Barcelona, Real Madrid – Just who are you trying to kid? The Death of European Football.

17 Sep

Good Evening.

The Passeig De Gracia in Barcelona may seem like an odd place to start a discourse on Scottish Football and the urgent need for its reform, but in truth that is exactly where this article starts.

Anyone who is familiar with the street concerned knows that in Barcelona the Passeig is home to all the designer brands – Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Rolex, Versace, Armani, Jimmy Choo, and all the others can be found on this one street. It is “up market” merchandisers row, the marketing folks dream street, or Brand Alley as one might say.

On a hot July day, I found myself walking up the street, ignoring the branded offers from the shops and instead looking at the buildings which housed those shops. A simple thought occurred: No bricks, No Buildings, No shops, No brands – Once upon a time the bricks and the buildings were on this ancient street, but the brands weren’t!

Further on up the street, I came to a beautiful Government owned building within which there was a lovely gardened courtyard, with benches, trees, grass, birds and all that you would expect of a well-tended garden.

In this tranquil place, just off the Passeig, surely here you can escape the advertising of the biggest brands in the world?

Alas! No.

For there, amidst information boards showing pictures and histories of some of the most famous castles and ancient buildings in and around the Catalan Capital, you find a small temporary Imax like cinema complex which is showing a solitary film. It is a piece which has been prepared by a company called MediaPro and its title is simply “How we make El Clasico great!”

Stop and think about that for a moment. How a media company makes El Clasico great? Not the clubs, or the players, or the fans but we, MediaPro – a media company, make a football match great!

There is much to commend their expertise and skill because when it comes to communication about, and visual images of, Barcelona FC v Real Madrid FC (or vice versa) MediaPro are the kings of the castle and the undoubted experts. It is they who have the exclusive media rights and so they who call the media shots around the world. Of course, they also command big bucks and huge patronage!

The two giant clubs have played one another, home and away, for many decades of course, but since 2004 MediaPro have broadcast the games between the clubs to an ever increasing audience beyond Spain itself, and here, in this wee temporary cinema, they now claim to broadcast to almost 1 Billion football fans who want to watch the Catalans take on the Madrileños each and every time.

In 2004, MediaPro started to broadcast to the United States and targeted the Spanish speaking/football watching population who lived there. Back in the day they had 16 staff cover the game with 8 Cameras.

In 2016, the games were broadcast to over 170 countries and each game is covered by more than 400 staff and 58 cameras which are situated in all areas of the ground, with two cameras being on overhead wires and a third suspended from a helicopter which hovers high above the ground.

Such is the technology that, at any given time, during the match the broadcaster can stop the action and virtually walk the viewer a full 360 degrees round the ball, showing the position of every player from every angle and showing the exact trajectory of the ball from every possible position.

To achieve this, MediaPro rely on, highlight, and blatantly advertise the cleverness of some of the world’s best known technological brands in terms of screens, cameras, lenses and other essential broadcast items. Canon, Panasonic, Sony and similar brands are all featured and brought to the viewers’ attention. Such advertising is worth its weight in gold.

The pictures created are then filtered by the various networks who are carrying these 4K/HD images to lull the network viewers into the false belief that this network is in the van when it comes to broadcasting this one football match, when, in actual fact, the very same pictures are being beamed to other viewers in other parts of the world on screens which are only different because they carry a different network logo.

For example, Sky apparently paid MediaPro £180 Million just for the rights to show El Clasico in the UK in 2016. Different broadcasters pay different sums to show the game in France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Vietnam, India, USA, Australia and every other corner of the planet, and so in return for their visual expertise MediaPro become hugely rich and pass on a proportion of  that wealth to a greedy Spanish FA.

MediaPro help to promote this game, and these Networks, by staging pre match events (such as erecting temporary pitches and having training camps for hundreds if not thousands of kids before the match – all complete with Madrid and Barcelona shirts) in downtown Bombay, Hanoi, Karachi and other places where the broadcast and football may just need a boost.

Despite a long history of fixtures, for people outside of Madrid or Barcelona it is undoubtedly MediaPro and their partners who are, indeed, making the El Clasico great.

Yet, there is an argument to suggest that MediaPro are singlehandedly killing the game of football. Their entire coverage is so slick, so well presented, so complete and beautiful in 360 degree Technicolor that you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no other football match on the planet.

Their brilliant promotional film boasts about how the money generated by this one fixture is so great that the Spanish FA is now reliant on MediaPro’s all-conquering coverage of the games between the two biggest clubs in Spain.

The result is that the brands of Barcelona and Madrid are even more global than they were before, and as a result the two have swept aside the image of not only all the other clubs in Spain but most of the other clubs in Europe.

Not so long ago, world stars like Bebeto came to play for Deportivo, Requelme for Villa Real and even Mario Kempes for the once mighty Valencia. But not today. None of these clubs have the brand, the image or the money to attract the modern day equivalents.

A 2007 survey showed that Madrid were the most supported club in Spain with 32% of the population being Real fans compared to Barcelona’s 25%. After the big two the next best supported club was Valencia with a huge 5%.

However, as MediaPro’s coverage has increased in quality, technology and perception, those figures have changed so that in 2011 Barcelona were now favoured by 42% of the Spanish population while Madrid were chosen by 37%. Valencia, Athletico Mardrid and Athletic Bilbao made up the top five with these last three not making double figures with their combined followings.

Last year, Forbes cites both big Spanish clubs as the two biggest and most followed sports brands in the world and all other football clubs as also rans.

It is this domination that is strangling Spanish Football in particular, with other clubs in other countries also losing ground in terms of brand following.

Sevilla have taken a unique attitude to the problem by simply not trying to compete with the big two in the league and making a perennial ambition of looking to satisfy their fans with Europa League triumphs in the sure fire knowledge that their bigger Spanish rivals will simply not enter the competition.

Other once huge clubs such as Valencia, Betis, Vigo and others barely get an international mention while Racing Santander and Athletic Bilbao more and more rely on their Basque credentials.

What MediaPro seek to do is propagate and enhance what is described as the greatest rivalry in sport. Team against Team, Club against Club, Messi against Ronaldo, City against City, Spaniard against Catalan, style against style, brand against brand and history against history.

There is no room for anything else in Spanish Football and the rest literally wither on the vine.

Not only that, as I sat and watched the magnificent skills of the MediaPro team, it dawned on me that the MediaPro model has been so successful that every league in the world, every major broadcaster and newspaper, and every national FA wants to promote and milk its own local “El Clasico”.

Munich v Dortmund, Milan v Inter or Juventus, Feyenoord v Ajax or PSV, PSG v Monaco, and so on. In England, the offering is a little more diverse with Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs, Man City and perhaps Arsenal creating the media hype in amongst a league which is otherwise shocking in its flagrant spending and outright mediocrity.

However, of the English teams only Manchester United can call upon the type of fanbase that the two Spanish Clubs have, with the rest having to rely on over hyped TV money or the largesse of megawealthy owners with either a political agenda or an ego to match their wallet.

Of course, all of this is looked upon with green eyed envy by the powers that be at Hampden, and it is for these reasons that in Scotland it is absolutely vital that the Scottish FA, The Scottish Professional League, The BBC, STV and all the newspapers maintain the ancient and, at times grotesque, rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.

Locally, this is the only “big ticket” match that comes anywhere close to reflecting the relative revenues generated by the MediaPro led model of El Classico. It is what can be packaged, marketed, branded and sold internationally and it is something which, over the years, the Scottish Football Authorities have come to depend upon financially and in terms of a key international brand.

What kind of national football authority gets itself into a state whereby it openly has contracts which are dependent on a third or fourth class footballing rivalry of dubious standing – because that is what Celtic v Rangers (or vice versa) has become and there is no getting away from that fact by anyone.

Like the Spanish model, it is a tactic and a business plan which has systematically killed large parts of Regional Football Support leaving so called “Diddy Teams” – a term which I detest as insulting and condescending to genuine football fans – to scramble about for the occasional sports mention beyond the local papers.

Yet it should be no surprise at all that the playing and financial fortunes of Aberdeen FC, and indeed others, have improved during the absence of this long toxic so called “sporting” rivalry.

However, it should not be forgotten that the MediaPro model is all about branding, merchandising and advertising. The extremely slick coverage, which is admittedly the best in the world, can easily be sold to all sorts of broadcasters in different territories only because those broadcasters can attract massive advertising revenue from the brands to be found on the Passeig De Gracia who want to be associated with the El Clasico.

Airlines, Hotel Groups, Watchmakers, Credit Card Companies, Luxury Consumer Brands, Car Makers, Sports Companies, and even Tea Makers will all pay big bucks to tag along with the big match, and other brands will seek to sponsor the two clubs or pay for pitch side advertising which will be seen throughout via MediaPro’s 58 expertly placed cameras.

Yet, MediaPro’s own blurb and hype has come in for vicious analysis and criticism. Several articles have been written saying that their coverage statistics are unrealistic and are downright fabricated. Someone flicking through numerous channels who happens to click on the game for all of two seconds cannot be classed as a viewer, yet apparently finds themselves as part of MediaPro’s statistics.

It is those statistics which (a) attracts the networks (b) sells the networks advertising for top dollar (c) makes Barca and Madrid ever richer (d) lines the pockets of the Spanish FA and (e) condemns all other football clubs into relative obscurity in the eyes of the media and business.

Of course, the ever increasing wealth allows both Barcelona and Madrid to attract the best players (arguably) and the biggest sponsorship deals, with Barcelona in particular being converted from a no sponsorship mentality to the free sponsorship of Unesco to the highly lucrative emblazoning of Qatar airlines on the chests of the players –  all within a few short years.

What we now see in European Football is a media elite – a number of football clubs where sheer wealth and media geography dictates where they will stand in the league of International Football Clubs.

Whether they have or don’t have local fans who attend their games is of very little importance.

MediaPro have played a huge role in creating this elite but the Monster itself is steadily going out of control with rich owners now coming in and buying up football clubs like kids in a toy shop. In some cases, this has proved disastrous with clubs going bust when the owner runs out of money or just gets plain fed up with their purchase and so decides to turn the money tap off leaving the husk of a football club.

Even clubs like Arsenal find they cannot, and simply won’t, compete with the wages and transfer fees on offer from clubs who have no great fanbase but who are backed by gazillionaires – for the time being.

The clubs at the very top of the Champions League pots are increasingly far away from everyone else in the competition and the gap between the top and the bottom of the 32 clubs in the group stages will continue to grow.

However, there will come a time when viewing figures will reach saturation point and the football, no matter how good, on offer from the Barcelona’s and the Madrid’s will not be enough to sustain the footballing interests of those who are not within the main fanbase of the big two in Spain. However, by then it may be too late for many regional clubs who will have been killed off by not so much a two headed dragon as a 58 (or more) camera’d “Clasico” which is sold around the world on the back of dubious viewing and advertising figures.

Rivalry in sport is all well and good, but when a singular rivalry confines every other contest to second or even third division status then it is a rivalry that should not be encouraged or welcomed in the long term.

In Scotland, we have an “Old Firm” Football Association, an “Old Firm” view of football in general and an “Old Firm” dependent media who do their utmost to play down, if not downright ignore, what is going on at other clubs – even when there is no competitive “old firm” to speak of at all.

Sure, there is lip service to what happens at other clubs, but it is no more than lip service and there is no investment whatsoever in Scottish Football by BBC Television as can be seen by the poor coverage of all Scottish League games with a budget that wouldn’t stretch to Cristiano’s laces.

The only good thing that comes from the lessons to be learned from the MediaPro experience is that if you use the right technology, have a sufficient amount of cameras and can show improved images then viewers will watch, interest will grow and the overall brand will improve.

“Ah, but the quality of the football in Scotland isn’t as good as in Spain and elsewhere” I hear some voices say.

Interestingly, the whole point of this article is not about the quality of the football or the investment made in football, it is about the quality of the broadcast and the investment made in the marketing, the branding and the technological innovation created and used by one single broadcaster who has turned the viewing of Spanish football upside down by superhyping one single rivalry which, in turn, is killing off the rest of the clubs on the global stage.

Were that technology and expertise used more widely then perhaps all of Spanish and European Football would benefit and here in Scotland there would be no need for an “Old Firm” centric governing football body which will go to any lengths to protect what it sees as its big media ticket.

What is certain is that the growth of the El Clasico brand has had an impact far beyond the shores of Spain with other European Clubs losing ground on the two Spanish giants in terms of world and European market share and influence.

Scottish Football must realise that neither Celtic nor Rangers will ever get close to the Spanish teams in terms of world or European markets under the current European or domestic set ups, and so, without a change of perspective the continuation of the “old firm” rivalry as being Scotland’s best footballing media export is a plan that is doomed to fail all of Scottish football eventually.

The extended and far superior coverage offered by BT Sport is a welcome development but football clubs have to spend money on improving their own media offerings and to create content which they, in turn, can sell to broadcasters rather than being hamstrung by a Hampden dictated ideology of what might, or might not be, a good media strategy.

The Spanish FA own the rights to El Clasico and it is they who sell to MediaPro. A Spanish Governing body which owns the biggest branded game in the world selling to a Spanish media giant who openly boast of their expertise, their technological expertise and their worldwide media reach.

Yet, between them, they are killing the regional teams of Spain and the rest of Europe as a whole with a broadcasting ideology which focuses solely on the best branded goods.

There are loads of top brand names on the Passeig De Gracia. Names with worldwide reputations, huge global branding budgets, and instantly recognised logos and trademarks which shout quality and high end product.

However, having watched MediaPro’s excellent self promoting video, I walked back down the Passeig and couldn’t help but notice an ironic contrast between the Mediapro blurb and the ordinary people in the street.

The vast majority just walked past the branded windows as the goods on show were not really for them and were of little real interest.  A Few stopped at the odd window and looked in for a few moments out of curiosity, but by the time I walked all the way down to the Placa de Catalunya (a good 500 yards or more) I hadn’t seen a single person buy anything at all from any of the branded shops.

Perhaps, there is a lesson there for European, and indeed Scottish, Football and how it connects with the ordinary fan in the street who do not support Barcelona, Madrid and possibly some branded others?



Big Hugh, God’s One Iron, The Via Rasella and the Man in a Suitcase.

30 Oct


The odds of being struck by lightning during your lifetime are Three hundred thousand to one.

Amazingly, Lee Trevino has been struck by lightning no less than three times. He was once asked what he would do if another lightning storm came by whilst he was on the golf course?22

His answer is often quoted:

“If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, stand in the middle of the fairway and hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.”

He was wrong!


God’s One Iron

Roberto stood at the edge of the tee and waited. He held the golf bag upright and waited to see which club would be chosen for the next tee shot, though in his heart of hearts he knew it would be the one iron.

He was caddying for a man who was already more than a local legend but on this day his legendary status would move in a whole different direction to anything that had ever been thought of before.

Roberto and the man he was caddying for both knew that one straight drive here at the 16th would guarantee that “The Legend” would become champion, and sure enough when he strode on to the tee the big man picked up a tuft of grass, threw it into the wind, looked down the fairway and without looking at him said “Roberto, il numero uno si prega.”

There was a crowd following the match and many of the big man’s friends were there in numbers. They came from all walks of life and included Counts and Countesses, Ambassadors and politicians, and all sorts of noblemen from some of the most highly regarded families in Europe. There were diplomats and dignitaries from various countries as well as many ordinary men and women who were there solely because they believed that on this day their friend would become champion.

The jovial big man also believed that he would be champion. He didn’t often lose at golf and today was going to be no different.

To Roberto’s knowledgeable and well educated eye, however, the man he was caddying for would be more than just champion. He was an inspiration and a wonder when it came to golf and life in general.

Roberto had caddied for him on many occasions and considered himself to be one of the big man’s friends. They had talked about golf often on the way around the golf course and for young Roberto those talks had always made him more determined than ever to pursue a career as a professional golfer, and the big man encouraged every step of the way.

Now, on this day, on the sixteenth tee, as his friend addressed the ball with the one iron, Roberto wondered if the others watching saw what he saw? He wondered if they just saw a big man playing golf? He wondered if they saw or recognised any of his unique style and his bad practices as a golfer or were such technicalities completely lost on them?

Roberto saw and saw clearly.

What he saw was a man who stood six feet two inches tall and who held the club with a most unorthodox and unusual grip which was technically all wrong. What he saw was a man who was built like a boxer weighing fourteen and a quarter stones all of which went right through the ball when the big man swung the club and sent the ball sailing into the wide blue yonder. What he saw was a man with an unruly mop of wild dark hair which sat on top of his head like a big bird’s nest and which, he reckoned, was an absolute stranger to a brush or a comb.

He saw a man with a high forehead, small eyes which were usually hidden behind cheap wire spectacles, and a nose which was later described as being of “generous proportions”.

He saw a man in wide baggy trousers, a woolly jumper and an old jacket who looked nothing like what a top-class golfer should look like.

In truth, what Roberto saw was a large, striking and somewhat unusual looking man who played fantastic golf shots despite holding the club in less than text book fashion.

Roberto saw someone who could chip and putt but, most importantly, who could hit a one iron from the tee or the fairway with uncanny length and accuracy. In later years, Roberto would say that he would never meet anyone else who could hit a one iron like “il Grande Hugh”.

On the sixteenth tee, the big man straightened his left arm, settled into that unusual grip, adjusted his stance placing his right leg ever so slightly further back than his left, and slowly started on his back swing. The club came straight back and rose in an arc in almost slow motion. Roberto watched the big man’s shoulders and hips turn, his left leg bend slightly and the left heel lift as he shifted his weight onto his right foot. At the top of the back swing, the big man’s chin was tucked into his left shoulder before he started on a down swing which automatically caused the left foot to slam back down on to the ground while the hips and shoulders reversed their turn as those big hands brought the club down and forward.

At the point of contact with the ball, the big man’s left arm was girder straight, his weight shifted from right to left and as the swing continued onwards the ball flew straight and true down the left side of the fairway eventually curving inwards with a slight fade. The big man’s swing ended with club arcing upwards pointing to where he wanted the ball to go and finished with his right heel raised and the right toe almost pointing into the ground like a ballet dancer’s “point”.

Someone shouted “Great shot, Hugh!” and with that one shot the big man and everyone else knew he would be champion without doubt.

Hugh nodded and acknowledged the comment before turning to Roberto to hand back the club with a smile and a wink. They set off up the fairway together but hadn’t gone more than thirty yards before the big man said quietly “It’ll just be the 5 iron from there, me lad, so dig out the club and give the face a wee rub with the towel if you please?”

Roberto noted that not only had the big man played a great tee shot, he had already calculated exactly what was required for the second shot into the green and clearly he had played the entire hole in his head in advance.

That was how to win a golf tournament and conquer a golf course he thought.

On the Sixteenth green big Hugh sank his putt and was hailed as champion. He accepted the congratulations from all around with a smile, considerable humility, genuine thanks and his familiar warm Irish brogue.

It wasn’t every day or every year that an Irishman who was built like a light heavyweight boxer was crowned Champion at Rome Golf Club but that is what happened on this day.

Nor is it often the case that an Irishman becomes The Amateur Golf Champion of all Italy but then again Hugh was no ordinary golfer and no ordinary Irishman. He was simply a one off.

As they walked together to the locker room, Roberto asked a question:

“How do you hit your one iron like that? It is so accurate and you get great distance with it from the tee or from the fairway. Lots of players are afraid of the one iron.”

The big man stopped and looked down at his young teenage companion through his wiry spectacles:

As he spoke he swung an imaginary golf club in slow motion to demonstrate his point.

“Ah Young Roberto, you see the one iron is a matter of faith; Faith in yourself, faith in the club and most of all faith in God. The one iron is almost flat with little in the way of loft. That means if you get the swing wrong you will almost certainly mess up the shot as the one iron is the most unforgiving club in the bag. But, get the swing right then the one iron is the most steady and true club you will ever hold. It has an almost flat face, like a knife, and if you hit the ball correctly it will always deliver the same result without deviation or variation. But it all depends on your swing being consistent. Oh, and always treat the one iron with the greatest respect. Don’t call on it when you don’t need it; Don’t push it around or hit it half-heartedly; know that when you take it out the bag you will fail miserably unless you are going to work in perfect partnership with the club and once you have succeeded in finding that partnership once, you will still have to work at it each and every day as if you were married.”

Big Hugh then smiled a wicked grin and concluded “Finally, always remember that the one iron is never yours. It is a club that belongs to God. It will always be God’s one iron! But God is good, though at times he works in the most mysterious ways. With the one iron he can send you to heaven or damn you to hell!”

Years later, in 1961, Roberto would become a professional golfer and he would often cite big Hugh’s thesis on the mysteries and the science of the one iron when giving lessons.

In 1972, he would strike the ball a mere 288 times when navigating Muirfield golf course, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. It would be his best ever finish in the British open tying thirteenth only ten shots behind the eventual winner – the defending champion Lee Trevino.


Roberto Bernardini

Previously, Roberto’s best finish had been 16th in the open and a couple of years before he had finished in the top 30 at the US Masters at Augusta. He would represent Italy on no fewer than nine occasions at the Golf World Cup. Yet no matter what he achieved in golf he would always remember and feel grateful for the “lessons” provided by his friend “Big Hugh”.

However, all of that was in the future. On this day at Rome Golf Club he was just a delighted teenager who was lucky enough to have been the caddy for the man who many thought of as the best golfer in Italy whether amateur or professional.

Less than an hour after being crowned champion however, Big Hugh sought out Roberto to say thanks and goodbye as he had things to attend to. He would see Roberto the following week when he was back at the club for his next round of golf but for now he had to go back to “the day job”.

Roberto had never met anyone like Hugh, and later in life he would admit he would never meet anyone like him again.

“Thanks for your help today Roberto, I could never have done it without you” said Hugh, though Roberto figured this was a lie.

“However, I have been away long enough today and have to go back to the day job so I will be seeing you – maybe Wednesday of next week.”

Roberto tried to persuade the big man to hang about the clubhouse a while longer but he was having none of it.

“Sure, if I don’t get back to the office I will be reported missing” said Hugh “Besides, technically it is against the rules of the job for me to be playing golf at all and don’t I have to go and say a mass and thank the man upstairs for letting me use his one iron?”

And with that, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, sometime Italian Amateur Open Golf Champion, Vatican diplomat, Chief Notary to The Holy See, and the internationally acknowledged but strictly unofficial hide and seek champion of the world winked once again, turned on his heel, and left.



James O’Flaherty was a man of principle. He had been a Sergeant in The Royal Irish Constabulary but after months of wrestling with his conscience James had finally handed in his notice and left the police force.

Whilst he believed in law and order he eventually took the decision that he could no longer enforce laws and actions in which he simply did not believe and which he objected to fiercely more often than not. Ireland was a place of great conflict with many pressing for Home Rule which was hugely resisted by the British Government. One means the Government used to suppress any notion of home rule was by way of brute force dished out by armed soldiers and militia, and the worst of this force was provided by the dreaded “Black and Tans”.

As a policeman, James was forced to not only co-operate and work with government policy but was also asked to enforce certain procedures and actions as well. He was also asked to turn a blind eye when the forces of the crown overstepped the mark and handed out brutal beatings and worse to the Home Rulers or the ordinary people of Ireland.

James had considerable sympathy with the home rule argument and eventually he could stand it no more and so he left the police force in Kiskeam,  County Cork for good.

Fortunately, he quickly managed to find another job as the caretaker and Steward at The Old Killarney Golf Club in Deerpark, Killarney County Kerry. The O’Flaherty’s were given a house situated on the edge of the course and James, his wife and children settled down to life a million miles away from policing.

However, there was still conflict, The Black and Tans were active in the area and many people James knew suffered at their hands.

Another conflict in James’ life surrounded the activities of his oldest son, Hugh.

Golf was a game for the gentry and the upper classes, but as he looked out his window of an evening, there was Hugh hitting golf balls in the dusk as if he belonged on a golf course.

By his mid-teens Hugh was a scratch golfer. He was good at all sports. Big enough and fit enough for boxing, he could use a hurley and was generally athletic, but it was clear that his main talent lay on the golf course.

However, boys of his background didn’t belong on the golf course although James had to admit that Hugh seemed to get on well with members and those who would consider him as their social inferior. He had a charm about him that boy!

When Hugh announced belatedly that he wanted to be a priest there was great joy in the family. To be a man of God was thought of as a great honour, and for James it provided a degree of relief as Hugh would be heading for the seminary and away from the violence and oppression of the Black and Tans.


However, priest or no priest, Hugh O’Flaherty would grow up to be fiercely republican and with little or no respect for British rule. When four of his friends were killed by the Black and Tans in separate incidents he was outraged and was not slow to tell others how he felt.

Things were getting ever more heated in Ireland and James was more than delighted when Hugh announced that he was leaving for Rome in 1922. Having attended a Jesuitical seminary in Ireland, for one reason or another it had been decided that “Big Hugh” should complete his studies in the Eternal City and James thought it was for the best that his boy got out of Ireland even though by that time “the boy” was a fully grown 24-year-old man of not inconsiderable build.

In Rome, Hugh entered the Urban College of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and amazed his former teachers in Ireland by earning his theology degree in just one year. He was then ordained in 1925, and spent another two years at Urban College, serving as vice-regent and earning three doctorates in Divinity, Philosophy, and Canon Law.

Rather than return to Ireland, Hugh was chosen to stay in Rome and set to work in the offices of The Holy See in the Vatican. Someone, somewhere thought he had a future!

In 1934 he was appointed as a Monsignor (as was the custom for clergy of a certain position within the Vatican) and it was in this year that he started out on a series of diplomatic missions on behalf of the church. His future within The Vatican had seemingly moved to another level.

At first he was appointed as deputy and secretary to Monsignor Torquato Dini, but when Dini suddenly died Hugh had to perform the required duties on his own.

Both he and the Church quickly discovered that with his natural charm, and his rich Irish brogue and wit, he was ideally suited to diplomacy.

For the next four years, he would be sent on a variety of difficult diplomatic missions to places such as Egypt, San Domingo and Haiti (where he was decorated by the presidents of both islands for his work on famine relief), and finally to Czechoslovakia where the nature of his assignment has never been made clear, although it’s likely it had something to do with the hostility that was beginning to be obvious all throughout Europe. In countries such as Czechoslovakia the church and the clergy was under threat and whatever Hugh’s mission was it was to do with that threat and how to deal with it.

In 1938, with a real prospect of war on the horizon, he was recalled to the Vatican to start a new job as Notary or Writer to the Holy Office and he would eventually rise to the position of chief Notary being the first Irishman ever to hold that position. This job involved him being engaged in the inner workings of the Vatican, dealing with issues of Canon Law, checking claims of miracles and recording various matters in document form and being responsible for sending out official proclamations and statements. It meant that he had access to the people who ran Vatican City and the senior members of The Curia who ran the Catholic church.

However, being back in Rome also meant he had time to spend in and around the city and so he started to make himself known among the great and the good of Roman society, going to numerous parties where he was a great hit because of his relaxed manner, his charm, his Kerry brogue and his roguish sense of humour. The big Irishman could be found at the very best parties, at the opera and at nearly every social and sporting occasion the Eternal City had to offer.

The return to Rome also meant that he could resume his love of golf and he would often be found playing at the Rome golf club with government officials and diplomats, including Mussolini’s son-in-law, and with the former king Alfonso of Spain. On one occasion, the retiring Japanese Ambassador had his final round in Rome ruined by Hugh whose play completely dwarfed the abilities of the diplomat who was soundly beaten by the priest.

The Big Man was to become incredibly popular in Rome’s fashionable set and was a welcome dinner guest at the Palazzo’s and diplomatic offices around the city. He also boxed, played handball and could occasionally be seen with a Hurley stick from time to time when walking around the Vatican gardens.

However, golf was his main sport even though there was technically a rule which prohibited priests from playing the game. Notwithstanding the rule, he would sneak away from the Vatican whenever possible to play golf and despite the rules of Mother Church he entered and won The Italian Amateur Open Championship in between fulfilling his duties in the “day job”.

Yet, his activities did not meet with universal approval within the Vatican and some saw him as far too worldly to be a Vatican official. For a start, he was not Italian, did not come from a family who had any previous history of serving the Holy See and he was regarded with some envy because of his familiarity and friendships with officials and diplomats from all over the world. Also, he had a rude disregard for ceremony and red tape and to some this meant that Big Hugh would never fit into the regimented world of The Curia where once you had reached a certain position you were expected to behave in a certain manner and follow a certain line. For some, Hugh O’Flaherty, simply didn’t fit the traditional “Vatican” mould.


Hugh O’Flaherty in Rome with the family of Henrietta Chevalier


On 2nd March 1939, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope taking the name Pope Pius XII. Pacelli was the first native born Roman to become Pope for over two hundred years and he came from a family which had historically close ties to the workings of the Vatican.

Pacelli, was seen as a member of the “Black Nobility” (historically noble families who served the Vatican) from the outset. His grandfather, Marc Antonio Pacelli, had been Under-Secretary in the Papal Ministry of Finances, then Secretary of the Interior under Pope Pius IX from 1851 to 1870 and had helped found the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in 1861.

His cousin, Ernesto Pacelli, was a key financial advisor to Pope Leo XIII; his father, Filippo Pacelli, a Franciscan tertiary, was the dean of the Roman Rota; and his brother, Francesco Pacelli, became a lay canon lawyer and the legal advisor to Pope Pius XI, in which role he negotiated the Lateran Treaty with Mussolini in 1929.

In short, Eugenio Pacelli was born to be “papable” as the saying goes. He had all the connections, a holy vocation, was a man of God and knew how to climb the ranks of the Curia.


 Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli – Pope Pius XII

By the time he became Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church (effectively the Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Vatican) Cardinal Pacelli had served as Papal Nuncio in Germany and was seen as a clever diplomat within Vatican circles. By 1938 he had already made outspoken speeches concerning Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany and so when Pope Pius XI died in February 1939, Pacelli was elected his successor (as openly wished for by Pius XI) in one of the shortest conclaves in history. He was an automatic shoe in for Pope and, perhaps, rightly so.

Upon his election, the new Pope appointed Cardinal Maglione as Cardinal Secretary of State but Maglione would never exercise the kind of influence held by his predecessor, Pacelli, in that role. Instead, Pope Pius XII chose to consult and rely more and more on the two men who had acted as his personal assistants when he was Cardinal Secretary, namely Monsignors Giovanni Montini and Domenico Tardini both of whom knew and respected the Vatican rule book and its inner workings.

Monsignor Montini, in particular, was very close to the new Pope and would later observe how Pope Pius completely gave himself over to the spiritual and physical demands of being Pope while abandoning all other personal interests and pastimes.

It would be fair to say that Montini was among those who raised an eyebrow or two at the social and sporting activities of his Irish counterpart in the office of The Holy See. Where the new Pope gave himself over to spiritual matters completely, the Irish Monsignor seemed to give himself over to parties and sneaking off to the golf course in between his office commitments. In Montini’s eyes, the two men, despite both being ordained priests, were very different indeed.

In September 1939, only six months after the election of Pius XII, Germany went to war and on 10th June 1940 Italy, somewhat reluctantly, did likewise despite pleas from Winston Churchill, the new Pope and various other leaders.

Mussolini and Hitler had signed a “pact of steel” and while Mussolini was keen in expanding the boundaries of Italy he and his Government did not anticipate any military movement until 1942 at the earliest and so when Hitler unilaterally entered Poland and Czechoslovakia the Italian leader was wholly unprepared for the fall out.

Mussolini had come to power in Italy in the same year that big Hugh arrived in Rome (1922). In 1929 Il Duce had signed the Lateran treaty with the Pope creating the sovereign and independent state of Vatican City. However, part of that treaty specified that the Pope would not interfere in the affairs of Italy AND it stated that in the event of any conflict in Europe the Vatican would remain strictly neutral failing which its sovereignty would be compromised.

This then meant that the Irish Monsignor who loved to golf and attend parties in Rome was destined to be a “neutral” throughout the course of the war on two separate grounds. First he was an Irish citizen (Ireland remained neutral) and secondly he was a Vatican diplomat and a resident in Vatican City and so his Vatican papers also confirmed his neutrality.

However, the same treaty and the terms agreed also meant that the new Pope and his closest advisers were constantly afraid that if they incurred the wrath of Hitler or Mussolini the Vatican State would be invaded, its sovereignty removed, and the Pope himself would be kidnapped and held prisoner.

Where the Pontiff was always wary of an enforced neutrality and almost always remained a “prisoner” within the Vatican, the big Irishman would revel in his neutrality and the diplomatic immunity bestowed by the church and his country of birth which allowed him to come and go wherever and whenever he pleased.

Thus, it came to pass that sociable Hugh would enter the war years enjoying the diplomatic freedom of an Irish citizen of the Vatican. It was a legal position he was about to use, and indeed abuse, to astonishing effect.


Pope Pius XII with Monsignor Giovanni Montini in the background



With the outset of war, the big Irishman’s job within the Vatican changed completely. Pius XII would come in for both praise and criticism for the Vatican’s stance during the war and in unbelievably trying times his inner office and men like Maglione, Montini and Tardini were under constant administrative and spiritual pressure.

For his part, Big Hugh was given an additional role to that of Notary in the offices of the Holy See. By 1941, thousands of prisoners of war and various other groups who had been displaced by the hostilities were being held in prison camps throughout Italy especially in the north of the country. Pius XII wanted to appoint a special Papal Nuncio who would visit these camps to ensure that prisoners of war, Jews and others who had been “displaced” were being properly and humanely looked after and that they had access to spiritual guidance if required. For the job the Pope turned to Monsignor Borgoncini Duca.

However, Duca spoke no English and it was decided that he should be allocated an English-speaking assistant and interpreter to deal with British POW’s and so it came to pass that someone suggested Hugh O’Flaherty. Perhaps Hugh was suggested because it was anticipated that the new job would get him out of Rome, keep him off the golf course and away from parties and the opera with the “social set”?

If that was the intention it was about to fail spectacularly!

Working with Duca it soon became clear that he and the Irishman had very different ideas about how they should go about the job of visiting the POW camps. Duca took a slow paced an unhurried view in performing the job. Travelling by car he would visit one camp per day at best and would perform not much more than a cursory visit before moving on to have lunch or dinner at a local hotel.

Hugh on the other hand, while accompanying the Papal Nuncio, would spend much more time with the imprisoned men, noting their details and making enquiries of the camp commandants as to the provision of Red Cross Parcels and the availability of Mass and other social and spiritual activities.

While Duca stayed out in the country, Hugh O’Flaherty started returning to Rome every night by train and singlehandedly set about initiating several procedures which would become Vatican practice throughout the remainder of the war.

First, he delivered the names and details of all of those he had met in the POW camps to Father Owen Sneddon who would then broadcast those details in English on Vatican Radio. In this way, news of thousands of POW’s who were deemed missing in action was relayed back to their families letting them know that they were alive and serving as prisoners of war.

Next, he contacted the Red Cross and set about speeding up and better organising the delivery of Red Cross Parcels. When entering the Prison Camps, the Irishman would demand proof that the Red Cross parcels had in fact been delivered to the appropriate prisoners and if that proof was not forthcoming he would make official complaints. This eventually led to two POW commandants at Modena and Piacenza being sacked and replaced.

From inside the Vatican he began to organise the delivery of blankets, clothing, books and other items to the POW camps. While Duca would stick to doing things by way of official channels and through camp Commanders, Big Hugh would, as often as not, completely ignore the red tape and had the blankets books and clothing delivered directly to the men on entering the camps.

There was no doubt that his visits to the camps raised morale among the prisoners and of course wherever and whenever he could he would deliver what news he had about the current state of the war. When visiting South African and Australian prisoners at a camp near Brindisi, O’Flaherty suddenly started to distribute musical instruments such as guitars and mandolins to help with moral and all round wellbeing. This was not best appreciated by the prison guards and their masters.


Hugh O’Flaherty was still no lover of the British Army and remained fiercely republican when it came to Ireland or indeed anywhere else under British rule. At the start of the war he did not see the imperialist ambitions of Britain and Germany as being very different and viewed the propaganda of both Governments with suspicion.

However, through his work in the prison camps he became alarmed at the way prisoners of war were being looked after and, of course, he heard story after story about the treatment of The Jews at the hands of German officials.

There were many areas which were technically under Italian rule even though there were German officials in charge. Prisoners often travelled many miles to be kept in Italian custody rather than in German custody as Italian custody was seen to be a fairer regime, and when they did travel news travelled with them.

Towards the end of 1942, The Italian/German authorities had come to see the Irish Monsignor as more of a nuisance than anything else and not for the last time they decided to try to confine him to within the Vatican.

The decision was made at the very highest level to make a formal complaint to the Pope about the conduct, behaviour and the so-called “diplomatic” activities of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

Consequently, Pope Pius and his advisors, ever careful to maintain and ensure the Vatican’s sovereignty and demonstrate their outward position of neutrality, recalled Big Hugh to Rome and assigned a replacement to Monsignor Duca.

Once again, O’Flaherty returned permanently to Rome and was therefore free to spend his days in his office and his evenings walking freely through the Eternal City and going to dinner with the great and the good of the city. He even managed the odd game of Golf on the quiet.

However, his travels around the prison camps had changed his view of the war and at least in one respect he was no longer a neutral.




Despite the Vatican’s official position of neutrality, by 1943 Adolph Hitler had become increasingly frustrated at the public pronouncements of Pope Pius XII and the critical broadcasts which were coming from Vatican Radio.

In 1940 the Pope had granted an audience to Nazi Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop who asked the Pope during the meeting why he had decided to side with the Allies in the war? Pius apparently reminded the minister that the Vatican was neutral in any conflict but then went on to quiz him directly about atrocities carried out against Christians and Jews in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The news of the altercation was carefully leaked and Pius’ defence of both Jew and Christian made the front pages including that of the New York Times.

When German forces invaded Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg the Pope had sent messages to the governments of those countries expressing regret and sympathy but carefully fell short of condemning the aggressors.

The Italian Government under Mussolini had never shared Hitler’s desire to persecute and extinguish the Jews and in Italy it was widely accepted that if a Jewish Family or an escaped Prisoner of War sought shelter they would be fed and watered without fear of harm or betrayal. Many Jews throughout other parts of Europe believed they were better off in Italian hands than in German custody as Il Duce had seemed reluctant to send Jews to concentration camps and instead merely held them as prisoners of war.

In his Christmas address in December 1942, Pope Pius openly criticised the atrocities committed by Germany with the result that the official view of the Third Reich was that the Pope had made “one long attack on us and everything we stand for!”.

The speculation that Hitler would put pressure on Mussolini, order the invasion of the Vatican and the removal of the Pope heightened.

However, 1943 would see a dramatic twist in the tide of war and for Hugh O’Flaherty the year would bring in an almost unimaginable sea change to the extent that his life would never be quite the same again.

During his travels to the prison camps, Big Hugh had told any prisoner who would listen that in the event of their ever escaping or finding themselves free, they should make their way to the Vatican where they would undoubtedly find help and sustenance.

Many would remember the big Monsignor and his advice.



By late 1942 and into 1943 the atmosphere within the city of Rome and across Italy generally was becoming more tense. Many Italians felt that they had been bounced into war and the popularity of Mussolini was on the wane.

Not only that but there now started to be a more dictatorial attitude towards “undesirables” who were opposed to the war and who might be deemed as enemies of the state.

In Rome, where high-ranking German officers were stationed to provide “advice” to their Italian counterparts, it became increasingly apparent that opponents of the war were being rounded up and detained.

Many of these undesirables were personal acquaintances of Hugh O’Flaherty and his party set and slowly but surely in the later part of 1942 they came to look to the big Irishman for advice and guidance in the face of potential arrest.

It was in these circumstances that Big Hugh began to take an active part in helping various people to escape the clutches of the fascist authorities. He started by offering to find them somewhere to stay out of the reach of the fascist police and their German advisers but soon enough his initial activities were to be dwarfed by the most unusual and completely unofficial stance he decided to adopt.

By mid 1943 it was clear that most Italians had had enough of Mussolini and his pact with Hitler and in a clever political sleight of hand King Vittorio Emmanuelle summoned Mussolini to his palace on 25th July 1943. Once there, The King sacked the Italian leader and effectively placed him under arrest.

This was a move which completely wrong-footed Adolph Hitler and he was said to be furious. He immediately suspected that the Italians would find a way to do a deal with the Allies and so he demanded swift action and concocted a plan to restore order in Italy.

He would have his troops find Mussolini and free him, but more importantly he would occupy Rome and place it under official German rule with his officers running the city.


Mussolini addressing the crowds in the Piazza Venezia Rome

Even before Mussolini was removed, Pius XII was terrified that his native city would become a war zone. The Allies had landed on Sicily on 9th and 10th July and The Pope could see that mainland Italy would soon be the scene of horrific fighting. Through diplomatic channels, including the British Ambassador to the Holy See, he was in touch with Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt and had begged that there should be no damage to Rome and especially the Vatican and holy sites around the city.

Despite his pleas and the best assurances of the President and The Prime Minister, on 19th July Pope Pius’ worst fears were realised when the Allies commenced air raids on Rome.

For hours allied planes flew overhead and while they were careful not to release bombs over Vatican City itself, they did cause substantial damage to the San Lorenzo district of the city near where Pius had been brought up.

When the bombing stopped, Pius did something that he had never officially done before. He summoned a car and Monsignor Montini, left the sanctuary of the Vatican (he had been in constant fear of kidnap by the Germans and so had remained within his own sovereign territory) and set out into his native city to inspect the damage to his city and his people. If he were going to be detained and kidnapped, then this might be the time.

