It’s more than a game for Eamon

Eamon with a copy of his new autobiography

By David Hennessy

In his previous books, he has told the stories of rock band U2, former Manchester United boss Sir Matt Busby and controversial Irish captain Roy Keane but now renowned former Irish international footballer and controversial pundit and broadcaster Eamon Dunphy’s full story will begin to be told in his autobiography, The Rocky Road.

“I wrote it just to tell the story of my life which has been kind of an odd life and it hasn’t all been wonderful but it hasn’t all been bad either,” the author tells The Irish World. “Also journalism is getting really hard, all the papers are collapsing. It gives you a bit of independence if you can write a book, you can have an alternative if you fall out with your bosses which I tend to do from time to time,” he says with a laugh.

Outspoken and often abrasive, Eamon Dunphy is a man no one in Ireland is indifferent to. He has clashed with several Republic of Ireland managers, most notably Jack Charlton when his criticism of big Jack made him a hate figure himself. In his criticism of Ireland’s disappointing 0-0 draw with Egypt in Italy in 1990, it was believed Dunphy said he was ashamed to be Irish. This was not true, he had said the performance was shameful. The backlash saw threatening abuse come Eamon’s way but he was not the only one to suffer: “It was hard on my family really and that sort of made me feel very guilty about things. I thought I was able for it and I was walking around putting on a brave face but the sheer volume and the sheer intensity of the madness of it…

“Everyone was overjoyed because Jack had taken us to places we had never dreamed of being, including the quarter finals of the world cup. People were having barbeques and parties to watch the matches, it was great but I was saying: ‘The king has no clothes’. It wasn’t going down too well and it was a bit intimidating and a bit threatening at times, sometimes very threatening, and I stood up for myself and I was backed by RTE at the time which was hugely important and by the Sunday independent where I had a very good editor, Aengus Fanning so I had support but it was a trying experience. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fun for my children or for my parents or my brother. They didn’t like this and they were thrust into the public arena and I felt very guilty about that.”

The Irish fans were delighted to see the Republic in the last eight of the world cup but playing unattractive football, they got there without winning a game. While England made the last four, the Irish team never employed great midfield players like Ray Houghton, Kevin Sheedy and Ronnie Whelan (who played little part in the tournament) as they preferred to fire long balls straight over the heads. With the benefit of hindsight, many now agree with Eamon: “Everyone agrees now that the football was lousy, that he should have played Ronnie Whelan and that he treated Liam Brady and David O’Leary disgracefully. Everyone agrees now including the players who were in the squad who I’ve worked with.  Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton, Niall Quinn, Kevin Moran, people who were around. They used to laugh at what Jack was doing. Jack’s stuff was kind of mad from a footballing perspective but the people who were enjoying it weren’t football people, they were just Irish people and they were genuinely moved.

“If I made a mistake, I suppose it was I only addressed it as a soccer story while it was a bigger story about the Irish diaspora, national pride and a sense of identity, taking our place in the world’s biggest sporting event and doing well in it so there was a huge big story and all I was doing was soccer analysis. If you look at the bigger picture, why not have a party and enjoy it? So I wouldn’t say I was 100 per cent right but I was just doing the job of a soccer analyst while this was a big national party that had much more to do with it than soccer.”

Dunphy in action for Millwall

Growing up in poverty in Dublin, a young Eamon saw his father lose his building job because he wouldn’t join Fianna Fáil and his family almost losing their home. Resolving never to be in the same situation, football provided a way out when Manchester United took him on as a teenager. However, when chances at Old Trafford didn’t come his way, he dared to ask Matt Busby for a transfer and was sold to York City in 1965 although in his new book he reveals suspicions that the manager sold him to the lowest ranking side he could while also lining his own pockets.

Much more than just telling his own story, Eamon details the Ireland that he grew up, speaking about Irish politics as “grotesquely dysfunctional” and describing Eamon de Valera as a “thief” for how he got people to invest in Irish Press which only the Irish President and his family would benefit from: “I think it’s important to understand what’s happened to this country now in the context of the past. Everyone vilifies Charlie Haughey for what he did and yet I think he’d say ‘what about De Valera?’ who swindled a quarter of a million dollars, which in today’s money is probably 20 million dollars, from investors in The Irish Press who were patriotic people.

“I think it is important to show that WT Cosgrave talked about the undeserving poor and how we would be better off exporting them which is more or less the present government’s position especially with the budget last week reducing the dole payment to €100 a week for people under 25.

“We didn’t end up where we are now, which is as a totally broken society, by accident. We ended up this way because our politics is dysfunctional and they have been dysfunctional from the very get go. In two and a half years time, in 2016, people are going to be standing there celebrating what? Volume two of my book will come out about that time and it will be asking some of those questions. I don’t think we’ve got much to celebrate. This is not a democracy, never mind a republic.

