Friday, September 18, 2015

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The Rocky Road

Beano Niblock reviews The Rocky Road by Eamon Dunphy. A former loyalist prisoner, Beano Niblock is now a writer. 

Dunphy the enigma.  The razor sharp tongue and at times haranguing style.  Passionate?  Always.  And about many disparate subjects.  Entertaining?  Mark that down for a ten.  Controversial?  Well, that only counts as a seven or eight in my book.  Knowledge of subject matter?  Ten~ minimum.  If there’s an Irish version of marmite, Dunphy is it. 

So,  as the saying goes, you either love him or hate him. But to paraphrase another well worn cliché-you sure as fuck can’t ignore him. He has opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them.  He has an obvious flair for rubbing people up the wrong way ~ a natural gift.  Political views abound and he’s no conformist.  His wit, intelligence and vast experience in different spheres make The Rocky Road a most stimulating and at times fascinating read.  It’s hard to recall a more learned or forthright Irish sports commentator for this past quarter of a century.  He brings it all to bear here.  You can be a polar opposite in your views on certain Dunphy issues but you would never begrudge respect.

Dunphy, christened Eamon after De Valera, was born and raised in relative poverty in North Dublin, next to Drumcondra’s ground.  His narrative of immensely difficult times paints a wonderful canvas depicting the hardships of the 1950’s.  Equally enthralling is his commentary on the stranglehold that Fianna Dail ~ De Valera in particular ~ and the Catholic Church had in running the state.  He is dismissive of Fianna Fail and accuses them of being the antithesis of the “true republicans” from history, including those who signed the proclamation.  The church too, and it’s leaders ~Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid especially ~fall foul of the Dunphy treatment.

However he is strangely reticent to criticise a paedophile priest, Father James McNamee, a cleric who coached a local junior football team and found time to fondle the young players. 

But football is what Dunphy was first famous for and his story is the archetypal rags to riches one.  Except he would point out that the riches didn’t actually follow. His account of junior football in inner city Dublin and of his early exploits as a pre Munich Busby Babe are riddled with scintillating anecdotes.  His friendship with wide boy Barry Fry, his stories of Johnny Giles, and ultimately his discovering that Matt ~ later to be Sir Matt ~ wasn’t quite the genial gentleman he was portrayed as. 

Post-United Dunphy became the proverbial journeyman, playing around the lower echelons of the Football League for a meagre subsistence.  A most interesting passage describes the time he came back to Dublin as part of the Johnny Giles inspired vision to take Shamrock Rovers to the pinnacle of European Football ~ a la Glasgow Celtic from 10 years previously ~ by producing a super team of home produced talent.  A failed venture and a shattered dream.

A frequently capped player in those days, Dunphy has first hand knowledge of the shambolic state of Irish International football at that time and indeed of the myopic and parochial FAI in general.  Because soccer was seen as an anti-Irish Sport ~ to Official Irelanders, as he called them ~ and not to be compared with Gaelic games, it was never seen in the same light, and deliberately kept down.  This is illustrated most in the fact that it was a policy to play League of Ireland players in the International team rather than those who were playing top flight English football.

His career behind him, Dunphy relates his attempts to break into sports journalism and the battle therein.  He charts his daily skirmishes with editors and unions alike in what was a truly protracted and messy battle.  His perseverance won through and in some way this encapsulates all that Dunphy was as a person.  A doughty-in your face-niggly little fucker who refused to back down.  He is honest enough throughout the book to highlight his shortcomings ~ football or otherwise. 

Much of our recollections of the acerbic Dunphy relate to this past 25 years but the book finishes in 1990, immediately after the World Cup Finals of that year in Italy.  This is the time of the initial fall out with Jack Charlton ~ story he tells in full.  No doubt a Rocky Road 2 will follow-and judging by the first volume it too will be eagerly anticipated. 

The tousle haired rebel who wore a black arm band during a Millwall game in memory of those killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday, who controversially played for Ireland in Pinochet’s Chile in 1973, who protested against both England and Ireland for taking part in sporting events in South Africa, who fought against the indentured slavery of footballers in the late sixties, has, no doubt many more stories to regale us with.

Eamon Dunphy, 2014, The Rocky Road. Published by Penguin. ISBN 978-0241968857.


AM said...

Saw a hardback copy in the shop a few days ago for one Euro and never picked it up... having second thoughts now