If there was ever a name that provokes an immediate reaction from sport lovers in this country, it is Eamon Dunphy.
The soccer pundit has never been one to hold back with his opinions or from expressing his passion for the game, and at a time of regeneration for the Ireland national team, it seems timely that Dunphy should now be releasing the first volume of his autobiography, The Rocky Road, which details his journey from the streets of Dublin to the studios of national media where his intense and direct summations of Official Ireland and the fortunes and failings of the Boys in Green made him vilified and respected in equal measure.
Speaking exclusively to Gazette Sport last week before coming to Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown Shopping Centres to sign copies of the book, Eamon explained why he wrote the book.
“I suppose it was the right time to do it, and I wanted the challenge of it. There was quite a bit of research required, and trawling through my memories. This is volume one – there will be another volume in a year or two’s time. The second book is started, I had a few other chapters written. It would have been like War And Peace if I had done the whole thing in one go.”
War And Peace seems like an alternative title for the book, as it tells the tale of Dunphy’s tough upbringing and battles to escape his environment through football, through his time at Manchester United and as a journeyman player in England before his return to Ireland where he carved out a career in journalism.
His path to his career in the media was something that began relatively early for Dunphy.
“I was a pretty average footballer in England. I suppose what is unusual was that I was a footballer who was interested in things outside of football.
“Most players are not interested in anything other than the next match or where their career is going. They tend to think of politics as a sideshow, but in the example of apartheid, sport was the last bastion supporting it. It was sporting boycotts that helped greatly [in ending the system], yet the Irish rugby team and soccer players were still going there to play all white South African teams. Sport did not live up to its responsibilities.
“In football, people tended not to go beyond the back pages, but I was an avid reader. I wasn’t that different to someone who was going to university, but from the average footballer, I had more interest in these things, which made me stand out. Football is a very conservative, conformist business.”
That conformity and Dunphy’s own single-mindedness led to him coming into opposition with Matt Busby, Manchester United’s legendary manager who was in the chair when Dunphy was signed by the club in the 1960s.
“Busby was a rather remote figure, but he had an aura about him. He was always on the training ground – there is a picture in the book of me taking him on in a five-a-side training match – but he mostly dealt with the first team.
“I was a promising player when I first went there, I just didn’t grow and develop well enough to be a first-team player. In the end, I had to ask for a transfer.
“I had to deal with him, and he was a very stern, steely man. He didn’t really care about me, he cared about Manchester United the institution.
“I asked for a transfer when I was 19, and he said, ‘people don’t ask to leave United, we decide’. I wanted to go. He was shocked someone would go into his office and ask for a transfer. But I knew I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I should quit this project and move on to the next one.”
And the next project proved to be a move to York City, prior to another transfer to Millwall, where he began to dip his toe into the waters of writing, leading to his acclaimed memoir of the time, Only A Game.
“I set out very optimistically looking to get promotion for Millwall, and ended up with me getting dropped and leaving the club. I was about 27 at the time, and I had ambitions for after soccer to be a journalist.
“So, I tried this experiment of writing this diary – it turned out to be a disastrous six months. But the book was acclaimed when it was published, and it was a good learning experience for me.”
Next week: Dunphy talks about coming back to Ireland, soccer in this country, and the O’Neill and Keane combination.