While Pius went out and walked among the rubble and the people, Monsignor Montini handed out money to those who had had their homes destroyed and who were now destitute.


Pope Pius XII on the streets of Rome after Allied bombing on 19th July 1943 – Monsignor Montini behind him.

Pius was greatly shaken by the events of 19th July 1943 and after the arrest of Mussolini a few days later and the subsequent occupation of Rome by German forces in September 1943, the Pontiff was in no doubt that the war and all its horror was on his doorstep.

The Vatican was still neutral and was in theory guaranteed its freedom and sovereignty but from then on The Holy See was treated with increasing suspicion and remained under constant threat from the new rulers of Rome. The Pope would come under immense pressure, live in ever-increasing fear of Vatican City being invaded by force and would have to face the heightened wrath and anger of Adolph Hitler and his soldiers in Rome …….. and one of the main causes of that anger and those threats was to be the tousled haired Irish Monsignor who had a habit of waltzing around the great houses and embassies of Rome with diplomatic immunity, going to parties, and playing golf.



When war started, various diplomats were moved into the Vatican where they could be guaranteed safety as they were effectively resident in a neutral country. One of these was the British Ambassador to the Holy See and he went by the name of Sir D’Arcy Osborne.

Osborne was a career diplomat and epitomised the type of chap who would be appointed as a British Ambassador and so, on the face of it, he would be the kind of man who a Republican minded priest would have no time for.

When Osborne came to live in Vatican City he was offered simple accommodation in the Casa Santa Marta situated within the Vatican Walls. The Santa Marta was a sort of basic hostel which was used as a kind of hospital and later provided “basic” accommodation for visiting clergy. Not finding the initial layout of the simple Casa to his liking, Osborne quickly set about refurbishing parts of the building to resemble a residence that was a bit more like the accommodation befitting of an Ambassador.

From these offices, he shuttled diplomatically between the Papacy and The Foreign Office in London (by telephone).


Sir Francis D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne – Later 12th Duke of Leeds- British Ambassador to the Hole See – Otherwise known as “Mount”!

However, despite their apparent cultural and historical differences, by 1943 the Irish priest and the British diplomat had formed a most unlikely alliance and friendship. They were at the very heart of one of the most astonishing and dangerous escapades undertaken by anyone during the war years and from mid-1943 onwards they tread an ever more dangerous line.

Monsignor O’Flaherty had started hiding Roman citizens from the Fascist authorities in 1942 but with the arrest of Mussolini thousands of POW’s were suddenly left unguarded in camps around Italy. Many remembered the words of advice spoken by the big Irish Monsignor who had told them that if they ever needed shelter they should make their way to the Vatican.

One of those was a British sailor by the name of Albert Penny who walked out of the Prisoner of War Camp where he was being held, grabbed some overalls and a bicycle, and eventually cycled straight into Vatican City looking for help.

By pure chance Penny was taken to Sir D’Arcy Osborne’s office and was eventually given shelter. However, he was soon followed by others who for one reason or another asked for Monsignor O’Flaherty. So, started what became known as the Rome escape line.

Osborne could not play any official part in the hiding of escaped prisoners of war for fear of causing a huge diplomatic problem and compromising both the British Government and the Holy See. Nor could the Pope or his officials be seen to be housing any escaped prisoners of war and so they too had to be “officially” kept in the dark.


John May – The Resourceful Butler

Neither Osborne nor the Pope were unsympathetic to the plight of the escapees but both feared the repercussions of the German authorities catching them breaching their neutral or diplomatic positions.

Accordingly, when the Vatican began to be inundated with escaped prisoners and others under threat, it was left to Hugh O’Flaherty to take a stance and decide whether to offer them some shelter …… somewhere!

As the days passed, and the number of people seeking refuge through the Vatican increased, the big man from Kerry started to hide people all over Vatican City and beyond. He would take them in, have them fed, provide them with clothes and provide them with accommodation in every nook and cranny of the small state. In due course, he would call on all and sundry, including everyone he could trust in “The Party Set” to help him hide escaped prisoners of war. At first it was only a few prisoners. Then it grew to a couple of dozen and then it became a flood.

Osborne couldn’t do anything officially but he started to fund O’Flaherty’s activities privately as did other diplomats and members of Rome’s smart set who were sympathetic to the allies and who were persuaded by the Monsignor to help feed and clothe the escapees. Now when O’Flaherty went to parties he spent his time arranging safe houses and collecting money which helped to house and feed escaped prisoners.

Osborne, to O’Flaherty’s initial astonishment, provided the services of his private butler, a cockney called John May, who scrounged and foraged on behalf of the Monsignor to find clothes, food and other items throughout Rome. O’Flaherty would describe May as a genius of a man and that genius was needed as the tide of escapees coming to St Peter’s became ever greater.

Soon the Vatican, including O’Flaherty’s own quarters (ironically in a building known as “The German School” or The Collegium Teitonicum) were bulging with escaped prisoners and other refugees, so much so that O’Flaherty began to rent flats and find other accommodation for the fugitives throughout the city. Getting the men across the city under the noses of German and Italian Fascist troops was dangerous and so Big Hugh began to disguise them as priests, Swiss Guards, Policemen and various other personnel.

The Monsignor was soon hiding hundreds of men who were on the run and who were now being hunted actively by an increasingly annoyed German command. It would later be said that the position in Rome had developed into the world’s biggest game of hide and seek. It was to prove a hugely dangerous game for Hugh O’Flaherty but one at which he would prove to be masterly.



When Hitler decided to free Benito Mussolini from captivity one of the men he relied upon heavily was Herbert Kappler.

Kappler was a career soldier and a dedicated member of the Nazi Party. He was also the chief SS officer in Rome and in charge of the activities of the Gestapo. It was through Kappler’s activities that the Germans were able to locate Il Duce and rescue him from his captors in September 1943.

Once released, Mussolini would head a puppet Government in the north of Italy but he would never really return to power.

However, Kappler was given the task of ruling Rome with an iron fist with strict instructions to ensure that there was order and obedience to the demands of the Third Reich.

Whereas before there had been little activity against Jews, Kappler was now ordered to start rounding up the Roman Jews for transportation and the final solution. He was also asked to ensure that the resistance to the Germans in Rome was quashed and, not unsurprisingly, he was also asked to recapture the thousands of POW’s who had escaped from the camps after Mussolini’s downfall.

Once it became clear that Kappler was enforcing his master’s instructions, even more people started to seek out Hugh O’Flaherty and to seek help through The Vatican. Big Hugh had many Jewish friends in the city and sure enough many of them now came to the big Irishman in fear of their lives.


The Vatican had previously ordered that Jews seeking shelter should be housed in Catholic churches throughout Italy and of course in Rome certain churches were deemed to be the property of the Vatican state. By the end of the War some 3,000 Jewish citizens were officially under the care of the Vatican with many being housed in the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

However, quite separately, Hugh O’Flaherty started to hide Jews in churches and elsewhere through his network of contacts. He was not alone in this as others such as Monsignor Montini also privately advocated giving shelter to those who were hiding from the Germans. However, no one in Rome became so involved and took as many risks as Hugh O’Flaherty did. Indeed, many within the Curia, including Montini, took the view that O’Flaherty was taking far too many risks and was placing the Pope and the Vatican in great danger. However, officially the Pope and his advisers knew nothing about O’Flaherty’s operations and so they could not readily be seen to interfere.

Kappler would send over 2,000 Jews to the concentration camps and of these only 16 or so were ever seen again. Many others simply disappeared from the streets of Rome, went into hiding and so could not be found by the Germans when they came calling.

Kappler expected this and could understand it. He would seek out the Jews who he knew were hiding and being hidden somewhere. However, what he and his superiors could not fathom out was just where all the prisoners of war had gone? They were nowhere to be found and it became clear that someone somewhere was also hiding them. Not being a stupid man or lacking in guile and intelligence, Kappler soon became convinced that the man behind the hiding of all of these people was the large bespectacled Irish Monsignor with the mad hair and the big nose.

As Berlin became ever more vociferous in demanding to know where the escapees, many Jews and known opponents of the Third Reich were, so Kappler came under more and more personal pressure. His boss, Herr Himmler, let the Pope know that the Vatican was suspected of hiding fugitives and, in particular, it was explained that the activities of Monsignor O’Flaherty were neither appreciated or unknown in Berlin. The Pope was asked politely to stop the Monsignor’s activities but Pius claimed to know nothing and declared that The Holy See would remain neutral and true to The Lateran Treaty.

In truth Pius, could hardly escape knowing (unofficially) what was going on as Vatican City was crawling with all sorts of people who were hiding there in one capacity or another.

However, as O’Flaherty and his crew of conspirators hid more and more people so did Kappler’s fury grow until The Gestapo chief finally made it clear that should the wandering Monsignor be caught outside the confines of Vatican City he would be shot. Once again, German officials tried to confine the man from Killarney within the Vatican.

This then led to one of the most astonishing games of cat and mouse that the war would ever see.

By this time, O’Flaherty was being aided and abetted by numerous people including an escaped British Major called Sam Derry, Count Sarsfield Salazar from the Swiss legation who was resident in Rome and numerous others including May and Sir D’Arcy Osborne.


Major Sam Derry

O’Flaherty, May, Salazar and Derry would be deemed the “Council of Four” but beyond them there were many others throughout the city who were all heavily involved in “The Rome Escape Line”.

They had a sophisticated series of codes and a well organised line providing food, clothes, money and even false papers and identity cards for all of the hiding escapees and Jews.

Kappler knew there was an organised escape line and he would search numerous houses around Rome in an attempt to find the hiding places of the escaped prisoners and others whom he wanted to arrest. He often just missed his targets, with his intended victims escaping by the skin of their teeth having been warned that the Gestapo were on their way only minutes before they arrived.

When he did succeed in catching someone whom he thought was involved in hiding prisoners and others, these poor souls were taken to the Gestapo Headquarters in the Via Tasso where they were routinely tortured by the city’s notorious torturer in chief one Pietro Koch who was ruthless in administering the most excruciating torture.

Despite the odd success, the Germans could not discover where the prisoners were nor get sufficient information to condemn O’Flaherty and the others.

With Kappler now being known to bug telephone conversations throughout Rome, and with some of their safe houses and contacts discovered, the group began to take greater precautions and resorted to using code names as opposed to their own names. Sir D’arcy Osborne was “Mount”, Sam Derry was “Patrick”, Henrietta Chevalier was “Mrs M”, Count Sarsfield Salazar was “Emma” and inevitably O’Flaherty was “Golf”.

Knowing that he was under increasing supervision and by now constant threat, O’Flaherty adopted a new tactic. He would stand at the bottom of the steps of St Peter’s each and every day supposedly reading a prayer-book. In truth, however, he was standing there like a lighthouse attracting escapees seeking shelter. People would innocently walk up to him and appear to ask for directions and the big Monsignor would direct them here or there. In truth these people were on the run and had been told to seek out the tall Monsignor with the red and black cassock who would be found on the steps of St Peter’s.


Sign at the edge of St Peter’s Square Rome during WW2

O’Flaherty would then usher them deep inside the Vatican and his organisation would then see to it that they were hidden somewhere in and around Rome.

Eventually, Big Hugh had to start renting houses around the city. He rented one right next to the Gestapo headquarters on the Via Florenze in the belief that this would be the last place the Germans would look for escaped prisoners.

However, as more and more people became holed up in these hideouts Kappler grew ever angrier and saw the priest as a mortal enemy. Not content with making requests to the Pope to curtail the activities of the Monsignor, Kappler sought to confine him to the Vatican and had him watched permanently.

Taking no heed of various pieces of advice, O’Flaherty refused to curtail his activities and refused to be a little less conspicuous in dealing with anyone who sought shelter away from Kappler and his soldiers. Instead, where he had once walked around Rome freely using his Irish and Diplomatic immunity, he began to walk out of the safety of Vatican City using various disguises to avoid those who were set on watching his every move.

He would walk about Rome disguised as a dustman, a policeman, a nun (a very tall nun at that), a beggar and on one occasion at least as a German officer. After one such sojourn around the city he had to scramble over a Vatican wall while being shot at by German soldiers who had ordered him to halt and produce his papers.

On another occasion, he escaped from the Palazzo of Prince Filipo Doria Pamphili, the future mayor of Rome, disguised as a coalman. The Germans had been tipped off that he was there and surrounded the palace on the Via Del Corso. However, when Big Hugh realised they were on to him and were looking for him he went down into the basement and came upon the coalmen making a delivery.

While the Prince stalled the German soldiers for as long as he could, O’Flaherty made good his escape.

He quickly threw his cassock in a sack, covered himself in coal dust and simply walked out passed Kappler’s men who were none the wiser and told him to be on his way as they did not want their uniforms covered in coal. When he got back to the Vatican he telephoned the bemused Prince to let him know he had escaped to safety.

Kappler, who was personally present at the search, could not figure out how the priest had escaped and was reportedly furious.

That was how Hugh O’Flaherty earned the nickname – The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican.





Enraged by his inability to catch the Irish Pimpernel, Kappler now resorted to new tactics.

First he placed a bounty on Hugh O’Flaherty’s life and offered the sum of 30,000 Lire for information which would lead to the capture or the death of the Vatican Pimpernel.

Undeterred, the unusual looking priest became ever bolder and took greater and greater risks in defiance of the Gestapo chief. On one occasion one of the prisoners of war developed acute appendicitis and was in danger of losing his life. On hearing this, O’Flaherty commandeered a career and donned a disguise. He collected the prisoner from his hideout and drove him to the Santo Spirito Hospital and, having arranged things with the nuns who ran the hospital, the prisoner was operated on by surgeons who were otherwise engaged in operating on German infantry.

The POW recovered in a ward surrounded by German soldiers until the big Monsignor rolled up in his disguise once again and took him back to the safe house.

The Pimpernel had struck again!

When Kappler’s offer of a reward for information leading to the capture of O’Flaherty failed, he sought express permission from Berlin for another solution which he dared not attempt without authority from the very top of the Reich. When he received the requested permission, he set about devising the plan which would end in Big Hugh being murdered within the Vatican or just outside it.

There followed several attempts on O’Flaherty’s life.

Kappler had ordered that a thick white line be painted at the edge of St Peter’s Square marking the boundary between Italy and the Vatican state. The line was to remind the Pope where his sovereign state ended and it was to clearly point out the line beyond which Hugh O’Flaherty could not step with any safety.

One of Kappler’s attempts on O’Flaherty’s life was to involve some men speaking to the Monsignor on the Vatican side of the line but then bundling him on to the Italian side where he would be shot while supposedly trying to escape. The men were to approach the tall Monsignor under the guise of seeking help, usher him towards the white line and then more or less push him out on to Italian territory with fatal consequences.

This plan failed, possibly because those who were sent to manhandle the big man didn’t fancy the task as the closer they got to him the more they would see that he looked like a pretty useful light heavyweight who might not be easy to shift!

Apparently, Kappler’s armed men looked on as their colleagues circled the priest time and time again before abandoning the plan and simply running away. O’Flaherty supposedly just watched these events with some amusement.

Eventually, Kappler decided to send some assassins into the Vatican itself with the intention of killing O’Flaherty after he had said an early morning Mass as was his routine each day.

By this time, thousands of Jews and POW’s were being hidden and the cost of feeding them and hiding them was running to thousands of pounds per month. D’Arcy Osborne and others could no longer fund this privately and so it was agreed that the British Government and others would technically lend monies to the Vatican and these same monies were smuggled out to the escapees.

With this scale of an operation going on under his nose Kappler was ever more desperate to bring it to an end and he thought that the way to do that was to simply kill O’Flaherty.

A plan was hatched to send two men into O’Flaherty’s early mass. At the end of the mass the two men were instructed to grab big Hugh and kill him as he left the church.

However, this plan was discovered by the ever-resourceful John May who warned O’Flaherty and suggested that he should skip saying Mass just for one day. As previously mentioned Big Hugh was said to be open to taking risks,         – many said unnecessary or even reckless risks –  and he would hear no argument about abandoning his morning mass declaring that unless the men concerned had guns he would give them a mighty battering with his fists – Priest or no Priest – if they tried to rough him up.

The following morning, once the mass had finished the two would be assassins, who were easily identified, found themselves surrounded by Swiss Guards and Vatican Policemen who made sure they failed in their mission. Instead the two men were handed over to a group of Yugoslavian Partisans who were being hidden by O’Flaherty and his escape crew, and they promptly delivered a message to Herr Kappler by inflicting various injuries on the agents concerned and then throwing them back over the White line so they could receive medical treatment from the Germans.

The Plan to terminate the bespectacled priest which had been authorised by Berlin had failed and Herr Kappler was once again less than pleased!



The Via Rasella is a long sloping street in the heart of Rome. It starts close to the Quirinal Palace and slopes upwards to the Via Delle Quattro Fontane where the magnificent Palazzo Barberini sits looking down the sloping Rasella.

Immediately opposite the Palazzo, on the left had side of the street as you climb up the Rasella and on the corner of the Quattro Fontane, sits the building which housed the original Scots College where young Scottish Men were trained for the priesthood.

However, by March 1944 Scots College was devoid of students due to the war although a janitor remained.

During the morning of 23rd March a dustman gently wheeled his dust cart up the Via Rasella slope. He paused almost half way up while a column of the German 11th Company, 3rd Battalion, SS Police Regiment soldiers marched past on a pre-ordained route. The soldiers of the battalion were veterans of the Italian/Austrian Army who had seen action on the Russian Front and had chosen service in the German ran SS rather than face another tour on the Eastern Front.

At the appropriate time, the dustman lit a delayed fuse and quietly departed the scene. The subsequent explosion caused mayhem and killed many of the marchers. However, a squad of 15 partisans then appeared and opened fire on the remaining soldiers before escaping into side alleys and disappeared  amongst a stunned crowd.


The Original Scots College – The Via Rasella is the narrow street on the left

Of those who were marching 28 died immediately and by the following day 33 of the company had perished though the total number of casualties would rise to 42.

The events of that morning would change Herbert Kappler’s life for ever. The German High Command demanded immediate reprisals and the order was given that within 24 hours the Gestapo should identify 10 Italians for every soldier killed and that these would then be shot in retaliation.


Bodies on the Via Rasella

Various German officers would be involved in the line of command which ordered and organised this atrocity, but the man at the end of that line was Herbert Kappler and it was he who was ordered to find and identify those who were to be killed and then oversee the shootings personally.

There is some evidence to suggest that Kappler tried to resist these orders (he had opposed orders before) but by lunchtime on March 24th the SS Commandant had rounded up 335 souls who were to lose their lives as revenge for the attack which had taken place the previous day.

Some of these were prisoners who were being detained at Gestapo headquarters on the Via Tasso. Others were prisoners from the nearby Regina Coeli jail and 75 were simply Jews. The remainder was made up from civilians who were randomly rounded up while walking on the Via Rasella or who were living in the street at the time. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The group containing men, women and children, were rounded up at the Palazzo Barberini, taken out to the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome and were shot in batches of 5 people at a time. Some victims had to kneel on top of dead corpses while waiting to be shot in the back of the head.

Rom, Festnahme von Zivilisten

The line up outside the Palazzo Barberini opposite the top of Via Rasella March 1944

Kappler personally shot at least one of the victims as an example to his reluctant troops some of whom were given substantial amounts of Brandy to help them face up to the gruesome task and carry out their orders. As the reluctant firing squad consumed more and more brandy the sloppier they became in carrying out those orders. They would miss their targets and the execution turned into a gruesome farce rather than a military operation. However, after a full day of shootings, all 335 who had been rounded up were dead. To this day some have never been identified.

Among the victims were 5 members of Hugh O’Flaherty’s escape line.

The Ardeatine massacre would play a significant part in turning the citizens of Rome against any notion of German rule. With the advancement of the allied forces in Anzio and thereafter Monte Casino the writing was on the wall for the Germans in Rome and within a few weeks of this atrocity they had abandoned the city altogether as now everyone was against them.


On June 5th 1944 the Allies entered Rome in procession to a tumultuous welcome and hundreds of thousands would cram into St Peter’s Square to hear a message delivered by Pope Pius XII. However, the advance party of the American 5th Army had in fact entered the city the day before, the 4th of June.

At the head of that army was General Mark Clark who drove up to St Peter’s Square and walked to the bottom of the steps surrounded by Bernini’s famous columns only to be greeted by a somewhat odd looking Irish cleric who just happened to be standing there for reasons which were not immediately obvious to the general. Big Hugh thrust out a huge fist and said to the soldier       ‘Welcome to Rome! Is there anything I can do for you?’




After the war, various German soldiers and officials would stand trial for war crimes. They included General Albert Kesselring or “Uncle Albert” as he was known who had been the overall commander of the German forces in Italy. Kesselring would only spend a few years in Jail (The Italians refused to execute him) and at his trial the court was presented with letters requesting clemency and forgiveness from people like Viscount Montgomery and Winston Churchill. He was released from prison in 1952.


Albert Kesselring

Various Others including General Von Mackensen (Commander of the 14th Army stationed in Rome) and General Kurt Malzer who was the commandant in charge of Rome itself were both imprisoned for war crimes. Malzer died in 1952 and Von Mackensen was released from custody in the same year. Both were involved in the Ardeatine massacre.

Herbert Kappler was to be altogether different. Like the others he was not to be executed but such was the horror at the Ardeatine massacre he was ordered to remain in prison for the rest of his life and to spend at least 4 years in solitary confinement. He was detested throughout Italy and beyond.



Sir Nicholas Winton is rightly lauded for saving the lives of 669 children from Czechoslovakia during the war. He was given a knighthood and received various other awards for his humanity and bravery.

Oskar Schindler is credited with saving the lives of 1200 Jews by employing them and keeping them safe in his factories in Poland. He was named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1963.

And what of Hugh O’Flaherty? Where does he stand in comparison to these two great and very brave men?

When General Mark Clark shook Hugh O’Flaherty’s had on the steps of St Peter’s on June 4th 1944 big Hugh was responsible for saving the lives of and hiding over 4,000 escaped prisoners of war in and around Rome. Accounts vary as to how many others he was responsible for. What is certain is that Sam Derry who kept “official” records was able to confirm that at the time O’Flaherty’s organisation was looking after 3,925 escapers and men who had succeeded in evading arrest. Of these 1,695 were British, 896 South African, 429 Russian, 425 Greek, 185 American, and the rest from 20 different countries.  Some accounts say that counting escaped Jews and other refugees the Irishman was responsible for saving between 6500 and 8000 souls.

One touching account recalls a Jewish mother and father approaching the Monsignor on the steps of St Peters in late 1943 and presenting him with their young son. The couple handed O’Flaherty a solid gold chain and begged him to use it to fund their son’s escape from Rome. The big Irishman not only escorted the son to safety but quite separately helped to hide the parents in another part of Rome.

After the war was over, the Monsignor turned up where the couple were staying and reunited them with their son. He also gave them back the gold chain. He had kept it in a drawer in his room and it lay there completely unguarded despite being of significant value. Others within his quarters knew it was there and apparently chided him for leaving such a valuable object unguarded. As was his want, O’Flaherty’s reply was simple: “And just who the hell is going to steal it from me? This is The Vatican?” End of discussion.

Even after the war, O’Flaherty took the view that there was still work to be done. Rome may have been liberated by the allies but there were still POW camps, only now it was the Italian fascists and Germans who were being held prisoner. He was fond of declaring that ‘God has no country’ and set about doing exactly what he had done before. He visited prisoner of war camps, compiling information for tracking down families and informed Italians and Germans that their men were safe, alive and in custody where they would be treated fairly.


After the war, he commandeered a plane, travelled to Jerusalem to organise immigration and repatriation to Israel for the Jews he’d helped and who now wanted to leave Europe. He also flew to South Africa, setting up a network to trace Italian prisoners of war who were imprisoned there for the benefit relatives at home.

While the Second World War officially ended in 1945, for Hugh O’Flaherty it would continue for quite some time afterwards.



As Rome fell to Allied forces, Herbert Kappler and other prominent Nazi commanders attempted to flee Rome and realising that their war was ending they sought refuge, escape or surrender in various ways. It is said that at one point Kappler unsuccessfully tried to seek refuge in the Vatican but eventually he went north and sought shelter behind German lines in the North of Italy. However, eventually he surrendered at the end of the war and was arrested by British authorities in 1945. Very few of those in charge of Rome during the German occupation were executed (the exception being the torturer Koch who even Mussolini had despised) as the British and Americans had no stomach for executions and actively sought clemency for Generals such as Kesselring who had been in overall charge. However, the Romans, in particular, wanted blood and in Kappler they had a readymade villain who was publicly hated and despised because of the Ardeatine caves massacre. Accordingly, he was turned over to the Italian government in 1947, and tried the following year by an Italian military tribunal which sentenced him to life imprisonment in the Gaeta military prison about 100 Kilometres south of Rome.


Kappler in custody

Even before his trial, Kappler knew that he was effectively a doomed man. His wife divorced him and refused to let any of his children visit him in Prison. The Italian public demanded his execution and there was great disappointment when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

For his part, Kappler defended himself by saying he was a soldier following orders and that it was his duty not to question orders in war even if he privately didn’t agree with them. His defence team pointed out that there was considerable evidence that he had tried to withstand certain orders, especially in relation to the transportation of Jews, and that by so doing he had saved lives.

However, the fact remained that he had been in charge of Rome when over 2000 Jews were deported never to return and that he had personally overseen the massacre of 335 people at the Ardeatine Caves.

In the eyes of the Italian public he was a monster.


Graves of those murdered at the Ardeatine Caves on 24th March 1944

Yet, even before his trial the events surrounding Herbert Kappler took an extraordinary turn. He was held in solitary confinement and locked away from the outside world even before any sentenced had been passed. He was to have little or no communication with anyone apart from the visits from his legal team.

Then, one day he wrote a letter. He wrote several letters, mostly about his defence and so on, but this letter was different. It was delivered to the intended recipient who read it, raised his eyebrows somewhat and pondered at the request that was made within the body of the letter.

Sometime later, for the very first time Hugh O’Flaherty walked through the gates of the Gaeta Prison, strode into a room and came face to face with the former SS-Obersturmbannführer Kappler who had been so desperate to kill him during the war.

Big Hugh would be Kappler’s only regular visitor for years. Every month the Irishman would turn up at the prison for the sole purpose of visiting the former German military commander. They would talk about literature, religion, God, war, morals and whatever took their fancy.

Kappler expressed the desire to convert to Catholicism but big Hugh counselled against this prior to his trial as it would look mighty suspicious and as if it was a move designed to influence those who would judge him.

Accordingly, Kappler delayed any conversion but in 1949, having been sentenced to life imprisonment, Hugh O’Flaherty privately baptised Herbert Kappler into the church. Kappler’s conversion would not be made known for over a decade and the big Irish Monsignor refused to talk about it when it did become public knowledge.

He also refused to talk about the fact that he visited Kappler each and every month for years to come during which time the two became close. Kappler would later say that his once mortal enemy refused to force religion on him, never judged him and gained his never-ending respect and friendship.



During those years after the war, Hugh O’Flaherty worked away in his position as chief writer at the Holy See, continued with his work for prisoners and the displaced of all nations, resumed his partying around Rome and played Golf where he came across young Roberto caddying at Rome golf club.

He played golf whenever and wherever he could and there is a story which tells of him playing on a golf course outside Rome when he came upon a sort of makeshift shanty town at the side of one of the fairways.

There was a series of ramshackle buildings which were barely fit for habitation, a rundown and abandoned church and a whole series of lean to type houses and shelters.

Big Hugh abandoned his round of golf to find out more about who lived there, why they lived in such run-down conditions and who, if anyone, was doing anything for them.

When it became clear that the people and the village had more or less been abandoned by the authorities, he made it his business to lobby for funds, have improvements carried out to the houses, get jobs for the men and to generally bring the village back to life. He had the church restored and from that day on he came to the village to say Mass each Sunday.

However, within the walls of the Vatican he was still scene as a maverick and an outsider. Many in the curia saw him as a risk taker and someone who, during the war, had placed his own desires and ambitions before the overall good of Mother Church. He was destined never to rise higher than the rank of Monsignor while others were promoted and received “in house” acknowledgement.

Hugh hated Vatican politics and eventually it began to annoy him.



During his years in Rome, especially during the period when he ran the Rome escape line, Hugh O’Flaherty had associated with some amazing people and had become a very close friend to many.

Those prominent in the Rome escape line included:

Sir Francis Godolphin D’Arcy Osborne, cousin to the Duke of Leeds, and British Minister to the Holy See. Osborne would later become Duke of Leeds and sit in the House of Lords.

John May, Osborne’s butler who O’Flaherty described as “the most magnificent scrounger I have ever come across.” May had an incredible talent for obtaining things that weren’t supposed to be obtainable and had friends everywhere, particularly in the black market. Numerous useful people owed him favours. As shrewd, suspicious and careful as O’Flaherty was large-hearted and willing to take huge risks, John May proved to be the perfect counterpart to the Monsignor.

Count Sarsfield Salazar of the Swiss Legation, very helpful in procuring neutral Swiss identity papers and oiling diplomatic wheels. Salazar would provide private funds for food, clothing and the renting of safe houses.

Thomas Kiernan was the Irish ambassador to the Vatican and like Osborne had to adhere strictly to his country’s policy of neutrality. However, his wife, the noted singer Delia Murphy, had a freer hand and helped where she could, often ensuring that O’Flaherty had the use of the Irish Legation’s car when he needed it. The Ambassador and his wife often passed information picked up from the German diplomatic corps back to O’Flaherty and on at least one occasion Delia Murphy smuggled escaped prisoners to safety in the back of the official car.


Delia Murphy

Molly Stanley, a middle-aged English governess who lived with the Duchess of Sermoneta, was another good friend of O’Flaherty’s. The very first time she ever laid eyes in big Hugh he was performing card tricks for the Duchess’ son! She turned out to be a tireless worker on his behalf and often posed as his female companion when Hugh was in disguise walking around Rome. The Germans were looking for a priest, not a couple! She had lived in Rome since her early twenties, and her insider’s knowledge of the city was invaluable.


Molly Stanley

Henrietta Chevalier was a five foot four Maltese woman who would hide escaped prisoners throughout the period of the escape line. She lived with her five daughters and two sons in a tiny apartment which was often raided by Kappler’s men yet they never found any evidence of the fugitives. All of them lived under fear of certain death if they had been caught.


Henrietta Chevalier

Major Sam Derry was a member of the Royal Artillery and had been one of the thousands who escaped at Dunkirk. He was later imprisoned in the Chieti Camp in Italy where he was invited to join and eventually take charge of the escape committee. On a train journey through Northern Italy, Derry managed to throw himself from the train and escaped his captors. Derry headed to Rome and sought out The Big Monsignor, who promptly asked him to join the ‘Council of Three’ taking charge of organisational details.

John Furman, a Lieutenant, escaped in December 1943 with Lieutenant Bill Simpson and Joe Pollak a Czechoslovakian Jew, and was brought to The Monsignor in Rome. Furman and Simpson had been good friends with Sam Derry and later Furman, Simpson and Pollak took over the risky job of guiding escapees to secret locations and delivering food supplies and clothes.

Bill Simpson was a Scottish Lieutenant who escaped with Furman and Pollack, came to Rome to find O’Flaherty at the steps of St Peter’s. One of the many duties executed by Furman and Simpson was the distribution of turkeys, wine, cigarettes and special parcels at Christmas as, apparently, O’Flaherty had others prepare hundreds of wrapped parcels for distribution to others who were hiding all around Rome.


Messrs Furman, Derry, Byrnes and Simpson – all members of the Rome escape line

Princess Nini Pallavicini, a young widow from one of Rome’s oldest aristocratic families. She had been discovered operating an illegal radio and had only escaped arrest by jumping out a window. O’Flaherty found a room for her in his own place of residence, The German College, in the Vatican. The Princess would remain a fugitive for the rest of the war but proved very adept at forging documents and official papers.

Prince Filipo Doria Pamphili, a member of one of Rome’s most noble and formerly “Papal” families who would go on to be a future mayor of Rome. It was from the Prince’s Palazzo that O’Flaherty would escape as a coalman.

There were many others including tram drivers, postmen, policeman, Swiss Guards, Nuns, Fellow Priests and all sorts of people who would help the big Irishman hide thousands of fugitives all across Rome.



Pope Pius XII died on 9th October 1958 at Castel Gondolfo. He had steered the Vatican through the war years and had come in for considerable criticism and praise for his actions or supposed lack of them during the conflict.

After the war, he had known that Hugh O’Flaherty had remained as one of the longest serving head writers to the Holy See and that he had continued to mix with the great and the good within Rome and without.

Pius, for whatever reason, never sought to promote O’Flaherty above the rank of Monsignor – perhaps on the advice of others within the Curia.

Another man who was well outside the workings of the Curia was Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Archbishop of Venice who chose to stay at home and listened the late Pontiff’s funeral being broadcast live from The Vatican.

Roncalli was an interesting man who had been born in Bergamo near Milan and who had spent much of his priestly life serving in places like Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece.

Immediately prior to and during the war years, while acting as Papal Nuncio, Roncalli had saved and helped many refugees including many Jews. In many respects, he was a man with a lot in common with Hugh O’Flaherty.

In 1944 Roncalli had been appointed by the Pope as Apostolic Nuncio to recently liberated France. His main job was to oversee the retirement of those clergy in France who had collaborated with the German regime. This brought Roncalli face to face with critics of the church and with Bishops and others who were seen as traitors in the eyes of the French and who Rome wanted “retired”.

He was not a popular choice within the Curia and Secretary of State Domenico Tardini for one did not approve describing Roncalli as no more than “an old fogey”. Roncalli had been made an Archbishop as far back as 1925 and so Tardini and others thought of him as having gone as far as he could go within church circles. He was not an “inside” man and certainly not someone for the future.


Cardinal Roncalli with Pius XII

However, on 29th November 1952, Roncalli received a phone call from his friend Giovanni Montini who advised him he was to become Cardinal Priest and Patriarch of Venezia and the old fogey took up his new role on 12th January 1953. On 15 March 1953, he took possession of his new diocese in Venice and as a sign of the impact he had made in France and of the esteem in which he was held by the French after the war, the French President, Vincent Auriol, claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and bestowed the red biretta on Roncalli at a ceremony in the Élysée Palace.

It was against this background that after the death of Pius XII Roncalli travelled to Rome on 11th October 1958 for the purposes of taking part in the forthcoming Papal conclave. The elderly Cardinal knew that this would be his one and only attendance at a papal conclave and such was his view of what was to come that he purchased a return ticket for the train.


The Old Fogey on his way to the Papal Conclave of 1958

However, after 11 ballots, at 4: 30 pm on the afternoon of 28th October the “Old Fogey” was elected Pope and in the first of several surprise decisions he decided to be the first Pope for some 500 years to take the name John.

Within the Curia he was considered as no more than a stopgap Pope, an outsider, a caretaker who, due to his age (76), would only be keeping the Big Hat warm for one of their own who had been hotly tipped to succeed Pius. The man concerned was Giovanni Montini, who by this time was Archbishop of Milan but who had not yet been elected Cardinal – something Roncalli would correct in his very first consistory.

Under Pius XII, the then Monsignor Montini had more or less ran the Vatican along with his close friend and colleague Monsignor Tardini. The new Pope promoted both to the position of Cardinal and formally appointed Tardini as Secretary of State to the new Papacy while Montini looked after Milan and various other high powered Curia positions.

Tardini was a reluctant Secretary of State and made it plain to the new Pope that he was not keen to serve because he had often disagreed with the views of the then Cardinal Roncalli in the past. He also made it plain that, with respect, he still saw the new Pope as “an old fogey”. Accordingly, he begged to be allowed to retire from Vatican duties and be released to perform pastoral work in the country and with children.

Alas,  Good Pope John, as Roncalli would become known, would have none of it. He declined the Cardinal’s request and insisted Tardini serve as Secretary of State. It was a position he would hold until his death in 1961.


Cardinal Tardini, Secretary of State, with the Old Fogey who would cause him so much trouble

Subsequently, it would be said that Pope John would often feel outmanoeuvred throughout his papacy by the “insiders” within the Curia and that he would be an altogether different type of “Prisoner within the Vatican”.

Although there would be some considerable evidence to the contrary at least in some respects.

And all the while over at the Office of the Holy See, the Chief Writer would continue in his role as Monsignor, would go to parties around town whenever asked and would sneak off to the golf course whenever he could.

What he would not do was discuss his ongoing visits to Herbert Kappler each month (it is not clear if these met with Vatican approval), his activities during the war years or his growing frustration with what he saw as extremely annoying Vatican politics.



Because of his fame throughout Rome and his almost celebrity status, Hugh O’Flaherty undoubtedly faced a considerable degree of backbiting and some considerable envy within the Vatican after the War.

In 1946 he had been promoted to chief writer to the office of the Holy See but he would rise no further within Vatican circles.

However, with the arrival of the new Pope John XXIII in late 1958 there was to be a bit of a shakeup within Vatican circles as “The Old Fogey” proved to be less of a caretaker than many had thought although he would reportedly face regular opposition from Curia insiders.

One of the changes he eventually made was at the office of the Holy See where it was decided that Hugh O’Flaherty was to move on from the position he had held for over 12 years.

He would not only be moved out of the office he had occupied for many years but out of Rome itself.

Quite why Big Hugh should be moved on by the new Pope remains a matter of conjecture although as we shall see it may just have been decided that some in The Curia could not stand the idea of “The Old Fogey” and the “Vatican Pimpernel” being together in the one place for too long.

But what was the new Pope and his Curia to do with the golfing and partying Monsignor?

The result was that it was decided to make him the Papal Nuncio to Tanzania and it was an appointment big Hugh viewed with relish as it was to be a new challenge and represented him being the direct agent of Pope “Fogey” himself.

However, it was an appointment that was never to be as before he could take up the position Hugh O’Flaherty suffered a massive stroke while saying mass in June 1960 which brought his Vatican career to a premature end.

After the stroke, he remained severely unwell and he was forced to retire to Ireland where he lived in the town of Cahersiveen with his sister. He never really recovered his health and although he would help out in the local church saying mass and still played a round of golf, his health problems curtailed his once boundless energy but never his brogue and caustic wit.

In 1963, Eamon Andrews featured the Rome escape line on an edition of This is Your Life which concentrated on the life of Major Sam Derry who had recorded the details of the Rome Escape line in an autobiography. Throughout his period of involvement, Derry had kept records of all the POW’s who had been helped and at various times those records had been buried in the Vatican gardens for safekeeping.


Others such as Lieutenant Bill Simpson had also written books, but Big Hugh was reluctant to even talk about the war let alone discuss his own heroics and rejected all suggestions that he had been anything like a hero.

At the end of the This is Your Life Programme the final guest, or guest of honour if you like, was a somewhat frail but still lively Hugh O’Flaherty. Originally the This is Your Life team had wanted to make the programme about O’Flaherty but after taking soundings from friends and family they realised that Hugh would not appreciate the gesture as he liked a quiet life and shunned all publicity. However, he was delighted to be asked to appear briefly on a show which highlighted the heroism of Sam Derry who, live on air, very quickly made it plain that there would never have been any escape line at all without the genius and the bravery of the charismatic Irishman with the tousled hair and the bulbous nose.

Not long after the programme was aired, Hugh O’Flaherty succumbed to a further stroke and died at home in Cahersiveen on 30th October 1963. He was 65 years of age. He was buried in a simple grave in the grounds of The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in Cahirciveen and his headstone proclaimed “God has no country!”


His former colleague, Giovanni Montini, had been elected Pope just a few months before on 21st June 1963. He had been the hot favourite to succeed John XXIII and he was elected after the sixth ballot of the conclave before which Cardinal Testa of Bergamo completely lost his temper with his fellow Cardinals and angrily addressed the assembled conclave demanding that all and any opposition to Montini be withdrawn immediately.



When Hugh O’Flaherty died, his obituary was carried on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in the New York Times as well as various other newspapers around the world.

The Headline in the New York Times Proclaimed “The Pimpernel is Dead.”

As mentioned, Sir Nicholas Winton had received a knighthood for his saving of 669 Czech children and Oskar Schindler had saved some 1200 Polish men, woman and children.

Hugh O’Flaherty is credited with saving the lives of, or at least hiding, between 6,500 and 8,000 people of various nationalities. One report states that he personally saw to it that over 1700 people of the Jewish faith were hidden in and around Rome and as such were saved from execution or deportation to the concentration camps.

His own personal bravery, audacity and willingness to take personal risks in saving the lives of others was recorded in numerous books and accounts of Rome during the war years.

That is why after the war he was made a Commander of the British Embassy by the British Government (much to his Republican amusement), was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour with the Silver Palm by the USA and received various awards from the Governments of Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel, Russia and others.



All the medals and honours were sent home to his sister to keep in a drawer and were of absolutely no significance to him. He sought no personal recognition whatsoever and shunned all personal publicity.

His one-time colleague, friend and co-conspirator Prince Filipo Doria Pamphili had gone on to become Mayor of Rome after the war and though his offices, The Italian Government awarded O’Flaherty a private pension for life in recognition of his heroics in saving and serving thousands of Italians. The Monsignor never collected so much as a penny of the money concerned.

In Ireland, his actions went unrecognised for many years although eventually a grove of Italian trees were planted in his honour in the Killarney National Park.