“I also felt it necessary because it did impact on my own family. My father lost his job because he wouldn’t join Fianna Fáil, we were nearly evicted as a result of that and people now are losing their jobs and facing eviction so it’s not just an old story, it’s very relevant and has a resonance to what’s happening here right now.”

Recently, Ireland has seen the release of John Gilligan, the Dublin gangster believed to have been behind the murder of Eamon’s colleague, Veronia Guerin. Has this news prompted Irish people to lose faith in justice? “Totally, they’ve totally lost faith in the political class, the media and civil serving class so we’re looking at a lawless, cruel society now worse in many ways than the 40s and 50s. We didn’t have anything but at least we didn’t have €400,000 mortgages that we couldn’t pay or were not in negative equity for a couple of hundred grand so this is a tragic story and it didn’t happen by accident.”

Performances at York earned Eamon an international call-up. He represented his country 23 times but reveals in his book it didn’t feel like an honour: “I’m not a nationalist. I don’t really like the Soldier’s Song, I don’t like that militant nationalism, I don’t like English hating, I like English people, I loved England, in many ways I would say I was an Anglophile. I didn’t buy into violent terrorism although I supported certain people at certain times by wearing a black armband and going and speaking so that the Price sisters and Gerry Kelly would serve a sentence in Ireland rather than in England but I’m not really a nationalist. I think nationalism has caused more trouble than anything else in the world apart from religion.”

Eamon lines out for Ireland in 1966

Eamon was at Millwall when he wore a black armband following the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre. Eamon’s grandfather was in Croke Park the day of the 1920 atrocity but Dunphy was the only Irish player to wear the band. Asked if he was disappointed others didn’t join him, Eamon answers: “It wasn’t just that they didn’t join me, it’s the derision that greeted my proposal: ‘Are you mad?’ Or phones dropping real quick. I was disappointed because soccer players have an obligation, I think, to the community they come from and I felt that we could have sent a message to people who belonged in the same community as the paratroopers who did this. I felt it was an opportunity to show solidarity with the families of the victims and the victims themselves. I felt sport was a powerful way of getting a message to ordinary people: This is being done, it’s being done in your name, you should know it about it. That’s all I was trying to do. I didn’t have much joy there but I did it myself anyway.”

Asked for his take on the news that the British soldiers who fired that day could now face arrest over 40 years later, Eamon says: “Well, it’s difficult given that so much time has elapsed to see if that can be done successfully. If justice is delayed that long, I’m not sure that can be done. The Saville Inquiry, I think, delivered some closure to the people of Derry. In the end, it’s their decision. If they want this process to continue, I would respect what they feel.”

Eamon describes how when he arrived for international duty, the manager didn’t recognise him: At that time the manager didn’t pick the team. Eamon made his debut for Ireland against Spain in a play-off ahead of the 1966 World Cup. The fixture was originally to be played in London but the FAI surrendered very much like home advantage in return for 100 per cent of the gate receipts. These are two examples of the amateur set-up Irish players then dealt with where officials or “blazers” as he calls them planned their duty free purchases with more care than appointing a manager. But Eamon has also written about a lack of standards in Roy Keane’s time. Are conditions for our national team now up to scratch? “Yes, I think Roy Keane made a very important stand and John Giles was the first one to change it. John introduced a culture that supported players and gave them some dignity. Then Roy made his stand over players sitting down the back of the aeroplane while the guys are up in first class having a ball and that’s changed. The FAI in the modern time treats them very well, they have the best of everything so there has been an evolution. What we experienced in the bad old days was pretty awful.”

Eamon’s account is also unflinching in his criticism of himself, describing himself as a player who lacked guts at times: “You have to be hard on yourself. We’re all imperfect and I think when you’re a journalist, analyst or commentator, you have to be particularly hard on yourself because you’re being hard on other people very often. If you’re sorting things out, you’ve got to start with sorting yourself out. Otherwise you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Asked about who he would like to see succeeding Trapattoni as manager of the Irish team, Eamon says: “While Martin O’Neill would be my first pick, I wouldn’t have any problem with McCarthy. McCarthy I think has shown incredible ability. I think he’s matured since the Saipan thing. He knows the Irish set-up and he knows the players very well. It’s hard to think of us attracting stellar coaches but I think McCarthy might be a good fit at this stage in the game.

“I think Keane would be a train wreck but exciting though. There’s a media campaign gathering steam here for Roy. I think the lads just want good copy and who can blame them? I’m not sure he would be very good at the job because he doesn’t appear to like people. I think if you’re going to manage people, you have to kind of like them and respect them. But it’s not a packed field and there aren’t many stellar names in it. I think from what’s on offer either Mick McCarthy or Martin O’Neill would be the answer.”

For the full interview, see the November 2 Irish World.

The Rocky Road by Eamon Dunphy is out now on Penguin books. 


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