A hero just for one day?

A hero just for one day?

Long, long time ago, I can still remember when football used to make me smile and the three men I admired most (no, not the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost) but John Wark, Denis Law and Brian Talbot were the reasons why I enjoyed the game so much.
For many, many years a raging debate has gone on between lovers of football, and indeed different entertainment areas such as music, films and whatever you are having yourself.

The debate is are you better off never meeting your hero, or should you do everything possible to try and catch up with the person you admire greatly? From time to time you meet people who hold their hands up and admit meeting their hero was not quite what they expected. Many are deeply disappointed, while on the other hand many are thrilled to bits and go around on cloud nine for years afterwards.

As a child of the 60s I was lucky to get involved in football and music from an early age and by some strange consternation (amazement or dismay) I have come across some remarkable people down through the years.

Meeting and playing music with the great late Luke Kelly was just one of those magical nights in Kilkenny of all places. Playing support to Thin Lizzy and meeting Phil Lynott was another. On another occasion the brilliant Roger Whittaker asked me to try and get him a bottle of lemonade (Sullivan’s of course) in the Olympia Ballroom. Great days. Wonderful days, the likes of which we will never see again (God I am showing my age).

Growing up in the 60s in Waterford was brilliant because our soccer team were tip top, the very best. The names still roll of the tongue as if it was yesterday: Thomas, Bryan, Griffin, Morrissey, Maguire, Stafford, McGeough, O’Neill, Matthews, Casey, Coad, Hale and Lynch. Kilcohan Park packed to the rafters every second Sunday.

Across the pond for one reason or another I fell for the simple pure football of a little club from Suffolk, Ipswich Town. The main reason I think was the fact that my father admired Alf Ramsey and he was the man who turned a little club into an outfit that won the Second Division in season 1960-61 and the following season won the First Division, the first club to win promotion from the second-tier league and then come out on top in the top grade the following year.

As the years went by honours did not arrive on a regular basis but in 1978 Bobby Robson brought the FA Cup back to sleepy Suffolk and three years later the UEFA Cup found its home there. The 1961-62 First Division League champions had players such as strikers (forwards) Ray Crayford, Ted Phillips and captain Andy Nelson.

The 1978 FA Cup team had two wonderful players who really caught my attention, John Wark and Brian Talbot. Wark was a tigerish midfield player who could score goals by coming from the middle and he still holds the record for goals scored in one season in Europe, the season Ipswich won the UEFA Cup.

John Wark, who also of course played with Liverpool, is one of nature’s gentlemen. He is still employed with Ipswich Town as corporate manager on match days at Portman Road.

Some years ago I somehow managed to get into the players’ lounge and enjoyed a few enjoyable hours with ‘Warky’ (don’t you just love that) and he was everything I thought he would be. He has a wry sense of humour and he kindly agreed to talk to me on a regular basis on radio prior to big games in England. The Scottish International still from time to time plays for the club in the Masters Cup in Sky Sports.

Brian Talbot

Brian Talbot, a player who I really thought was the ‘bee’s knees’, began his career an apprentice with Ipswich Town in 1968, turning professional in 1972. He went to Toronto Metros on loan for two seasons before returning to Ipswich and he went on to play 227 games for the club.

In the FA Cup semi-final of 1978 he scored against West Brom before being stretchered off but he was fit for the final and he played superbly as Bobby Robson’s men caused a major shock by beating Arsenal 1-0 in the final.

Roger Osborne scored the only goal of the game at Wembley. Such was Talbot’s display that day, the Gunners bought him from Ipswich during the close season of 1978 and the following season he helped Arsenal win the FA Cup as they defeated Manchester United in the decider, thus achieving the rare distinction of winning the FA Cup with two different teams in consecutive seasons.

Arsenal paid a fee of £450,00 Sterling for the player who only won 6 caps for England, which is a strange fact to say the very least. The year after winning the FA Cup with Arsenal he set a club record in 1979-80 by becoming the only ever-present Arsenal player that season.

Brian Talbot played a total of 70 games as the club once again reached the FA Cup final and the Cup Winners Cup final (they lost both).

He played 327 first team games for the Gunners, scoring 49 goals. He left Arsenal in 1985 and went on to play for Watford, Stoke City, West Brom, Fulham and Aldershot. He was also elected chairman of the Professional Footballers Association in 1984, a position he held for four years.

The manager

Brian Talbot became player-manager of West Brom in 1988 until he took over at Aldershot in 1991. He moved to Malta from Aldershot and the managed the Maltese club, Hibernians, who won the island’s Premier League in 1993 and 1994.

When he returned to English football he became head coach at Rushden and Diamonds in the Football Conference in 1997. He was appointed manager at the club in season 1999-2000 and the following season Rushden and Diamonds won promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. They made the play-off final in Division Three the following year only to lose, but in season 2002-03 they won the league title.

They got relegated the following season and Talbot left the club in March, 2004 to take over at Oldham Athletic. He kept the club in Division Two but he resigned in March 2005 before taking over at Oxford United. He was sacked in March, 2006. He decided to move back to Malta and took over a little club called Marsaxlokk FC, which is situated in a tiny fishing town.

Almost beyond belief they won the Maltese Premier League. Maltese football is something similar to the League of Ireland and Marsaxlokk winning the title there was like Kilkenny City (sorry, they are gone), lets say Kildare County winning the Premier League here because they had never won anything of note since they were formed in 1949.

The big clubs in Malta are Hibernians, Valletta (Tommy Taylor’s old club) and Sliema Wanderers. This season however everything has gone a trifle pear-shaped for Marsaxlokk FC as they are struggling somewhat and in their Champions League debut against FK Sarajevo they could only name 13 players and lost 9-1 on aggregate.

They do not have the resources to stay with the big clubs on the island and after winning the Premier League they sold six of their top players. They are expected to retain their status however.

A hero

Needles to say with Brian Talbot moving around England and Malta so much it was nigh impossible to get a decent chance to meet him so you can imagine my delight in early 2005 when he actually paid a visit to the RSC to watch Waterford United play Shelbourne in the League of Ireland.

I informed my friends that Brian Talbot was coming to see me, much to their amusement. He was casting an eye over Steve Williams, the Shels goalkeeper but it came as no surprise that it was Daryl Murphy who really caught his eye that night. He was just like John Wark – friendly, agreeable and willing to talk football for as long as it took.

Yet again one of my heroes proved to be just what I hoped he would be. Meeting Wark and Talbot (just for one day) was thrilling and when I return to Malta in the summer I will be making my way to Marsaxlokk, wherever it is on the beautiful island.

Now what about Denis Law? Now that is a completely different story. The closest I ever came to the real ‘King’ of Old Trafford was watching him play against Waterford in Lansdowne Road in the European Cup in 1968. Denis scored a hat-trick that day and he was wonderful to watch even though he was making by beloved Blues suffer.

The manner in which he celebrated a goal will always live in the memory. His right arm raised to the sky as he clutched the end of his sleeve on his red shirt. His overhead kicks and his magnificent headers were a joy to behold. When it comes to Denis Law perhaps I fall into the ‘never try to meet them’ brigade. I think I will leave the illusion linger on, at least for the next number of years.

As Meat Loaf sings in his 1978 hit song: ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’!