However, people who knew of his actions and his work decided to form The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society with a view to gaining him proper recognition and to furthering the kind of attitude and actions “Big Hugh” himself represented in life. The Society has grown in membership and stature over the years and there are now various respected awards, festivals and other events bearing Hugh O’Flaherty’s name.

Yet, I first came across the story of the big Monsignor in a book entitled “The sixteen most famous Irishmen you have never heard of!”.

On October 31st 2013 A statue of big Hugh was unveiled in his hometown of Killarney County Kerry. The statue is one which is more or less life size, bronze and shows the bespectacled Hugh striding out supposedly across St Peter’s square.


50 years after his death, the unveiling of the statue was witnessed by international and local dignitaries, including the assistant attaché at the US Embassy George Sands, Canadian ambassador Loyola Hearn, British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, and Nurit Tinari-Modai of the Israeli Embassy.

Colonel Sam Derry, his son William and his wife Marion were also present as were Mo and David Sands, the grandchildren of Henrietta Chevalier.

In June 2016, The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society went on a tour to Rome during which they met up with 72 year old Roberto Bernardini, Italy’s first  Internationally recognised professional golfer.

The Society presented Roberto with a specially restored Burke Punchiron No 8, dating back to the mid-1930’s. The club was mounted on a backboard with photos showing the Monsignor playing in Rome with three times British Open Champion Henry Cotton.


The boy who once caddied for “Big Hugh” continues to coach budding players on the fairways of Rome Golf Course. To this day he recalls his friend, tutor and coach, his most unusual grip and how he could hit the one iron like no one else he had ever met!



Long after Hugh O’Flaherty’s death, Herbert Kappler remained in custody in the prison at Gaeta, the coastal town south of Rome. Eventually he was the only prisoner in the building. He had tried all sorts of appeals against his sentence but they were all to no avail. The Italians had meant it when they said he would see out his life in prison.

As the years had gone on, Kappler had become most disenchanted with many of his former colleagues and their recollection of history. He was annoyed at how people like Kesselring had been not only released but had also written a book which had, in Kappler’s opinion, seriously misrepresented events in Rome during 1943-1944.

After Big Hugh died, Kappler eventually started to correspond with a German nurse by the name of Anneliese Wenger. After a lengthy series of letters, Anneliese eventually came to the prison to meet Kappler and after a long series of meetings and letters they eventually married in 1972. Originally their meetings were overseen by prison guards and the couple were allowed no time together in private.

In 1975, at the age of sixty-eight, Kappler was diagnosed with terminal cancer and a year later he was moved to the Celio Military Hospital in Rome.


Anneliese and the West German Government petitioned the Italians to release Kappler on the basis that his condition was terminal but their requests were denied by the Italian who were determined that Kappler would die in custody .

By this time his wife was being given almost unconditional and unrestricted access to her husband in hospital and so on the night of 14th August 1977 Herbert and Anneliese Kappler embarked upon a plan that was worthy of Big Hugh O’Flaherty at his most audacious.

Anneliese came to the hospital as normal that night and no one at the military hospital gave her visit a second thought. She had been a regular visitor for about a year and was known to the security and nursing staff. At around 10pm she placed a sign on the door of her husband’s room which read “Do not waken till 10:00 am”.

One report says that she helped Herbert walk down the back stairs of the hospital without being noticed, and once out in the car park she helped him into the back of a waiting car. Another, more romantic notion, is that Herbert Kappler, who by this time weighed no more than 45 Kilos or so, was smuggled out of the hospital by his wife while hiding inside a rather large suitcase which she rolled out to her car.

What is certain, is that Anneliese drove the former SS chief out of the city of Rome and all the way through Italy overnight. By the time the hospital staff realised that he was gone he was safely back on German soil never to return.

A huge outcry followed, with the Italian Government and public demanding that the monster of the Ardeatine caves massacre be returned to Italy to serve the rest of his sentence. The German Government were not so accommodating, and, even though Kappler was at the home of his wife in the little town of Soldau, they did little if anything to ensure his speedy return.

During his captivity, Hugh O’Flaherty had told Kappler that men such as him with guns and arms were foolish to think that they could ever think to conquer the spirit and the soul of the man who wants to be free. O’Flaherty had learned that at an early age with the Black and Tans and perhaps it explains why he was so fearless or reckless during the German occupation of Rome.

He preached that no man should live in fear of anyone or any country who wanted to restrict his movement and the enjoyment of life by force. According to Big Hugh, that would never work. God had no country and would never recognise one as having the right to claim any man through force.

Maybe it was a lesson that Kappler recalled in those last days in captivity and maybe it played a part in the mindset of Kappler and his wife in deciding to organise his escape from the Celio Military Hospital.

Whether he escaped in a suitcase or not, Kappler’s last journey out of Rome was worthy of Hugh O’Flaherty’s escape line at its best.

Six months after his escape, Kappler died at home in his own bed in Soltau, on 9 February 1978, aged 70 and with his wife at his side tending to his final needs.


Herbert Kappler at “home” with Anneliese Kappler in Soldau shortly before his death

He had outlived his wartime nemeses and post war friend by some 15 years.



On 13th March 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, a title he holds ex officio as The Bishop of Rome, and Sovereign of the Vatican City.

Bergoglio was elected on the second day of the Papal Conclave and on the fifth ballot of Cardinals enclosed in the Sistine Chapel. It is entirely possible that the 76-year-old Argentinian could have been elected Pope in 2005 as in the Conclave of that year he was considered Papable and received an unprecedented number of votes for a Latin American. He was allegedly a close runner up to Cardinal Ratzinger who would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI.

Although the inner workings of any Papal Conclave are meant to remain secret, stories have emerged which suggest that in 2005 Bergoglio made a speech to his fellow Cardinals in which he begged not to be elected Pope and asked those supporting him to pledge their votes to Cardinal Ratzinger in what was to be the fourth and final ballot.

Pope Francis as he was to become is of Italian heritage, his father’s family having fled Italy in 1929 to escape the dictatorial Government of Benito Mussolini, and he grew up on the streets of Buenos Aries.

A former nightclub bouncer, Bergoglio was the first Jesuit to become Pope although it should be noted that he had been effectively all but expelled by the Jesuits several years ago and had very little to do with them for many years prior to his becoming Pope.

Of all the things to know about the new Pontiff for the purposes of this story the most important are as follows,

Prior to his election as Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio had been staying in what is today known as the Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City. The old building which had been home to Sir D’Arcy Osborne had been pulled down and replaced by a new custom built hostel on the orders of Pope John Paul II who wanted to create more modern quarters for visiting priests and clerics.

After his election in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis went back to his quarters in the Casa Santa Marta by way of the same mini bus that took him and other Cardinals to the conclave that morning. He refused to travel by any means of the official Papal car and so took the short ride back to his room along with the others from the conclave.

Further, having been elected, he refused to reside in the luxurious Papal apartments and decided to remain resident on the spot where D’Arcy Osborne had been housed as British Ambassador during the war years.

He remains resident in The Casa Santa Marta to this day.


Inside the Casa Santa Marta

As a Priest, the then Father Bergoglio had spent a period of three months residing in the City of Dublin staying at the Jesuit Centre at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Ranelagh.

Perhaps it was while living in Dublin that Jorge Bergoglio first came to hear the story of Big Hugh or maybe his knowledge comes through living at the Casa Santa Marta where some of the escapees were hidden by O’Flaherty, Osborne and May.

Irrespective of how he came to know the story, having been elected Pope the Argentinian would do something that had been overlooked or ignored by all his immediate predecessors.

On Sunday 8th May 2016, the 71st anniversary of Victory in Europe, a group of 200 or so people attended a special mass in the German College in the Vatican. Those attending included members of Hugh O’Flaherty’s family and relatives of those who had worked with him on the “Rome Escape Line”. Three sons of Colonel Sam Derry were present as were the ambassadors from countries such as Germany, Ireland, the U.K., the United States, and Canada, together with representatives of Italian families and others who had helped, and had been helped by, Big Hugh when he was protecting the escaped prisoners of war, Jews and others from the Nazi’s and the Fascists in Rome.

A Plaque was unveiled at the door of the German College commemorating the life and times of Hugh O’Flaherty and recognising just how immense he had been in helping others during the war years and beyond.


Two wreaths were laid underneath the new plaque, one by a representative of the Irish government, and the other by the U.K.s defense attaché to Italy, Colonel Lindsay MacDuff.

It was Pope John XXIII who introduced the custom of the Pope appearing at the Vatican apartments window each Sunday at noon to say the Angelis prayer or the Regina Coeli.

Each Sunday at noon the incumbent Pope now appears in the window of the papal apartment to give a weekly Angelus address which typically amounts to a short homily about the Sunday readings. After delivering this short reflection on the readings, the Pope proceeds to pray the Angelus Domini (or the Regina Coeli during Easter) and thereafter he greets the pilgrims that are present in the square in various languages of the world.

It was during the Regina Coeli address of Sunday 8th May 2016 that Jorge Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome, Pontiff to the Roman Catholic Church and head of the Sovereign Vatican State addressed the members of the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society gathered in St Peter’s Square below and in so doing, at long last, on behalf of the Catholic Church formally recognised the work and risks taken by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty from Ireland during the course of 1942 -1944.

It was on that day that The Vatican State and its elected leader finally joined with the leaders of many other sovereign states around the world in recognising that the big be-spectacled Kerry man was worthy of International recognition for his brave and humanitarian actions during the war and acknowledged that “Big Hugh” had regularly risked his own life in saving others.

The Vatican formally acknowledged Hugh O’Flaherty’s achievements some 50 to 70 years years after every other Government for reasons that remain best known to those who were within the Curia at the time and subsequently.

The Plaque on the wall of the Campo Santo Teutonico reads:

“Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, born in Ireland 28.2.1898. Founder of the Rome Escape Line. Tireless defender of the weak and oppressed. Resident at this College 1938-1960 from where he saved over 6000 lives from the National Socialists. Died 30.10.1963. Buried in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, Ireland.”


He was, quite simply, God’s one Iron!



The City of Rome has over two and a half thousand years of stories to tell and that is why it is such a captivating and fascinating city to visit.

Many of those stories are undocumented, are the stuff of legend and can never be verified. They are apocryphal and sometimes based on no more than hearsay, legend and rumour. Such stories are often the best and most fascinating that Rome has to offer and of course the city itself is based on the most famous and propagated Roman legend of all – the tale of Romulus and Remus.

Obviously, the tale of Hugh O’Flaherty is a modern story and as such most of it is well documented and easily verified, although I will wager that not all the details are known.

Speaking earlier this year, O’Flaherty’s nephew, also called Hugh, told Vatican Radio that his uncle was a very good humoured and jovial character, but that he was always interested primarily in the present. For this reason, he said, his uncle hardly ever talked about what happened during the war or during its immediate aftermath, even when Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the British newspaper The Express, then the most widely read newspaper in the world, wanted to do a feature on him.

“Much to my chagrin, my uncle did not want to comment on it!,” O’Flaherty recalled. “As I said, he lived very much in the present, and the past was the past.”

There is no doubt that “Big Hugh” had many a tale he could have told but instead he kept many a secret to himself. Those secrets included many of his experiences during the war, what occurred within the inner workings of the Vatican, his chats with Herbert Kappler, and his relationships with the great and the good of Rome both inside and outside Vatican City.

While the story of Hugh O’Flaherty has been told by many, few have stopped to think about what he changed. He was responsible for changing the information provided by Vatican Radio, the organisation and distribution of parcels by the Red Cross and later other similar international agencies and he also had a significant impact on future Vatican security measures and procedures.

I first became aware of the Ardeatine Massacre when I was taken to the execution site in 1975. The Ardeatine Caves are now a national museum, a place of worship and a memorial housing the graves of the 335 men women and children who were executed on the orders of Herbert Kappler.

The site remains, to my mind at least, one of the most moving and astonishing places to go and see in all of Rome and it has become traditional for the incumbent Pope to visit the site and say mass there as the Bishop of Rome.

It is very much worth a visit.

Earlier this year, I stayed in an apartment on the Via Rasella where the bullet holes and bomb marks created on the morning of 23rd March 1944 can still be seen at the corner of Via Rasella and the Via del Boccaccio. The marks of war stand out clearly on the walls and act as a reminder to all as to what took place there over two fateful days.


On 30th November 2006, Radio 4 broadcast a play written by Raymond Glendinning called “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” which explored the post war relationship between Big Hugh and Herbet Kappler. The play gives a flavour of what the conversations between the two men might have been like when Hugh visited the former SS Commander in prison at Gaeta.

Perhaps, the play serves as one of Rome’s apocryphal and mythical stories which cannot be verified, and provides a fascinating insight into the relationship between the two men.

However, there may just be another apocryphal story concerning the Big Irishman which is worthy of some mention and which everyone and anyone can view as wholly fact or fiction or part true or untrue.

The story concerns the newly elected Pope John XXIII and his reluctant Secretary of State Cardinal Domenico Tardini who, you will recall, was reluctant to serve under the new Pope and who considered him an “Old Fogey” and a Curia outsider.

However, it is now well known that notwithstanding his election as Pope in October 1958, former Cardinal Roncalli felt trapped inside the Vatican and so somehow or other took it upon himself to escape the sovereign state and went walkabout in the city of Rome on various occasions.

Quite how this came about has never been fully explained.

There is an unattributed story which suggests that on the first occasion the new Pope disappeared into the Roman night and went for a walk, the head of the Swiss guard and the chief of Vatican Police turned up unexpectedly and somewhat flustered at the door of Cardinal Tardini to explain that somehow or other the Pope had gone “Missing”.

“What do you mean “Missing”? “asked an astonished Tardini only to be told that the Vatican security services, guards and police had “misplaced” the pontiff and that they had no idea where he was.

The story goes on that all the usual questions were asked about searches and so on with the visitors assuring the Secretary of State that they had looked everywhere and could find no sign of the newly elected Pontiff within the Vatican.

Tardini reportedly dismissed this as “absolutely impossible”, pointing out that the Pope was one of the most recognisable people in the world, wore a uniform that was unique to him and was instantly recognisable anywhere, and that it was therefore absolutely impossible for him to simply walk out of Vatican City undetected by anyone……………… unless he had been in disguise!

In that instant, a light went on and questions began to be asked as to where a Cardinal who had bought a return train ticket to Venice when coming to Rome and who clearly had no intention of staying for long could have gotten his hands on clothes which would make him shrink into the background?

Also, according to Tardini, Cardinal Roncalli was not someone who was overly familiar with Rome itself as he had spent many years abroad and so he did not know secret or back ways in, out and around Vatican City or the city of Rome. How, then, did he manage to get out without being seen by someone? His apartment, and he himself, were surrounded by Swiss Guards and other officials, and so it would be virtually impossible to escape detection unless ……… you knew exactly how to get in and out of the Vatican City without being seen. Tardini would wager that Pope John XXIII did not possess that knowledge and expressed the opinion that there was only one man residing within the walls of the city state who had that expertise and who would be mad enough and bold enough to assist in the smuggling of a Pope!

Mosnignor Hugh O’Flaherty, Chief Writer to The Offices of The Holy See.

It is said that when Big Hugh was asked about the missing Pope he said he knew nothing whatsoever about where the errant Pope might be but that he was sure that the good Lord would look after the Pontiff and that he would return safely….. in due course!

If this apocryphal story is to be believed, the Irishman’s gentle way of relaying his lack of knowledge and his inexplicable belief that the Pope would return eventually, with the grace of God, led to an apoplectic loss of temper on the part of some.

Later that evening, Pope John XXIII, the former Cradinal Roncalli, the “old fogey” of the Vatican as he was described by Tardini, duly returned to the Papal apartments. He had been dressed as an ordinary priest!

Within two months of being elected Pope, on Christmas Day 1958, Angelo Roncalli would officially go walkabout in Rome visiting the Regina Coeli Prison and the Santa Spirito Hospital amongst other places. He was the first Pope to make official pastoral visits around Rome since 1870 much to the consternation of some working within the Vatican security detail and within The Curia.

This had not been expected when Roncalli had been elected and it quickly became clear that this “old man” might just be difficult to control which presented Tardini, as Secretary of State, with a massive headache.

Not only that, having gone “missing” on one occasion, it soon became apparent that the new Pope would not be content with just one late night walk around the eternal city. It is now well documented that Pope John developed a habit for “sneaking” out of the Vatican late at night on his own initiative with no prior consultation and it has been suggested that such activity left Tardini and others completely demented.

Tardini, like Montini, had been trained to believe that the Papacy and the Vatican must not be compromised in any way and must be safeguarded at all times. Under Pious XII they had constantly worried about the Pope being kidnapped or the Vatican being invaded as it had so often in the past.


Monsignors Montini and Tardini

Now, Tardini had to deal with a Pope to whom he had reluctantly sworn allegiance but who was behaving in a manner which meant no Curia control and which made Kidnapping much easier and much harder to protect against.

Popes had left the Vatican under disguise before (There is even a story about Pius XII making visits dressed as a Franciscan monk but always accompanied by “Father Montini” and having let The Curia know all the details) but this new Pope was effectively escaping at night and wandering off on his own with no regard to safety or precaution.

The story goes, that like Kappler, Cardinal Tardini suspected, but could not prove, that the new Pope was being, or had been, aided and abetted in this new game of hide and seek by the golfing monsignor, the chief writer to the Holy See who, after all, had been dubbed The Scarlet Pimpernel of The Vatican.

Of course O’Flaherty and indeed the Pope himself denied all such suggestions.

However for Tardini and The Curia, the case of the disappearing Pope was just too much even without proof.

Maybe that is why big Hugh was suddenly made Papal Nuncio to Tanzania and was to be sent to darkest Africa?

Maybe Tardini consulted with Montini and it was decided that helping POW’s escape the Nazi’s was one thing but helping a Pope to escape the Curia was absolutely overstepping the mark and so Hugh had to go!

Maybe, Tardini explained that dealing with one rebel priest who swanned about Rome when he chose to was enough, and that dealing with the wandering Pope as well was just too much!

As mentioned before, quite why Hugh was appointed Papal Nuncio to Tanzania has never been explained but it is known that he would never rank higher than Monsignor and that he came to detest Vatican politics which he knew acted against him.

The massive stroke suffered by Hugh O’Flaherty in 1960 brought about his retiral from the Vatican and saw his eventual return to Ireland and so he never got to Tanzania.

Pope John and his late night solo wanderings continued to cause unprecedented and uncontrollable concerns for Domenico Tardini and unfortunately the poor man suffered a massive heart attack in July 1961 which proved instantly fatal.

Of course, whether Hugh O’Flaherty ever did help John XXIII escape from the Vatican late at night can never been known for sure. However, one thing is absolutely certain.


To improve security, during the period of the Rome escape line, O’Flaherty and his colleagues had resorted to referring to one another by code and gave one another code names. If you recall, O’Flaherty himself was referred to as “Golf”.

Vatican Security had learned a thing or two from the Monsignor and his colleagues and in later years they too gave important personnel code names when referring to them in internal communications.

Following upon his first “disappearance” and until the day he passed away, Pope John XXII, Cardinal Priest Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, would be referred to in secret by Vatican Security Chiefs and by inner Members of the Curia as “Johnny Walker”!

Allegedly, this made one large Irishman with a rich brogue and a penchant for playing golf laugh like hell.



I write these stories purely for my own amusement.

I enjoy hearing and researching any story involving so called “ordinary people” and the remarkable things they do or have done – and there are plenty of them.

I don’t seek to make any money out of these stories and the telling of them is purely a hobby and a pleasure for me, but I do like to know if others have enjoyed any of the tales concerned and whether they have been inspired to visit some of the places mentioned or read further about the people involved.

Please share this story with as many people as possible and if you enjoyed reading it, then I would appreciate it greatly if you could, in return, see fit to donate to the Celtic FC Charity Foundation via whom I am going to complete a charity sleepout on 12th November 2016 with a view to raising money for the homeless and the needy.

You can donate via this link:


Jim McGinley 30th October 2016

The little King of the Park and The Elastico Fantastico!

16 Mar

Rivelino cannon

The Short stocky man sits at a table at the back of the bar. He is balding, paunchy, has bushy dark eyebrows and sports a similarly bushy moustache which is white/grey in colour in contrast to the eyebrows.

He will tell you that he sports the moustache in honour of his father and that he feels naked without it.

Regular processions of people come to the table to shake his hand, kiss his forehead and just get a few words from him. It is a scene befitting of an Italian Godfather as portrayed by Hollywood, and in this instance it is totally appropriate as the man is indeed of Italian ancestry.

At one point, he gets up from his seat, and opens a cage within which a bird of some kind has been squawking. He takes the bird out of the cage, caresses it, talks to it, feeds it, and gently places it back in the cage. He has a fondness for, and an expertise in, birds it seems. Particularly those of the parrot and finch variety.

The man is clearly at home. When he smiles he does so with charismatically wrinkled eyes. He is engaging, constantly laughing and very descriptive in his stories – and he has plenty of stories!

He was born on the first of January 1946.

The first day of the year is said to be the day when the happiest and luckiest people are born and the paunchy man certainly considers himself to have been lucky and he most definitely appears happy with his lot.

He is always ready with a joke and a funny story.

He describes how a former boss once suddenly chased after a professional colleague whilst waving a gun about with the intention of shooting him. This act of potential violence in turn led to the boss man being replaced. “That was lucky for me & things really changed for me then!” he says with a smile and without further explanation.

However, that incident is part way through his story and to understand this man’s unique journey, and indeed his legacy, you have to go back to the start.

Ever since he could remember, the paunchy man loved to play football.

He would play in the city streets with no socks, no shoes and no ball. He and others played with anything that resembled a ball, and they would play till their feet bled, even though they were wrapped in bandages and covered in skin which was as tough as old leather.

From rough unorganised games in the streets, he progressed to indoor football. Five a side games or futsal as it was known locally.

Eventually he would get to play on the big pitch with a full blown eleven a side team. However, it was on the street, and later in those futsal games, where he learned to control a football and move it along with an extraordinary degree of skill, and in ways which the world of football had not seen before.

By the time he was sixteen he was playing for a local team which reached a state final against the youth team from the club that he and his family had always supported and had always adored. It was his dream to play for this club, but on this day and in this match he would do everything he could to defeat them. It was the biggest game of his life.

In the final he played well, really well. In fact he played so well that he caught the eye of the management team of his boyhood heroes who saw a stocky youth, with supreme confidence, unbelievable skills and what appeared to be a magical left foot.

After the game he received a call from one of the club’s directors asking if he would be interested in playing a trial for the club. He accepted at once and was delighted to start training with the club he had always dreamed of playing for.

However, his luck did not hold, and before the third day of his trial, he was told by the club’s coach, Mario Travaglini, that he would not be receiving an offer from the club. He was invited to stay and train if he wanted, but there would be no contract at the end of the sessions.

The young man was angry and declined the offer there and then. He walked out on the club he loved but vowed to forge a career in football – somewhere. Shortly afterwards, he turned up at the gates of the great rivals of the club he and his family had always supported and once again played in trials and impressed.

This time his impressive performances caught the eye of a coach who thought the boy was good enough to take a gamble on. Sure, the player was not the tallest, he would never stand above 5’7”, but he was strong, confident, had an abundance of ability, a fierce shot and that magic left foot.

“What’s your name, son?”

“My name is Roberto – Roberto Rivellino — with two L’s”

For those of a certain era, the very name Roberto Rivellino conjures up a mental image of the short, stocky, tousled haired Brazilian player with the fierce left foot shot and the wildest, craziest, bushiest moustache in the history of football.

And so it should, because Rivellino was a one off visually. No other football player before or since had his look and swagger, nor his crazy arm waving celebrations when he scored a goal. Almost 50 years on since the magic Brazilian played in his pomp, you will find kids in his native Sao Paulo, who were not born when he played, mimicking his style, donning false moustaches, wearing Rivellino wigs and masks, and acting out the manic arm movements he used to celebrate the ball hitting the back of the net.

Almost 50 years on and those who were not born when he played are mimicking him – both on and off the park.

Rivellino was a truly unique talent, and it might surprise some to learn that his impact on the game of football is still very evident, if not actually increasing, to this day. To gauge just how highly “Riva” is regarded you have to listen to the words of those who played with him and against him—and maybe one or two others!

The boyhood club that rejected him was Palmeiras (much to their later regret) and it would be with their great rivals, Corinthians, that “Riva” would make his name and first display his skills.

Having joined the Corinthians’ youth ranks he made his debut with the senior team aged just 18 in 1964 and very quickly he established himself as an absolute favourite with the crowds. In the end he would make 471 appearances for Corinthians over a 9 year period.

Of course, when Rivellino started playing professional football, Brazil were the World Champions having won the Jules Rimet trophy in 1958 and again in 1962.

Amazingly he made his International debut within a year of playing in his first full professional football match forcing his way into a glittering international squad before his 20th Birthday on 21st November 1965. By the time the 1966 World Cup came round he was in and around the group being considered for the trip to England.

However, the then national manager, Vicente Feola, who had led Brazil to success in the World Cup Finals of 1958, decided to leave the young Rivellino out of the final squad which would travel to Europe.

There was no doubt that Feola recognised and appreciated Rivellino’s talent, but the moustachioed player wore the number 10 shirt for his club, was barely out of his teens and well …………. Brazil already had a stocky number 10 called …….. Pele.

Accordingly, the youngster with the mop of hair and the moustache stayed at home while his countrymen jetted off in an attempt to secure their third successive Word Cup.

Of course, it was not to be and Brazil underperformed in England even although their squad boasted many names which would become not only familiar but legendary in the game of Football.

In addition to Pele, the Brazil squad of 1966 boasted Tostao, Gerson, Piazza, Jarzinho, and Brito who were all lined up alongside names such as Garrincha, Djalma Santos, Bellini, Lima and others.

Despite having players like these, Brazil failed to progress beyond the group stages losing 3-1 to Hungary and by the same score to a very physical Portuguese team who boasted the star of the Tournament one Eusébio da Silva Ferreira.

The Brazilian press and public turned on the team that had promised so much and for the next few years that public remained sceptical and critical of the national side and the men who would manage it.

Having failed to defend the World Cup title, Feola stepped down to be replaced by a succession of new managers during a period when the national team seemed to suffer from inconsistency and turmoil off the park.

First up was the man who had taken over from Feola after the World Cup Triumph in 1958 and who lead the team to victory in 1962.

Aymoré Moreira was an unusual character in that he started his professional playing career as a right winger but eventually switched position and became a goalkeeper. He was so successful between the sticks that he became the Brazilian national keeper for an 8 year period between 1932 and 1940.

He had previously managed the National side as far back as 1953 and then again between 1961 and 1963 during which period he successfully retained the World Cup in Chile in 1962.

Accordingly when he was once again appointed as the national team boss after the 1966 World Cup it was his third spell in charge.

By the time he left the post in 1968 he had a fairly impressive record of 61 matches, with 37 wins, 9 draws and 15 losses. He not only won the world cup but various other tournaments on the South American continent as well.

Moreira’s third period in charge did not start auspiciously, especially as the talismanic Pele announced that he was no longer prepared to play International football due to the heavy tackling and rough tactics he had had to endure during the 1966 World cup finals. Pele declared he was no longer interested in representing his country and so Moreira had to rely on other players one of whom would be young Rivellino.

After little over a year in charge however, Moreira was on his way and Brazil were without a manager.

The Brazilian FA then put another goalkeeper in charge for one single game.

The new man was called Dorival Knippel but was known to everyone in Brazil as simply “Yustrich” and much later he was inadvertently to play a major part in the career of Rivellino and have an unintended impact on the fortunes of The Brazilian National team and the way it was viewed by football fans throughout the world.

However, after just that one game, Yustrich was replaced with the most political and technically surprising of appointments in the form of João Alves Jobin Saldanha who took charge of the team at the start of 1969.

Saldanha had barely been a footballer and was considered more of a journalist.

In fact, he was a very good journalist, with an engaging if occasionally crazy personality which made him very difficult to deal with. It is said that the reason he was appointed Brazil manager in the first place was because the then president of the Brazilian FA ( Joao Havelange ) hoped that by appointing a journalist to take charge of the team, the press would desist in their criticism of the FA and the players.

Crazy as it seems, that was how it came to pass that a Sports Journalist became manager of the Brazilian football team just a year before the 1970 World Cup.

For 23 year old Rivellino, the journey between Moreira and Saldanho would be a roller coaster ride of changing emotions with immense highs, and desperate lows.

Having made his international debut in late 1965, Rivellino would wait two and a half years before winning a second cap when he played in a two nil victory over Uruguay in the Copa Rio Branco.

In the intervening period he had become a stalwart of the Corinthians side and had made a reputation for himself as a skilful and explosive attacking midfielder with a brilliant left foot. He had also earned himself a nickname “O Reizinho do Parque” – The little King of the Park, with the park concerned being the name of the Corinthians home stadium, Parque Sao Jorge.

However, despite his brilliant appearances in the number 10 jersey of Corinthians, who were not a good side at the time, he found it difficult to break into the National Team which boasted a wealth of talent such as Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson, Edu, Lima and of course the undisputed holder of the Brazil number 10 jersey – Pele.

At this stage I should explain that the No 10 jersey is revered in South America and elsewhere with the player who wears that number normally being an attacking midfielder or a slightly withdrawn forward who plays just behind the centre forward or No 9.

The No 10 is also traditionally considered to be an honour bestowed on the best player in the team. Hence the No 10 jersey being worn by the likes of Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Puskas, Platini and of course Pele.

Following upon the failure of the 1966 World Cup campaign, and the retirement from International football of Pele, Rivellino got the call from the then manager Aymoré Moreira.

Having been recalled to the squad in 1968, by the end of the calendar year he had played a further 17 times in the international colours scoring 6 goals.

Official records always list him as a midfielder, not a forward, and he played in a midfield role with various players beside him and in front of him in the forward line though it was never really a settled or consistent side.

Moreira’s team won internationals against Uruguay, Poland, Mexico, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Peru and Paraguay. However, there were losses to Czechoslovakia, Mexico, and Paraguay as well as draws with Germany and Yugoslavia at home, so the progress was not startling. While the team played some nice football, the Brazilian public were far from convinced that they had a settled national side which was worthy of wearing the yellow shirt.

After his 10th game in charge, in which Brazil lost 2-1, Moreira pulled off a coupe when he persuaded the great Pele to return to the international stage and lead the forward line along with the diminutive but consistent Tostao. Until that point Moreira had experimented with other strikers such as Edu, Lima and Natal, but none of these could compare to having the threat and excitement of seeing Pele fill the number 10 shirt.

Rivellino and others had contributed key goals from midfield but the side desperately needed a striker to hit the back of the net and create in the forward area consistently, and there was none better than Pele.

Accordingly, it was on 14th July 1968 that Rivellino finally got to play in the national side along with Pele with the latter playing in his usual withdrawn forward role just behind Tostao.

Rivellino, wearing the number 8 shirt, would play the role of an attacking midfielder partnering Gerson and Piazza in the middle of the park at that time.

However, despite relative success, Moreira made way for Saldanho after just over a year, and the new man had very different ideas.

Suddenly, Rivellino found himself frozen out. In the next 13 internationals he made just one appearance and that was coming on as a substitute against Chile where it took him only a matter of moments to score in a 6-2 victory.

Saldanho’s was an altogether different regime to what Brazil had experienced before. He wanted fit players and a player for each position so that his team functioned like a machine in a strict 4-2-4 system.

He also demanded immense preparation, regular national squad training sessions, an adherence to a strict diet and absolute compliance to his playing system.

His approach seemed to be working, on the face of it!

Saldanho’s team won their first nine International matches in a row, and they ran through the qualifying section of the World cup without a single loss. Going by the stats, Brazil were in good shape.

However, if you looked behind the statistics, there was another story altogether.

The Brazil fans were not impressed with the football played by Saldanho’s side. They found it boring, rigid and methodical with little flair.

Further, his regime was becoming increasingly authoritarian with Saldanho openly warring with some of his players, the backroom staff and the Brazilian FA.

As his winning streak progressed, so he became more confident in his position and progressively more outspoken about his team, politics and Brazil in general.

Saldanho was a known communist and for political or genuine sporting reasons he refused to pick a striker by the name of Dario who was a favourite of the President of the Brazil. As the pressure to pick the player continued, Saldanho became more and more outspoken against the regime and this cast a cloud over his successful results.

Worse still, Communism was banned in Brazil and so Saldanho was known to visit other countries, such as Uruguay, and make anti-Government pronouncements while visiting before flying home again and so courted huge controversy within and outwith Brazil.

However, despite all of these idiosyncrasies, it was accepted that his team was winning and as doing well in the World Cup was a matter of national pride, he was allowed to remain in office although the football supporting public appeared to be less than convinced about the abilities of his team.

However, then the wheels came of the Saldanho bogey in the most spectacular fashion and very publicly.

Having qualified for the world cup, Saldanho began a war of attrition with his own team. He became more and more dictatorial, behaving increasingly like an egomaniac.

He laid down strict and mad orders for his team in the preparations for the forthcoming World Cup. He started to dictate when and how the players could change their girlfriends, how often they could have sex, and exactly what diet they would eat.

On the question of diet, he split the squad in two, specifying one group as “the fat boys” and was at pains to limit and dictate their food intake. Pele was included among the “fat boys” and increasingly the players felt humiliated and resentful.

Further, Saldanho then picked a war with Pele in particular saying that he was blind in one eye and questioned whether or not the great striker was up to playing for Brazil at all. Pele insisted that there was nothing wrong with his sight but it was clear that he and others were adversely affected by the strange behaviour of the manager. Saldanho then went on to express the opinion that Gerson, his midfield general, had mental issues and required guidance and counselling. His behaviour had by this time become so unbearable that his No 2 resigned in protest.

All of this was clearly evident on the field of play when a lacklustre Brazil side lost 2-0 at home to their great rivals Argentina on 4th March 1970.

Not surprisingly, there was outrage on the terracing and among the millions watching at home on TV. Further, the press were clearly moving against Saldanho who stubbornly insisted on basing his team around players from Botafogo and Santos to the exclusion of others such as Roberto Rivellino. This insistence on basing the national side on players from just two teams became a running sore and the cause of heavy criticism from sports journalists and football fans within Brazil.

His Brazil team had a chance to redeem themselves just 4 days later in a rematch against the Argentinians which was once again played in Brazil.

In the intervening 4 days, a BBC Panorama crew were allowed access to the Brazil training camp and were able to report to the world that there was major conflict within the camp and that Pele himself was on the verge of quitting the national squad altogether and this time for good.

The BBC crew were there when Brazil overturned the defeat to Argentina by winning the second match 2-1 with goals from Jairzinho and Pele. However, despite the result the play was stagnant and stilted and the partisan crowd, while pleased with the result, were far from impressed with the style and substance of an uninspired and uninspiring national side.

The BBC crew reported that the result might not be enough to quell the growing criticism of Saldanho.

And it is here that fate played a hand in the career of Roberto Rivellino who was the forgotten man of the Brazilian national side.

One of Saldanho’s open critics was his immediate predecessor Dorival Yustrich, the man who had been in charge of Brazil for just one game. By this time, Yustrich was the manager of Flamengo, one of the biggest clubs In Rio, and when Saldanho heard of Yustrich’s outspoken criticism he chose to confront him in the most outrageous of fashions. He ordered his driver into his Brazilian FA vehicle and told him to set out for the Flamengo training ground where he thought Yustrich was to be found. The driver apparently asked him why he was carrying a gun but did not succeed in persuading the national coach into rethinking his mission. Once at the training ground, Saldanho simply marched in and started looking for Yustrich while waving the gun about. Apparently he met a Flamengo player whilst walking through the building and when he was confronted by the player and asked what he was doing, he simply told the player to stay out of his way or he would shoot him! Eventually, having failed to find Dorival Yustrich, Saldanho had the gun taken from him and then left without shooting anyone. However, that march with the gun more or less sealed his fate as the national coach.

This behaviour, his open communism, the loss to Argentina, the resignation of his No 2 and the festering feud with Pele and others was too much and so the President of the Brazilian FA simply disbanded the entire National coaching squad and then set about appointing a new one without Signor Saldanho.

However, before we leave the remarkable and outspoken Saldanho it would be unfair to leave the reader with the impression that the former manager disappeared quietly into the night.

After Brazil, he never managed any other football team but went back to his chosen profession of journalist. His dry and outspoken style was a huge hit in Brazil and he went on to be a very popular if occasionally crazy and outrageous TV pundit and reporter. Amazingly he became a huge critic of the “Europeanisation” of the Brazil team and despised the team’s more tactical play in later years despite the fact that his own Brazil team had been very tactical and lacked a degree of creative flair.

A lifelong chain-smoker who effectively survived for years on one lung, Saldanho died from progressive cancer whilst in Rome covering the 1990 World Cup. He was a unique character, but there is no doubt that had he remained in charge Brazil would never have won the world cup in 1970.

For that tournament, the Brazilian FA turned to the former international winger Mario Zagallo who had won the Jules Rimet trophy as a player in 1958 and 1962. The FA had approached other managers but they all declined the job believing that Brazil had no chance in Mexico and that what they were being offered was a poisoned chalice of a job.

Eventually, Havelange was able to persuade Zagallo to take the job.

Small and bespectacled, Zagallo was immediately nicknamed “the professor” and later “The Wolf”.

Unbelievably, the new manager was given the job just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup and inherited both the good and the bad from Saldanho. The good was the meticulous preparations Saldanho had made for the tournament in Mexico. Nothing had been left to chance at the chosen Brazil training camp and everything from the training pitch to the food to the scientifically redesigned shirts (they were made to measure for each player and had special sweat absorbent collars) was organised to the nth degree.

However, the “bad” was that Saldanho had left a team which played a rigid 4-2-4, was not convincing in its execution of the chosen tactics, lacked confidence, marale and togetherness, and was viewed as having no chance whatsoever of winning the world cup.

Zagallo, in direct contrast to the philosophy of his predecessor, stated at the outset that he wanted to play the best players possible instead of the best system. He wanted the football team to be exciting, inspiring and most of all attacking. But how was he to achieve this?

For a start he dropped Wilson Piazza back into defence alongside Brito and effectively transformed a defensive midfielder into a ball carrying defender.

Next, he slightly changed the role of the talented Clodoaldo and chose to promote him from the bench to partner the clever Gerson in midfield.

Gerson was not the most physical or the most mobile of players but he was clever and demanded inclusion in the team. By pairing him with Clodoaldo, who was much more of an athlete, it allowed Gerson to be much more effective.

However, the key decision in the opinion of many was to consult the senior players in the squad about the changes to be made. Whilst undoubtedly his own man, Zagallo recognised that there was no point in having experienced players such as Pele, Carlos Alberto, Gerson, Jairzinho and others if you did not consult them and listen to their opinions.

It may surprise some to learn that to a man the senior players, when asked about what should be done to improve the effectiveness and style of the team, were unanimous in their recommendation. Individually and quite separately they all recommended that somehow, somewhere a place had to be found in the team for 24 year old Roberto Rivellino – he was that important!

It is when you listen to the testimony of players who played alongside Rivellino that you begin to grasp the quality of the footballer concerned.

The 1970 World Cup was to be the first major tournament that was televised in colour and so it seemed that the game itself was suddenly bigger and better and more exciting than it had ever been, with the worldwide footballing public being treated to not only colour pictures but replays and minute by minute analysis for the first time.

Further, for many watching in Europe this would be the first time that they had the chance to see many of the world stars including the unbelievable Brazilians, many of whom were unknown in Europe. In particular, the tousled haired guy with the moustache was a bit of a mystery as he had not featured under Saldanho and so to many outside Brazil he was unknown and so they did not know what to expect.

However, the Brazilian players themselves, and some knowledgeable others, knew that Rivellino was a truly special talent.

One of these was Franz Beckenbaur who had played against Rivellino twice in the space of a few days in 1968 when he played against Brazil for a FIFA select and later for Germany in a friendly. Even although Brazil had fielded Jairzinho, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, Pele and various other well-known players, one particular player caught Beckenbaur’s eye. Before the 1970 World Cup he was asked what he thought of Brazil and commented “Well we know they have Pele – but now we know they have Rivellino too….In 1968 I came to watch Pele, but ended up watching Rivellino” Clearly in the Kaiser’s eyes the moustachioed one was the one to watch.

Back in the Brazilian camp, the praise of Rivellino as a player was unstinting and unqualified.

Players such as Carlos Alberto, Lima, Felix and various others all speak of what Rivellino brought to the football pitch,

First, there was his unbelievable close control of the football. He could stop the ball, move it, beat a man either at pace or while seemingly walking. Carlos Alberto would later say that in terms of ball technique, his dribbling and retention of the football it was almost hard to describe fully just how skilful he was.

Second, there was his ferocious shooting power especially with the left foot. Players from Brazil all knew that Rivellino could not be given any space at all anywhere around the edge of the penalty box as he would simply find a way to unleash one of those cannon ball shots which invariably meant a goal or led to a goal as the goalkeeper would not be able to hold the ball and would spill it.

Thirdly, he was arguably the best passer of a ball in the Brazilian team of 1970 – the other contender being Gerson – and probably one of the best passers of the football in the world at that time and for years to come. There is video footage of Rivellino using that left foot almost like a sand wedge. He would ping the ball about with slice, backspin or side spin with the result that the ball would bend, float, accelerate, stop , sit up and appear at the feet of players as if by magic. He would play long passes, short passes, give and goes and intricate short one twos long before Xavi or Iniesta were even born.

