The making of Eamon Dunphy — July 2010

EAMON Martin Dunphy was born into a very different Ireland.

He was named after Eamon De Valera, and was born on August 3, 1945, as World War Two was coming to a close.

It was the time of the Emergency in Ireland. An era of austerity and little in the way of material comforts.

Paddy and Margaret Dunphy had two kids, Eamon and his brother Kevin, and they lived together in a one bedroom flat in a tenement in Drumcondra until Eamon was 15.

Eamon and Kevin slept on the floor.

The two boys were educated at St Patrick’s NS in Drumcondra, and the threat of the bailiffs — and eviction — was never far away from the family.

Paddy Dunphy worked on various jobs including as a builder’s labourer and one of the most vivid memories of Eamon’s childhood his the devastation of the family after he had to go on the dole.

Eamon himself thought seriously about serving the Queen in the British Army.

“I had left school at 13 to be a van-boy and had had very little education,’’ he explained.

“In effect, there was an apartheid system in place in Ireland where it was very difficult for working class people to get a decent education.

“I wanted to be a printer but it was made clear to me that it was a closed shop.

“Printers only took on the sons of other printers.

“So I had zero prospects in Dublin and I was going to sign a nine-year contract with the British Army.

“I knew I had to escape Ireland as it was a brutal and oppressive society for working class people — and it still is.”

For the young Eamon Dunphy, football was both an escape and a means of expression.

“I played for Stella Maris and did well in schoolboys’ football, was captain of the team and was selected for a Dublin representative side to go and play in Belfast,’’ he recalled.

“That led to me getting three schoolboy caps with Ireland and Billy Behan, Manchester United’s scout in Dublin, was keeping tabs on me.

“He started calling to our house. My mother was deeply suspicious of me going away but my father understood that this was a great opportunity

“Tolka Park was just across the road from where we lived and Billy came along with Matt Busby’s assistant, Jimmy Murphy, to watch me there and make it clear that United were keen.

“But Bill Shankly had taken over as manager of Liverpool not long before and he turned up at the game as well.

“After the match, Shankly went to my father and told him Liverpool wanted to sign me.

“That would have been the wiser thing to do but Liverpool were a Division Two club at the time and Shankly didn’t have anything like the reputation that he would have a few years later.

“So I turned down Bill Shankly! That was hardly my finest hour.”

But Manchester United were the most glamorous club in the world and they were keen on the young Dubliner.

“United got all the best schoolboys from the UK and Ireland together and had one trial match,’’ said Dunphy.

“Matt Busby turned up on the sideline and we knew this was it.

“It was 30 minutes each way and I played like I’d never played before. The hand of God was on my shoulder.

“I played amazingly well against really good opponents and Murphy called me into Busby’s office a day later to tell me that the club were going to take me on.

“I nearly fainted but I grabbed the pen as quickly as possible.

“My whole life was determined by that one hour on a wind-swept pitch in Manchester. It’s an extraordinary thing.”

Dunphy was an innocent abroad in Manchester but it didn’t take long for the bright lights of the English city to draw him in.

“Manchester was liberating for me in many ways but I was so immature,’’ he said.

“Irish young lads were way, way behind in terms of self-assurance. Certainly, I was.

“We were left to our own devices. “Barry Fry, who later cut a colourful figure in management, became a great pal of mine and we started knocking around together.

“We ended up staying in digs with a Mrs Scott and she was sound.

“My wages were seven pounds a week. You’d cough up four quid for digs, send £1.50 home and have £1.50 to live on.

“They had just introducted the system of the apprentice footballer which meant that you didn’t have to do so much of the rubbish like painting walls and cleaning terraces and all of that.

“We would finish at 12.30 so we had a lot of time on our hands.

“We’d be dossing around betting-shops and doing all kinds of nonsense.

“I remember I was at the dog-track in Salford with Barry when an announcement came over the tannoy that President Kennedy had been shot.”

Anyone who watches Dunphy on RTE will be familiar with his frequent digs at his own footballing ability during his days as a player.

But, in fact, he did have plenty of skill and talent and Busby placed a lot of faith in him before the manager eventually decided after five years that the Dubliner was physically too lightweight to make it.

“After you signed as an apprentice at 15, the next big question was whether you’d be signed as a pro at 17,’’ said Dunphy.

“I did very well for two years with the youth team. I did have talent but I just wasn’t physically strong enough and that’s what done for me in the end.

“I didn’t have the strength to be a real top player.

“The youth team was very strong. I played alongside George Best, John Sadler and John Aston — and they all went on to win the European Cup with United.

“I did enough to be signed at 17 and, year later, I travelled as 12th man for one game at Nottingham Forest. That was as close as I got to the first team.

“At that time, I was being described as the new Denis Law — because I looked a bit like me and he was a role model.

“I was being billed as the next big thing for a while but my lack of strength always went against me.

“I was told I could leave. A few clubs showed an interest in me and eventually I decided to go to York City.

“That was the beginning of my career as a journeyman footballer.”


HE never made the Manchester United first team in five years at Old Trafford and, in 1965, he joined York City.

From 1965 to 1977, Dunphy plied his trade out of the limelight at York City, Millwall, Charlton and Reading before returning home for a last, unhappy season at Shamrock Rovers.

Dunphy did play 23 times for Ireland but Irish teams were whipping boys at the time and he only ever won twice on international duty.

“I had the career of a journeyman and every week was a very, very big test,’’ recalled Dunphy.

“Every day was a big test for me physically. I used to get the Rothmans’ Football Yearbook every season and it would have the details on every single player in the Football League.

