Northern Ireland and the Republic . My choice must be England’s 1966 World Cup win over West Germany at Wembley. An unforgettable day – and night at the Royal Garden Hotel. That scene flashes through my memory every time I walk past Bobby Moore’s statue at the national stadium..
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
George Best’s scintillating performance when Northern Ireland defeated Scotland 1-0 in a 1968 Euro qualifier. Although Dave Clements scored the goal Best’s genius won the day with the finest individual display of artistry ever seen at Windsor Park. He was the ultimate superstar..
Best stadium…. and the worst?
Olympic Stadium, Rome and the Kombetar Quemal, Tirana circa 1965
Your best ever scoop?
Guadalajara World Cup Mexico,1986. I had just completed an interview with Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham before the final Group game against Brazil when he remarked: “By the way I’m going out to manage in Saudi Arabia.” Just like that- a throwaway line. He intended doubling the jobs. A quick look at the watch confirmed it was well past the morning paper’s edition times. The Telegraph, as an evening newspaper, a diminishing breed these days, therefore had a free early run
Your personal new tech disaster?
Impossible to list them all but I operated on the theory one failure to get a lap top connection meant lifting the telephone and dictating. That kept the blood pressure normal.
Missing a goal answering a phone call and filling the wrong result at the end. It was corrected almost instantly but the damage had done – my thanks to the speed of the PA wire.
Have you ever been mistaken for anybody else?
No but I’ve been often called a name by irate punters which questioned the marital status of my parents.
Most media friendly manager?
Peter Doherty (Northern Ireland) 1951-62 His man-management technique and motivational skills could not be surpassed. Couldn’t stand phoneys or cheats.
Best ever player?
Best ever teams (club and international):
Club – Barcelona 2011 edging Real Madrid of the Sixties; international – Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad who took the crown from Ferenc Puskas and his 1956 Hungarians.
Best pre-match grub?
Never sample any.
Best meals on my travels and the worst?
Winston Churchill Restaurant, Mexico City and National Hotel, Albania,1965 circa
Best hotel stayed in?
International Sheraton, Perth, Western Australia
…and the worst?
Metropole Moscow, Circa 1985
Favourite football writer?
Henry Winter (Daily Telegraph), logical successor to the late Geoffrey Green (The Times)
Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Radio: Alan Green (BBC); Television – John Motson (BBC) like The Master, David Coleman, a voice of authority..
If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be ? .
A request for greater transparency, easier access to players and an assurance that club officials and players will pay media the courtesy of returning calls. That is an El Dorado….I must stop dreaming it just won’t happen!
One sporting event outside football you would like to experience?
An England Ashes win over Australia in either in Melbourne or Sydney. To be at either venue on the decisive day must be something special.
Last book read?
My Trade by Andrew Marr
Favourite current TV programme?
Nothing specific, any documentary suffices.
Your most prized football memorabilia?
A miniature World Cup Trophy together with scroll from FIFA to mark covering 14 World Cup Finals; the inaugural Doug Gardiner Memorial Award from the British Sports Journalists Association for services to the profession, the MBE from the Queen, honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster, Gold Medal signifying Life Membership of the Irish Football Association.
What advice would you give to any budding football writer?
Learn all technical aspects in the new digital era including radio and television; closely study all the football rules and regulations. Present your own assessments in match reports, discard the quotes scenario unless it benefits your story. Stand by your own judgment, do your homework on every project and learn. The laws of libel working on the theory if in doubt leave out. Being a crusader can by a costly business if you don’t get the facts correct.
Thanks for inviting me to participate.