Fourthly, he was strong and muscular, could tackle, fight for a fifty fifty ball and either get to or get away from an opposition player with surprising strength and pace, and despite his 5 foot 7 inches he was no shrinking violet!

Zagallo had other left sided players to choose from, all of whom were very good players indeed – Ademir da Guia, Dirceu Lopes, Paulo César Caju – but none of them were Rivellino and everyone knew it.

However, to really appreciate just how good a player Roberto Rivellino was you only have to listen to one of his greatest admirers for no more than a few minutes or a few sentences, and even then some of the comments and the nature of the observations and opinions expressed might surprise some.

When it comes to talking Rivellino there is no better person to listen to than Pele.

As mentioned above, by 1970 Pele had already quit international football but had been persuaded to return to the National squad at the age of 29.

However, after the sacking of Saldanho few in Brazil believed that the national squad would get beyond the group stages of the 1970 World Cup where they were in a group which also featured England the holders, Czechoslovakia the European Champions – who had beaten Brazil twice in recent years – and Romania who were regarded as a very good side.

However, under Zagallo, Pele and Brazil rediscovered their mojo so to speak and the great striker is only too clear as to where Roberto Rivellino featured in that transformation.

“Rivellino was simply one of the greatest midfielders ever to play for Brazil. He had incredibly skilful technique and was unbelievably skilful especially with his left foot. People said that he and I could not play together because we both played in similar positions – both wearing the number 10 –  and so Zagallo decided to find a place for him out on the left and make no mistake it was the inclusion of Roberto Rivellino that made that Brazil team complete or made it whole.”

Pele goes on to talk about all the usual plaudits that one hears when talking Rivellino – his dribbling, his passing, his shooting – but then he goes on to add more:

“Rivellino also brought something else. He was an incredibly intelligent footballer. He had great vision and was very clever in seeing where other players were and was able to see where the game was going before anyone else realised.”

This is something that is echoed by Roberto Carlos: “Rivellino was very tactically astute and very clever. He was asked to perform a role by Zagallo and he was fantastic at it and was so important for us as a team”

Pele again: “He had great discipline and tactical sense. That was one of his greatest qualities.”

In short, playing Rivellino on the left was Zagallo’s stroke of genius yet in retrospect no one should have been surprised.

Zagallo himself had been a left winger and a very effective one for Brazil. He was known for both his attacking and his defensive qualities but at times was no doubt overshadowed by the immense talent of Garrincha on the right wing. Zagallo had only a fraction of Garrincha’s skill and flair but made up for it with sheer hard work and a tactical knowledge of the game. Some said that he was the luckiest Brazilian on earth to have won two world cup winners medals as a player, as he was not the most skilful Brazilian of the time, but they ignore the fact that Zagallo made teams better and more effective by way of his hard work and his tactical knowledge on the left hand side of the pitch.

In Roberto Rivellino, Zagallo had the opportunity to play a far more skilful player than he had ever been in a role which he understood perfectly.

And so it came to pass that Rivellino moved left to fit into a team which some said boasted the 5 No 10’s.

Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele, Gerson and Rivellino.

While the physical and mobile Clodoaldo protected and helped Gerson at the back of midfield, so Rivellino would use all his intelligence to dictate the shape of play on the left hand side of the field which in turn allowed Gerson lots of room to roam forward into space. When he did so, it would be Rivellino who would drop back slightly and inside to provide defensive cover or to collect the ball if it broke loose and so start an attack all over again.

Brazil had played a strict 4-2-4 under Saldanho, but with Rivellino in the team the formation easily shifted between 4-2-4, 4-3-3, 3-3-4 and even 3-2-5 on occasion.

Pele is unequivocal: “The attack line of Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivellino and me was irresistible and unstoppable. No team could deal with that”.

Yet within 18 minutes of the first game against Czechoslovakia, Brazil were a goal behind and it looked as if the doubters back home in Brazil were justified in their scepticism.

Then, in the 24th minute, Brazil were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty box and so the TV watching world was introduced to the fearsome left foot of Roberto Rivellino.

The resulting free kick was hit with such ferocity that the Brazilian number 11 was given a new name – “Il Patada Atómica” (The Atomic Kick) by the Mexican fans and press. The ball was struck with such force that it hit the back of the net as if fired from a rocket. The big goalkeeper, Viktor, who was absolutely sensational for the Czech’s throughout the tournament, had managed to get a hand on the ball but was unable to stop it due to the ferocious pace of the shot and was left sprawling and bewildered on the ground. As the keeper looked around him and appeared somewhat dazed, the TV cameras and the viewers throughout the world were treated to the wild arm swinging goal celebrations that were to become yet another trademark of the man with the biggest moustache in football.

From that moment onwards, the Brazilian team of the 1970 World Cup would not look back. They were simply immense.

Jairzinho would end up as top scorer and Pele would deliver moments of genius and memorable goals including his 100th goal which came in the final from a Rivellino cross. The most famous moment of the entire tournament was when the Brazilian number 10 actually didn’t score after dummying the play by ignoring the ball as it came across the penalty box at an angle, and instead ran around the advancing Romanian goal keeper only to collect the ball on the other side and just miss the far side post with a first time shot when the goal was at his mercy.

And all the while, throughout the entire tournament, rigidly sticking to the left touchline, other than when he was given the signal to roam, was Roberto Rivellino.

“Look at the number of goals we scored which were created from the left hand side?” says Pele making a point.

Even Carlos Alberto’s great goal in the final was fashioned all down the left hand side. Everyone talks about Clodoaldo weaving and jinking past 3 or 4 Italian tackles with the score at 3-1 when taking the ball out of defence. However, the big Brazilian midfielder is a man on a mission at that moment because if you look at the move again you will see that he is beating the oncoming attackers with only one intention in mind. He wants to go left!

Despite constantly moving forward when he releases the ball Clodoaldo is well within his own half and he playys a short pass to the left touchline where he finds the deep lying Rivellino.

If you watch the entire move for that goal you will see that Rivellino strikes the longest pass in the move from exactly the half way line. He bends the ball up the touchline some 25 yards taking out the entire Italian midfield with a pass that has been described as “luxurious”.

The ball lands at the feet of Jairzinho who for some inexplicable reason has abandoned his normal right wing position and has wandered to the left touchline. He starts to run with it across the pitch. The right back tries to tackle and misses, with the result that the right centre back now has to advance and the remainder of the Italian defence all move across to that side of the pitch like well-trained robots.

By the time the ball comes to Pele he already knows that Carlos Alberto is tearing up the Brazilian right and as everyone knows his simple lay off is sublime.

The Brazilian captain runs on to the ball like a steam train and thunders the ball into the back of the net!

There were no Italians there to block him; they had all gone to the Brazilian left.

According to some, including the Brazilian players, it was the presence and the ability of Rivellino that forced the game and the shape of the play left and allowed Brazil to capitalize on the space created on the right.

Rivellino himself would score three important goals in the tournament, all from outside the penalty box, but it was his tactical and technical ability mixed with his individualistic creativity and flair which really made a difference to the Brazil squad of 1970.

One of his goals came against the talented Peru side which was managed by former Brazilian legend Didi. Speaking of Rivellino, he had told his team to try and prevent him from being able to shoot at all costs.

After that first game against Czechoslovakia and before Brazil played England, Pele was asked by the press if Rivellino was going to be a world star? Repeating what he had told Zagallo before the Brazilian party had left for Mexico the great man said simply “Rivellino is a world star already!”

Hugh McIlvanney reporting from Mexico made this observation on the seemingly new discovery with the bushy moustache and atomic shot.

“The new menace that had emerged since England lost narrowly to Brazil in Rio a year previously was Rivellino. He had the handsome, moustachioed and side burned face of a playboy but his body was thickly athletic and the legs bulged with power. On the field his left foot looked dainty enough to put a match football in an eggcup but the shots when they came were intimidatingly violent.”

For the game against England, Brazil would have to play without Gerson who was injured. The England midfield at the time was considered very strong and included the legendary Bobby Charlton who was partnered by Martin Peters, Alan Ball and Alan Mullery.

With Gerson out what was Zagallo to do?

The answer was simple, he would allow Roberto Rivellino to play in his favoured role in midfield in direct opposition to Bobby Charlton and introduced Paulo Cesar on the left wing.

It turned out to be a classic match with the battle between Rivellino and Charlton being described as fascinating.

Brazil would win by a single goal from Jarzinho although England would have their chances as Brito and Piazza looked shaky at the back.

A later analysis of the game points out that Bobby Charlton was replaced after 70 minutes of duelling with Rivellino, who was clearly having the upper hand in midfield especially in the second half, and that after 10 minutes Martin Peters had ceased to be a force in the game at all. The three top rated players for Brazil in the game were Jairzinho, Pele and Rivellino.

By the time the all-conquering Brazilians lifted the Jules Rimet trophy for the third time, football as the TV spectating fan knew it had changed forever.

For a start, most of the watching public had never seen anything like a step over before and the first time it was seen around the globe on live television it was performed by Roberto Rivellino who seemed to do things at a pace that was hard to comprehend.

That was just one of his tricks.

The most often copied, however, is a move that almost bears his signature and is still being perfected and changed to this day.

Rivellino maintains that he is not the inventor of the flip flap, or the “Elastico Fantastico” as it is known but he is undoubtedly the person who singlehandedly introduced the move into International football and inspired countless numbers of others to attempt the move over the intervening decades.

Some, like Pele, were never able to master the technique at all and gave up trying. He laughs at the thought of Rivellino performing the move in training before the world cup and at his own inability to perform the manoevre. With Rivellino, however, Pele describes the ball as simply being glued to his foot.

If you are not sure of the “elastico”, just think of someone rolling their foot over the football, making it go one way but then suddenly moving it the opposite way and so wrong-footing the opposing defender.

Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho come to mind in the modern era but they only know of the move because of Rivellino.

There are various pieces of footage of Rivellino performing the trick including the 1970 world cup final where he uses it to “nutmeg” one of the Italians. At times he has performed the elastico while running and on other occasions he simply stands stock still and goads the defender like a matador with a bull. The result is that the defender jumps in and before he knows it the ball that was going one way has gone another with the moustachioed matador suddenly nowhere to be seen.

One of those who watched the world cup of 1970 and who was in absolute awe of the stocky Brazilian was a young Harry Redknapp. Writing much later about the 1970 world cup he said;

“We’d never seen anyone do the Roberto Rivellino move before! He would take the ball up to an opponent, put his foot on the inside as if to go outside him and then, at the last moment, step over it and move off in the opposite direction. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Defenders were going six yards the wrong way, and everyone at home was asking the same question: how did he do that? I can remember the TV panel slowing the footage down so they could study how it was done? Now everybody tries it – Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – but Rivellino was the first to do the flip flap, ……..”

“Even footballers try to imitate the greats. I think when we reported back for training that summer, everyone was trying, secretly, to see if they could do the stepover like Rivellino. I mastered it in the end but never at the speed he managed it.”

After the 1970 World Cup final, the Italian press complained that the result in the final would have been different had Rivellino been playing for Italy. They argued that given his Italian grandparents he should have been wearing the blue of the Azzurri. However, the 24 year old went back to his native Brazil and Corinthians with his world cup winner’s medal and a whole host of new fans.

At Corinthians he was treated as a hero – The Little King — and was the shinning jewel in the team. Unfortunately, the rest of the team were not remotely of the same standard and in his time with the club he won nothing whatsoever.

Despite their star midfielder, Corinthians were not a good team and when they lost a state final in 1974 to their great rivals, Palmeiras, and in a country fuelled full of superstitions, Rivellino was blamed for being some kind of hoodoo or unlucky charm.

After that losing final and a nine year stay at the club, he walked out of the ground with his coat turned up and never returned to the park where he had been king.

In the interim, he was a stalwart of the new Brazilian team which now had to move on after the retiral of the great Pele and others.

It is said that Rivellino is singlehandedly responsible for dragging a pretty dreadful Brazil to a creditable fourth place in the 1974 world cup.

The 1974 national team were nothing like the team of 1970. Jairzinho was still there but he was no longer the fast strong hurricane of a player from 4 years before and the players around him were not of the same calibre as the heady days of Mexico.

However, Rivellino was there and now he was in the middle of the park and not confined to the left hand side. Once again he scored three goals in the finals – enough to make him his country’s top scorer in the tournament.

Just as he was at Corinthians, in the 1974 World Cup finals he was seen as almost a one man team.

He pomped and preened his way through the tournament with some majestic football that was awe inspiring. In the intervening years he had helped Brazil to some memorable victories in South America in minor tournaments and friendlies, but at the really top level his country was found wanting and in particular their tactics were seen as far too negative and counter attacking which didn’t suit the style of football that Rivellino had come to represent.

There was a new dawn in world football and the Brazilians would lose out in the semi-finals to Johan Cruyff’s wonderful Dutch team despite Rivellino himself being excellent. They would also lose the third place play-off game to Poland who were the surprise team of the tournament.

However, it was widely accepted that Riva was the midfielder of the tournament.

In 1974, whilst still at Corinthians, Rivellino would score a goal that was described as “the miracle goal” in the Brazilian press. The goal was not, of course, a miracle but did show the combination of quick thinking, tactical astuteness, skill and vision for which Rivellino had become known in his home land.

As he and a Corinthians team mate kicked off the start of the match, Rivellino noticed that the opposition goalkeeper was otherwise engaged. Some reports say that the goalkeeper was praying, others say that he was speaking to a photographer at the side of the goal just as the game commenced. Either way, Roberto Rivellino noticed that the keeper was not paying attention and upon receiving the ball from the kick-off he thundered the ball towards the goal from behind the half way line with a swing of his mighty left foot.

He was never officially awarded the accolade of the fastest goal in history as there was simply no means of recording the feat at the time but some reports say that the ball struck the net in less than three seconds from the sound of the first whistle. All that is known is that the goalkeeper did not know that the shot had even been struck and that his first knowledge of the game being underway was when he was alerted to the fact that the ball was in the back of the net.

In Brazil, and South America generally, the goal took Rivellino’s reputation to a new level, and it perhaps explains another phenomenon that was to occur not long after.

When he lost in the state final with Corinthians, Rivellino left the ground of the club he had served for over 9 years without knowing that he would never return as a Corinthians player.

The next he knew was that he was being sold to Fluminense who played in Rio De Janeiro and where he would have the most spectacular effect even before he had kicked a football.

In Rio, carnival is king and when Mardi Gras time comes the football stadiums lie empty as nothing can compete with “Carnival”.

However, his new employers decided that Rivellino would make his debut for Fluminense at the Maracanã on the first Saturday of carnival. The game concerned was a friendly against Corinthians and was no doubt part of the transfer deal between the two clubs. To play a pretty meaningless friendly on the Saturday of Mardi Gras was a decision which was widely thought of as crazy, but nonetheless that was when the game was scheduled to be played. It was widely thought that no one would come to watch.

Amazingly, over 100,000 spectators came to the game that day. This was so completely unusual that it was worthy of comment on the national news and when offering an explanation as to why so many people had gone to a football match on a day when nobody goes to see a game, the pundits were unanimous in their explanation – Rio de Janeiro had turned out to see Roberto Rivellino!

And what a show they were given?

Playing against the club which had so recently released him, the moustachioed midfielder put on a masterclass for the benefit of those watching and scored a spectacular hatrick in the process.

Now, Rivellino would get his winners medals. Playing in a team that boasted players in every position who were either current Brazilian internationals or who had been Brazilian internationals, Rivellino’s Fluminense would win titles, cups, and trophies by the bucketful.

Over the next few years, Roberto Rivellino virtually held a weekly masterclass in midfield football.

His Fluminense team waltzed past opponents with such relentlessness that in a country where giving someone or something a nickname is second nature they were deemed “A Macquina Tricolore” – The Tri Coloured Machine.

The line-up for this team – deemed one of the greatest if not the greatest Brazilian club sides of all time included Felix in goal, fullbacks Marco Antonio and Carlos Alberto, Edinho, Neto,  Paulo César, Dirceu, Gil, Doval and various others who would all command International recognition.

Rivellino was not so much the engine room of that machine but more the rhythm section of a truly sensational band, and he himself was the chief soloist.

The passing, the ball skills, the close control technique were all on show at their best as he teased, dominated, conducted, dictated and orchestrated his team mates and the game in general.

He won two state championships back to back and collected numerous other trophies with Fluminense prompting one former International team mate to comment that in that period he collected more trophies than any one man could carry.

The victories at that time included what was billed as a game between the two greatest club sides in the world with the Brazilians facing a Bayern Munich side which boasted Beckenbaur, Muller, Hoeness, Rummenigge and all the others who made Bayern top dogs in Europe.

The game resulted in a 1-0 victory for the Brazilian side with Gerd Muller scoring an own goal when trying to track back to cover a Fluminense attack. However, the ball only hit the back of the net after Rivellino had “flipped flapped” Beckenbaur and the rest of the defence and played a superb ball through for a team mate which would undoubtedly have resulted in a goal anyway had Muller not stuck out a foot.

In Brazil it was reported that the 1-0 result did not reflect the true nature of the game and that Fluminense were so dominant that they could have clearly won by 4 or 5 goals or even more.

In talking about his time at Fluminense, Edinho describes Rivellino as just sensational in their midfield. The range of passes, the ability to read the game, the spectacular goals and the tricks, flips and flaps were all on show and had the crowd on their feet week after week.

Fluminense toured Europe and won an invitation only tournament in Paris where they defeated Paris St Germain with two goals from Rivellino and then went on to defeat a European team which was made up of various stars from across the continent.

The French press declared Rivellino as the greatest player in the world at the time.

Ironically, in Fluminense’s second great year, 1976, their manager was Mario Travaglini who had told the young Rivellino that he would not be offered a contract at Palmeiras all those years before.

On the international front, 1976 saw Brazil invited to play in a 4 team competition in the United States as part of that countries bi – centennial celebrations. Besides Brazil, the other teams to play were England, Italy and an American league team made up of players from many countries who were now playing “soccer” in the USA. This team included Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Bobby Moore among others.

Both England and Italy were at full strength while there were two notable features about the Brazil team.

The first was that they had a new Captain in Roberto Rivellino and the second was that Rivellino himself had a new young, raw, skinny, long haired midfield partner called Artur Antunes Coimbra. To avoid confusion within his family where there were a few “Arturs”, this young Artur was given a family nickname “Arturzico” and this nickname was then further shortened to Zico.

The American league team were not up to much and so the competition came down to Brazil, England and Italy. Indeed, at the end of the game one of the English born players playing in the American team, a chap called Eddy Keith, was so star struck at playing on the same park as the Brazilian captain he ran the full length of the park to try and swap shirts with Rivellino only to find the little king of the park exchanging shirts with Bobby Moore!

The Italian team which faced Brazil was very strong with a starting line-up of Zoff, Facchetti, Bellugi, Benetti, Antognoni, Tardelli, Capello, Causio, Graziani, Pulici and Rocca. Later they would bring on Roberto Bettiga and Eraldo Pecci among others.

Brazil, fielded a slightly experimental side featuring the midfield trio of the wily old Rivellino surrounded by the younger pairing of the attacking Zico and the more defensive Falcao.

Fabio Capello opened the scoring for Italy but the Italians eventually succumbed to a 4-1 defeat which could have been more.

Zico scored a great goal from midfield after Gil had scored two excellent goals stemming from superb Rivellino passes, and the big Brazilian forward Roberto added a fourth.

However, there is a video piece on you tube which shows the performance of Roberto Rivellino in this game that is worth the watching, principally for Riva’s passing exhibition against a very good Italian midfield, but also for the fun of watching world class footballers become so frustrated with his posing, strutting and general micky taking that they resort to pure unadulterated physical violence of the crudest kind.

Rivellino himself is shown as no soft touch, but his swagger and deliberate tormenting of the Italian midfield is something to behold.

The first Brazilian goal in this game comes from a Rivellino pass which almost defies belief as he sends the ball fully fifty yards through the heart of the pitch. The ball seems to bend first one way and then the other cutting out five Italian players before landing at his team mate’s feet in the penalty box.

However such a pass was apparently common place for Roberto Rivellino and his side went on to defeat England and the American league team to lift the trophy.

Rivellino was still playing international football in 1978 and featured in the world cup qualifying campaign and friendly matches in the lead up to the world cup finals in Argentina.

While he did travel with Brazil to the 1978 world cup, he did not feature much as he was carrying an injury and it is a world cup the great man does not remember with relish despite playing very well in the third place play-off game.

However, a relatively poor Brazil did succeed in coming third in Argentina though back in Rio the very thought of Argentina getting their hands on the new World Cup trophy was enough to cause great public angst and the 1978 finals marked a need for change of thinking within the Brazilian FA.

As a player on the international stage, Rivellino’s time had come and gone, however in many respects his noticeable long lasting influence was only just beginning. The great, but ultimately unsuccessful, Brazil side of 1982 would have more than a touch of Rivellino’s flair and swagger about them which is not surprising as most of that team had grown up watching the side of 1970 and had been inspired by the beautiful football it played.

I had sat and watched the 1970 World Cup on the television in glorious Technicolor like millions of other spectators. As has been mentioned above, few Europeans knew anything about Brazil other than that the great Pele played for the country, but beyond that they could have been a one man team as far as a European public was concerned.

Whilst the whole team impressed and Pele’s iconic smile became ever more famous, it was the “other” Brazilian players who were somehow a surprise.

The powerful and tricky Jairzinho ended up top scorer with a goal in every game. Tostao and Gerson were heralded for their clever contributions and Carlos Alberto scored the greatest world cup goal of all time.

However, Rivellino’s moustache, trickery, craziness, passing, creativity and his shooting prowess made him a viewer’s favourite and not just in in Europe either. As Harry Redknapp would later point out, the greatest coaching vehicle in the world for anyone – particularly kids – is to see great players doing what they do, and just as Johann Cruyff would 4 years later, Rivellino lit up the world cup with his ball tricks, step overs and elastico fantasticos firing the imagination of kids and adults all over the world.

Thousands of ten year olds like me were glued to the TV back in South America and one in particular is in no doubt what and who was most memorable and inspirational. Many years later he would recall the 1970 world cup with these words:

‘When I was a kid I used to watch Brazil play. I wasn’t bothered about what Pele was doing, though. I used to watch out for Rivellino, on the other side of the pitch. He was everything I wanted to be as a player. His dribbling was flawless, his passes perfect and his shots unstoppable. And he did everything with his left foot. It didn’t matter if his right foot was only good to stand on, because there was nothing he couldn’t do with his left. To me it was beautiful. He was my idol.’

To be fair, Rivellino’s right foot was for more than standing up in, as in the 1970 final against Italy it was with his right foot that he thundered a shot off the bar and you only have to see his right foot volley against Botafogo while playing for Fluminense to realise that it was no mean footballing weapon in its own right.

However, the kid who watched back then only saw a stocky left footed guy who could do everything with that left – run, dribble, tackle, pass, shoot and control the game despite being below average height and with apparently just the one foot.

The kid was called Diego Maradona and he has since repeatedly made it clear that Roberto Rivellino was the footballer that he always wanted to be!

From the mid 70’s onwards, South America produced a succession of midfielders who all pay homage to the football of the one and only “Riva”.

Osvaldo Ardilles, Socrates, Maradona, Zico, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Juninho, Rivaldo, Riquelme, Carlos Valderrama and many more in between and since, all eventually talk about what they saw in Roberto Rivellino that made them want to be the footballers they became. Strikers such as Romario and Ronaldo also talk of Rivellino as an inspiration in terms of ball control and shooting for goal.

Ronaldinho in particular liked the Rivellino style of play. “I used to dream of being Roberto Rivellino” he says. “I would watch endless videos of him and wanted to be left footed like him, do tricks like him. He was, and still is, one of my greatest idols and heroes.”

The use of the elastico fantastico was taken to a new level by the tall and muscular Brazilian between his time at PSG and at Barcelona where he used the move at spectacular speed and with devastating effect.

As has been pointed out, today, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and of course Lionel Messi all use moves and dribbles that many first saw with Rivellino and which were later passed on by many others like Zico, Socrates and Maradona.

However, the comparisons do not stop there because as Pele said one of Rivellino’s greatest talents was his tactical awareness, his discipline and his ability to control the game and see where it is going.

Whilst it was not evident in the 1970 world cup where he was deployed more on the left wing, in his more central role in later years – particularly when with Fluminense – Rivellino became the rhythm section of his team by conducting a series of short sharp passes in seemingly tight areas of the pitch while surrounded by opponents. It was something he learned on the streets of Sao Paulo.

He would get the ball, give it, get it back and give it again whilst all the time controlling the direction of the play and the fate of the football, knocking it about with spin, slice and pace like a golfer with a wedge or a tennis player with a tennis racquet.

The pattern of play adopted by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and by Messrs Xavi and Iniesta in particular can find their pure roots in the footballing brain and instinctive style of play of Roberto Rivellino.

An adaptation of that passing style of play and the constant movement into space was a key part of the total football system so advocated by Rinus Michaels and performed brilliantly by Johan Cruyff. Cruyff would later take the “system” to Barcelona and instil it into their training regimes with the youth teams in particular being trained to run into space to receive the ball and then give it back.

Roberto Rivellino would openly say of the Dutch World Cup team that they brought a new style of football to the tournament and that they had to be admired for that.

However, 4 years before the Dutch entertained the world with their system, Roberto Rivellino, as an individual, was playing football in exactly the same way having learned the same lesson on the streets of Sao Paulo and using his footballing instinct and unbelievable skills. Get it, pass it, move and get it again and repeat.

One footballing article I have read suggests that Rivellino was the most influential South American footballer of his generation and perhaps of the past 50 years! And it cannot be denied that the influence of South American players on European Football has grown increasingly since the 1978 World Cup with ball players and entertainers becoming real supertsars within the game.

When his days at Fluminense had come to an end, his old International boss, Mario Zagallo, signed him for a club he was managing in Saudi Arabia and it was there that Rivellino saw out his professional career.

He was still scoring spectacular goals, and making the crowds gasp with his skill and artistry but the fitness was going and his time on the pitch was coming to an end. However, the goals and the tricks were in evidence in abundance and as the standard of player he played against dropped in comparison to World cups and the Brazilian domestic league, so Rivellino would conjure up ever more fantastic feats in Saudi Arabia.

In the course of winning three successive league titles there, he would score free kicks from forty yards out, play sublime passes and generally flip flapped and back heeled to the cheers of the crowd who came to watch in their thousands.

In South America, in particular, the Rivellino legend shows no sign of diminishing. In January 2015 the Argentinian midfielder Juan Ramon Riquelme announced that he was retiring from football after a stellar career.

There is no doubt that Riquelme was a terrific footballer and given that he was a gifted midfielder comparisons to others from the past were inevitable.

One such comparison was with Rivellino and stated that the Brazilian was the left footed or “southpaw” equivalent of the right footed Argentinian Riquelme.

The reaction from some was very heated and immediate. While most admired the talented Riquelme many did not think he was worthy of comparison at all to Rivellino stating that it was like comparing Monday to Friday. They are both days of the week but at different ends of the spectrum and that the very comparison was an insult to Rivellino.

“Riquelme is a great player, but it’s not fair to compare him to the genius that was Roberto Rivellino” said one critic with another adding unkindly that the only comparison that could be made would be to say that Riquelme was an overrated midfielder compared to Rivellino simply being an underrated genius!

The point is that almost 50 years on, In South America no matter how good you are you are not likely to outshine the reputation of Roberto Rivellino.

When he eventually retired and returned to Brazil “Riva” bought a petrol station but had to give that up because his ownership caused endless traffic jams. Motorists would queue for hours to get petrol just in the hope that their tank would be filled up by the great man and they could catch a few words.

However, his great love was always football and he never forgot the days when he was dirt poor and when he and his friends had to play with no shoes, no socks and no ball.

In due course, he was persuaded to write his autobiography, the title of which said everything about his entire philosophy on football, what was most important in his football career and perhaps about life in general

It was called simply “Get out of the street Roberto!” and is a reference to the regular call that came every night from his mother when trying to persuade her son to come into the house and stop playing football.  In it he states categorically that “… the streets formed me as a man and a footballer” and that his entire being, all his success and his attitude to life in general was shaped by the experiences of his childhood on the streets of Sao Paulo.

This belief and overriding attitude also explains why he built the Roberto Rivellino soccer school for children right in the middle of his native city, one of the most densely populated cities on earth. Barely a square foot of the city is not built upon and developed, yet today, in the heart of an ever growing concrete jungle, there are some football pitches  ( grass and Astroturf ) which bear the great man’s name and where kids can come and learn their football skills under the tutelage of Rivellino approved coaches and sessions.

He is adamant that the ever continuing development of the cities of Brazil have ignored the “street education of children” leading to a reduction in the amount of street football and a consequential deterioration in the ball skills among the young men and women of today.  The result, he argues, is that Brazil now produces far fewer footballers with real natural talent, and he passionately rails against such a situation. He further argues that if older guys like him gained raw basic skills in unorganised games played in urban open spaces and then progressed to provide the beautiful football of the 1970 World Cup team, then why can’t that lesson be replicated and maintained throughout Brazil ( and the rest of the world ) rather than be allowed to die under the auspices of so called progressive inner city development?

Today, as he heads towards his 70’s, he is a regular TV pundit on football and he hosted one famous show with Maradona where they talked football, football and football.

He owns the bar mentioned at the start of this piece and is treated by the public as an iconic godfather like figure with people coming to visit him virtually all the time.

In 1989 he came out of retirement and helped a seniors Brazil side to the title of World Cup of Masters where he scored in the final against Uruguay thus becoming the first player in history to have won the world cup and the senior’s world cup.

He is not averse to being commercial and knows what he is worth in terms of media contracts, yet at the same time the small balding paunchy man is neither a big head nor a braggart and as mentioned above he is a street footballing socialist.

His name appears regularly in polls of “the greatest” conducted by football magazines, UEFA, FIFA, retired players and sports journalists with monotonous regularity and for all sorts of different skills.

He has been voted as one of the greatest number tens of all time and is mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Platini, Zidane, Puskas, Maradona, Baggio, Hagi, Messi and Matthaus and at one point was voted as the fourth greatest footballer ever to come out of Brazil behind Pele, Garrincha ( his own personal favourite ) and the aforementioned Zico to whom he taught a thing or two .

He makes the list of the top 100 or 50 footballers of all time on a repeated basis despite the fact that more modern players get far more exposure and media coverage and so their feats and skills are more readily available to watch on video.

When Geoff Hurst chose his top 50 players of all time he added that in his opinion Rivellino, Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson and Carlos Alberto would have formed the greatest 5 a side team in history and would probably have beaten many 11 a side teams without a goalkeeper! By the way Gerson and Carlos Alberto didn’t make his list.

Rivellino is the only player listed as scoring two of the top 25 free kicks of all time. His goal against East Germany in the 1974 world Cup has to be watched in slow motion to be believed and to fully appreciate its pace and accuracy. Michel Platini has described that goal as firing the ball through a mousehole!

The name Rivelino appears yet again in the list of players who were the all-time great dribblers with the football with many citing him as a supreme example of someone who had complete control of the football with his step overs, flip flaps, feints and dummies.

When it comes to who had the hardest shot he is always nominated, as he is when it comes to the most stylish player ever seen, the player with the best left foot, the player with the best tricks in football, and of course the player with the most memorable moustache!

In some articles his football is described as “art” or “sheer artistry with a football”.

Any discussion about who was the best passer of the ball results in the name Rivellino once again coming to the fore, and those who played against him remember some of his passes with awe. The one mentioned above in the 1976 game against Italy in America was one such pass, however another is graphically described by Kevin Keegan in his autobiography where he makes no attempt to hide just what he saw and felt when playing against Rivellino.

“I’ll never forget one of his (Rivellino’s) passes in Rio, it was every inch of 80 yards,” wrote Keegan in his excellent 1979 book, Against The World. “I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to strike a ball so hard, so far, so accurately, until I saw Rivellino do it from the edge of his penalty area.

“The target man was 20-yards inside England’s half and starting a full diagonal sprint to get behind Dave Watson and Emlyn Hughes. Yet the ball pinpointed him, it fell in his stride. He didn’t need to change direction. I was about three yards away from Rivellino and I felt the wind as the ball passed me at shoulder height. The astonishing thing is that it stayed at the same height all the way. I watched wide-eyed as it flew on and on; that’s one of the rare times when I’ve felt outclassed.”

Yet that very pass throws up two conundrums about assessing Rivellino’s place in the record books of world football.

The pass was never caught on TV. Many of his truly great performances are only reported by eye witnesses while the skills of others he is compared to and with, and who played in a later era can be seen time and time again and so help further their reputation.

With Rivellino you have to go with the younger stars who went on to play for Brazil, Argentina and whoever at a later date to truly measure his impact, and you have to rely on guys like Keegan and Beckenbaur who played against him, and others like Pele, who played with him, to really get a sense of how highly players of real calibre rated him.

Keegan’s report of the pass in Rio raises another issue and takes you back to Pele’s comments about Rivellino’s intelligence as a footballer. His vision was said to be legendary and that he could see where the game was going long before others could. He could see where players were and where they could and would move to.

And so the question has to be asked when considering the pass described by Kevin Keegan: Did the forward player start to make the diagonal run which Rivellino then responded to instantly and with great skill in a split second, or did Rivellino strike the pass into an exact spot causing his colleague to make such a run thus changing the pattern of the game?

Pele says that Rivellino could do both. He could react with such skill that he made the ball do all the work whether the pass be short or 80 yards long, and he could play the ball in and into areas which would instinctively make players, both team mates and opponents, move into areas where they had no intention of going only seconds before.

Rivellino will never be heralded as the greatest overall player in the world, nor the greatest in any one discipline or skill to be seen on the football pitch.

However, what is clear is that to be classed as a better overall footballer than he was, or even his equal, in any area of the game, you had to be truly exceptional in any era and come from that rare pantheon of footballers whose legend transcends the generations and more importantly inspires others.

Those who do the voting and saw him play in the flesh care not for the comparison to the later Rivellino-likes no matter how good they may be or may have been. He was the original. He was the one little king of the park playing with a heavier ball and they will tolerate no mention of any pretender. He was the originator of moves, tricks and dribbles. Others may have taken those moves on, perfected them with the lighter ball which is easier to move and bend and deployed them before a greater TV audience, but they were not the original.

He has been dubbed “Maradona’s professor” and was the footballer who inspired not only the average Joe in the crowd but also a host of kids and young men who would go on to rank as among the greatest footballers the planet has ever seen. In that sense his influence can still be seen on the field of play to this day.

Some may argue that others like Cruyff were more influential, were better and more effective players and have had a greater lasting effect on the game.

However, Cruyff and others, whilst undoubtedly brilliant, played in a system, were coached and taught many aspects of the game with the result that the teams they played in were dominant for a period until someone else worked out a tactical solution to combat their system.

Rivellino’s skills on the other hand were natural, learned on the street, and then adapted and used in the professional game. He was not always surrounded by great players or deployed in a team which played to a winning system, but he still stood out and made the game seem magical.

He made kids want to play football like him and there can be no greater compliment especially when you consider the number and the calibre of players who would later say they were Rivellino inspired.

Zico would play for his country 71 times; Gerson would amass 70 caps as would Romario. Kaka gained 87 caps, Jairzinho 81 and Rivaldo 74. Carlos Alberto turned out for Brazil 53 times and the legendary Garrincha would make 50 appearances.  Cruyff would only play 48 times for Holland.

Rivellino would make exactly the same number of official international appearances as Pele with 92 caps, though some lists credit Rivellino as having appeared 96 times as some games were not treated as official Internationals.

Either way, he played for his country more often than Falcao and Socrates put together as they amassed 28 and 60 appearances respectively.

Had Saldanho not frozen him out over a thirteen match period then he may well now be classed as the third highest capped player in Brazilian history behind Cafu and Roberto Carlos neither of whom, while good, were the same calibre of footballer. He would also have added to his tally of 26 International goals.

When it comes to the measure of putting bums on seats, it is arguable that Rivellino was in a league of his own with his trickery, his shooting, his celebrations and his overall pomp, flair and character. Millions all over the world tried to copy his moves in training grounds and playgrounds and his very presence was guaranteed to add to the number of spectators attending any match. In the days before global football coverage on TV, Roberto Rivellino singlehandedly increased the gates at every club he ever played for.

One commentator has remarked that he came to watch Fluminense at the age of 14 and to see Roberto Rivellino play in that first match on the Saturday of Carnival. The same man goes on to say that he was so thrilled while Rivellino remained at Fluminense he never missed a single match.

Other than his final stint in Saudi Arabia, he never played football for any club outside of his native Brazil. His was an era when South Americans generally did not travel to Europe.

However, had the market for Galacticos been in existence in his era, there can be no doubt that the Real Madrid’s, Barcelona’s and the likes would have broken the bank for Roberto Rivellino.

Yet at no time in his career did he seek a move. He simply played and spent the majority of his career playing for a provincial side that were not very good while at the same time developing a reputation as a truly special footballer.

Unlike the little King of the Park, many of the later players who were inspired by him, and who would emulate his talents and tricks, only did so in the most talented of winning sides whilst earning millions of Pounds or Euros.

It could be argued that Rivellino was among the last of the truly great provincial players as from the 1978 World Cup onwards football players became real global stars with money dictating that the entertainers and ball players who would put bums on seats would cross oceans to play in successful teams.

Zico would go to Italy, Ardilles to England and Kempes to Spain thus heralding the fact that in due course the real ball players, the trick masters, the exceptional footballing talents would always command the highest transfer fees and go to the biggest clubs – and most would cite Roberto Rivellino as either their main influence or one of their main influences.

Yet the man himself is somewhat humble. He is or was a footballer and simply loved being one. He is a critic of the modern trend towards tactically killing the game and bemoans the lack of genuine skill and flair in the modern footballer.

He believes the crowd are there to be entertained and that players should hone their skills and provide flair and excitement with a view to getting those bums off the seat and the arms in the air.

In the modern game, with the value of transfers reaching ever crazier numbers, it is interesting to note that as each few years pass it is the Rivellino-likes who always seem to attract the really huge transfer fees. The Maradona’s, Ronaldos, Messi’s, Ronaldinho’s, Figo’s, Neymar’s and so on are all Rivellino types – the types that make you sit up and gasp. What would the moustachioed one be worth in today’s market given the testimony of the football players mentioned above?

He is adamant that the role of the No 10 as he knew it no longer exists in modern football together with the honour of wearing the number and the inspiration it brought –  and he deeply regrets its passing.

“The priority today isn’t creating, but marking, and that is all wrong. Today instead of calling up the best players in each position, the tactical options for each position are called instead” he complains.

The only sure way to occasionally beat any given tactical system is to face that system with a sheer genius in your midst and that is how many see Roberto Rivellino – a footballing genius who could change a game singlehandedly. The guy who could take a bad team and singlehandedly make it competitve or, as Pele says, the guy you could introduce into a potentially good team who would make it complete!

He is unfazed and amused by the plaudits that are thrown his way by the press and other bodies and while appreciative of the adulation he measures himself in other ways and with other comparisons.

“4th all-time greatest player for Brazil behind Pele, Garrincha and Zico? Yes that is not bad. However, I think of it another way. When Pele retired from the Brazilian national side, I was given his shirt. I was the next No 10 in the yellow shirt, I was his immediate successor. THAT means something.”

A couple of years ago, a Brazilian TV station caught the humble side of the ever joking talismanic Rivellino at a time and on an occasion which neither he nor the TV Company were expecting.

He had played for Corinthians for some 9 years and had won nothing leaving under something of a cloud. The relationship with the club and their fans had remained slightly strained ever since despite the fact that he had said that he would have given up his World Cup winners medal to have won something with the club.

Corinthians had permanently under achieved before during and after the Rivellino years but it was totally unfair of certain sections of the fans and management to lay any blame at the feet of Roberto Rivellino. When they eventually did win something he was asked for his comments and said he was delighted as for the better part of a decade the Parque Sao Jorge had been his second home. He was genuinely thrilled – a real fan.

However, once again the club were drowning in mediocrity when the President, possibly in an attempt to boost his own popularity, announced that the club had commissioned a bronze bust of “O Reizinho del Parque” as a tribute to him after all these years.

The TV footage shows the return to Corinthians of Roberto Rivellino who is seen walking through the club museum, taking in the memories of games gone by while talking and wisecracking as always. He is wearing a short sleeved casual shirt and is speaking directly to the camera as he walks into the boardroom of the club and sees, for the first time, the striking bust of his younger self complete with longish hair, bull like shoulders, and that iconic moustache.

The bronze piece sits on a sideboard and overlooks the boardroom table where the decisions that shape his old club are now made. It is a magnificent sculpture and dominates the room.

The TV cameras are still rolling when Rivellino sees the statue and suddenly and inexplicably stops talking and just bursts into tears. He holds his hands in his head and cries uncontrollably.

He turns his back on the camera and on the statue, walks away sobbing like a grief stricken child and the silence in the room makes for uncomfortable watching.

Eventually the President of the club goes to comfort him and is heard saying “Riva! Riva!” as he puts an arm around him to console the emotion struck man.

Rivellino eventually turns and looks at the statue again with tears running down his face and simply says “Fantastico – Obrigado! Oh Obrigado” – “Fantastic!  Thankyou – OH Thankyou.”

The emotion is clearly genuine and moving, and the whole incident was of such note that it made the national news in Brazil.