“My weight was 9'4 and the next lightest player in all of the 92 League clubs was a stone heavier.

“I used to look at that stat and just think ‘fuck me’

“The highlight of my career was an FA Cup tie for Millwall against Spurs — but it was tinged with regret as well.

“They had Jimmy Greaves on board and we drew 0–0 at the Den — and it was the best that I’d ever played.

“We went to White Hart Lane for the replay and lost 1–0.

“Bill Nicholson was the Spurs manager — and he was one of the most celebrated managers in English football as he’d led Tottenham to the double in 1961.

“Nicholson tried to buy me from Millwall after those FA Cup games and offered £45,000.

“Terry Venables wasn’t working for them in midfield and Bill was looking at me as a replacement.

“That was my shot at the big time but Millwall turned it down as they were entitled to do. Players were effectively slaves to their clubs in those days.

“That was a big blow and it took me a while to get over it.”


EAMON Dunphy has had a long and complicated relationship with the Ireland team but he insists love is at the heart of the affair.

That love was kindled on the terraces of Dalymount Park as a kid and he still cherishes the memory of his Ireland debut in the World Cup play-off defeat to Spain in Paris in 1965.

“Johnny Carey was a great football man but he was the manager in name only when I started out and he seemed a bit distracted,’’ saidDunphy.

“On one memorable occasion, Eric Barber from Shels was in the squad.

“The Big Five would always pick one League of Ireland player and they went for Eric this time.

“Johnny was giving the team talk and he didn’t know Eric’s name and said ‘I’ll call you Paddy’. And he called him Paddy. That was the kind of stuff that went on.

“It wasn’t Johnny’s fault. He wasn’t picking the squad. He would have to work with the players handed to him by the Big Five. They were imposed on him.

“There were some great characters. Bobby Gilbert played for Shamrock Rovers, a big centre-forward, and I remember him throwing up before we played West Germany at Dalymount Park.

“There was a holy water font just before you went out on the pitch. Bobby had just puked up and his hand was shaking with nerves as he dipped it into the font. The holy water

went all over the place.”

The publication of his diary of a season with Millwall ‘Only a Game?’ opened the door into media work for Dunphy and his criticism of Michel Platini at the 1984 European

Championships and scathing analysis of Eoin Hand’s time in charge of Ireland brought him to national prominence.

“Liam Brady ot me in a lift once and had a right go at me,’’ said Duphy.

“But I was well able for it. I just said ‘you have a job to do and I have a job to do’.

“The other journalists didn’t like me and didn’t accept me.

“They’d tell me that I wasn’t a proper journalist.

“That was because I was working class, hadn’t been to college and hadn’t started off in the Irish Press. I’d been a footballer and a working-class footballer wanting to be a journalist was regarded as audacious in the extreme.

“I used to use the phrase ‘decentskinsmanship’ at the time and the origin of that phrase was no matter how useless or corrupt or stupid someone was, they’d go ‘ah, he’s a decent


“And they were all each other’s decent skins.”


HE WAS always a great reader and Eamon Dunphy read voraciously about politics from a young age.

It was unusual for footballers to make any political statements but Dunphy broke the mould.

The date of January 30, 1972, is one of the most infamous in Irish history.

In Derry, 13 men — seven of them teenagers — were killed by British soldiers following a civil rights march on Bloody Sunday.

Dunphy decided he had to make a public protest.

“The events of Bloody Sunday affected me deeply. I felt that it was an outrage and decided to wear a black armband in Millwall’s next game as a gesture of respect to the victims,’’ he said.

“I contacted some of my Ireland teammates at the time to see if they would follow suit.

“A few of them were bar-stool republicans, but none of them wanted to know.

“That was their choice. Mine was to wear the black armband. That’s what I did. There was a flurry of publicity. It passed. Life went on.”

Two years later, Dunphy campaigned against an Irleand tour to South America which was to include a game in Chile.

Ireland were to be the first foreign side to play in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet’s military junta ousted the socialist government of Salvador Allende.

The national football stadium had become a detention camp with thousands of people tortured there and many ‘’disappeared’’.

Dunphy eventually decided to make himself available for the tour.

He was also prominent in anti-apartheid groups and was a member of the Communist Party for a spell.


EAMON Dunphy got married in 1965 to Sandra Tinsley and they had two children, Timothy and Collette.

But they often found it hard to make ends meet, particularly when his football career was winding down.

“I was taking my coaching badges in my 20s as I knew that my shelf-life as a player was very limited,’’ he said.

“I was also attracted to the idea of becoming a journalist, especially after writing a diary of a season with Millwall which became the book ‘Only A Game?’

“I knew that the only thing over the rainbow was the dole queue.

“The best that players of my level could hope for was that they would become the landlord of a pub. They wouldn’t even own it, the brewery would.

“Fuck that for a game of cowboys. That wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a head for business and that wouldn’t have been my scene.

“I did my coaching course at Lilleshall and got one of the higest marks ever on the course.

“I applied for a host of jobs at different clubs but I’d been involved with the PFA and the Communist Party so I was seen as a troublemaker.

“I remember I didn’t even get a reply from Hartlepool United!

“Eventually, I got a job with London University’s soccer team, did well there and thought that would open a few doors.

“But nobody would touch me with a barge-pole.

“I was unemployed for a year. I had no money, a mortgage to pay.

“I was trying to provide for my wife and two children. It was very tough on my kids. It was a terrible time. It was very nasty.

“The worst thing in life is to not have a job. I didn’t even draw the dole. I was too ashamed to go down to the Labour Exchange.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family. It’s the worst fear a man can have.”

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