All the accolades, list mentions, and tributes will never bring him back those heady days when in his late teens and early twenties he developed and strutted at this club, but at least the statue has taken away the notion that he was somehow bad for the club and that no one wanted to remember his play and contribution while he was there.


A small balding fat man wearing shorts, trainers, a football shirt and a hat to protect his head from the sun comes out of his office, crosses the pathway and enters a football pitch where a group of school kids, both boys and girls, are being coached.

Many of the children involuntarily run towards the man and give him a hug.

“Who is he?” a watching journalist asks a young girl.

“That is Riva” replies a young girl pronouncing the name that is written on the back of the man’s shirt.

“And what is special about Riva?” asks the reporter.

“Oh he played football ……. For Brazil!” replies the child in a tone which makes it clear that 50 years on “Riva” is someone special.

The look on the face of the on looking, paunchy balding man suggests that the child has just paid him the greatest tribute of all.

Roberto Rivellino played football – he is and was The Little King of the Park, and to this day, directly or indirectly, he still inspires football fans young and old and the very best modern players who try to replicate his skills and tricks on the park – and when they do the fans, the TV companies and the sponsors all turn up in record numbers to pay and to watch!

The Stranger, The Queen and the Glasgow Garden Festival

2 May

This is a slightly different style of tale for me.

It is far removed from the style and content of Fabulous Harry Maguire and his exploits, and it has a completely different mood.

Hopefully, those who read it will enjoy it and won’t find it too sentimental in tone.

All the characters mentioned in it are ……….. well judge for yourself!


Caroline stared at her coffee cup and felt a tear roll down her face. She wiped it away and sniffed only to find that she now had tears silently flowing down each cheek.

She tried to shake off the sadness that brought the tears and found that all her attempts were in vain, and despite her best attempts at concentrating on something else she found herself drawn back to that late summer night 12 years ago. It was a night she had almost forgotten about at one time, maybe deliberately forgotten about or put out of her head, but now it loomed large and just would not go away.

Her mind was in Nice, on the Cote D’Azur and the date was Tuesday 31st of August 1982.

There had been seven of them, sitting in a café in a somewhat shabby section of the city, and they were steadily getting drunker as the evening went on. As the alcohol took ever greater effect, so the laughter and the antics had become more and more spontaneous, silly and stupid. She could see that now, but at the time it had all seemed so much of an adventure; a vital part of their rebelliousness and their journey, whereas in reality they had just been seven daft students on holiday getting pissed and no doubt being a pain in the arse as far as everyone else in the vicinity was concerned.

They were just into their second week in France but this was to be their one and only night in Nice, before moving on through Monte Carlo to a brief sojourn into Italy where they would spend two nights in San Remo before starting to head north again to catch the ferry back to Dover.

Of the seven, Simon and Julie were loved up like Romeo and Juliette – everywhere they walked they held hands, constantly kissed and let everyone know they were in love. Of course it hadn’t lasted. He was now working in the city somewhere and Julie was a successful Advocate in Edinburgh, happily married with two small children. There were three other boys, Danny, Joe and Michael who, together with Caroline and Maria, made up the seven.

Maria was her pal, all long dark hair and brown eyes. She had always turned a head. She even turned heads first thing in the morning, when she walked into a lecture when everyone else was half asleep and looking as if they had just fallen out of bed in the clothes they had slept in. While Caroline would accept that she herself was pretty with a good figure, everyone knew that Maria was supermodel stunning – and knew it, sometimes playing on her good looks.

Of the boys, she knew Danny best as he was in some of her classes and generally hung about in the same company. Joe and Michael she knew less well though, as they sort of hung about the edge of her crowd. Throughout the previous week, all three had shown that they could be very funny albeit in a daft immature way at times.

As the week had gone on, Danny and Maria had been flirting with one another more and more until one night they disappeared together leaving Caroline with the ever entwined lovers and the other two boys. For some reason, this made her feel a bit awkward though looking back she did not really know why.

On that Tuesday night, they were all staying in a cheap hostel with the boys in one room and the girls in another according to the rules of the house, and so at the café Caroline had somewhat drunkenly warned the others that there would be no mysterious copping off together for some “hanky panky” that night – or so she thought.

They had been in the café since about 4pm after a day of wandering around Nice, taking in the sites and enjoying the occasional drink as they wandered. Prior to that night, they had spent a few days staying in Frejus just along the coast where they had spent lazy days on the beach, eaten fabulous food and been to an open air Roxy Music concert on the Friday night topping what had been a fabulous few days in the town. Now they were sitting at two tables outside the café door watching the world go by and getting steadily drunker.

Caroline hadn’t taken much notice of the others sitting at the adjacent tables. If she had, she would have seen two elderly men drinking wine and playing chess, a young man sitting on his own reading a book, a middle aged husband and wife sharing coffees in silence, and two men who were in heated debate about……. about something or other. There were others sitting inside the café but they barely registered, if at all, but she was conscious of music coming from a juke box or radio.

The street was not so much a street but a wide alley with old sandstone apartments on the opposite side from the café. Further up, there was a small supermarket, a dry cleaners and a pharmacy, before the alley took a curving bend to the left and disappeared out of sight.

This was the scene that she now looked back on from 1994.

Through her tears, she recalled that they had been playing charades. Maria was standing on the pavement attempting to mime the name of some book or other when there was the sound of glass smashing somewhere behind her.

Caroline was slow to react but the next thing she knew was that the game had stopped and Michael was out of his seat like a flash sprinting across the alley where an old woman had fallen whilst apparently attempting to enter the door of her apartment. It looked as if the old lady had tripped on the step leading to the apartment door and in so doing she had dropped her shopping bag with the result that a bottle of wine and a bottle of water had smashed to the ground.

The woman was half lying in the alley, muttering to herself in French, and struggling to get back to her feet.

Caroline could remember seeing Michael bent over the fallen woman and speaking to her in French, and then with the help of the young man with a book in his hand, who had made his way over just behind Michael, he was trying to get the old lady back to her feet. Whilst the book reader held the old lady’s hand, Michael rather awkwardly and rather forwardly wrapped his arms round the prone woman’s waist and physically lifted her off the ground and set her back up on somewhat unsteady feet.

“Is that what you call picking up a bird, Mick?” Shouted Simon rather boorishly, though the comment did get a laugh “Bet she gives you a knock back!” continued Simon encouraged by his earlier jibe.

As far as she could remember, Caroline and the rest simply carried on drinking while Michael and the book reader helped the old woman into her flat and the entire incident was literally just dismissed and forgotten about ……… until Michael came back and resumed his seat some several minutes later.

“ Poor old dear” he said as he sat back down “ she is a bit wandered. She lives on the top floor and must have real difficulty with the stairs!”.

“ And are you help the aged?” jibed Simon.

“ Naw, he’s grab a granny!” replied Joe which caused a burst of laughter “ I have never seen you move out of your seat that fast in my life “ said Joe grinning “did you think she had money or something? Were you looking for a tip? Did she take her dentures out and give you a snog?”

“Ah Shut it” replied Michael “ She is just a poor old soul. You lot are heartless!”

And with that the group simply continued to slag one another off and resumed their drinking and laughing. The game of charades forgotten, Joe ordered another two bottles of wine and the night continued.

However, about fifteen or twenty minutes later, unobserved by the group, the door of the apartment building opened once again and the young man with the book stepped out into the alley.

The next thing Caroline knew this swarthy good looking man was standing at their table clearly intent on interrupting their merriment.

“ Good Evening.” He said, addressing Michael in particular, “The old lady has asked me to thankyou for your kindness and has asked me to buy you and your friends a drink to show her gratitude.”

“ Oh, there is no need, honestly” said Michael “ is she ok?”

“ Yes, she is fine. A bit shaken, but it is her pride that is hurt more than anything else. She feels she has made a fool of herself in public, and that angers her.”

“Ha, being picked up by Michael would bring shame on any woman!” quipped Simon in his usual mode.

This remark drew a strange look from the young man who continued none the less:

“ She has given me the money to buy a couple of bottles of wine…. It would be…. impolite to refuse.” He said with a little purpose.

“ Oh we will never refuse wine from a handsome stranger, will we Caroline?” said Maria flirting somewhat outrageously which brought a disapproving look from a so far silent Danny.

“ The wine, is not from me, Cheri” said the young man in an accented voice “ It is from, Madam.”

He was somewhat matter of fact in his statement, and without further consultation he walked into the café and returned a few moments later with a carafe of the house red and another carafe of white which he put on the table without saying a further word. From his pocket he drew a solitary glass which he made plain was for himself

When he had put the wine on the table, he stood back, poured some red wine into his glass, turned to Michael and said “On behalf of my friend, Thankyou for your kindness. Merci à tous” and with that, he drank the wine and turned to leave.

“ Thanks” shouted Michael

“ Ha Michael, there is your holiday story” said Simon “ the best you could manage was being bought a drink by some old French bird!”.

There was some laughter at this, but it quickly stopped when the young man with the book turned on his heel and came back to the table fixing Simon, whom he had not addressed before, with a stare for the second time.

Caroline, now looked at this man altogether differently, as he was no longer a passing stranger. He was someone who was clearly annoyed and was intent on making a point. She feared there would be trouble as he had a very intense look on his face. At that moment she would have described him as intriguing, but tense. Very tense.

However, the stranger in their midst then did the most unexpected of things. He simply drew up a chair, picked up his glass, filled it with red wine again, and began to talk. Initially he addressed Simon, but one by one he would stare each of them straight in the eye.

“ Listen, my friends. Your wine does not come from some “old woman”. No, I tell you that this is an act of gratitude from someone I consider to be one of the greatest women on the planet.”

“ Sorry – I didn’t mean to offend your….. mother?” said Simon realising he had gaffed.

“ Oh she is not my mother, nor is she related to me in any way – in fact, I only met her for the first time when I went to help her with your friend here.” Said the stranger nodding towards Michael.

“ What?” exclaimed Julie somewhat drunkenly

“ I only met her for the first time a few moments ago” he repeated “ and I will probably never meet her again.”

The Group looked puzzled.

Caroline was just glad that the trouble she thought was coming appeared to have disappeared, as whatever this guy was about he was not looking for a fight although he still made her uneasy.

“ Sorry Mate, but you have lost me!” said Joe filling his glass.

“ Let me explain then” said the young man tucking his book into the inside pocket of his leather jacket.

“ That “old woman” as you call her was once a famous Parisian dancer, a famous international celebrity who had the world fall at her feet. More importantly she was at one time the fastest and bravest woman in the world. She should be a French national treasure—instead she is living in this cheap and run down area of Nice, living off charity and in the attic apartment of this building.” He said pointing across the alley.

Caroline and her friends looked at the doorway across the road as the young man continued.

“ With no disrespect intended to anyone here, “The Old Woman” was and always will be out of your league guys, I predict that none of you will ever have a woman like her…. Ever!”

This remark drew a narrowing of the eyes from Maria, a drunken shirk from Simon and a giggle from Julie, the rest simply stayed silent.

Caroline, looked at the newcomer again. There was something about him. He was dark haired, dark eyed, clearly foreign, probably French she thought, and very intense but in a sort of charming way.

She estimated that he was about 5’ 9”, slim and looked pretty fit underneath the faded jeans and T shirt housed underneath the leather jacket. On his feet he wore a pair of fashionably scuffed cowboy boots with a pointed toe.

She heard herself saying:

“ Go on. Tell us who she is then, maybe we have heard of her?”

This set the young man off again. He turned and fixed Caroline with the dark eyes.

“ I do not think you will have heard of her, but I will tell you her story. She was born Mariette Hélène Delangle on 15th December 1900 in a small village about 50 miles south west of Paris where her father was the village postman. However she left the village at the age of sixteen and came to Paris where she got a job dancing in cabaret in the music halls. By 18 she was causing a sensation in Paris as she danced naked, not as a cheap stripper you understand, but with feather boas and live birds to accompany her. She posed naked for photographs and generally caused a scandal. At one point she openly shared a house with two men who were both her friends and her lovers. Eventually she was topping the bill in The Casino de Paris dancing naked  before the glitterati of Paris and causing a sensation. The Parisian press loved her.”

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By this time, the group of Scottish students were captivated by the book reader’s tale of the old woman. All their laughter had stopped and they sat quietly, drinking the wine and listening to his tale as he continued.

“ She changed her name to  Hélène Nice although eventually she would further shorten it to Hellé  Nice and it was by this name that she became famous – for her dancing, her devil may care attitude, her fast, racy and scandalous lifestyle and eventually for………. Well we will come to that in a minute.

By the age of 25 she had had enough of being a naked solo act and so she decided to partner a man called Robert Lisset and together they formed a dance partnership which toured Europe. She had her own house, her own yacht and was so famous, so beautiful and so daring that she had an endless procession of rich lovers and suitors, including members of the European nobility and other personalities such as Henri de Courcelles and Count Bruno d’Harcourt.

However, even this fast lifestyle of frivolous fame and fortune did not satisfy her as throughout her life she only really had one true love……. and that was….. speed.

She was a fantastic downhill skier, but even more than skiing she loved to drive very very fast cars. After being injured in a skiing accident, she entered and won a Paris showbiz motor race, and so in 1929 she entered and won her first professional race — an all-female Grand Prix  at Autodrome de Montlhéry and  in the process  she set a new world land speed record for women driving at 197 Kilometres per hour. She was La Femme Rapide!

She won the race in an Omega Six car and more or less immediately gave up dancing to drive professionally. She toured America as the world’s fastest woman, racing on dirt tracks and hard tracks, driving a Miller car but then, on her return to France, she was introduced to Philippe De Rothschild who was to become yet another lover and who was known for racing a certain type of car.

De Rothschild eventually introduced Hellé Nice to the car’s designer –  Ettore Bugatti who immediately wanted her as part of his team of professional drivers. Rumours say she became Bugatti’s lover, and that she also seduced his son Jean Bugatti. From 1931 she was the only female driver who was allowed to compete on equal terms against all the male drivers of the time. She raced Bugatti’s and Alfas, but was mostly famous for her bright blue Bugatti which she personally owned and in which she was photographed often, bringing her huge commercial spin offs and rewards. She raced in the Italian and French grand prix and set many records. Whilst she did not win the races, she beat many of the leading men and had a reputation for being absolutely fearless. The crowds loved her, and it was at this point that her fame and fortune were at their very height. She still loved the fast lifestyle. She partied, drank champagne and had a host of rich and famous lovers yet could often be found sleeping just as easily with mechanics or people who worked at the race tracks because she liked them as people. She loved people and could see inside their skin which is a great talent.

She won the woman’s cup at the Monte Carlo Rally, entered competitive hill climbs and broke records at Le Mans.

She was, ladies and gentlemen, the undoubted Queen of Speed. The Bugatti Queen!

Then, in 1936 she was invited to South America for a series of Races. She was driving in a Grand Prix in Sao Paulo Brazil and was competing for a place in the top three of the race when her car hit a bale of hay which had strayed on to the track. The result was that her car left the track at over 130 miles per hour and launched into the crowd. The car killed 4 people and seriously injured 30 others. Hellé, herself, was thrown clear of the car but was fired into the crowd like a human bullet with her head landing square in the chest of a spectating soldier. The impact of her helmet on the soldier’s chest killed him, but saved her, although she was in a coma for two days and in hospital for three months. When news of her recovery was announced there was great cheering in Brazil as no one believed that she was responsible for the crash. The race organisers even paid her a large sum in compensation for her injuries and the loss of her car which was an Alfa.

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Remarkably, once back in France she decided to get back behind the wheel to race when no one thought she would even drive again. The following year she set 10 world speed records for women. She was all set to rejoin the Bugatti team when Jean Bugatti was killed during practice, and by the time the team recovered from this tragedy the war had started and racing was suspended.

However, it was after the war when real tragedy and hypocrisy struck. Hellé was due to take part in the 1949 Monte Carlo rally but on the eve of the race, right in the grand ballroom in Monaco, she was unfairly denounced as a collaborator during the war. Her accuser was a French driver called Louis Chiron, and despite having no evidence to support his claims, he stated that Hellé Nice had been a Gestapo Agent throughout the war – something that subsequent enquiry proved completely false although that would be many years later.

As a result of these allegations however, all her sponsors and friends deserted her and she never raced again. Her fortune was squandered by a lover who then left her, and for the past 35 years or so she has lived in the attic of the old apartment there, relying on hand outs from a charity called “La Roue Tourne” which means “Things never stay the same” or “ The wheel always turns”.

So that is your old lady – and as I say, with all due respect, you boys will never lay your hands on a woman like that! You are simply not in her league and never will be!”

With that, the stranger drained his glass and made to take his leave.

“ So how do you know her?” asked Maria “ Do you work for La Roue Tourne?”

The man paused and simply stood there: “ No…. I do not work for the charity. I just know her story, and know that she lives here. I decided to come and sit opposite her house for a couple of hours and perhaps catch a glimpse of her. Now, I have actually met her, albeit in slightly unfortunate circumstances. I have helped her up to her shabby apartment, drank her wine and I am delighted simply to be able to say that I made her acquaintance. I have a great story to tell—as have you.”

“ Remember her name, Hellé Nice, the fastest and bravest woman of her day!”

Once again, the young man with the book turned to take his leave.

He wished the somewhat inebriated students farewell and began to walk away. He had gone about 30 yards when Caroline suddenly jumped up from her seat, looked at her friends and said out of the blue “ I am going after him – if I am not back in a minute I will see you tomorrow!” and with that she was off with shouts from Maria, in particular, ringing in her ears.

She had no idea what she was doing or why, she felt she just had to go after this strange young man who had told them the story of Hellé Nice, the dancer and racing driver. She caught up with him just as he turned a corner, and disappeared from the sight of her astonished and alarmed friends.

When she did catch him, the young man was surprised and immediately thought he must have left something at the table, but Caroline was very quick to let him know that was not the case.

“Eh, excuse me but could we go for a drink somewhere… just you and I…. away from the others?” she asked somewhat brazenly.

He looked slightly puzzled at first but eventually smiled and said “ Well it would be impolite to refuse such a charming invitation!” and with that they turned another corner and entered into a small dark bar full of locals drinking strong coffee and various liqueurs.

For the next hour they sat and drank. She told him her name, how she was a student from Glasgow studying accountancy and business studies. In turn he said that his name was “Beco”, that he was only in Nice for the night and that he would be leaving for Paris the following morning. At 22 he was two years older than she was, but he seemed years older and so much more worldly wise than Danny, Simon, Joe and Michael. She asked more about Hellé Nice and her fabulous lifestyle, and how he had come to know her story.

“ It is just something I read” he replied “ Perhaps I am just fascinated by beautiful fast women?” he said looking directly into her eyes with more than a little devilment.

Looking back all these years later, Caroline realised that it was foolish to go back to the small hotel he was staying in. He was a stranger she had never seen or met before. She knew nothing whatsoever about him, yet she was absolutely pulled towards him on that night as if by some magnetic force of nature. She had never done anything so foolish or reckless in her life… and after this night she swore that she never would again.

Once in the room, they had climbed into a creaky bed and made love – awkwardly at first, then with greater familiarity and more confidence before eventually falling asleep in one another’s arms.

The following morning, they made love again before Beco announced that he had to go.

Caroline had known that this moment would come, she had not been that drunk, but all the same she felt awkward when the time came to part. She looked at him and said “ Well, thanks for last night. It was nice to meet you- I’ll just go back to my boring friends”.

As soon as the words left her mouth she felt guilty. Her friends weren’t boring; they just weren’t an exotic stranger with a great tale to tell.

Without any hesitation Beco turned to her and chided her slightly; “ You have good friends, nice friends, count yourself lucky. Think of Hellé Nice- she has no friends.”

“ Apart from you” said Caroline

He stood at the door and turned to her, drawing her close:

“ I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me” he replied “ And if I am a friend of Hellé Nice then your friend Michael is an even greater friend. It was he who was first by her side, helped her to her feet, and helped her up the stairs without even knowing who she was. I had a motive. I knew who she was and wanted to meet her, see inside her apartment, I wanted the story of helping Hellé Nice all for my own purposes. Whereas, your friend Michael just reacted. Just did what seemed right. He didn’t see the once famous racing driver who interested me, he just saw an old woman who fell and who he chose to help. I would think about that if I were you. By the way, Simon is a pain in the ass, tell your friend Julie she can do much better!” and with that he laughed, kissed her on the cheek, and left.

She never saw him again.

When Caroline returned to the hostel she was met with a very mixed reaction.

Maria was furious with her for running off with someone she did not know.

“ What were you thinking about?” she shouted “ He could have been anyone? A rapist or a murderer! You are a selfish cow- I was worried sick. I chased after you with Joe but we couldn’t find you anywhere. Fuck sake – of all the stupid things……… “ she slammed the door of the room and left.

Julie just wanted to know that she was ok, and then wickedly asked “ Well – come on spill the beans—what was he like?” and started laughing.

Later Simon couldn’t resist teasing her and calling her “ The Frenchman’s tart” which Caroline laughed at but inwardly didn’t like. Simon went further and said she had stolen Hellé Nice’s title as the fastest woman on earth which again Caroline didn’t like.

She now regretted the entire episode and wished she had just stayed with her friends rather than face this ridicule.

Maria and Simon later began to discuss whether or not the whole Hellé Nice story was a pile of cobblers designed just to be a good story which the guy told to get one of the girls into bed…. And it had worked!

Eventually Maria calmed down and appeared to forgive her though she was still furious and repeatedly said that she would not have fallen for such a load of baloney.

Caroline inwardly agreed with Beco, Simon was an asshole and Julie could do much better.

She was sort of saved by Joe and Michael who really said nothing and who just got on with the day and started the usual round of jokes between themselves. They were funny those two, but Caroline still thought the jokes and the chat immature and so looked upon them as wee boys in comparison to the mysterious Beco.

As they travelled along the coast through Monte Carlo and on to San Remo, she couldn’t help but think of the night before, the spontaneousness of her actions, the story of Hellé Nice and the dark book reading stranger. She wondered if she had just been caught up in the story? Did she just want to live one night like Hellé Nice—taking a mysterious lover in a devil may care moment?

She would ask herself that question for months afterwards.

The seven finished their holiday, returned to university and the months rolled into years and the next thing Caroline knew she was working for a PLC wearing a smart suit and being every inch the young business woman.

The others all went their separate ways and she lost touch with them all, even Maria – although she did send a card every Christmas.

In the following years, she changed jobs a couple of times, had  a few different boyfriends but never settled down with a steady partner and by 1990 she found herself as a single professional woman with her own apartment and several rungs up the ladder in the world of business. She had a growing reputation in her field and the night in Nice some 8 years before was completely forgotten. She was wrapped up in the corporate world, was successful, financially independent, enjoyed good holidays with professional friends and was as happy as the proverbial pig in shit.

Or so she thought.

Glasgow was in the middle of the year of culture celebrations with the specially built Garden Festival site proving a huge attraction.

She had worked late on into the Friday night on a project she was managing and on Saturday she had gone to visit her parents whom she had not seen in a few weeks. Her dad was forever asking if she had a boyfriend, and he always looked disappointed when she replied “No one special”.

On Sunday 3rd June she had arranged to meet some friends and colleagues at the Garden Festival site for lunch. It was going to be a big day – literally—as it had been dubbed “ The Big Day” Music concert with lots of famous bands and acts performing throughout the day.

She had left the car at home, and so was free to enjoy a few drinks with her meal, and after a couple of hours with her friends she felt a bit like a student again – they had had more than a few drinks and nothing to eat.

They had just sat down to order at one of the open air restaurants, when there was a commotion about thirty feet away. Caroline hadn’t seen what happened, she just heard chairs being knocked over, some glass breaking and some shouts. Someone had fainted, falling on top of a table and knocking over plastic chairs.

As Caroline belatedly looked over at the scene, she saw that someone was now cradling the head of the woman who had fainted—she immediately presumed that it was the woman’s husband or boyfriend. But then another man arrived and he seemed to be the woman’s partner.

As Caroline looked on, she suddenly felt there was something familiar about the guy on the ground holding the distressed woman’s head gently in his hands whilst at the same time speaking to her in a soothing voice. He had asked someone to bring her some water, and now he was putting the glass to the woman’s lips and telling her to drink slowly.

Caroline felt herself rise from her seat and involuntarily walk towards the scene, becoming more and more certain the closer she came to the man on the ground holding the woman’s head.

Now, the man was helping the injured woman to her feet and Caroline knew for sure— it was definitely him.

He had his back to her now, looking down at the woman who had fainted who was now sitting in a chair.

Caroline placed a hand on his shoulder causing him to turn round at exactly the same time as she said his name;

“Michael? Is that you?”

Michael turned to look at who had touched his shoulder and saw a good looking woman in jeans and a fashionable sweat shirt, wearing flat shoes. She had short dark hair, and looked pretty elegant in the sun light. Then he caught her eyes and her face;

“ Caroline! Good God! How are you doing, It’s great to see you!”

Caroline gave him a hug and looked at someone she had not seen in at least 6 years. Yet at the same time she was immediately aware that she was in fact seeing someone for the very first time. Here was goofy Michael, the guy with the immature jokes, but at that moment she knew he was not Michael with the immature jokes at all – this was a different Michael altogether – or later she would reflect that maybe it was a different Caroline.

He explained that he had only been back in Glasgow for a few weeks after spending four years working abroad and had only come down to the Garden Festival site for the music. He was on his own and was just wandering by when he saw the woman faint and obviously just did what he could to help.

He accepted Caroline’s invitation to join her and her friends for lunch and in the course of the afternoon they talked and laughed about days gone by.

Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, they got round to talking about their trip to France.

“ Remember Frejus?” Asked Michael “ Roxy Music in the Ampitheatre?” he went on without waiting for a reply. “ That was brilliant!” he concluded.

She said she did and they talked a little more.

“ And remember the night in Nice?” said Michael “ And the incident with the old woman falling and the handsome stranger coming to tell us all about who she was?” he added and gave Caroline a wicked wink.

She felt herself blushing and defensively added “ Yes, well that was when I was young and foolish. It was a most stupid and uncharacteristic thing to do—I must have been drunk!”

“ Oh give yourself peace, woman,” said Michael sensing her embarrassment and gently teasing her “ If a young woman didn’t fall for a handsome foreigner, personally telling a fantastic tale like that then there must be something wrong with her. Besides you were a grown woman and were capable of looking after yourself- you were just having some fun!”

Caroline was slightly taken aback at even talking about this as the incident had long faded from her mind. However, she felt pleasantly surprised at Michael’s opinion on what had happened that night.

“ Do you think his story was true?” she found herself asking.

“ What?” asked Michael “ You mean you don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“ You don’t know if the story was true? And who your mysterious stranger was?”

“ What do you mean?” asked Caroline now somewhat concerned that somehow she had missed something or had been the butt of some long running joke which only she had not understood.

Michael turned to her and said “ let’s go for a walk – I have something to tell you – though I can’t believe you don’t know!”

They made their excuses and started to walk through the Garden festival site.

As they walked Michael began to talk and as he did so he held her hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It was a gesture that Caroline had not resisted.

“ The fantastic woman known as Hellé Nice died in October 1984. She was 83 years old and until a few months before her death she was still living in that attic apartment.”

“ So the story WAS true?”

“ Oh Yes! She was exactly who we were told she was. But her story does not end there. When she was denounced as a collaborator, her family abandoned her. She was cut out of her parents will and the family house was left to her sister. Apparently, her sister was very jealous of her fame and her fortune and was openly delighted when Hellé was brought down by the false accusations of collaborating with the Germans. When we saw her, she literally did not have a friend in the world, bar the young fella you ran off with for the night.”

Caroline recalled the conversation she had had with Beco about being a friend to Hellé Nice and what he had said about Michael. However before she could say anything Michael continued talking.

“When Hellé died, she was penniless and asked that she be buried in the village where she was born along side her parents. However, the sister, despite promising to fulfil Helle’s last wish, simply buried her in an unmarked grave depriving her of that wish. The sister was a really miserable cow!”

“ How do you know all this?” asked Caroline

“ Because, I was intrigued with the story. We saw an old woman, but that old woman had once been the most fabulous woman on earth and I wanted to know what became of her, and so a couple of years ago I took some time out and went back to Nice on my own to find out what had happened to her. That is when I learned that she had passed away and what had happened with her sister.”

“And how did you find that out?”

“ Simple!” said Michael “ I contacted the charity that had looked after her—La Roué Tourne –and they gave me all the facts. I even went to her burial place in her wee village just to pay my respects.”

Once again Caroline found herself looking at the man talking to her and felt she was seeing him for the first time. He wasn’t interested in the tittle tattle of her night with her mysterious lover, he wasn’t making fun of her, he was just interested in the old woman and her story.

Again she remembered Beco saying to her that Michael had ran to help the old woman for no reason other than…….. other than that is what he did automatically. He had done the same thing just a few hours before with the woman who fainted. How odd was that?

They had reached the bandstand area and a huge crowd had gathered to hear a group performing. Caroline didn’t recognise the musicians on the stage at all but Michael did. They were in the middle of some song or other.

“ Let’s sit down here for a minute” he said.

As she went to sit, Michael suddenly added “ Wait here, I will be back in a minute!”

“ Where are you going?” she asked quizzically- in truth she didn’t want to stop talking, she didn’t want to break the spell that seemed to have been woven in the last couple of hours.

“ I am going to get a couple of drinks—and I am going to ask them to play a song for us—and Hellé Nice!”

And with that he disappeared down the steps.

She watched as he went to the bar and then approached the stage. Amazingly he was able to speak to the girl who was on the stage from the side. He seemed to have some sort of security pass which enabled him to get passed what she presumed were bouncers.

The girl on stage was wearing a black coat and a sort of pill box tri corn hat. Michael, pointed to the others on the stage, said something to her and in return she nodded.

Michael left the stage area and headed back up the stairs.

Caroline watched as the girl on the stage spoke to the other musicians making up the group. They had a quick confab and started playing just as Michael returned.

“ So what are they playing, and who are they?” asked Caroline

“ Ever heard of a guy called John Prine?” asked Michael

“ Never.”

“ Well he wrote this song in 1971, and when I heard it for the very first time, it made me think of Hellé Nice. It’s called Hello in There”

Caroline sat and listened. She was taken by the words and found herself resting her head on Michael’s shoulder while he sang along.

When the number finished the crowd cheered, the group left the stage.

Michael and Caroline got up to leave.

“ How did you manage that?” asked Caroline

“ Oh, I just asked the girl singer if she knew the song and asked her to sing it—and she did!”

Caroline wasn’t too sure about this but let it pass.

“ So “ said Michael “ did you ever hear from the mysterious boy with the book again?”

“ Oh no!” said Caroline “ I knew I never would” she added. “ As I said it was just one of those stupid things that happened and should never have happened.”

“ Do you regret it?” he asked earnestly

“ No… but it never happened again and I wouldn’t dare disappear with someone I don’t know—anyway would you mind if we change the subject? It was years ago and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then”

“ Ok” said Michael “ But you do know who he was?”

“ Oh I know his name was Beco… but that was it”

“ You don’t know who he really was?” asked Michael with a tone in his voice which was unbelieving.

“ Yes! He was called Beco!” she said forcefully

“Caroline!” exclaimed Michael “ Do you really not know who he was?” said Michael smiling like the Cheshire cat.

He registered the confusion on her face, took both her hands in his and said

“ Look, I am not judging here at all and you have nothing to feel defensive about with me, but the story of that night in Nice does not end with the story of Hellé Nice …. You have your own fantastic story to tell.”

When she continued to look confused, Michael told her that “Beco” was a nickname and went on to reveal the true identity of the man she had chased after and shared a hotel room with for one night only —- and as he did so he had a great big warm reassuring smile on his face.

She was astonished at his news. She wasn’t sure how she felt but she had to admit it was a good story although at the same time she felt stupid for not knowing the boy with the book’s real name.

At the same time, she felt something else. Something weird. Again she felt she saw Michael for the first time and started to remember things.

He had always been kind, always had spare tickets for things so that someone could go along at the last minute. He was always generous with his time and anything else he had. He hadn’t seemed to run with a particular crowd, had never been judgemental and always did his own thing. Yes, his jokes were immature, but he had made her laugh—and she remembered again that he had ran to help Hellé Nice with no motive in mind.

By Christmas 1990 Michael and Caroline were living in the one house.

He made her feel special and she loved him more than anyone else and anything. He always knew just what to say and just what to do – and as she sat with tears strolling down her face on that May afternoon in 1994 she wished that he was here now.

But he wasn’t—he was at his parents house where he had spent the night because his father was ill – and he would not be back till morning so she was on her own.

She gave herself a shake and went to make some fresh coffee and thought about making something for her dinner. She knew it was stupid to feel sad and tearful but she just couldn’t help it. She started to cry again.

She didn’t hear the front door open and Michael walk in.  She turned around and saw him at the precise moment the television screen  changed to show a picture of a young handsome man with dark eyes – the same eyes that had been reading  a book in a Nice café all those years before, and the same eyes she had looked into on a creaky bed in a Nice hotel some 12 years before..

“ I knew you would be upset, so I came home early” said Michael.

Caroline burst into a flood of tears for reasons she really could not explain or understand. She clung to her husband for dear life and sobbed uncontrollably.

The caption on the television simply read.

“ Ayrton Senna pronounced dead.”

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For anyone interested in the fantastic story of Mariette Hélène Delangle; 15 December 1900 – 1 October 1984 otherwise known as Hellé Nice can I recommend a book entitled The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend by Miranda Seymour which was published in 2004.

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The Roxy Music Concert performed in Frejus France on August 27th  1982 was recorded on video for posterity:


John Prine wrote the words and music to Hello in there in 1971

“Hello In There”

We had an apartment in the city,

Me and Loretta liked living there.

Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown,

A life of their own left us alone.

John and Linda live in Omaha,

And Joe is somewhere on the road.

We lost Davy in the Korean war,

And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore.


Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,

She sits and stares through the back door screen.

And all the news just repeats itself

Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.

Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy,

We worked together at the factory.

But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”

“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do.”


So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes,

Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare

As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”


The impromptu performance of the song for Michael, Caroline and Hellé Nice by Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe and Billy Bragg took place on the bandstand on the Glasgow Garden Festival site on the afternoon of 3rd June 1990.

It too was recorded for posterity – the trio performed the song again three days later in Prague on 6th June. After that they never performed the song again.


Ayrton Senna da Silva ; 21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994 died while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. In 1982, having dropped the da Silva part of his name, he won the British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships  and would go on to be a three time world champion in the Formula One Category.

Senna had been a virtually unknown spectator at the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix which took place in Dijon-Prenois in France on August 29th. This was the only win of the season for eventual World Champion Keke Rosberg. The following year, Senna would complete a test drive for Williams at the Donnington race Track in Rosberg’s formula one car. He drove faster than any other driver including Rosberg.

He commenced his Formula One career on 25th March 1984 when he competed in the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Senna was given the nickname “ Beco” as a child by his family in Brazil.

He remains the last racing driver to have been fatally injured during a Grand Prix.

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13 Jun

In this era of instant worldwide news and communication, it is hard to believe that not so long ago it was possible to create a completely false, but very public persona, which would completely fool otherwise sensible and hardheaded men and women for well over a decade.

Equally, it is also hard to understand how someone can be very publicly revered, worshiped, and declared the best ever in their chosen sport, yet remain completely anonymous and unknown outside a certain area or population, despite that sport being the most televised in the world.

Yet in recent times, it has been widely recognised that both of these things happened and their existence documented. The records exist and the eye witness testimony of some of the greatest names in world football is there to persuade the reader, the listener or the viewer that what seems totally impossible, actually happened.

This is the tale of two totally different men. One might be reluctantly admired for being such a blatant fake, a rogue and for pulling the wool over the eyes of numerous football clubs, their owners, managers and players.

The other?

To be honest, the other is possibly the greatest enigma in the history of sport, someone who would bring a tear to the most hardened football fan eye, and who would make you wonder – “just exactly what did I miss?”

At the same time it might be hard to find any player in the history of football who seems to have been loved and worshipped more deeply, and more personally, than “The invisible magician” described below.

But let’s start with football’s greatest con man!

Very few will be familiar with the name Carlos Henrique Raposo.

Born in Brazil in 1963, as a youth Carlos wanted nothing more than to live the life of a professional footballer and he would show remarkable dedication, determination, bravery, daring and, some would say, skill in achieving that ambition.

There was only one small problem.

Carlos could not play football, at least not to any decent professional standard, and to be honest, he didn’t really like football – but he fancied the lifestyle of money, adulation, cars, bars, girls, beaches and more girls, that professional footballers seemed to attract.

At the age of ten he was among the ranks of young hopefuls who were playing for Botofogo in Rio De Janeiro.

Between 1973 and 1977 he found himself playing football across the city in the youth ranks of Flamengo, and possibly it was here that he saw how senior players were lauded and treated by adoring fans. It was also at this time that he came into contact with some of Brazils greatest footballers and made friends with some who would go on to great professional careers in later years.

However, Carlos would not be among their ranks. He lacked the skill and ability which was so abundant in Brazil among the football mad youth of the day and Flamengo let him go.

Physically fit, athletic, good looking and extremely confident, Carlos spent two years without any club at all but all the while he was determined to live the lifestyle and so set about somehow achieving his dream.

It was said that he had a passing resemblance to the captain of West Germany and so Carlos ditched his surname and became Carlos Kaiser.

By 1979 he somehow found himself in Mexico training with Puebla FC . Where he had been for the previous two years was a bit of a mystery but the scouts somehow saw enough to offer young Kaiser a short term contract and so began the extraordinary footballing career of Carlos Kaiser the most famous footballer — to never play a single game!

Carlos stayed at Pueblo, who played in Mexico’s top division, for a few months before eventually being released. He never played in a match of any description for the club but he could now claim that he was a senior professional player and had the contract to prove it.

Armed with that “experience” Carlos Kaiser lived the life of a professional footballer for the next 11 years in the bars, nightclubs, restaurants, beaches and beds throughout South America and Europe without ever kicking a football in any kind of competition.

Any examination of the football records will show that over an 11 year period he was signed professionally by Puebla, Botofogo, Flamengo, Gazelec Ajaccio, Bangu, Fluminense, Vasco de Gama, El Paso Sixshooters, and America (RJ) between 1979 and 1990 and for each of these clubs he played precisely zero minutes of football.

For 11 years he lived the life of the playboy football star (longer than some real professionals ever lasted in the game) in Mexico, Brazil, Corsica and the United States.

He turned up at every single club looking fit, sounding eager, happy to train but determined NEVER to play.

At each club he would suffer an injury shortly after joining. Pulled muscles, torn hamstrings, tooth infections, and damaged toes all followed Kaiser wherever he went.

Yet at each club he somehow found doctors and dentists to back him up and report to the club on his injuries, and so the club concerned would pay him for months on end while he trained when he could yet was never fit enough to play.

Meanwhile, he lived the playboy lifestyle of a footballer. He befriended many top class footballers and hung out with them in the clubs, bars and beaches and he always had a string of good looking girls at his beck and call – as any young playboy footballer would?

But Carlos was not stupid.

He knew that eventually each club would get fed up with paying his wages for no return and so he carefully developed and honed the second and third parts of his plan to continue in football without ever playing.

He befriended local journalists and would get them to write stories saying that he was frustrated at this club or that, hinting that he was being kept out of the team partly because of injury and partly because he was just not a good fit for the club concerend.

The stories would always hint that he was performing well in training but could not get into the team.

In this way, other clubs were alerted that there was a star or potential star who might be available at the right price and the club concerned might be able to get him on the cheap and maybe sell him for profit further down the line.

At the same time, Carlos would hang around the latest club to be conned into paying his wages and would regularly be heard fielding phone calls from clubs who were supposedly interested in signing him. Except these calls were “taken” on fake mobile phones and there was no one else involved in any conversation at all.

It was just a coincidence that Kaiser always had to deal with these supposed calls within earshot of club directors or a manager.

They would hear Kaiser state clearly that he was not interested in a move, that his current club had treated him very well through injury and that he wanted to repay them for their loyalty so thanks – but no thanks.

As often as not, his existing club would pick up on this and offer to release him with regret and, of course, on payment of a suitable fee for terminating his contract early!

Carlos would pocket the money, bid the club farewell and thanks, and then go on to a new club with a new wage and possibly even a small signing on fee – but with no intention of playing for them at all! Ever!

By 1986, the wily Kaiser had moved to Europe joining French Division 2 Club  Gazalec Ajaccio who played in Corsica. He had been recommended to the club by a friend who also played there. The new Brazilian star was presented to the fans at a training session and both management and spectators were keen to see him show of his skills.

Kaiser got around this problem and his obvious lack of skill by having a trainer pass him lots of balls which he then shot directly into to the crowd while kissing the club’s badge.

He was an instant hero!

Needless to say, within a year he was on his way back to Brazil having never played a game for the French side, but he arrived armed with a newspaper story which said that he had been in France for several years and was the top scorer for his side for eight seasons in a row!

Because he had never been seen on a football pitch in Brasil, and because Brazil is so vast, this piece of sheer fantasy somehow worked and he was signed by Bangu FC.

Here his fake injury scam nearly came unstuck because after a few months the club’s hard-nosed owner insisted on seeing Carlos Kaiser on the field of play as he was fed up paying the wages of a player who never played!

As a result, Kaiser was listed as a substitute for a senior game, and with his side losing two nil the owner told the manager to “get Kaiser on” as the club had nothing to lose.

The manager told Carlos to warm up and it appeared that after several years he might just be in danger of taking to the field of play.

However, Carlos Kaiser was not to be underestimated or found lacking in the sly as a fox department.

As he warmed up at the side of the pitch he heard some of his own club’s fans berating his team mates. Carlos immediately answered back, started shouting at the fans, became embroiled in a fight with his own spectators – and was sent off by the referee before even getting the chance to set foot on the pitch.

Problem solved!

He told the owner that the fans had called him a thief and insulted his honour – with the result that the owner extended his contract for another six months!

Brazil: Farce footballer Carlos Kaiser, singer Dona Onete and ...

When his days at Bangu were over, he went to Fluminese but there his scams and fake phone calls were exposed by a trainer and he quickly moved on to Vasco da Gama as a squad player where he trained and gave help to a first team colleague who had a drink problem. As Carlos didn’t drink he was seen as a good mentor for the player concerned!

The fake newspaper stories and phonecalls continued always with a view to getting him a move elsewhere and always to an area where his past was difficult to check.

The stories included how, when he was at Puebla, he had been so good that he was asked to become a Mexican citizen so that he could play for the national team.

How he had played in Argentina at Talleres de Cordoba and Independiente having been brought to both clubs by a man named “Alejandro”, who was a friend of Jorge Burruchaga.

He also claimed that he was part of the squad that won both the 1984 Copa Libertadores and the 1984 Intercontinental Club by portraying himself as Carlos Enrique, an Argentinian player who was genuinely part of the squad.

Eventually he used his fake stories to get himself to the USA but after only a few months he returned to Rio and ended his “professional” career with America RJ.

Some of the clubs mentioned in this tale have huge fan bases, are very professionally run, and have fielded some of the greatest names in football in their sides at one time or another.

Yet for over a decade they were consistently hoodwinked by a wannabee playboy who hid in plain sight in the bars, nightclubs and beaches, and who was no stranger to newspapers and publicity.

It is astonishing to think that Carlos Kaiser got away with living the dream without ever playing a single game — but he did!

It is not surprising that no one knows his name because he never played a single game for anyone.

However, it is surprising that someone who did play, was regarded as a genuine footballing genius and is lauded by many of the greatest names in football is relatively unknown. Or is it?

In many great football cities there is a “third team” – one that is neither of the big two teams in the city concerned. A less fashionable and much poorer team when compared to the top clubs in the city.

In Argentina, one of the hotbeds of football, if not the hotbed, is the city of Rosario in the province of Santa Fe.

Central Córdoba de Rosario - Wikipedia

Sitting 300 hundred miles north west of Buenos Aries and with a population of 1.25 Million, the city boasts two of the biggest clubs in the country in Roasrio Central and Newell’s Old Boys.

Between them these two clubs have won 10 national championships, 9 national cups and one international competition.

Numerous city natives have represented Argentina at International level including a certain Lionel Messi.

Yet, possibly the most highly regarded, and locally famous footballer, did not play for his country because — well basically, he couldn’t be bothered!

He didn’t even play for one of the two big clubs and instead his most famous period came with the much less fashionable Central Cordoba which, to him at least, was the greatest club in the world situated in the greatest city in the world.

So great was his affection for his club and his city that he never wanted to leave no matter what offer came his way.

So great is the admiration for the man concerned, for his skill and legendary attitude, that in this city his name and portrait are painted on walls and his name is sung decades after he hung up his boots.

Who is the greatest player ever to play football?

In Rosario, even some of the fans of the big two clubs will tell you that the answer is easy.

The answer is “El Trinche” – Tomas Felipe Carlovich – to some the matador, or the Maradona who never was, and to a whole generation and more he was simply the invisible magician.

El Trinche Tomás Carlovich

Carlovich was one of seven children born to Yugoslavian (Croatian) immigrants who had made their home in the Belgrano district of Rosario.

That district, or Barrio, would represent the boundaries of Tomas’ ambition and vision of himself. He loved the area and its people and never wanted to live, work or play anywhere else.

Born in 1946 Tomas loved to play football, but …… it could be said that he didn’t really want to be a professional footballer.

Unlike Carlos Kaiser, he definitely did not want to live the life of a professional footballer. He did not want the spotlight, the fame, the money, the nightclubs or the girls.

Instead, he would cut a Jesus like figure – tall, long haired, a little mystical, laid back like a hippy, no great pace, lacking physicality – but gifted with a football like you would not believe.

In later life he was asked about his attitude to football and about why he never “made it” on a bigger stage?

He replied: “What does it mean to ‘make it’? In truth I never had any other ambition than to play football. Above all, to stay close to my neighbourhood, my folks’ house, to stay with El Vasco Artola, one of my best friends who took me as a kid to play for Sporting Bigand… I’m a solitary person. When I played at Central Cordoba, if I could I would change by myself in the kitman’s office rather than the dressing room. I like peace and quiet.”

El Trinche literally means “The Fork” and even Carlovich himself is not sure where the nickname came from. Some say it is because a fork is a long thin instrument with even thinner legs or prongs – and that Carlovich looked like that when he played.

El Trinche should have, could have, played for Argentina but didn’t. He played only two games in the top flight of Argentinian Football, won no titles, no top class medals or awards, and yet the list of football greats who cite him as one of the greatest of all footballers is long and impressive.

Among them is Jose Pekerman the former manager of Argentina and Columbia who said that Carlovich was the greatest midfielder in the history of the game, the greatest footballing talent ever to come out of Argentina and was “The most marvelous player I have ever seen.”

When asked to name his all time best Argentinian 11, Pekerman put Carlovich at the heart of his midfield.

The list of who was left out of that team reads like a who’s who of football!

It is comments like that which have in part created the legend of El Trinche.


Like many South Americans, young Tomas honed his incredible skills in the street. At 15 he signed for one of the big two clubs in the city, Rosario Central, where he developed as an elegant, graceful, but slow, midfielder.

Carlos Griguol, a notoriously tough coach, gave him his first-team debut at 20. He played two games and was selected for a third, an away game in Buenos Aires, which meant a journey by bus for several hours to the country’s capital.

The story goes that on the day of the match Carlovich arrived early and boarded the bus with only the driver on board. He had got the departure time wrong and was told he would have to wait for about an hour for his team mates to arrive and for the bus to set off.

After about 10 minutes, he got off, said goodbye to the driver, turned his back on the club, went back home, and played that afternoon for the amateur club Rio Negro under an assumed name.

He never returned to Rosario Central or top flight football, and he never really explained why he got off that bus having got on it in the first place.

Later it would become clear that this son of a Yugoslav was only ever at home on the streets of Rosario and that the bright lights of Buenos Aires or international football held no allure for him at all.

Containment not respected for the last tribute to Carlovich ...

His then manager Griguol was later asked about Carlovich and his departure from Central. “He was a phenomenon of a player,” said Griguol, “He had unique technical abilities but he did not succeed with me. He did not sacrifice – he preferred to go hunting or fishing! What a pity.”

Having walked out on Rosario Central at the age of 20, Tomas eventually joined the “third” club in his home city, the unfashionable Central Cordoba, for whom he scored twice on his debut, and played a total of 236 games in four separate spells, helping them twice earn promotion from the third division to the second.

It was mostly at this club, and briefly at one or two others, that he cemented his legend especially when he always returned to Central Cordoba.

𝑮𝒓𝒂𝒑𝒉𝒊𝒕𝒆𝒙 𝑫𝒆𝒔𝒊𝒈𝒏 on Twitter: "🇪🇸 ▪️ C. A. ...

“Many things have been said about me,” he said, “but the truth is that I never liked being far from my barrio, my parents’ house, the bar I used to go to, and my friends.”

It was for that reason that he never sought to move elsewhere.

So why, and how, did he become a footballing legend?

There is very little video footage of El Trinche in action, and the main piece was filmed when he was 42 at the time, and so his is a true word of mouth legend, relayed through stories told by those who were there to see him play, and by those who played with, and against, him.

The one piece of footage that exists shows an older player who clearly can’t run but who shows some amazing flashes of skill. However, perhaps the most remarkable thing it almost shows is a goal scored by the legendary Trinche.

Aparece un vídeo de 'Trinche' Carlovich, el jugador a quien ...

Shaky footage shows him take a throw in, receive the ball back and apparently fire a volleyed shot at goal from the sidelines and some 35 yards out. There is an argument to say that the goalkeeper made a mess of the shot. Some, however, point out that the last thing anyone on the field expected was the big bearded player, who was as slow as a tractor, to suddenly shoot at goal from there.

Perhaps the keeper was caught out. The cameraman certainly was!

It was this kind of thing that created and furthered the legend of El Trinche!

However, surely much of what has been said about this mythical figure is precisely that – myth rather than fact?

Surely, it is not possible to be one of the greatest players in the world and to have only played for an unfashionable side in the lower leagues of Argentinian football?

Not so, say many journalists, ex players, managers and spectators. A billboard bearing his face and name in the city actually says “This was not a myth. This was the reality. El Trinche!

Anarhist – Telesport

The El Trinche who played for Cordoba Central would become famous for being able to read the game in the middle of the park, for pinpoint 40 yard passes delivered with ease and without seemingly trying, and for amazing dribbling skills for a big man who stood, but rarely ran, with his socks rolled down, his shirt unbuttoned, and looking for all the world like a displaced hippy.

Reports say the he liked to sit and dictate the game, with his speed of thought and vision more than making up for his lack of pace. He once talked about how, before receiving the ball, he would imagine controlling it and passing it where and when he wanted to. He apparently saw moves and passes that others couldn’t, or didn’t see until much later, and he had the ability to make the seemingly impossible or unforeseeable happen.

With his unusual appearance and stature, the crowds loved him.

Perhaps one of the most famous legends surrounding Carlovich was his ability to perform what became known as “The Double Nutmeg” on an opponent whereby he stuck the ball through the legs of his opposite number only to drag it back through the legs again before the bewildered player knew what was happening.

This phenomenon became so regular an occurrence that it was rumoured that Tomas was being paid a bonus every time he preformed the trick. Crowds flocked to see him play and so it was entirely feasible that he was financially encouraged to nutmeg as many opponents as possible.

Of course, all of this might be understandable and explainable against lower division opponents, but surely El Trinche could not shine and show off in this way against top class opposition?

Well, the growing legend would reach stratospheric heights on the evening of 17th April 1974.

The Argentinian National Team were in full preparation for the forthcoming World Cup which was to be held in West Germany.

Part of that preparation was to play a friendly against a Rosario select – a team which would feature 5 players from Rosario Central (who were champions that year) and 5 from Newall’s Old Boys.

The joint managers of the regional select team were Juan Carlos Montes and the same Carlos Griguol who Tomas had walked out on years before.

It was suggested to Griguol and Montes that the regional select team should not just consist of players from the two big clubs in Rosario, and so Montes made a suggestion to Griguol; “How about the big number 5 from Central Cordoba? Carlovich?”

Trinche Carlovich, footballer of the street that was better than ...

And that is how it came to pass that “El Trinche” took to the field one evening, with team mates he had never played with before, to play against a team of Argentinian Internationals which included Ruben Ayala, Rene Houseman, Daniel Bertoni, Alberto Tarantini, Ramon Heredia and Pancho Sa – who would become the most decorated player in the history of the Copa Libertadores.

It would be the first and last time that many of these players would share a field with Carlovich and it would be an experience they would never forget and were never allowed to forget.

Among his team mates that evening was a young Mario Kempes and the regional side also fielded some very good local players including Carlos Aimer of Rosario Central who was to become a huge Carlovich fan.

Before the match, the World Cup squad did not really have anything to fear in a regional friendly match, even although they were playing against top flight colleagues and an as yet relatively unknown big hippy.

However, the inclusion of that hippy had caught the imagination of the local press and one headline of the time predicted that El Trinche would test La Selección as the National side were known.

Reconstruction of the unique legend of the Carlovich Trinche ...

As it turned out, Tomas Felipe Carlovich did not test the national side — he tore it to shreds!

The story goes that by half time the regional team were leading two nil with El Trinche wandering about the midfield dominating and humiliating the most famous footballers in the country.

At one point the ball came to Carlovich. Pancho Sa, the most experienced and successful defender in Argentina went to close him down.

Carlovich nutmegged him.

The crowd knew what was coming but Sa didn’t.

Carlovich checked back and nutmegged him in reverse.

The stadium erupted and went wild.

Radio commentator Hector Vidana describing the match spoke of “the dance of the Rosarinos.” with Carlovich conducting the orchestra.

Legend has it that the Argentinian manager, Vladislao Cap, and senior members of the National Football Association asked that Carlovich be substituted at half time lest he further humiliate the national team and cause lasting psychological damage to the nation.

What is absolutely true is that at half time the Argentinian manager did ask “Just who is that number 5?”

Some reports say he never played the second half but in actual fact he was withdrawn 15 minutes into the second period by which time the damage had been done and the headlines written. The national team never recovered and eventually suffered a 3 – 1 defeat after young Kempes scored a third for the select – a goal which possibly persuaded the national coach to take him to Germany – and La Selección scored a consolation goal towards the end.

Kempes had played very well, and was undoubtedly one for the future, but he had not been the star of the show – and everyone knew who had.

The front page of one newspaper the next day showed a picture of El Trinche with a headline “Carlovich: El que la rompio contra la seleccion” – The one who broke the National team. The headline became so famous that it is still repeated and printed on posters and t-shirts over 45 years later.

Selección Argentina T-Shirts | Redbubble

For the next few years the legend of El Trinche grew and grew and stories about him abounded.

He was never the most punctual at turning up for training and it is said that he overslept for one game and so had to be collected from his home as a matter of urgency by the team bus on the way to the match. Apparently he got on the bus still half asleep and wearing just his underpants. The game ended with a one nil win with underpant man scoring the winner.

On another occasion the game took place in searing heat which was virtually unbearable. The story goes that one part of the pitch was in the shade and so Carlovich took the ball there and, either on his own or with the occasional help of one other team member, kept it in the small shaded area for fully ten minutes to the frustration of everyone with the referee having to eventually halt play and ask him to resume a proper game of football.

During another match he supposedly back heeled the ball into the air suddenly taking out the entire opposition midfield and so laid on a goal for a team mate.

At every possible opportunity he nutmegged away to his heart’s content and occasionally sat on the ball just to have a rest, although he insisted this was never a sign of disrespect to anyone.

His performances for Cordoba Central attracted more and more attention.

But at the back of it all, Tomas Felipe Carlovich just didn’t want to be a “professional” footballer in the true modern sense of that word. He enjoyed playing the game, and having fun while doing so, but he never took the whole thing too seriously and he had other things to do such as go fishing and spend time with friends and family. That was what was important – not football.

In 1976, Carlovich joined Independiente Rivadavia in Mendoza, 500 miles to the west. He hated it, but while there was crowned “The King of Mendoza” by the local people for a series of brilliant performances. One Saturday, however, he was playing a game but wanted to get back home early so he deliberately got himself sent off just before halftime and ran straight out of the stadium to catch a bus back to Rosario in time for Mother’s Day!

In October 1974 Cesar Luis Menotti was appointed as the manager to the Argentinian national team. Menotti was a clear footballing romantic and believed that Argentina could win the world cup in 1978 by playing fabulous football with really gifted players.

The chain smoking manager had played for Rosario Central and had been a coach at Newell’s Old Boys. He had also played with Pele at Santos in Brazil before ending his career with Juventus in Italy. Known as “El Flaco” meaning “the thin one” in his playing days, “Skinny” Menotti came to the international job knowing that his side did not have to qualify for the tournament as they were the host nation and so he had some leeway in building a squad which he thought would beat the best in the world while representing the best image of Argentinian football and thrilling the home crowds.

By 1976 The Skinny One had started to entertain the idea of El Trinche wearing the national colours in the midfield of his entertaining side, even although he played in the lower divisions of the Argentinian league and had absolutely no experience at anything like World Cup level.

Despite this, Menotti was of the view that El Trinche’s undoubted skill demanded he be included in the squad at least.

Speaking of Carlovich the National manager later said  “Carlovich is one of those kids whose unique toy has been a ball since they were born. Watching him playing football was impressive. It was a delight to watch Carlovich play, he had so much ability on the ball,” 

However, the world cup of 1978 was not to be for Carlovich. Menotti had a strong array of talent to pick from but he never got the chance to somehow fit the fabulous “El Trinche” into the national team. At the mere mention of Tomas’ name, Menotti’s deeply lined and craggy face breaks into a smile, he looks a little amazed, shakes his head in bewilderment and explains “I picked him for the national team – but he didn’t show up! I can’t remember if he had gone fishing or was on an island but his excuse was that he couldn’t get back because the river level was too high!”

And that was the end of that!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this incident with Menotti is that in several interviews Carlovich says he can’t even remember being called up to the National squad but adds “If Menotti says it happened then it probably did!”

Raccontami la leggenda del Trinche | L'Ultimo Uomo

Menotti never called on him again but clearly remained an unfaltering devotee of Carlovich’s seemingly supernatural skills if not his temperament and complete inability to get from A to B on time.

Others too wanted Carlovich to play for them. It is said that AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Pele’s New York Cosmos all wanted Carlovich to play for them at one point or another, but he was never going to leave Rosario.

The approach from Milan came after the Rossoneri played a match against a third division side from Mendosa called Andes Talleres while on a tour of Argentina.

The Italian champions had remained unbeaten on their tour and as part of a local festival in Mendosa, which celebrated the links between the area and Italy, Milan took to the field against Andes in a match which turned out to be anything but “friendly”.

On April 10, 1977, Carlovich made his debut against Colon in a match against Huracán; he barely played six minutes and was injured; in the photo, the first from left to right among those below

El Trinche agreed to appear as a guest player for Andes and so lined up against a squad which included household names such as Capello, Rivera, Antonelli and a 19 year old central defender called Franco Baresi.

In one of its most famous victories, little Andes Talleres defeated the Italian champions by three goals to two in front of 6,000 fans. As for the performance of El Trinche, he only came on for the second half, made two goals, and the reports of the day noted that he gave young Baresi a “torrid time” from the moment he took to the field.

The match became so heated that Milan had two players sent off and perhaps coincidentally, this match would be the last time the great Gianni Rivera would ever pull on the famous black and red shirt to appear in Milan’s midfield.

Carlovich was named man of the match, was reaffirmed as the King of Mendoza and was the subject of an immediate enquiry from the Italians.

It is clear from the newspaper reports that during the game he made glorious passes, nutmegged his Italian opponents, and was once again the star of the show. When asked about the game he himself said that while he hadn’t scored he had had “a little fun”!

Carlovich played for Colon de Santa Fe and Deportivo Maipu between 1977 and 1979 but he always wanted back to Rosario and so he returned to Cordoba Central in 1980 before retiring in 1983, only to come back and then retire again in 1986.

Tomás Felipe Carlovich, la légende est partie - Boursorama

Despite retiring from the professional game, he continued to play in “local” games in and around his barrio, while working as a bricklayer until osteoporosis made both impossible. In Rosario large crowds came to see him play even though he was now older and slower than ever. Such was the pull and the magic of El Trinche.

In fact, he was so popular in his hometown that when he needed surgery doctors and surgeons agreed to treat him for nothing although a benefit evening featuring two exhibition matches was arranged to help pay for treatment. The great and the good of Argentinian football turned up to play and pay their respects to El Trinche.

The crowds again sung his name and to this day they sing of El Trinche even although many of them never saw him play.

El Trinche” Carlovich – The Greatest Player The World Has Never ...

Over the years, numerous articles have been written about this tall long haired myth and the man himself has been interviewed by Argentinian television on numerous occasions. He is seen still sporting a shaggy head of hair, now turned to gray, and walking with a slight limp. The older Carlovich has often been asked to reminisce about his playing days and his career.

He says he was always happy just to play in Rosario and never wanted to be anywhere else. He explains that he was always shy, tended to socialise with lifelong friends from his neighbourhood and liked a quiet life away from the limelight. Not for him the flashy playboy life craved by Carlos Kaiser.

However, in later years TV cameras catch a journalist asking a somewhat frail Trinche if there was anything he would change about his career, anything he would do differently?

For the fist time ever there is a tinge of obvious regret.

“No,” he said, voice wavering. “No, sir, don’t ask me that.” He bites his lower lip. “No, not that.” Then tears fall from his eyes. Nobody had realized before that he eventually felt regret, that he wondered what he might have achieved, what could have been, and that there had ultimately been a cost to pay for always playing locally and loving his home town so much.

Yet there is footage of Carlovich dinning with his former Cordoba Central team mates and other “local” players which shows that he was clearly loved and admired as both a footballer and a person.

Stories are told of his skill and outrageous play which he dismisses with unaffected and genuine modesty among the laughter of his former team mates.

He has always remained a simple modest man and long after he retired from playing he could be found sitting on the terraces with other fans to watch his beloved Cordoba Central.

Today in Rosario, you will find the legend of El Trinche lives on. His face is to be found on murals, posters, numerous T shirts and sweatshirts, mugs, computer sleeves, phone and ipad covers, babygrows, and even facemasks. Many fans of Cordoba Central have El Trinche tattoos.

Full Songs are dedicated to him and during matches crowds sing “Ole, Ole Ole Ole, El Trinche, El Trinche”.

In bars and cafes, old and young debate who is the greatest player ever to come from Rosario. Is it the six times Balon D’or winner Lionel Messi with his clutch of Spanish Championships, Champions League medals and International caps – or the languid six foot bearded hippy from the barrio who won nothing and never played for his country because he had gone fishing or got lost in a boat?

It is hard for the young to comprehend how there can even be a debate or competition, but those who saw El Trinche in his prime are adamant that he had, and still has, no equal.

He is described as a cross between Requelme and Redondo in playing style and others such as Veron, Villa, Ardilles, Simeone, Valdano, Mascherano, and all other “greats” are dismissed as not being worthy of mention in the same breath.

Such is the devotion to this enigmatic lower league player.

Yet this devotion and adulation is not merely the fond myth or fantasy of fans who watched him play. Some of the great names in football also swear by the legend of El Trinche. Cesar Luis Menotti, Jose Pekerman and Marcelo Bielsa — three former Argentina managers — all testify to his greatness with Bielsa in particular reported to have followed him for years just to watch his skills and technique.

Jorge Valdano, another international manager, said of Carlovich that he was “the symbol of a romantic football that practically does not exist anymore.” while others such as Mario Kempes talk in terms of wonder at his skills.

Carlos Aimar, one of his teammates in that famous Rosario select when asked to describe what El Trinche could do with the ball once said “He did things that were against the law of gravity,”.

However, the legend of El Trinche reached new heights in 1993.

After 9 years in Europe with Barcelona, Napoli and Sevilla, Diego Armando Maradona returned to his native country and signed for Newell’s Old Boys of Rosario.

The 91 times capped World Cup winner, who would later be voted joint winner of Fifa’s player of the 20th century, was introduced at a press conference where a journalist welcomed “the best player in the world” to Rosario.

Maradona, who is not noted for his humility or want of confidence in his own abilities, responded immediately. “The best player in the world has already played in Rosario. His name was Carlovich.”

Last year, the same Diego Maradona paid a visit to the home of the septuagenarian and once again furthered the legend of El Trinche by giving Tomas a signed shirt which also bore a hand written message saying “Trinche, you were better than me!”

Better than Maradona: The story of Rosario's favourite son Trinche ...

The fact that there is even a comparison with Messi or Maradona tells you everything you need to know. El Trinche was no myth.

Sadly, the legend of this mythical man has since been further strengthened by the tragic events of 6th May 2020. Riding his bicycle in his beloved home town, Tomas Felipe Carlovich was violently attacked by two men who wanted to steal the new bicycle he was riding. He was knocked to the ground, suffered concussion and fell into a coma.

His fame is such that the attack made the National news in Argentina, and when he died two days later on 8th May there was a genuine sense of National mourning – quite remarkable for a footballer who had only ever played in the lower leagues of Argentinian Football.

Turu21 on Twitter: "No falleció.. lo mataron!!!… "

Numerous television programmes featuring all sorts of famous guests have devoted time to the skill, persona and the influence of El Trinche. Newspapers from Buenos Aires to Bengal have carried obituaries and football magazines and blogs the world over have dedicated articles to this “unknown” player.

Alberto Tarantini (who was given the job of marking El Trinche on that famous night in 1974), Mario Kempes, Daniel Passarella, Pancho Sa, Daniel Bertoni and numerous others have all spoken about the football player who they all say was simply outstanding.

Tarantini in particular talks about Carlovich as being truly special and barely tries to hide his feelings “As a footballer he was incredible. I played in that famous game in 1974. Few games were left in my memory to see a footballer play the way the Trinche did that day. From the time he entered the field until they took him off, he gave a soccer masterclass, of technique, of personality. He was impressive, the complete example of what a classic Argentine soccer player is. I looked at him that night, his size and build, his skill and technique. He looked and played like a hero. He was a beautiful bohemian whom we are going to miss greatly – and his death was murder, plain and simple, an act of barbarism — all for a bicycle!”

Describing that same night Kempes says simply “His death is a real disgrace but I want to remember his essence. That night, he dazzled – absolutely dazzled!”

Sanch Pa, who fell victim to the double nutmeg added “The greatest thing about El Trinche? He gladdened people’s hearts. I had never seen him before that night but had heard about him. He was a legend of Rosario Football.”

In 2015, Carlos Kaiser signed a deal with a production company who made a documentary film about the most famous footballer to never play a game. It has no doubt brought him a degree of fame, if not infamy, and he continues to make money out of a game he never played.

In Rosario, Kaiser could walk down the street wearing a suit made of lightbulbs and no one would recognise him or bat an eye. His name will never be sung from the terraces and he will soon be forgotten.

In the same city, there are portraits, cartoons and murals of a long haired, sometimes bearded, man who never sought fame or fortune, or wanted the glamour and lifestyle so craved by Carlos Kaiser.

His name will never be forgotten here or indeed anywhere where football is played in Argentina.

In a time where football has become a business full of agents, contracts, sponsorships, image rights and lucrative endorsements, generations of football fans mourn the loss of a player who represented none of those things and had no interest in them.

He was from the Barrio or neighbourhood, where as a kid you don’t dream of wealth or status but just want to play football in a certain way – a classic way. It is said that in the entire history of the sport, Carlovich had a unique relationship with the ball and could make it do anything — when he wanted to.

It would appear that he certainly had a unique relationship with football and football fans in Argentina and in Rosario in particular.

This was a player, and a man, whose appearance, style, skill and demeanor made the crowd roar, brought a smile to the face and caused footballing romantics like Cesar Luis Menotti to grin, shrug his shoulders, and give a simple wondrous shake of the head which said more than a thousand words.

For those of us who never knew of El Trinche, believing in his legend can be no more than an act of faith. There are no detailed records, no videos, and only occasional newspaper reports and mostly regional newspaper reports at that.

However as one commentator put it you have to believe, accept the reports of those who saw and who witnessed, even if their recollections are exaggerated with the passage of time. Pekerman, Aimar, Valdano, Menotti, Bielsa, Tarantini, Kempes, Pa, Bertoni, Passarella and even Maradona (a virtual galaxy of Argentinian football) and many more, all subscribe to the El Trinche legend.

However, the final words go to his friend Daniel Killer who played for both Rosario Central and for Newall’s Old Boys, was part of the Rosario select when they defeated La Seleccion, and who was part of the victorious Argentina squad of 1978.

Killer and his brother Mario, who also played for Rosario, come from the Belgrano Barrio just as Trinche did.

“In Belgrano, most folk don’t talk about Maradona or Messi, they talk, and always talked, of Trinche. When he had the ball no one could get it from him. But sometimes you wanted to kill him. He would never train, sometimes he wouldn’t even show up unless someone went to collect him. I know of occasions when he was collected and appeared just with his boots. No towel or anything, no shin pads, no bandages, just boots.”

“I remember playing with him one day at Santa Clara in Bella Vista (a local ground) and there were all these people coming with wooden chairs which folded up so they could just sit and watch him play. They would ask “Does La Trinch play?” – that is what they called him — it was like taking Messi or even Diego to a local match.”

As the legend of Carlovich grew during his career, celebrities and others would simply turn up, sometimes driving many miles, just to see him play and be able to say they saw him play.

“He could do anything with the ball – but you had to run for him! He was all pure skill and only wanted to play with the ball. He wasn’t interested in anything else.”

When asked what Carlovich would be “worth” in the modern game Killer simply couldn’t tell you. “He had an innate talent – God given- worth? Who knows? Diego says Trinche was a better player than he was…….”

However, it is when Killer (known as “The Horse” in his playing days) talks about Carlovich the man, and the circumstances of his death, the true emotion comes out.

“For me they did not recognize him. He went out with the new expensive bicycle that a friend gave him instead of the old one everyone knew he had. Maybe if he was on the old bike nothing would have happened? He was wearing a hood so they didn’t recognise him and everyone knew and loved Trinche. He was a really special person. That blow was so strong that he fell passed out and went into an induced coma. He was a very dear person, he did not hurt anyone and he never changed. We would meet every Friday for lunch and he would never even lock the door of his flat or secure the old bike. His face and legend is everywhere but he never sought to make any money from that.”

Some footballers are instantly recognised or as soon as their names are spoken everyone knows you are talking about a famous player. The really great ones are often known by just one name whether that be a surname or a christian name. In Argentina there only ever was one Trinche – Tomas Felipe Carlovich – the reluctant footballer, the beautiful bohemian, and the invisible magician.

That title “Invisible Magician” possibly stems from that night where he pulled the Argentina National team apart and left the field of play after 15 minutes of the second half.

It was the greatest performance of his life playing against world class players who had never seen or even heard of him before, and playing with players he had never played with. It was a night which could have led to great things and substantial riches for El Trinche if he had been a more commercial person.

When the final whistle went, many of those players – even those of the national squad – and virtually all of the press who were present, wanted to meet and speak to the hero of the night who had produced such magic on the football field -The fabulous El Trinche.

They were to be disappointed.

As soon as he was substituted, Carlovich took of his boots, showered, threw on his sandals and left the ground without saying a word to anyone. He had played well, was satisfied with his night and had “had some fun”.

By the time the final whistle went he was sitting down to dinner with his friends in the Barrio. The magician had indeed disappeared into the night and was nowhere to be seen!

Until now you may never have heard his name and never knew he existed. He may have never left his home city or traveled very far , but his legend – his very real and verifiable legend – continues to travel right around the world and is stronger than ever in Rosario.

He will always be identified by that one name — not even his own name– El Trinche – or even just Trinche – Tomas Felipe Carlovich – The invisible magician and the greatest footballer you had probably never heard of.

Until now.

El Trinche Carlovich" Greeting Card by Angelbeach | Redbubble
Tomás Felipe Carlovich, o l'uscita dal tunnel

Who saved the Derry Man? A goalkeeping tale.

16 Feb

Good Evening,

If you take the A81 out of Glasgow and head towards Drymen,  after approximately 21 miles and many twists and turns, you will come to one of Scotland’s listed buildings called Auchentroig House which sits just outside the village of Buchlyvie where, it is said, Rob Roy McGregor once roamed the fields causing mayhem and havoc to the establishment in the 17th and 18th Century.

Legend has it that one of the residents of Auchentroig offended The Great McGregor one day, with the result that Big Rob chased him all the way home and set fire to the front door of the mansion-house, in an attempt to gain entry and get his hands on the guilty party.


By the time I became a regular visitor to Auchentroig the house had become the Scottish seat of the Kiltegan Fathers and the St Patrick’s Missionary Society of Ireland and “St Pat’s”, as it was known, was the scene of the regular Sunday Mass for many of the Catholics who lived locally.

With its 50 acres of garden ground, Auchentroig was also the scene of many a garden party, picnics and sports days.

Football games were often played on the lawns, and whilst I have no doubt that such games were greatly enjoyed by the kids, my clear memory is that on such occasions dad’s like myself would often be the keenest of participants.

The big house at Auchentroig had been a place of study in the past and for many years young men would come from Ireland and elsewhere to study under the watchful gaze of the Kiltegans and to play football and other games in the extensive grounds.

One such student turned up in Buchlyvie in 1973, and for the next year or so he would be resident at Auchentroig and was quickly elected school sports captain – a position he gained much to his surprise I suspect.

The young man concerned had been born in 1956 and was one of five children from an ordinary working class family who lived on the Creggan Estate in Derry and his short stay at Auchentroig would prove to be a peaceful, and perhaps, uneventful chapter in what can only be described as an extraordinary life.

Don Mullan was to prove no ordinary student and was destined to follow no ordinary career path for a boy born on the Republican Creggan. He was also to have the most unlikely of heroes for a Northern Irish boy who, unknowingly, had a huge influence on who Don would become and what he would go on to achieve.

By the time young Mullan came to Stirlingshire in 1973 “The Troubles” were in full swing having begun on 5th October 1968 when Don was 11 or 12 years old, and like many of the young people in the six counties he was to bear direct witness and feel the impact of the turmoil. He was to witness some of the seminal events of modern Irish history, including the birth of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement; the introduction of Internment without Trial (9 August 1971), and most significantly he was a direct witness of the tragic events of Bloody Sunday (30 January 1972) – all before he came to the peaceful fields of Stirlingshire and the calming influence of the Kiltegans.

Years later, Mullan would openly write about how it would have been oh so easy to join the Provisional IRA after the events of Bloody Sunday, however he opted to go down a very different road indeed.

Despite failing his Eleven Plus and  being dyslexic (something which was only diagnosed in 1994), Mullan threw himself into writing, speaking and  being as active as possible in promoting human rights and righting historical injustice throughout the world.

Between 1979 until 1993 he would champion the commemoration of “The Great Famine” in Ireland and he recreated the Famine Walk in County Mayo thus replicating the enforced march of starving Irish men, woman and children in 1848. Mullan’s efforts to highlight the famine and its lasting effects would see him appear on TV screens throughout the world.

An Gorta Mor

Mullan also worked tirelessly in Africa and South America highlighting the plight of those held in refugee camps in Zaire and the conditions faced by thousands of starving people in Northern Brazil. By the time Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa, Mullan was held in such high regard that he was invited to attend the ceremony as the special guest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in recognition of his work on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement, and after the ceremony he was asked to attend a symposium on Robben Island to discuss the future use of the island in a new South Africa. At the congress,  Mullan was invited to address the gathering and talk of his own work on harnessing the memory of the Great Irish ‘Famine’ (1845–1849) and in fighting injustice and oppression today.

He has written extensively on Dyslexia and has championed the cause of the Choctaw Nations and their treatment in the United States, and he participated in their “Trail of Tears” charity walk from Oklahoma to Mississippi in 1992, during which he spoke extensively about his humanitarian work.

However, closer to home Mullan is best known for his 1997 best-selling book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday which has been officially recognised as an important catalyst which led to the decision by then Prime Minister Tony Blair to establish a new Bloody Sunday Enquiry in 1998. He also co-produced, wrote, and acted in the 2002 award-winning Granada/Hell’s Kitchen movie called Bloody Sunday, which was inspired by his book. He has addressed audiences throughout Ireland, Britain, Europe, Canada, Brazil, and the United States on justice, peace and human rights issues speaking at countless educational and governmental venues.


Don Mullan was attending his first ever Civil Rights march that Sunday and he was there to witness the shooting and the killing first hand. He saw what had happened, he was with people whom he knew when it happened, and he watched friends, neighbours and relatives run for cover when the Paras opened fire.

He was also sufficiently smart to know that the official version of events were plain lies and a cover up of the truth.

Bloody Sunday

He toyed with the idea of joining the armed struggle immediately after. As we know, many went down that route for good or bad, but Don Mullan walked another road as described above and what a journey it would be, made all the more remarkable as he was a boy from the Creggan with reading difficulties and who failed the eleven plus.

It was this troubled teenager who pitched up in Stirlingshire in 1973 and played football on the lawns of Auchentroig and passed through the big door which had been set on fie by Rob Roy McGregor.

Yet throughout his entire life and in all his talks, Mullan has recorded his belief that his unlikely and unknown hero played a huge part in making him the man he was and in influencing his decision to follow a path that was to lead to an endless fight for justice, civil rights and decent treatment for all men and woman no matter where they came from and their station in life.

And all because the hero concerned was a goalkeeper – called Gordon Banks!


Don Mullan explains that he was never the first to be picked for a football team either at school or in and around The Creggan. In fact, he was always the last pick and inevitably  he would be thrown into the goals and told by his classmates, and even friends, that he was “The keeper” – because he was never going to get a game outfield.

He threw himself into the role and in 1966 he watched the World Cup Finals in England on TV and for the first time he saw Gordon Banks keep goal for England. Life would never be the same again.

Banks was not the tallest keeper in history, but he was agile, quick footed and seemed able to pull of miraculous saves. For a politically innocent wee boy from the Creggan, Banks became a hero, so much so that when he went out to play on the streets of Derry he must have been the only kid to wear a yellow shirt which his mother had specially embroidered with the three lions of England at his request.

That in itself must be a unique claim to fame.

Then came The Troubles in 1968 and in 1970 the World Cup finals in Mexico and that save from Pele.

And here I will let Don Mullan take up the story in his own words following the match between England and West Germany during the 1966 World Cup Finals:

“That day he became my hero. I was ten years old,” says Mullan. “I turned a 500-page wallpaper book into a Gordon Banks scrapbook.”

Six weeks after Banks’ most famous save in the 1970 world cup finals, his father took 14-year-old Don “over the border” to Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey in County Donegal where Finn Harps were scheduled to play a pre season friendly against Stoke City FC.

“Unknown to me, my father hid my scrapbook in the boot of the car and drove into Jackson’s Hotel. He told me to wait with my mother and a few minutes later emerged excitedly calling, ‘Don, come here. Come here!’

“I followed my father into the foyer of the hotel and saw a tall man with his back to me leafing through my scrapbook at the reception desk. Then my father spoke the magic words: ‘Here he is Mr Banks.’

“The man turned around and it was him. I was speechless. It was, without exaggeration, like an audience with God. This moment remains the most cherished memory I have of my father. I was 14 years old.”

Despite being astounded at suddenly meeting his hero, 14-year-old Mullan recalls that his lasting impression of Banks was his “courtesy and kindness towards my mother and father. He saw in them his own parents from the same working class background”.

He goes on: “That encounter, especially after the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, was a calming influence on my growing anger. I figured in my adolescent innocence that not all English people were bad.”

And that was the mindset of the boy who came to Auchentroig to be schooled by the Kiltegans and to keep goal on the lawn where I would later play football with my own children and others.

But the story doesn’t end there – far from it.

Mullan never lost his enthusiasm for his boyhood hero. As an adult, he met Banks again in 2004. He says prior to that meeting, fellow Derry man, the musician and songwriter Phil Coulter, warned Mullan to be careful as boyhood heroes can often be a far cry from reality.

“Yet, for me it was the opposite. I found the same caring, kind and generous man who, on this occasion, showed the same courtesy to my 14-year-old son, Carl, as he had shown to me.”

In 2004, Mullan published a memoir entitled ‘Gordon Banks – A Hero Who Could Fly’, in which he outlines the extraordinary influence Banks had on his life. The great goalkeeper even travelled to Ireland to launch the book, which was the beginning of a relationship which saw the two men become close friends.

A hero who could fly

Two years after meeting the young Don Mullan in Jacksons Hotel, Gordon Banks would lose the sight in one eye following a car crash in October 1972. The crash cost him not only the sight in his right eye but eventually his professional career. Having played at the top-level with Leicester City, Stoke and with England, he played two last seasons in the United States for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1977 and 1978, and despite only having vision in one eye, he was NASL Goalkeeper of the Year in 1977 after posting the best defensive record in the league.

Like many footballers of his age, Gordon Banks was forced to raise money by selling his footballing memorabilia in later years, having lost a significant sum of money when a Leicester based hospitality business which he fronted failed. In 2001, he sold his World Cup winners medal for £124,750, and his international cap from the final was also sold at auction for £27,025.

Leicester City had helped by giving him a testimonial and he was made the President of Stoke City following upon the death of Stanley Matthews.

However, Don Mullan wanted to do something more, something personal to honour his hero.

He was at the forefront of a campaign to have a monument erected to celebrate Banks’ career and so set about commissioning a statue of the great goalkeeper.He travelled throughout England in an attempt to find a sculptor who would create a special sculpture of Banks and eventually he was introduced to Carl Edwards who was commissioned to create a triple statue of Banks which was eventually unveiled outside Stoke City’s stadium in 2008 by Pele and by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Banks Mullan

He would later tell RTE News “I’m not sure if, in the vexed history between Ireland and England, a statue has ever been erected by an Irishman to an Englishman. Perhaps I have added a little bit of peace in doing so. I hope.”

In December 2015, it was announced that Gordon Banks was receiving treatment for kidney cancer and he died in his sleep on 12 February 2019 at the age of 81 years old.

He was undoubtedly the greatest goalkeeper to ever play for England with a record of 73 international appearances in which he kept 35 clean sheets and lost just nine games. He was named FWA footballer of the year in 1972, and was named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year on six occasions and the second-best goalkeeper of the 20th century, after Lev Yashin (1st) and ahead of Dino Zoff  (3rd).

Pele ranked him as one of the 150 greatest living footballers.

For Don Mullan however, his hero had become a friend and his memory is now not that of a ten year old with a footballing hero.

As Banks’ life neared its end, Mullan’s close relationship with Gordon was acknowledged by his family, who invited him over to England during the last week of his life to say his goodbyes.

“It was a privileged two hours we shared. During my visit I helped him to the intimacy of the bathroom. My boyhood Superman now relying on my strength to hold him. So sad yet so beautiful,”

Following Banks’ recent death Mullan talked of “a hero who welcomed me into his family and who became a genuine friend. We lived in an era when sporting heroes were ordinary and unassuming people whose very modesty was the oxygen of dreams, and across the water, on a neighbouring island with whom we Irish had been in conflict for centuries, I had a hero who could fly. His name is Gordon Banks. From being a timid, fearful young boy, he taught me that impossible doesn’t exist. Unknown to him, he helped save a young fan from making choices that had brought too much sorrow and sadness to Irish and British alike.”

“Who knows? Perhaps it was his best save ever.”

Banks 3


Don Mullan has received Honorary Degrees from Iona College, New Rochelle, New York (1997) Mount Aloysius College, Pennsylvania (2001) and DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois (2011). In March 1998, he was Grand Marshal of the San Diego St Patrick’s Day Parade. On 9 December 2002, Mullan received A Defender of Human Dignity award from the International League for Human Rights at the United Nations, New York. In October 2003 he received the Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award from the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America. In May 1990, Mullan was made an Honorary Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, an honour he shares with the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

Mullan has been published in The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, Ireland on Sunday, the Sunday Tribune, The Examiner, Magill Magazine, La Reppublica, The Times (London), The Guardian, Journal do Brasil and Irish America.

A video of Don Mullan talking about his childhood, Derry and Gordon Banks can be found here:

A letter from Malawi

16 Jun


Good Afternoon,

The flat screen television in my room beams out live pictures from Russia where the 2018 FIFA world Cup has started at a cost some put at £14.2 Billion pounds.

32 nations, all fielding well paid international footballers, compete in this global extravaganza, with every kick, pull of the shirt, shot and save being instantly transmitted to every corner of the earth by the miracle of modern technology.

In between matches, globally known sponsors have paid many many millions to have their name associated with the successes and failures of the FIFA tournament, and behind the scenes the bidding and negotiations are already underway for the next tournament which will come from the fabulously rich desert of Qatar.

Modern day football is a good place to start this story because as I type I am fully conscious – possibly more conscious than ever – that my reason for being in my present location is down to one man, someone who died over a century ago and who just happened to come from the same village as my grandfather.

Andrew Kerrins was born in Ballymote County Sligo on May 18th 1840 and lived to the ripe old age of 75.

He achieved many things in life but perhaps his most famous and lasting achievement was the concept of a football team which would play to feed poor children and the unemployed. He stated plainly that “A Football Club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed.”

Nowhere did he state that the football team would be a winning one or a rich one. He simply set out its one and only purpose in just 18 words.

I wonder what Brother Walfrid, as Andrew Kerrins became, would think of a football tournament that costs £14.2 Billion to stage?

I wonder what he would say if anyone had told him that 130 years or so after he had announced the intention to form such a football team, 23 of us would travel in his name and in the name of that team to one of the poorest countries on earth with the intention of feeding children thousands of miles away from the Calton?

I wonder what he would think about the modern era of air travel? Could he imagine a passenger jet that seats between 242 and 360 passengers with a range of just over 8,000 miles non-stop with each plane costing between a much more modest $239 and $325 Million depending on configuration.

The Kenyan Airlines Boing 787 which flew us from Amsterdam to Africa is such a plane. Twin engined and fuel efficient, it “flies by wire” and is a hugely successful mid-range global ranger of a plane.

It brings in roughly between £350-£400,000 per day for its operators which means that it can return the cost of a unit in only a couple of years.

I wonder if the man from Ballymote could even imagine such figures?

Most of all I wonder if he could contemplate a world which can generate such vast sums of money, such huge advances in technology and the ability to transport news, images and people in vast numbers but which also stands idly by while millions and millions live in abject poverty – poverty that is unimaginable until you have seen it for yourself.

Many reading this piece will have travelled far and wide in Europe and beyond. Many will have seen poor places, shanty towns, houses which we would consider unfit for human habitation and which should be pulled down and rebuilt.

Many will have seen the homeless on our streets whose lives are miserable, squalid and seemingly without hope. They beg, perhaps  gain a roof over their head via a night shelter or maybe a sleeping bag and a shop doorway.

All of that is terrible and it shouldn’t be – but not many of them eat roasted mouse from a stick!

Welcome to Malawi.

Whatever your mental concept of poverty or poor living conditions might be, then tripling or quadrupling your worst imaginable thoughts won’t get you even close to what I have seen here. Nothing prepares you for this.

Once out of the cities of Malawi the roads are awful. During 5 days here, one at least was completely unpassable on a mini bus.

Yet at the end of such roads are countless houses (if you can call them that) and families all living under an African sun and completely oblivious to The World Cup, Airports, McDonalds, or anything else that has spread throughout the globe.

To say they live in their own wee world is an understatement.

Houses in the main are tiny with only two or three rooms. There is no plumbing, no electricity, no furniture, no windows, no carpets, no blankets, no light other than daylight, no beds just mats which the occupants roll out, and no cooking facilities of any type.

These are caves made of modern brick.

Yet the people smile constantly, they sing, laugh, shout and go about their daily business with a verve and a relish that is hard to comprehend.

They are grateful for every little thing – a biscuit, a ball, anything at all which is a “luxury item”.

Mary’s Meals does a brilliant job here but they are really fighting against a far bigger force and it is clear to me that they need far more help than I had realised and not just in terms of funds for porridge and food.

They have cut the feeding programme in some schools from two meals a day to one so that their resources go further. Yet there are millions and millions in this country alone who still go without.

However, my biggest concern is the youth.

Kids going to the structure of a school to be fed and educated is one thing. Young kids are so full of joy and exuberance that it is truly touching.

However, the older kids and the youth on the street, many who have had the benefit of that education and a stable daily meal in the past, are less easily impressed I suspect. I see questions in their eyes. I see a lack of structure to support them and an inability to meet both their natural intelligence and the fruit of their education.

I believe that there will soon be whole generation here who want more than porridge and a school without windows. They will want more. They will want answers.

Absolutely nothing should take away from the work of the Celtic Charity Foundation or Mary’s Meals. No praise is high enough in my eyes for their efforts and the fight they are conducting here.

When we go into a school to paint it and it make it ready for use complete with educational tools painted on the walls, and when we see hundreds of kids being fed day after day with a life sustaining meal, I hear the man from Ballymote cheer like hell.

But when we drive away from the schools down the long dusty rock filled and near impossible tracks that pass for a road, I see hundreds if not thousands of older “kids” who seem to me to be lost and trapped in this neglected corner of the world.

There has to be more.

Everything within me shouts “Do More, Do More, For God’s Sake Do More!” – Though I am absolutely unsure who I am shouting at.

Meanwhile the television shows Cristiano’s hattrick and the commentator casually mentions that he recently paid many millions in fines to avoid jail for tax evasion.

The Crowd roar their approval.

I turn the television off.

The remote control doesn’t work on Malawi.

It is here and it is now!

What would Andrew Kerrins think?


If you want to support The Celtic Charity Foundation and Mary’s Meals in Malawi see here







29 Sep


The ancient cottage - Gweedore

Do you hear the calling of the wind

as towards me it floats and roars.

Do you hear the crashing of the Atlantic

As it rushes home to shore?

Do you hear the rustling of the fields

and the straining of the land?

I am the ancient cottage

and in silence here I stand.


Do you hear the urgent cry

of the lovers on the bed?

Do you hear the call of children

demanding to be fed?

Do you hear the cutting of the plough

and the planting of tomorrow?

I am the ancient cottage

witness to joy and sorrow.

ancient cottage 2


Do you see here come the soldiers

with their bayonets and their guns,

obeying London orders

that their empire must be won

Do you see there sits the coffin ship

to separate man and wife

to bring misery and hardship

and ruin many lives.


Do you see those little children

and the strength behind their eyes?

Do you see that it is inevitable

that one day they will rise

and demand an education,

accepting coffin ships no more

telling any passing soldiers

“ This is OUR Atlantic shore!”

ancient cottage 3


Yes, I am the ancient cottage

I’ve seen generations come and go

I’ve heard their names

joined in their games

and watched their children grow.

I’ve seen the dawn of electricity

heard the aeroplane’s skyward groan

I’ve been abandoned for modern bungalows

I’m just a pile of bricks and stone


But I am the ancient cottage

I have children far and wide

and though they may be far away

I am always at their side.

Some sit in fancy offices

in London or New York,

Some teach in Letterkenny

others run a bar in Cork.

Some help propel spacecraft

up to those shinning stars

and others they make engines

for those fancy German cars.


My children’s children are long gone

they have roamed the seven seas

gone to all the corners of the earth

and scattered on the breeze

But no matter where they wander

what they achieve, or are their goals

I am the ancient cottage

I am the keeper of their souls.



I am the ancient cottage

I’ve seen life born within my stones,

I’ve seen the young grow old

and I have buried many bones

But I still hear Atlantic waves

crashing down below

I am the keeper of many secrets

and there is many a tale I know.

Ancient cottage 4


So dear visitor, do you want to hear

the best story I can tell?

It involves the wind, the fields, the birds

and that relentless ocean swell.

It is a story full of triumph,

dignity and pride

A story to be proud of –

just stand silently by my side.


Do you hear the calling of the wind?

as towards us it floats and roars.

Do you hear the crashing of the Atlantic?

as it rushes home to shore?

Do you hear the rustling of the fields

and know now what you always knew

Yes, I am the ancient cottage

And my best story …… is you!




Jim McGinley

29th September 2017

St Patrick, St Joseph and St Paul’s Thunderbolt

28 May


The restaurant was moderately busy and there was a steady flow of noise as the diners chatted and laughed. It had been busier at lunchtime, but now in the middle of the afternoon, some were just sitting down to a late lunch while others were nursing post prandial drinks and were using the joint more as a bar than an eatery.

A group of five sat at a circular table close to the bar and could barely hide their delight when they were joined by the restaurant’s proprietor. In truth, Jack Dempsey had sold a fair chunk of his interest in the premises many years before but his name was still writ large above the door of the legendary speakeasy on New York’s Times Square, and as such he still played the role of “mine host” from time to time and gave customers the chance to sit and chat with the former heavyweight champion of the world.

For fight fans, 75-year-old Dempsey was a legend – and most folk don’t often get the chance to speak to a legend let alone sit in a restaurant owned by one and have the man himself sit down with you and shoot the breeze.


The five men concerned were all Americans, two from Florida, one from New York, one from Washington and the last from Chicago. They were all from an Irish background and had been in town for the annual St Patrick’s day parade two days before. It was the New Yorker who had suggested that as part of their week long get together they should go to Jack Dempsey’s for lunch one day, adding that if they were lucky – really lucky – they might just get a word with the great man himself.

Now, miraculously, here they were sitting with the square jawed septuagenarian who looked as if he could still step into the ring and do some damage.

One of the five men was celebrating a birthday – he was called Joseph after the feast day he was born on – and they had already made several toasts to “Joe and St Joseph” by the time Dempsey sat down.

Once he had introduced himself and made sure his customers all had fresh drinks, Dempsey eased into his usual chat with customers which, as always, very quickly centred on boxing, his career in the ring, his most famous fights and on the champions and fights of the day.

On this occasion it took barely a minute for one of the visitors to ask the former champ for his take on the big fight that had taken place just over a week before at Madison Square Garden when the undefeated Joe Frazier had successfully defended his title against the returning, but also undefeated, Muhammad Ali.

“What a left hook in the 14th!” said one of the men referring to Frazier’s punch which felled Ali like a tree “Do you think that is what won it for smoking Joe, Jack?” asked the same man somewhat timidly addressing “The Manassa Mauler” by his Christian name.

“Well” said Dempsey “I certainly think that sealed it for him. I think Joe was the aggressor throughout the fight and it was he who was coming on and going forward all the time. For me, Ali fought in bursts and was holding a lot – I think it is obvious that his three year layoff has slowed him down. He looked a touch too big and was far more static – nothing like the fighter of a few years ago, and I doubt he will get that back to be honest. But it was a great fight that’s for sure.”

“ Yet afterwards, in the press conference, Ali maintains that he was the winner and that the verdict was a white man’s decision.” Said one of the company.

Dempsey, cocked his head to one side slightly and grimaced.  He said “I disagree. I think he lost, and if he is honest with himself, he will know he lost. But let me ask you this, when he made that statement who was he speaking to and what message was he sending out? Professional boxing is about what goes on in the ring, and about what goes on out of the ring, and what I take from Ali’s comments is that he is saying that he is not for quitting the business and going away quietly as some have suggested he should. In fact, he is saying the opposite. He is saying. “I am still here, I think I won, and that I am still the greatest” – of course whether he is or isn’t is of no moment at this time as he has just lost a decision and been dumped on his ass! But he is making a noise and saying to the promoters that he is up for more fights and making them more money. Ali is a great showman and a big draw, and in my opinion, he is deliberately firing up post fight speculation about a rematch and putting immediate pressure on Joe Frazier – if you like he is diminishing the result in Joe’s favour, and I suspect that Joe himself won’t like that – not one little bit! As for his “white man” jibe – both fighters were black!” he said dismissively.

“So do you think Joe has shown that he is the better fighter?”

“I think he was the better fighter on the night over 15 rounds” replied Dempsey “That is clear. Joe fought a great fight. He was brave and relentless in coming forward, landed some huge blows and really made Ali look like a slow fighter. He had him on the ropes for a lot of the time, and either Ali couldn’t stick and move the way he used to or Joe just didn’t let him stick and move. It looked to me that Joe controlled the fight – I don’t believe that any fighter, at this or any level, would decide that it is a good tactic to just sit on the ropes the way Ali did. I don’t think that was his game plan. I don’t think he would have wanted to stand there and take heavy punches on his arms and body, let alone to the head. No, Joe controlled the fight and dictated the style of fight. That will have counted for the judges who will have expected to see Ali dance, move and send out those fast bursts and combinations we have seen before. When that didn’t happen they will have seen Joe winning.”

“However, would Joe Frazier have been able to dictate like that against the Ali or Clay of a few years ago? That I am not so sure. Sonny Listen was a mean son of a gun and he tried to chase the young Cassius Clay all around the ring and permanently got leather in the face for his trouble. I am not so sure that Joe would have landed the left hook as often on the Ali of a few years ago. All fighters have a place and time when they are at their peak – for me what you saw the other night was not Muhammed Ali at his peak – his peak was three years ago.”

“Do you think there will be a rematch champ?”

“Well Ali certainly wants a rematch, going by what he is saying in public, but I am not sure “Smokin Joe” and his handlers will be too quick to offer one – He is the undisputed heavyweight champ and he whipped Ali’s ass – what does he stand to gain by offering Ali another chance? Would he want to face another brutal fight with Ali where Ali has been given the chance to maybe come in 6lbs lighter and be more mobile? Besides, If I am honest, I think there will be doubts in Joe’s head – more importantly, there will be doubts in Yank Durham’s head.”

“Sorry, can you explain that?” said the visitor from Chicago “Joe won clearly, he now knows he can beat Ali and stop him fighting the way he did previously. Ali is not a big puncher, never was, so why should there be doubts in Frasier’s head? Surely, the bigger doubts must be in Ali’s head and his calls for a rematch are all show?”

“That’s not the way I see it and that’s not the way that boxing works “out of the ring” son” replied the old man. “You see with fighters like Frasier and Ali, once one fight is over your mind starts to think about the next fight, the next opponent, and what you learned from your last fight – and while Joe won the decision, both fighters have an awful lot to think about. In my opinion, Joe in particular, has a lot to think about even although he won.”

“What do you mean?” asked one of those listening.

Dempsey, took a sip of his drink and looked at the men listening and continued.

“Joe is the champ right? He has the title, he beat his biggest rival and whipped him good. The title brings with it prestige and riches, yet fame and wealth and can easily take the edge off a man. There are easier ways to make money with the title in your pocket than to stand toe to toe with someone who wants to take your head off while attempting to take that title. However, sooner or later you are going to have to go back into training and put up the title again in the ring, and if I were Joe Frasier just now the last person I would want to face in that ring is Muhammed Ali who has a point to prove.

Besides, as we sit here, Joe is still in the hospital. Despite winning, he took a real beating from Ali and there are only so many beatings a man can take before he decides not to come back for more. Plus, there is one other really big thing to consider and that is the fact that Ali got up! If you look at the knockdown in the 14th, Joe Frasier threw a haymaker that landed square on Ali’s jaw and lifted him clean off his feet. Now that gives you instant encouragement in the ring, but if the guy gets up having taken your best shot, that same few seconds can really work against you. If you look at the fight footage, Ali didn’t scramble or stumble to his feet, he got up right away, wiped himself down and went back into the fray. I am sure he was rattled, and I am sure he was dazed, but he got straight back up – and that is something we learned in this fight – Ali has a great jaw! That was never known before. Sure he got up against Cooper in England but there was a delay there. In this instance, Ali took the best hit the hardest punching heavyweight in the business can throw – a punch that has knocked many others clean out – and he got up! Trust me when I tell you that the difference between good fighters and great fighters – champions and legendary champions – is that the really great guys get up when they shouldn’t be able to. Ali got up, and when you are considering your next move in this business, you are not going to be too keen on going toe to toe with a guy that gets up when you hit him big.”

The assembled men were on the edge of their seat listening to this analysis from the former champion, and this dissection of the recent fight led one of them to ask:

“Did that ever happen to you champ? When you knocked them down they stayed down? Right?”

Dempsey was glad of the chance to switch the conversation to his own career.

“I always had a puncher’s chance” said Dempsey “But even when I beat Jess Willard to win the title in 1919, even when I knew I was winning and that he was in real trouble, I still didn’t want him to get up. I busted his jaw, his ribs, bust an eardrum but he still kept getting up. I was shouting at him “Stay down Jess: Stay down Jess” but he just kept getting up and as he was miles bigger than me I was afraid that if he got up and clocked me with a big shot then things could be very different. Fortunately, for me, he eventually – at last – stayed down.”

The men discussed Dempsey’s legendary win in Oklahoma on July 4th 1919 for a bit longer, with all of them knowing that Dempsey beat Willard by delivering one of the most brutal beatings in boxing history – so brutal that long before the fight ended Willard’s wife had to be escorted from the stadium as she could no longer watch as her husband was systematically and brutally beaten by Dempsey.

The conversation moved on to Dempsey’s fight with Gene Tunney and the famous long count where Tunney was given far longer than ten seconds to get up from a crushing Dempsey blow. Had the count been delivered in regular time, then Tunney would have been counted out and Dempsey would have regained his title which he had lost to Tunney in a points decision over ten rounds almost a year before. As it turned out, Tunney recovered and eventually won the second fight by once again taking a points decision.

“That’s an example in point about what I was saying earlier” said Dempsey “I hit Gene Tunney with everything I had in the first fight and he didn’t go down. In the second fight, I was behind and I hit him with a huge left hook and I knew immediately he was going down. However, he got up – long count or no long count – Gene Tunney got up and when you are not used to the opponent getting up, the sight of him getting up eventually plays on your mind. In the moment, you try and go in for the kill, but when you later sit on your stool at the end of the round and look over and see the other guy is still in the fight you begin to think about how your best hit is not necessarily going to finish this guy. Frasier hit Ali late in the fight last week. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if he had knocked him down in say round six or seven. If Ali gets up and continues, then Joe might start to ask himself questions in his own head. Conversely, Ali now knows he can get up. He has taken Joe’s best shot and got up. That changes a fight.”

“Do you think boxing was tougher back in your day champ?” asked one of the group.

“I would have to say yes” replied the smiling ex-champ “Much tougher!”

“For example, when Jess Willard won the title from Jack Johnson, he did so by knocking Johnson out in the 26th round! Can you imagine that? The 26th round. These days you are not allowed to go beyond 15 rounds. What’s worse, when big Jess won some of the papers suggested that Johnson had taken a dive! Big Jess later said “well he could have taken a dive a hell of a lot earlier than the 26th round!”

From there the men started to ask questions about his career: His toughest fight: Who was the hardest puncher? Could he have beaten Frasier, Ali, Liston, Louis?

Dempsey took his time and regaled them with tales from both inside and outside the ring. He was charming, funny and enthralling when telling his stories.

Then one of the men asked who he thought was the bravest man he had ever faced?

Before Dempsey could provide an answer to the question, a voice from behind him suddenly interjected and entered the conversation:

“Before you answer that champ, I’ll bet I can guess who you will say was your bravest opponent?”

All six men turned to find the source of the voice who had somewhat rudely interrupted what had been, until then, a private conversation.

“I don’t mean to interrupt or be rude” said the voice “but I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the champ’s discussion with you guys, and that is such a good question I just thought it would be fun to guess the answer in advance.”

The source of the voice was a smiling suited man in his late 30’s or early 40’s wearing thick framed spectacles. He was sitting on a stool at the bar just behind Dempsey’s right shoulder and until that moment he had not been noticed by the five visitors or their host. The voice was accented and clearly not American, and it was perhaps this factor which prevented any of the others objecting to his uninvited entry to their conversation.

“Where are you from, Son?” asked Dempsey taking the lead in engaging the newcomer to the conversation.

“I am from Glasgow …. Scotland.” Replied the smiling face.

“Kenny Buchanan!” said Dempsey in a flash.

“Yes but he is from Edinburgh” said the Scotsman – “I’m from Glasgow.”

“Well, wherever you are from son, welcome to Jack Dempsey’s” retorted the owner “But I will tell you this, If a young man from thousands of miles away can predict who I would judge as the toughest guy I faced in the ring – what 50 years ago – then I am impressed! In fact, tell you what I will write someone’s name down, you guys can guess who I have nominated, and if anyone of you guesses right there is a round of drinks on the house.”

This brought a babble of good humoured discussion and a waiter was dispatched to find a pen and some paper for the ex-champ.

While the waiter was gone the young Scotsman once again raised his voice:

“Excuse me, Mr Dempsey? I think the original question was who was the bravest opponent you faced, not the toughest, though I accept that there might be very little difference between the two.”

At this Dempsey stopped and looked at the young man and paused for just a second before being interrupted by the waiter returning with pen and paper.

“OK” said Dempsey “The question is who was my bravest opponent?” and with that he scribbled something on a piece of paper.

Fight fans who frequented Dempsey’s restaurant fell into one of four categories.

First, there were those who knew nothing about boxing at all – they just knew that Dempsey had been a fighter and was famous.

Next came those who knew that Dempsey had been world champ and that current boxers went in there – they could maybe even name one or two.

The third group, among which most of the table of five belonged, knew exactly who Dempsey was and had a fair knowledge of past and current champs.

The last group, were those who were really into boxing and who could hold conversations and debates about all sorts of boxers of different eras, their histories, merits and failings.

Dempsey quickly went round the Americans. They had various guesses including Tunney and Willard, with the guy from Chicago confidently predicting that French world war one hero George Carpentier must have ranked as Dempsey’s bravest opponent.

Dempsey, talked about Carpentier briefly, saying he was a tough and brave man, but he was not the name Dempsey had written down.

Finally, all eyes fell on the Scotsman who had not provided a name as yet in this guessing game.

Eventually, Dempsey looked at him square in the eye, reminded him of his confidence and said “OK the round of drinks rests on you young fella!”

The Glaswegian on the bar stool matched Dempsey’s solid gaze and said confidently:  “I believe the name you will have written down on that piece of paper will be that of Billy Miske”.


“Who?” said one of the guys from Florida “Never heard of him. Was he a champ or something in the old days?”

Jack Dempsey, however, simply stared back at the man at the bar and quietly asked “How did you hear of Billy Miske? He’s been dead for decades?”

“I just know about him” said the Glaswegian “And I just know that is the name on the paper.”

At this, Dempsey turned to the rest and asked “Any of you guys ever heard of Billy Miske?” – no one had.

Jack Dempsey open the piece of paper in his hand and sure enough clearly written upon it was the name “Billy Miske”.

A big cheer went up from the five Americans and Dempsey summonsed the waiter and ordered 7 drinks. However had anyone been watching closely they would have noticed a tinge of sadness in both Dempsey’s face and voice.

“So who was Billy Miske then?” asked one of the company.

“ Yeah tell us about him.” Said another.

Dempsey took a long draw from his glass, shook his head slightly and turned briefly to the Scotsman:

“I don’t often talk about this!”

The bespectacled man looked back and simply said “Well you should. It is a story worth telling – for all sorts of reasons.”

The former world heavyweight champion stole another quick look at the young Scotsman before turning back towards the five Americans and in a somewhat subdued voice started to tell the story of Billy Miske

“Billy is one of the best kept secrets in boxing history. He was my friend and I came to love him like a brother and he was one hell of a fighter. He was born in St Paul’s Minnesota and he started out as a middleweight. He was about a year older than me and came from a family with a German background. In those days, boxing was technically illegal in Minnesota but all the same St Paul’s produced a whole series of tough boxers including Tommy and Mike Gibbons and, of course, Billy. He was given a nickname – The St Paul’s Thunderbolt.

Billy fought at any weight between Middleweight and Heavyweight. He stood six foot tall, was strong as a buffalo and carried a real good wallop in both hands especially his left. He fought anyone who would agree to fight him and most of the time he would win. When he didn’t win, then the other guy must have been good – because you had to be good to beat Billy.

Billy was a far better boxer than me and better than most everyone else. He had great movement around the ring. Long before Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee it was said that Billy Miske was “Slick as a whistle and as swift as a breeze.” As I say he ducked no one – but it is fair to say that there were a few guys who had titles and belts who ducked Billy when those titles were on the line.


In those days you had official fights and unofficial fights. There were fights in the mid-west where you just walked into a town, agreed to fight and walked away again. These were unofficial ones. Then there were official fights which were staged by a promoter in advance but even they could sometimes be scored by the newspaper men who came to watch and if you didn’t knock the guy out but won on points then it was called a newspaper decision. It was only later that we had official judges.

Anyway, Billy fought over a hundred times in real tough organised and unorganised fights and he won on 72 occasions had about 15 draws or so and around maybe ten defeats all told. In officially organised prize fights he only ever lost twice or three times at most.

About half of the 72 wins were won by knockout – and his defeats were mostly to real good guys like Battling Levinsky, Tommy Gibbons, and Kid Norfolk and these guys – and then Billy would fight them again and win. They would all fight each other and sometimes they would win and sometimes Billy would win. Interestingly when the likes of Levinsky, Carpentier, Kid Norfolk and others all held titles – the one guy they would never give a title shot to was Billy. He was ok to fight in semi organised fights but when it came to have something on the line all these guys made sure he was the professional undercard. They would never risk the titles against Billy.”

One of the five American guys interrupted Dempsey:

“You obviously fought him champ? Did he beat you?”

Dempsey sort of sighed and simply said “No. Billy never beat me in any kind of contest but jeez did he give me a hard time? He did beat guys who had beaten me, like “Fat boy” Willie Meehan – Jeez I fought Meehan 5 times and only beat him once on a decision. Billy knocked him out!”

“So, what happened when you met him champ? Why do you rate Billy as braver than say Willard or Firpo or Carpentier?”

“Well, I fought Billy more often than I fought any of those guys. I first stepped into the ring with him in May 1918 when we fought in the auditorium in St Paul’s Minnesota. I had been fighting all over the place – California, San Francisco, New York and had won about fifteen fights in a row. The last guy to beat me was the same Fatboy Willie Meehan I mentioned a moment ago and he gained a couple of points decisions against me over four rounds. Over a longer distance I fancied my chances against anyone because eventually I would give them a wallop and down they went.

I had heard of Billy and so was happy enough to go to Minnesota for a pay day fight with him. He turned out to be a really nice down to earth guy whom I instantly liked. He was a man’s man – an honourable man just plying his trade in the ring and making a good job of it. When we got into the ring, boy did I learn quickly that I was in trouble. Billy was really quick. He was really a light heavy and he had tremendous hand speed and defence. I could never work out his style and he very quickly got lots of leather in my face. I couldn’t catch him and at the end of one round I was taking a real beating and when I sat on the stool I was very nearly done.

Doc Kearns, my manager, said to me “Go out and smack him!” and I remember thinking that is easier said than done!

In the end, I was heavier and had the bigger hit so I slowed him down but I never really got his measure the way I did with other guys. Of the newspaper guys I knew there, four said I had won, three said it was a draw and one went for Billy – but all of them said it was real close. At the end, we shook hands, had a beer and enjoyed one another’s company. Billy was a great guy – I just didn’t know how great at that point.

What I also didn’t know then, but know now, was that when we stepped into that ring in May 1918 Billy was a dying man!”

“What?” exclaimed one of the listeners.

“You heard” said Dempsey “He was a dying man! Earlier in the year he had been diagnosed with what was called Bright’s disease – a disease which effects the kidneys and from which there is no recovery – or at least there was no recovery back then. However, I didn’t know any of that and so simply stepped into the ring with a view to beating Billy as quickly as a I could and moving on to the next fight down the road.

But that was not to be. We fought a full ten rounds and try as hard as I could I couldn’t beat Billy. The “official” newspaper verdict scored it a draw – but I am not so sure. That verdict might have favoured Billy as the home fighter. Some say he beat me; others think I may have won – I thought I did enough to win – but all these years later all I can definitely say was that Billy was the toughest fight I had had in a long long time.

I got to know him a bit after that and as I said I liked the guy. Really liked him.

I fought him again 6 months later. In the interim period I had about a dozen or so fights winning them all more or less by knockout in the first or second round – except for another four round loss to the Fatboy whom I just could not beat.

Anyway, in November 1918 I agreed to a series of three fights in Philadelphia. Up first was Battling Levinsky who was from Philadelphia and who was the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world and who preferred to fight me than take the risk with Billy. As he was a light heavy and I was heavyweight his title was not on the line – either way I knocked him out with a right hook in the third round. A good result for me – it got me noticed.

About ten days later I fought a guy called “Porky” Dan Flynn who didn’t present too much of a problem as he went down to a left hook in the first round and never got up again.

Ten days later – at the end of the month – I stepped into the ring with Billy Miske for the second time. The fight was to be over six rounds and I was determined to put up a better show than I had in the previous fight with Billy. I won alright, but it was a decision – not a knockout. I hit Billy with everything and he just kept coming straight back with his own big hits – and he could hit hard.

I still couldn’t figure out his style, still couldn’t get in behind him and score any really big hits. No matter how hard I tried Billy still came marching forward. At the end one boxing commentator stated that there was no braver or more game fighter on the planet than Billy Miske – and he didn’t know how ill Billy was at the time he said it.

I still didn’t know he was ill – didn’t know he was dying – and gave it my best but still couldn’t put him away, He was a tough son of a gun.

He never said anything about being ill and unwell – he kept that to himself though eventually it became known in boxing circles that all was not ok with him.

In the next seven months I had about eight or nine more fights winning them all by knock out before beating Willard for the title in July 1919.

After that, I was heavyweight champion of the world. I was rich – a celebrity – and with the title in my pocket I set about making a few bucks out of the ring and I was in no rush to go back into the ring and risk losing the belt and all that came with it.

When I did choose to defend the title, It was in September 1920 in Bran Harbour Michigan and standing in the opposite corner was Billy Miske.


It was the first fight ever that was broadcast live on the radio and it represented a big payday for me and I knew for a fact that I would win because by this time Billy was clearly unwell. He had begged me for the fight. When you are the champ everyone wants a chance to get you into the ring, knock your head off and take away the title. You receive offer after offer – but that is not how it was with Billy.

By 1919 there was no hiding the fact that Billy was unwell. What he hadn’t told anyone was that before he fought me for the first time in 1918 he had been told he would have only five years to live at most. He was 24 years old at the time and the five years could never be guaranteed. He was told that he would only get the five years if he retired from boxing, eased up and gave his kidneys the best chance they had.

But Billy boxed for a living and in total he would fight about forty times after being diagnosed.

He kept all of this a secret from everyone except his manager who was a guy called Jack Reddy who, to be fair, begged him to stop fighting.

But Billy wouldn’t listen and swore Reddy to secrecy.

Anyway, by mid 1920 Billy was broke. He had taken whatever money he had and invested it in a car dealership which didn’t work. He owed between $50, 000 and $100,000 and so he came to me with Reddy and begged me for a title fight.

He looked unwell. He was all skin and bone: his shorts and his dressing gown were almost hanging off him. He admitted he had an illness but wanted the fight. I didn’t want to fight him. I told him to go bankrupt but he said that if we fought he would get a pay day, he could pay off some creditors and then he would rest up. Eventually I agreed and Doc Kearns, my manager set up the fight in Michigan with Billy getting a minimum of $25,000.


When it came to the fight I was determined to get it over with quickly. I wanted to knock him out – partly because I had always struggled with Billy and because I knew he was desperate. All his financial troubles would absolutely disappear if he beat me, and if he hit me with a big haymaker then he was in with a chance. But I also wanted to end the fight quickly for Billy. He was clearly unwell but he never said how unwell so I just wanted it over and done with.

In the first round I hit him with a body shot and a huge purple patch appeared on his skin. It was like nothing I had ever seen and I wondered then what the hell was going on. But he still kept coming in – strong as an ox and both me and Doc wondered if we had been conned by Billy and his manager and their story about Billy being ill.  He sure didn’t fight like a guy who was ill and I had the bruises to prove it.

But he had that big mark where I had hit him on the body which was really weird, and deep down I knew he was telling the truth – I knew he was ill.

In the second round I hit him on the chin and for the first time ever Billy went down. However, after a count of eight or nine – he got up.


I said earlier that when you are used to knocking folk out, the sight of a fighter getting up when they are not supposed to can have an effect on you. Well I watched Billy get up and I thought “Oh no – he’s getting up. He has to go down and stay down. Billy please stay down.”

But no – Billy got up and came in again still swinging with some dangerous shots especially with that left hook of his..


In the third round, I was determined this would go no further. I swung a vicious left hook at Billy and it hit him on the button. He straightened up, clearly dazed and dropped his hands, and with him standing there motionless I hit him as hard as I ever hit any man with my right hand and knocked him out. It was to be the only time that anyone would ever knock out Billy Miske –  I am only the only fighter who would ever drop him to the canvass for any kind of count.

I was scared he was going to die. As soon as the count was over I carried him back to his corner and got him on the seat. No celebrations, no raising my arms, no playing to the crowd – I just wanted Billy to be ok.


After he had recovered and got his cheque etc I begged him to go home and get better – not knowing he could never get better.

After fighting Billy, I would only ever fight eight more times.

The first was against a guy called KO Bill Brennan who I knocked out with body punches in the Garden in December 1920. Bill was a dangerous fighter and you either knocked him out or got knocked out yourself. There were no in betweens.

After that it was maybe one fight a year against really good people like Carpentier and Firpo until I lost to Gene (Tunney) in 1926.

Billy, on the other hand, continued to fight and between 1921 and 1923 he climbed into the ring on no less than 22 occasions. He couldn’t train, was clearly getting sicker and sicker but simply needed the money and so he fought. Amazingly, after losing to me he went on a run of fights where he won 17 straight contests with 12 by way of a knock out. His other 5 fights were effectively no decisions. In short, after fighting me for the title he never lost another fight again.

In October 1922 he fought here in the Garden against Tough Tommy Gibbons who was also from St Paul’s. To understand how tough Tommy was, I would fight him a year later and won on a fifteen round decision. Tommy was real hard.

Anyway, Billy came to the Garden looking like shit. Really unwell. He couldn’t train and was getting thinner and thinner. But somehow he battled through ten rounds with Tough Tommy and won. However, everyone was telling him to hang up the gloves. We never knew he was dying but he was clearly unwell. His five years were almost up though he kept that to himself.

In January 1923 after knocking out a guy called Harry Foley in the first round, Billy finally decided to retire for good.

Or at least that was what we thought. What I didn’t know at the time was that Billy was still flat broke and obviously that he was dying.

The story goes that by the time we get to Thanksgiving in November 1923 Billy knew he was about to see his last Christmas. He was now seriously unwell but not even his wife knew he was dying.

He apparently called up Jack Reddy and asked him to get him a fight- any fight – so that he could have money for his family at Christmas.

Reddy refused apparently and told him straight that he was in no condition to fight anyone but Billy persisted and laid it on heavy that he needed to fight to support his family. Billy also stipulated that the fight had to be against someone good to make the fight attractive and so bring in the money.

Against his better judgement, Reddy arranged a fight with KO Bill Brennan who had given me real trouble just a few years before.

Jack Reddy got a lot of criticism for arranging the fight for Billy – people thought he was just on the make and the guy had to put up with some abuse but at Billy’s request he never let on just how desperate things were.

Billy fought Brennan in Omaha on December 7th  and the deal was that if he could survive till round 4 then he would walk away with a cheque for $2500.

Jack Reddy told the press that Billy was training at home in secret when in fact he could barely get out of bed.

He arrived in Omaha two days before the fight and somehow fooled the match doctor that he was fit to fight. He then stepped into the ring with Bill Brennan and was determined to last the four rounds that guaranteed the cheque. However, he didn’t want to fight beyond four rounds, and unbelievably in that fourth round he swung his big wallop and knocked big Bill out!

I never knew too much about what was going on – I had beaten Louis Firpo in September 1923 and was just enjoying being champ – all I knew was that Billy was somehow still fighting.

Apparently, after beating Brennan, Billy went home with his winnings and put on the best Christmas ever for his family. He bought a piano for his wife Marie, who loved to sing, and on Christmas morning there were toys galore for his three kids and there was still some money left over.

On boxing day, he called Jack Reddy and told him it was time to go and asked Jack to come and take him to the hospital. It was only in the back of the car on the journey to the hospital that he told Marie that he was dying and that he had kept this hidden for over 5 years.

On New Year’s Day, 1924, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Billy Miske died. He was just 29 years old.

And that, gentlemen, is why Billy Miske was the bravest man I ever fought. When I eventually found out the truth and learned the whole story – heavyweight champ or not — I cried like a baby.

I didn’t fight again for two and a half years until 1926 when I lost the title to Gene and I only ever won one more fight after Billy’s death when I beat Jack Sharkey in June 1927. After that there was the second fight with Gene and that was it for me. I was out.”

Dempsey drained his glass, sighed and looked at the men around him who sat in silence.

“Jesus” said one “That is an awfully sad story”


The former heavyweight champion replied almost immediately “No son, that is a great story, about a great man, a decent man, and the Scottish fella over there is correct, It is a story that should be told more often and should be more widely known. Billy was a great guy, he lived his short life the way he wanted to and the way he saw fit playing by his rules and his sense of decency. Few men can live a better life than that.”

“Now, if you excuse me” said the ex champion of the world “ I am going to move on and leave you guys to the rest of your day. Always remember the story of Billy Miske and remember that when a boxer gets off the floor when he shouldn’t be able to, the guy who knocked him down might just have some questions going around in his head. “How is he able to do that? Why is he getting up?”

As I said, Joe Frazier has something to think about when lying in his hospital bed because Ali is out there doing the rounds, knowing that he was beaten in the fight, but he has clearly not been beaten to the extent that he is going away quietly. Ali got up and you have to ask yourself how and why? He might just be the stronger of the two inside. When a guy is strong inside, there are forces at work that some of us will never understand. I learnt that from Billy Miske. Have a good day fellas! Nice talking to you.”

Dempsey got up from the table and walked towards the bar and as he passed the Scotsman sitting at the bar he said “Thankyou young man.”

“What for?” came the reply

“For making me think about Billy and telling his story – it is a long time since I have talked about him and he deserves better than that. I remember the times and dates like yesterday but until today it was a story I didn’t want to think about. Yet boxing fans need to know about Billy Miske. Everyone facing illness should know about Billy and there are only a few of us left who knew him – and we should remember him.

So thank you. Enjoy New York. Here’s to Kenny Buchanan – even if he is from Edinburgh …… oh……  and you are welcome in Jack Dempsey’s any time.”


On the 25th of March 1999, I walked into the Press Bar in Glasgow’s Albion Street to collect my father.


The offices of the Glasgow Herald and the Evening Times were just down the street and the smoked filled bar and lounge was a regular haunt for journalists and others who worked in the newspaper industry.

Years before, it had been a regular haunt of this Strathclyde University student and a few others who had a habit of abandoning the trendier pubs in Glasgow city centre from time to time in favour of the more traditional boozers near the University such as The Dunrobin on George Street and The Press in Albion Street.

Many a good story was told by old journo’s and others in the Press and The Dunrobin.

On this occasion I was only in the pub to collect my old man who had been out at a book launch which had taken place earlier in the day in the Central Hotel if I recall correctly. The book concerned was called Jungle Tales – stories from the famous enclosure at the north side of Celtic Park.

The book’s author, John Quinn of the Evening Times – a lifelong friend of my fathers – was holding court in The Press and present were various other well kent faces. Ian Archer, Jack Webster, Jack McLean “The Urban Voltaire” and others were all in and about the place chatting and telling stories.

When I walked into the bar, car keys in hand, with every intention of simply collecting the father and driving him home, I had no intention of sitting down and joining in the chat. However, the will is weak and temptation is strong and so it didn’t take long before I was persuaded to draw up a chair, grab a pint and join the company.

Celtic’s Tommy Burns had written the introduction to John’s book and had said a few words at the book launch and so of course we talked about Celtic, football and various related things.

Stories were being told of great sporting exploits and other tales and I listened on eagerly as a series of people reminisced about tales past.

John’s other great love was boxing and there a few tales of boxers and fights of days gone by.

Then, one of the company, a by now silver haired guy with thickish spectacles simply asked a question:

“Have you ever heard the tale of Billy Miske – The St Paul’s Thunderbolt?”

Needless to say, I never had – and the man concerned started to explain that one day not long after the Ali Frazier fight he found himself sitting in the bar of Jack Dempsey’s speakeasy in New York ………………



In June 2010, some 87 years after his death, The International Boxing Hall of fame inducted Billy Miske into its pantheon of legendary fighters.

Seven family members made the drive to upstate New York for the ceremony, including Billy’s great grandsons, Joe and Luke, aged 11 and 12.

“It was a terrific weekend for all of us and especially the boys,” grandson Bill said. “Joe and Luke had a great time finding out so much about their great-great grandfather.”

Billy Miske’s legend now sits in the hall of fame alongside that of Jack Dempsey. – the boxing records and statistics website lists Billy Miske as the 17th best Light Heavyweight of all time. Of those ranked above him, Miske defeated two of them in the ring. Gene Tunney who defeated Dempsey is ranked 9th.

When it came to bravery, Jack Dempsey rated Billy Miske above all others in any division and from any era.



Wake up – and smell the lights going out!

17 Dec

Good Afternoon.

It is some time since I have used these pages to write anything at all about Scottish Football or indeed to do anything other than tell the odd story based on fact or fiction.

However, the time has come to set down some purely personal views on both the cultural and business outlook for football as we currently know it in Scotland.

On the one hand, more and more clubs are living within their means, are operating without the need for overdrafts or debt and on the face of it the clubs themselves seem to have improved their efficiency and general trading over the last 5 years or so.

On the other hand, Scottish Football is still gripped, crippled and hindered by the “Rangers debacle” and has to face up to the fact that the game in Scotland, as it does in many other countries, continues to get poorer and poorer when compared to the money flowing into the four big European leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany and England.

In terms of the National team we are rated as the 52nd best Footballing country in the world whereas in 2007 we were rated at number 14 with our worst ever rating being 78th or 88th in 2005 depending which body dishes out the information.

Scotland is now one of the “poor relations” in terms of European Football and when it comes to media, sponsorship rights and revenues far from being anywhere near the top table at the feast we are permanently given a seat at the beggars banquet!

While the world watches on dumbfounded, but not surprised, by the collapse of the self interested and self preserving menagerie that is FIFA, and waits to see whether the man at the head of UEFA can escape being embroiled and burnt in the wake of the FIFA debacle, The Scottish Football Fan is left wondering in amazement how the local game in Scotland came to be ran by the intellectual business equivalent of the Teletubbies (Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa- Laa and Po) and reported on by the ever less well read journalistic equivalent of the three wise (joke) monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”.

Many of those who run football in this country wear rose coloured specs and can only see the world through a rose tinted hue which blocks out all sight and sense of the ordinary people who are the backbone of football throughout the world – namely football fans.

Those same glasses also block out what some judges in the Court of Session recently referred to as “Common Sense” – a commodity which I have always been told was not so common despite it’s name.

Is it really asking too much of those who run football to see that a game which is financially dependent, in certain quarters, on daily PR and spin fed to newspapers is in deep financial, business and sporting trouble?

Is it honestly the case, that so called professional boards filled with professional administrators who are meant to oversee the running of the game and the application of sporting, business and compliance rules, can be said to have properly done their job and met professionally acceptable standards when thousands of fans who have invested hard earned money in football clubs regulated by that professional body have seen that money disappear in amidst a quagmire of failed stadia development companies, dodgy tax schemes, incomplete or irregular registration of players and the strangest of coincidences when it comes to a number of former international managers, captains and players during or after their stay at one particular club – though this latter set of circumstances merits no investigation whatsoever.

That lack of investigation really comes as no surprise when one considers that the immediate past President of the SFA was the architect of what has been established and accepted as an attempt to defraud HMRC of tax that was properly due and which all — and  I repeat all — of those involved in the administration of Scottish Football contrived, by design or by breathtaking professional negligence and incompetence, to ensure that his involvement in this entire episode was not only swept under the carpet but never even mentioned at all when the whole matter was allegedly being investigated by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Yet this crass stupidity, this blind idiocy, is not restricted to those who twiddle their thumbs at Hampden while all faith in Scottish Football burns.

As at today’s date there are plans afoot at two of the county’s biggest clubs to attract more fans and provide better facilities.

The shrewd and businesslike Ann Budge recently announced that there will be a revamping of Tynecastle which will provide better match facilities to an increased number of Hearts fans.

Aberdeen boss Stewart Milne predicts that the Dons will kick of the 2017 season before an increased number of fans in a new custom built stadium which will replace Pittodrie.

Clubs like Inverness Caley Thistle, Ross County and St Johnstone will hope to strengthen their community base and will seek to improve on field performance.

Yet none of these, or any other improvements will serve to make Scottish Football richer, more lucrative, or even better as a whole.

Such improvement would have to come from the governing bodies who, last season, could not find sponsors for all their competitions and who have spectacularly failed to address the realities of business over recent years.

In fact, the reality is that the Hampden squatters party have failed to take account of business realities for two decades and have done little, if anything, to improve the lot of football in Scotland during that time frame.

In particular, the maladministration of Scottish Football at the top level has been so chronic that fans of all and every club are on the verge of turning their backs on football as they have no faith in the institutional product that is being provided.

And it is the failure to see and recognise this change in temperature which totally jeopardises the otherwise sound business sense of the Milnes and Budges of this world.

The blunt fact of the matter is that the Professional football in this country is losing its grip among the masses despite the improving balance sheets and decreasing levels of debt.

A poorer product on the park is only part of the reason for this increasing public malaise and ambivalence.

Other sports are on the rise in terms of the public psyche and the pound in the pocket, and are proving to attract better media coverage without the dreaded media gurus spouting what is now accepted as a daily dose of drivel to the blats.

Who would have imagined that an arena across the road from Celtic Park could have sold out within days for a tennis match while Scotland’s only European Cup winners can’t fill a stadium?

In the era of Stein, Waddell, Ferguson or McLean would anyone have predicted record high level crowds for the Ryder cup in Perth whilst the football teams of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee all failed to fill stadia?

No one at Hampden, and no one in the press dare go public and point out that beyond a certain level Scottish Football is nose diving into the abyss.

It suffers from poor administration, poor media coverage and complete and utter lack of any business sense within the governing bodies.

During the Murray era at Ibrox, Rangers PLC lost over £160 Million pounds excluding any unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. Numerous clubs who all banked with the Bank of Scotland either went to the wall or had to be rescued by being sold for a pound, a bag of chips, or taken over by Argentinian lawyers of dubious character who were just out to make a buck – not to mention the chap from the Eastern block with his own submarine and method of balancing the books.

And all the while the football gurus and professional compliance merchants at Hampden sat and gazed at the walls and appear to have asked no questions and grasped no nettles with the result that the football fan was left clueless, in the dark and ultimately stung.

Now we are being fed the mantra that one possible boon for Scottish Football may well be the return of a revised Rangers team ( call them Rangers/Sevco/ Newco/ The Rangers or whatever ) playing out of Ibrox because this will see the return of the blue pound which, we are assured, will be good for Scottish Football.

There is no doubt that any Rangers team will bring a large support into the top league, but at the same time no one mentions that many many former Rangers fans departed the scene for a variety of reasons before the end of the Murray era, and even more have left the park during the magnificent governance provided by Craig Whyte and Charles Green — both of whom were welcomed into the fold by the blazer wearing guardians of the game at Hampden.

Even when these individuals were found to have broken rules or be worthy of sanction, the footballing authorities are widely accepted to have fudged the issues and failed to enforce any penalty which was imposed by what was described as barely short of “match fixing”.

I repeat again that during his tenure David Murray managed to lose £160 Million blue pounds, while his successors have achieved a mixture of administration, liquidation and criminal charges in connection with their running of, and their involvement with, the companies that generate that same blue pound.

The current Ibrox board are a mixture of old and new custodians with their chairman being unique among his predecessors in that he has been convicted of wrongdoing in a court of law while his two immediate predecessors are only accused of criminality at this time.

Yet the SFA seemingly fail to take any action or have any stance which would protect the ordinary football fan from any of these shysters or a Gavin Masterton, a Giovanni De Stefano – described by Wikipedia as simply a convicted fraudster, or a Vladimir Romanov.

And there is the problem – Scottish Football has become a business vehicle and a never ending gravy train for suits of many hues and little talent.

The overseeing of a sporting contest for people in the terracings to enjoy – win or lose – has become of so little importance that many commentators openly debated whether sporting integrity and fair play should win out over so called financial consequence just a few years ago. At that point the journos and PR punters weighed in as they saw that their own circulations and therefore wage was in jeopardy if proper sporting governance won the day.

As a result we were warned of Armageddon and have since been treated to the see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil brand of sports journalism.

With all due respect to Mr Milne of Aberdeen does it really make any business sense to have the plans for a new stadium holding say 25,000 supported by the argument that football at the top level will be enhanced by the participation of an organisation whose ownership of it’s own assets is in question, whose past chairmen face jail time if convicted of fraudulent activities, which does not have the support of any financial institution, and which survives on a mixture of emergency loans by investors and directors who take one another to court on a daily basis?

That is not the description of a stable business partner you can rely on at all.

As one business person put it to me, “The business position and model at Rangers is so unstable, so uncertain, you simply cannot proceed with any business plan or contract which relies on that club being a material or essential part of the bargain because you just do not know what will happen next at all. To do so would be crazy on a business front.”

Mr Milne presides over the only major football club in a large northern city within a county with a population of over 400,000.

If he cannot regularly fill a 25,000 seater stadium from that base then he should look to his business model and market as even inviting Barcelona or Real Madrid to join the league and play there 4 times a year does not address the fundamental problem – namely that senior football in Scotland is maladministered and is dying as a result.

The only hope for Scottish Football is for the governing bodies and those who run the clubs to actually listen to the fans. Not just some fans, not even their own fans, but all fans.

However, that view point is one that finds no favour among the administrators and they actively seek to shut the fans out.

Many will have read of Resolution 12 which was brought by a number of Celtic shareholders before the AGM of Celtic PLC for consideration at the 2013 AGM of that company.

Much ill informed comment has been written about the resolution in the intervening period with a considerable degree of misinformation coming from somewhere for whatever reason.

The most important part of the resolution’s progress to date has not been the attitude of the board of Celtic PLC to the resolution – both the board and those promoting the resolution have stated publicly at subsequent AGMs that the Celtic Board had made enquiries of the SFA regarding the issues concerned – namely the procedures followed by the SFA when it came to the granting of a European Licence to Rangers in 2011.

Further both have stated that the Celtic board have, thus far, supported and assisted the enquiries made by the shareholders.

Note that the questions asked were not questions about the conduct of Rangers Football Club and its officials per se, but about what had happened at Hampden when Rangers had applied for a European licence and what the blazers at Hampden did when reporting to UEFA.

I will not try to cover up the fact that some of that discussion surrounds what was or was not truthfully disclosed by the officials of a Craig Whyte governed Rangers, but of greater importance is what was or was not truthfully done, said and acted upon by the officials at Hampden.

No doubt certain information not widely reported in the press will come to light in some of the forthcoming court appearances surrounding the activities of the time.

However, for the purposes of this essay, the salient facts are that HMRC wrote to Rangers PLC formally in both February and May 2011 alleging that the club had deliberately falsified it’s PAYE returns for more than a decade.

The legal effect of the letter of May 2011 was that this letter counted as a formal demand for payment and as such should have been disclosed to both the SFA and UEFA for licensing purchases.

As part of the Res 12 enquiry line, the SFA were asked informally and formally if their records contained this correspondence and then begged two questions:

  1. If the letters were disclosed, what did the SFA or UEFA do about the position as it would appear that the existence of such letters should have negated the licence ( which was redundant in any event as Rangers had been knocked out of European competition ) or
  2. If the letters had not been disclosed then surely there should be some form of enquiry into how any kind of licence can have been granted and maintained in the first place.

Informally, my understanding of the position is that these letters could not be found within the SFA archives and so it would appear that the SFA and UEFA had been misled at the time.

Surely that would be a simple thing to investigate?

Strange as it may seem there has apparently been no such investigation despite the fact that all of this information was sent on formally to The SFA Corporate Compliance Officer Mr Andrew McKinlay by an International firm of Solicitors acting on behalf of Celtic PLC shareholders and ordinary money paying football fans.

The legal firm concerned have vouched that all of the fans concerned are shareholders in Celtic PLC and it will be obvious that they have paid thousands of pounds over the years to support their club and Scottish Football in general.

The reply to these formal letters from Mr McKinlay is illuminating.

Mr McKinlay was not working at Hampden at the material time, is a qualified lawyer and, as will be his duty, he will have taken his instructions on how to reply from higher up the food chain at Hampden.

Given the information and documentation provided, given that when initially addressing these issues Stewart Regan drafted a reply which he then sent to Ibrox for prior approval before being sent out ( only to be advised not to send the intended reply as it would embarrass both the SFA and the Rangers officials concerned ) and given that the whole issue requires comment on letters written by the past president of the SFA and his failure to disclose certain information over a decade long period, one might have expected a bland ” we need to look into this further” type of reply if you wanted to kick the matter into touch.

Alas no – on offical SFA notepaper the compliance officer stated quite clearly that the SFA were only prepared to discuss and correspond on these and similar matters with their member clubs and their official representatives.

So, there you have it football fans – tartan army fans, Rangers fans, Celtic Fans, Queen of the South fans, Motherwell fans, Aberdeen fans – any old fans — The SFA has nothing to do with you.

They are not answerable to you, they do not regard your enquiries as worthy of reply as you are not to be considered or given any sort of deference when it comes to ensuring proper governance of the game.

It matters not if you invested thousands of pounds in Rangers PLC or any other reincarnation of the Rangers brand and had your money stolen or lost by incompetents – The SFA will not answer your questions and they sure as hell are not there to ensure that those in charge of your club act properly or with propriety in terms of the football or business rules.

It matters not if you are a shareholder who bailed out Hearts or Motherwell or Dunfermline, Celtic or anyone else.

Corporate compliance and how to avoid it, implement it, hide it, breach it, and even talk about it is only for those who actually run football clubs. It is not for the ordinary investor, season ticket holder or occasional fan who pays their money at the gate.

It is only to be discussed with those who will take the name of your football club to the stock market, the bank, the fans or anyone else for the purposes of asking for money which, as we have seen above, is often mispent, stolen, squandered and applied for the benefit of those whose last concern is the long lasting well being of a football club and Scottish Football in general.

Good luck to Ms Budge and Mr Milne in the expansion of their stadia.

Good luck to those who believe that all will be well if Mark Warburton fields a team of Royal Blue in the SPFL.

Good Luck to those who are unduly concerned about the fact that no team from any league other than Spain, England, Germany or Italy has contested the Champion’s league final in a decade, and that there is a greater chance of Nicola Sturgeon winning the Grand National while carrying an elephant on her back than of a Scottish team ever reaching that final in the future

Good luck to those who continue to swallow the PR drivel put out by some of our senior clubs and the governing bodies.

Good luck to those who honestly believe that the SFA and the SPFL are properly run for the benefit of the game of football, are fit for purpose and that those in situ will ensure that the game is played openly and honestly with transparency and open governance that makes for common sense.

However, I believe we live in the land of the Teletubbies – strange little creatures running around in strange suits speaking an odd language with no obvious business or corporate sense – and that they have decided that the guy that pays at the gate can be ignored and doesn’t count but is expected to fund and financially support the member clubs the Teletubbies rely on and govern on behlaf of and in their name.

Yeah, Good Luck with that.

Other sports are better run, have better media coverage, have better customer relations and provide better customer involvement and value for money at a national and local level.

Rugby is on the up and up and other Sports see football fans abandoning the beautiful game in favour of the properly run one.

The fans of every single football club deserves better than this and it is no surprise that football in the lower leagues – amateurs, juniors and the likes are enjoying some success – due to ordinary people recognising better and honest governance free of the stench of self preserving money influences where they can watch a proper sporting contest – win or lose.

Senior football in Scotland is devoid of integrity, backbone and any sort of humility or obligation towards the ordinary fan.

The man or woman at the gate is no more than a credit card carrier with a chip and a pin, but without a voice or an opinion worth listening to.

There is no or little community in football, just profit and loss and lot’s of people who see the main chance.

Ignoring the fan in the terracing stinks.

Ignore him or her too often and they will move on for pastures new and all that will be left will be the smell of the Hampden lights going out for good due to the rotting vegetation within.













Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

7 Nov

Source: Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

6 Nov

When the American singer and actor Paul Robeson took to the makeshift stage on 4th September 1949 a group of men surrounded the singer to prevent him from being shot by a sniper.

This was to be Robeson’s fourth concert in support of The Civil Rights Congress and once again it was to be held near a small town known as Peekskill situated in Westchester County, New York.

The precise venue for this concert was to be the Old Hollow Brook Golf Course situated at Cortlandt Manor, just outside Peekskill.

Originally, the concert had been scheduled for August 27th but had had to be delayed due to protests from locals who were steadfast in their opposition to Robeson and his political views.

By 1949, Robeson had gone from being one of America’s best paid entertainers, to someone who had been labelled in the public mind as a communist, a left wing agitator and anti-American sympathiser whose views were at odds with the best interests of the American people.

This view was enforced and enhanced by certain elements of the American press, including The Associated Press, who had misreported statements made by Robeson on a previous visit to Paris, with the result that Robeson found his concerts throughout America cancelled and his political views vilified.

In subsequent years, following the rise to prominence of Senator Joe McCarthy and his commission, he would have his passport confiscated, his movements restricted, his performances curtailed and his personal wellbeing repeatedly threatened in the land of the free.

The son of a slave who had become a minister, Paul Robeson was a very bright and athletic individual who would face prejudice throughout his life. He had won a scholarship to Rutgers University where he excelled both academically and in the world of sports. However, to gain a place on the University Football Team he had to overcome significant initial prejudice from team mates who were overly physical with him because he was the only black player on the team.

Eventually, because of his sheer strength, physique, determination and skill, Robeson would command a place as an “end” in the University football team and would go on to great success winning first team All American selection in his junior and senior years. Some would muse that at the time he was the greatest Collegiate “end” to have played the game.

By the time of the McCarthy inquisitions however, the record books would show no mention of Paul Robeson at all with the All American teams for those years showing only ten players rather than eleven. To the eternal shame of the university, Rutgers University football records showed his name having been expunged altogether.

In terms of American College Football – Paul Robeson had ceased to exist, and in fact would appear to have never existed at all.

Beyond the football field Robeson had excelled at College and was proclaimed valedictorian by his class and gained numerous commendations for his academic, debating, acting and singing talents.

After college, he played some NFL football for the Milwaukee Badgers and entered the New York school of Law in the fall of 1919. However he was uncomfortable there and transferred to the University of Columbia Law School from which he graduated with the intention of following a legal career.

He was working in New York law offices whilst pursuing a singing career at the same time initially. However, he chose to give up the law when some white clients made it plain that they would never agree to be represented in court by a “negro”. The final straw was to come when Robeson in the course of his job asked a stenographer to take a deposition. Her reply — “I won’t take dictation from a nigger” — led Robeson to pursue another career entirely.

So it came to pass that by 1949 Robeson was a worldwide star in the world of entertainment having gained success on the stages of New York, London and elsewhere with his deep bass voice. He had gained particular fame for his performances in Showboat in the movies and on the stage, and he had become the first black man to play Othello in London and New York.

However, his commitment to civil rights and his stance against the colonisation of Africa, the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and his campaigns for peace especially with Russia, overshadowed his entertainment value and even his support for American troops during World War two.

20,000 or so people turned up to see and hear him at the Peekskill concert, but that 20,000 had to be safeguarded by a protective ring of volunteer guards drawn from trade unions and civil rights activists who formed a human chain all the way around the concert venue.

Outside that venue stood some 900 state troopers who were supposedly deployed to prevent Robeson and the concert goers from being attacked by a mob of angry local residents, many of whom were just kids, some Ku Klux Klan members, but mostly members of organisations such as The Veterans of Foreign Wars and different chapters of the American Legion.

These groups had supposedly come to protest at Robeson and his “left wing” friends, and in preparation for their protest the Police had allowed them to collect, and indeed “truck in”, piles of stones and bricks to make their point.

Effigies of Paul Robeson were hung or burned, and those attending the concert were berated with insults including “Niggers” “Commies” “ Jews” and other inflammatory statements.

There was a real fear of Robeson being assassinated and one sniper was discovered in the woods surrounding the concert venue.

As it happened, the concert itself passed without incident, however it was deemed appropriate that Robeson’s departure from the venue be disguised.

At the end, he was seen being placed in a car, but in actual fact he left that car to go into another only to leave the second car behind in order to be secretly smuggled into an unmarked van in which he made his escape from the venue.

The rest of the concert goers were not so lucky.

Many cars had been destroyed when they turned up for the previous concert on August 27th. Drivers found their vehicles up turned or pushed over cliffs by angry locals.

Now, as they left the concert of 4th September, each and every vehicle was met with a hail of missiles thrown by the protestors. Car windows were broken, accidents caused and people were injured.

Concert goers had to run an organised gauntlet lasting roughly 4 miles where piles of stones and bricks had been stockpiled every few hundred yards for the protestors to use as missiles. While this abuse was going on, Law enforcement officers and state troopers merely stood and watched with no attempt to stop the violence.

A full blown riot ensued with many people being injured. Many concert goers, particularly black concert goers, were attacked.

News footage exists of one black man being knocked to the ground and being badly beaten by not only so called protestors, but also by local law enforcement officers and state troopers. The beating of this man was later described as “savage.”

At first, the state authorities and local Governor denied that this beating, and even the whole riot, had ever happened, but eventually had to accept that their version of events had been fabricated. Even then, the cause of the riot was laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Paul Robeson and his “commie” sympathisers.

As a consequence, Robeson was denounced on the floor of the house with one Representative stating that the American people were “not in sympathy with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.”

Democratic Representative Edward E. Cox of Georgia denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Despite sections of the community and civil rights activists calling for an enquiry into the Peekskill riots, no further action was taken and no prosecutions ever followed. The perpetrators of the beating handed out to the black concert goer on camera were neither investigated nor charged.

The protestors were portrayed in Newsreels as war veterans, patriots and the supporters of a free democracy who had every right to stand and go to any lengths to prevent the influence of the “red element” being spread throughout America.

Paul Robeson’s records were withdrawn from sale in America, his concerts cancelled and his movies withdrawn. No Paul Robeson film would be shown on American television until the late 1970’s!

Robeson was invited to sing at Civil Rights functions and in black communities but in “white” McCarthyist America he was seen as a demon.

His wife eventually appeared before Senator McCarthy’s committee and asked about her husband’s refusal to condemn communism, Russia and those organisations which protested against the colonisation of Africa. The committee session was caught on film and it shows the junior senator from Wisconsin at his bullying worst.

However, in due course McCarthy would be destroyed by his own bigotry, prejudices and excesses.

The widely admired CBS journalist Edward R Murrow would play a pivotal role in bringing about the downfall of McCarthy.

On 20th October 1953 – 4 years after the Peekskill riots – Murrow would make a famous live broadcast titled “The Case Against Lt. Milo Radulovich, AO589839.”

Radulovich had been a reserve Air Force weather officer, in Dexter, Michigan, but was dismissed from service because he was considered a “security risk.” Senator McCarthy, as head of the Senate Operations Committee, and its subcommittee on investigations, had stirred up a massive search for such “traitors,” in the intervening four years, and these traitors had to be identified not only by relations with communists, but what they read, and whom they associated with.

The evidence against Radulovich was the fact that his father, an immigrant who read newspapers from his native Serbia, and his sister, who had attended a civil rights rally for Paul Robeson, were considered “communist sympathizers.” When Radulovich refused to dissociate himself from his family and their activities, he was dismissed from the Air Force Service.

Radulovich subsequently challenged the decision in court but failed to change the decision.

Murrow took up the story, interviewed Radulovich and demonstrated how ridiculous the decision was on live television. At the same time, he damned and condemned McCarthy.

The result was that Radulovich was reinstated into the air force within a month.

Television had succeeded where the courts had failed.

Murrow now knew that McCarthy would seek to attack him and to destroy his reputation. He was told that McCarthy was investigating Murrow and his communist sympathies.

In the full knowledge of what had happened to Robeson and his career, Ed Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, persuaded CBS to allow Murrow to launch an extraordinary attack on McCarthy and to question the fundamentalist reactions and beliefs that had led to, amongst other things, the Peekskill Riots and the damning of Paul Robeson.

At the time, Murrow’s broadcast and stance was seen as highly dangerous both to the network and to Murrow himself.

On March 29, 1954 Murrow made another broadcast entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,” featuring a series of film clips of the Senator himself.

Using the film clips and the Senator’s own words, Murrow exposed and clearly demonstrated the lies, absurdities and inconsistencies behind what McCarthy had been saying, preaching and doing supposedly in the name of the American people. The exposure of McCarthy’s baiting of witnesses, and the type of sustained bullying faced by Paul Robeson’s wife, was shown to the nation and provided devastating evidence of McCarthy’s lack of credibility.

Murrow ended the broadcast with this devastating conclusion:

“No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that Congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

He went on:

“The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Murrow then ended the broadcast – and indeed the career of the junior senator from Wisconsin with his familiar sign off.

“ Good Night – and Good Luck”.

That signature sign off – “ Good night and Good Luck” – stemmed from Murrow’s years as a war correspondent in London. At the height of the blitz it was a reasonably common saying when saying goodbye to someone on any given evening. No one knew in those fearful days if they would be living in the morning or if they were ever going to see the person they were saying goodbye to again.

And so it came to pass that each and every broadcast Murrow would make from London during the war would start with “ This – is London” and would end with “ Good Night – and Good Luck”.

Within 5 short years of the McCarthy broadcast, Ed Murrow found himself waging his own war on not only his employers at CBS but on all the other news channels and networks in America.

He had watched the new idiom of television start to dumb down and viewed the advance of shows such as The $64,000 Question with horror.

He argued that television was a means of educating the nation and that the networks were selling the viewing public out by accepting the highest dollar for sponsored shows such as quizzes and the like at the expense of proper news reporting and educational documentaries.

He also argued that the sponsor’s dollar would eventually dictate the quality of the news and education provided by the television and predicted that news and proper reporting would soon become a thing of the past.

On October 15, 1958, in a speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago, Murrow blasted TV’s emphasis on entertainment and commercialism at the expense of public interest in what became known as his “wires and lights” speech.

Amongst other things that night, when addressing the black ties and the ball gown types, Ed Murrow said the following:

“Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians left about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in colour, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, AND PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive. And I mean the word survive, quite literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then perhaps, some young and courageous soul with a small budget might do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizen from anything that is unpleasant.”

He then went on:

“To a very considerable extent, the media of mass communications in a given country reflects the political, economic and social climate in which it grows and flourishes. That is the reason our system differs from the British and the French, and also from the Russian and the Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

Finally, talking of television, Murrow ends:

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Thank you for your patience.

Good Night – and Good Luck”.

Three months before that speech, The United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the case of Kent v Dulles which set out the right of free travel to any American citizen.

It was a case that surrounded the restriction placed on Rockwell Kent being allowed to travel due to his having supposed “Communist Sympathies”. By a majority, the Supreme Court ruled that such a restriction was unconstitutional and as a result, Paul Robeson had his passport returned to him.

By 1959 he had become the first black singer to sing at St Paul’s cathedral and was appearing as Othello at Stratford on Avon.

He later toured the world and continued to work and speak out politically but he would never regain the status, fame and fortune that he enjoyed before Peekskill.

Eventually, ill health would take its toll on that deep voice and he lived out his last 13 years in seclusion. He was unable to attend many benefits, concerts and celebrations given in his honour at venues and in cities which had shunned him years earlier.

He was unable to attend a celebration of his 75th birthday at Carnegie Hall in 1973, however he did send a message: “Though I have not been able to be active for several years, I want you to know that I am the same Paul, dedicated as ever to the worldwide cause of humanity for freedom, peace and brotherhood.”

On January 23, 1976, following complications of a stroke, Robeson died at the age of 77 at his sister’s house in Philadelphia.

CBS and all the other news channels hailed him as a great American.

Ed Murrow’s lights and wires in a box speech did not immediately bring about the end of his career, but the writing was on the wall as far as his days with CBS were concerned.

Old friendships were now strained relationships. Where he had once been a director of the corporation his stance on news reporting and television’s use in general were at extreme odds with those who controlled the corporation and broadcasting as a whole.

He was eventually appointed head of the United States Information Agency by President Kennedy and so was in charge of broadcasting the official views of the Government to the public of other nations.

It was to be a position he would hold until ill health forced him to retire in 1964.

However, it was not investigative reporting which was his forte.

Old friends and foes at CBS did ask him to come back to the network after he retired from Government but he declined.

He had been the first man to publicly broadcast on the health dangers of smoking and the then suspected link between cigarettes and cancer, yet he himself smoked more than 60 camel cigarettes each day. That broadcast angered the tobacco industry who were major television sponsors.

He had shone the light on the shocking plight of farm workers and immigrant workers in the United States, had questioned the US policy on Israel and Palestine, and had made many other reports which were designed to tell a story which would shake the communal American psyche.

He questioned and challenged established thinking and doctrine throughout his entire broadcasting career and always sought to present the facts without fear or favour as he believed that ordinary people were better off knowing the facts and could deal with those facts even if they were unpopular or made the same public uncomfortable with Government or themselves.

On April 27, 1965, two days after his 57th birthday, Ed Murrow said “Good Night – and Good luck” for the very last time.

CBS carried a memorial program and in the intervening years Murrow’s reputation as a journalist and a broadcast visionary has increasingly grown with the lights in a box speech becoming a thing of legend in broadcasting and cultural circles.

One colleague said of him: “He was a shooting star; and we will live in his afterglow for a very long time.”

However, the lessons to be learned from the careers of Ed Murrow, Paul Robeson and the events at Peekskill in 1949 do not end there.

There is no doubt that both Murrow and Robeson were remarkable and brave men.

However, I believe this story has someone in its midst who puts both of them in a very respectable shade – but shade none the less.

To my knowledge there is no evidence to suggest that Paul Robeson ever met the “Negro” who was beaten by the state troopers, police and protestors at the end of his concert in upstate New York. Years later, the graphic and detailed photographs of that beating would find their way into a biography of the singer written by his granddaughter Susan Robeson.

The book was entitled: The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Nor can I find any evidence that Ed Murrow or anyone else at CBS, the main news network of the time, ever sought out the victim of the assault or reported on his wellbeing or history.

Had Murrow or his colleagues followed the story, as they did in the case of Milo Radulovich, they would have uncovered the most remarkable of stories which would have inspired, taught, illuminated and even shocked the American public – especially those who were responsible for the beating or who chose to throw stones on a September afternoon in 1949 just outside Peekskill New York.

The man concerned was called Eugene James Bullard and he was born in Columbus, Georgia on 9th October in either 1894 or 1895 depending on which account of his life you choose to believe.

His parents were William Octavius Bullard, whose family had originally been slaves on the French Islands of Martinique or Haiti and Josephine “Yokalee” Thomas, a Creek Indian.

The couple had a total of ten children of whom Eugene would be the seventh child with his father always believing that the boy would be “Lucky number seven.”

William Bullard was known locally as “Big Ox”. He was a large powerful man who was well educated and who could speak fluent French. He would regale his children with tales of France and his French ancestry, and would spell out to them that in France a man was not judged by his race or colour as was the practice in the Southern states of the USA. Further, Big Ox preached about the French belief in liberté, égalité, and fraternité – and to a young boy from the South his stories suggested that France was some kind of heaven.

Eugene was a student at Twenty-eighth Street School in Columbus between 1901 and 1906 and it was there he learned to read and write.

His mother died when he was only a young boy and so he was raised by The Big Ox and his siblings.

However, during that time Eugene  came to realise that he would always be the victim of prejudice in America because of the colour of his skin. He would witness his father be victimised and bullied by White bosses and on more than one occasion he and his family would have to hide from Klan members.

One of his brothers was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members, and when his father retaliated against a White man who had laid hands on him, there was an attempt to lynch his father which was only stopped when an influential white man intervened.

It was against this background that Eugene James Bullard took the reluctant decision to run away and leave Georgia for good in 1906 when he was just 11 or 12 years old.

That decision would mark the start of the most remarkable of journeys.

Eugene left home with only his pet goat which he sold in return for some money which he used to set him off on his travels.

Almost immediately he found himself in the company of a family of gypsies who were originally from England. The gypsies took him in, fed him, housed him and taught him to ride and tend for horses. For the next two years he would ride as a jockey winning several races throughout the State of Georgia.

However, he was not content to live the gypsy life on a personal basis and eventually left the camp and once again set off across America on foot taking odd jobs here and there.

This was a particularly dangerous pastime for a 14 year old black boy who was really no more than a child. Eventually he sneaked on board a railroad wagon which took him to Newport Virginia where once again he managed to obtain some employment on a piecemeal basis.

At the age of 16, Eugene found himself in Norfolk Virginia where he was working at the docks helping to load a German cargo ship called the Marta Russ. He had no idea where the ship was headed but he took the view that wherever it was going it was likely to offer a young black boy a better standard of life than the Southern States of the USA.

Sure, he could have travelled north to some of the big cities like Philadelphia or Detroit, but filled with his father’s stories of France, Eugene wanted to leave America altogether in search of a better life.

Accordingly, he slipped on board the Marta Russ and decided to stowaway to goodness only knew where.

He remained hidden on the boat for three days before eventually running out of food and water at which time he presented himself to an astonished captain by the name of Westphal. The Captain at first joked about throwing him overboard before sending him off to work in both the engine room and the cook house.

During a three week voyage, Eugene mixed with the crew and learned to speak some rudimentary German, realising for the first time that he had a natural aptitude for languages.

The boat and its cargo were bound for Sweden but the captain was wary of taking the young black man with him to Sweden where he thought that some tough questions would be asked about his unexpected and unexplainable young crew member.

However, the boat was due to make one stop before reaching Sweden and it was decided that Eugene would disembark there and head on out into the world. That stop was destined to be made at Aberdeen in Scotland.

When the Marta Russ docked in Northern Scotland, the German captain helped Eugene off the boat and gave him the princely sum of £5 to help him on his way.

Whether acting on advice or instinct, Eugene spent only one night in the city before travelling south by passenger train to Britain’s second largest city – Glasgow — where he arrived in the spring of 1912.

A Black sixteen year old American boy stood out like a sore thumb in Glasgow in 1912, however it was here that Eugene James Bullard would later recall that he felt truly free for the first time in his life. He would stay in the city for some 5 months, and while he would hear the odd comment about his colour or his accent, in his eyes the comments were more made in fun than out of any malice or genuine prejudice.

The atmosphere in Glasgow was completely different to the constant fear and threat of violence that existed in Georgia or elsewhere in the Southern United States.

Once again he made some friends who helped him get cheap but clean accommodation and he gained work as a lookout for local bookmakers, a profession which was illegal at the time.

It was in Glasgow that he also came across street entertainers for the first time and although he felt that some of the forms of entertainment were a bit like begging, which he refused to do, he felt a thrill for the very idea of entertainment.

After 5 months in Glasgow, he again boarded the train this time headed for Liverpool where he was told he would be able to possibly get himself a job that might take him to continental Europe.

In Liverpool, he earned money in some street theatre jobs most notably being the guy who was locked in the stocks who had custard pies thrown at him. However, he also started to attend a local gym and learned to box.

His boxing skills were quite good and the time at the gym resulted in his physique filing out and his frame becoming more like that of a man than a runaway teenager.

In time he started to box with some quite good results that brought him to the attention of a trainer who in due course persuaded him to move to London.

At the time, London had a whole host of expatriate American boxers including the heavyweight champion of the world – Jack Johnson. Amongst those he met in London was someone he came to look upon as a father figure and mentor for a couple of years – the world champion welterweight contender called Aaron Lister Brown otherwise known as “The Dixie Kid”.

Brown became Eugene’s manager and helped him with his boxing skills. Yet at the same time, Eugene also earned some money with a slapstick vaudeville and dance act working with an American female singer and dancer called Belle Davis whose “troop” was known as Freedman’s Pickaninnies – a pickaninny being a sort of comedic dancer.

Life in London was good for Eugene – or Gene as he was referred to – but having come all this way he wanted to see France and to determine whether or not it matched up to the tales told by his father.

On 28th November 1913, both The Dixie kid and Eugene James Bullard took part in a boxing bill in Paris.

Glasgow and Liverpool had been good; London had been fabulous to Gene, but as soon as he set foot in Paris he knew he was spiritually “home” and it soon became clear that he wanted to live there and would not return to England permanently.

He toured Europe with the Pickaninnies for the next few months but was permanently settled in Paris by early 1914.

Despite all that had happened to him and the thousands of miles he had journeyed he was still only 18 years old at most.

However, the adventures of Eugene James Bullard (though he had now changed his name to Eugene Jacques Bullard) were only just beginning.

He had many friends among the boxing fraternity in Paris and quickly got work acting as an interpreter and as a dancer.

However, in August 1914 War came and France found itself at War with Germany. Many of the Americans in Paris left continental Europe and headed back to Britain or elsewhere. Eugene Jacques Bullard chose to stay and on October 9th, his nineteenth birthday but declaring that he was twenty years old, he responded to the calls of the French Government by presenting himself at the recruiting office of the French Foreign Legion in the Boulevard  des Invalides.

Over the next two years, Eugene would be at the forefront of some of the worst battles of the First World War where the legionnaires wold suffer huge casualties. Over 32,000 foreign nationals had joined the French Foreign Legion including some 600 Americans only a handful of whom were black.

The legion lost tens of thousands of troops in the trenches and within 18 months or so, three legion units were merged into one, such was the number of casualties.

Eugene was a machine gunner and spent months in the trenches watching many colleagues die. He himself had been injured but counted himself lucky enough to be alive.

By early 1916 he was part of the 170th infantry division which had barely survived horrific fighting at Verdun which was seen as hugely important by both the Germans and the French. Eugene and his colleagues were literally ordered to die rather than surrender the city and they came under massive shell fire for a continuous period of two weeks.

On March 2nd Eugene was badly injured in an explosion which was sufficiently violent that it blew out all but four of his teeth. He had spent days on end firing his machine gun at advancing German troops and on other occasions he had crawled out into no man’s land to try and rescue injured comrades who were calling out for help.

On March 5th, in the town of Fleury a shell attack blew him into a dugout and opened up severe wounds in his leg and resulted in shrapnel lodging in his back. At the time, just three days after his previous injury, he had exposed himself to the enemy and was attempting to deliver a communique further along the line.

Fortunately, he was picked up by the red cross and taken by ambulance away from the battle area and later loaded onto a train.

Over 300,000 men died in the battle for Verdun and it was not until June that the French were confident of holding the city. The rally cry of “ Ils ne passerant pas” became legendary and the leader of the troops, Marshall Petain became a national hero.

The train carrying Eugene Bullard drove through France for three nights only stopping so that the dead could be taken off the train and some of the wounded could be treated. Apparently at one point Eugene Bullard was examined and declared dead such were his wounds. However, when he was being unloaded from the train he was discovered to be alive but barely so.

He was hospitalised in Lyon but the injuries to his leg and back were such that it was clear that his war was over and upon his eventual recovery which included massive dental work to replace his teeth, he was told that he was to be discharged and that his war was over.

However, Eugene Jacques Bullard refused to accept his discharge as he had another plan.

By this time, his father, The Big Ox, had somehow gotten to know of his son’s whereabouts and his involvement in the war in Europe. He asked the American Government to have him repatriated back to the USA pointing out that he was only 19 and according to American law too young to fight.

However, the American Government could do nothing about what went on in France and so The Big Ox had to trust in his belief in his “Lucky number Seven”.

Against all medical advice and all hitherto known precedent, Eugene Bullard, having recovered as best he could from his injuries, volunteered on October 2nd 1916 to join the French Military Air Service as a gunner.

He had bet other soldiers that he could become a pilot and that he could fly a plane despite having a badly damaged leg and back. By 5th May 1917 he had received his pilot’s licence (No 6950) from Aero Club De-France.

By June 28, 1917 Bullard was promoted to the rank of corporal and on August 27, 1917 he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 based at Beauzée-sur-Aire south of Verdun, where he stayed till September 13. The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad aircraft that bore a flying duck as its squadron insignia. Bullard’s service record also includes the aero squadron N.85 (Escadrille SPA 85), September 13, 1917 – November 11, 1917, which had a bull insignia. He took part in about twenty combat missions, often flying with his pet monkey in the cockpit, and he has been credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft although some sources differ on this.

In those days, Pilots could decorate their own aircraft and on his, Bullard wrote the legend “ All blood runs red” – a clear reference and message saying that the black man was no different to his white colleague or adversary.

And so it came to pass that Eugene Jacques Bullard was amongst the very first fighter pilots as at the time the Aeroplane was only twenty years old.

However, here is the thing.

When the United States eventually entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit all Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps (the squadron name for Americans flying for France) or the Escadrilles into the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, passed all the tests, but was never admitted to the American air force because ……… he was Black!

After all that he had been through, his own country, from which he had escaped all those years before discriminated against him because of skin colour at the very first opportunity.

Accordingly, Bullard continued to fly for France.

Bullard would later get into a fight with a French officer and as a result he was drummed out of the French air force and reassigned back to the 170th infantry until the end of the war being discharged on October 24th 1919.

Once the war was over, there was no prospect of Eugene Bullard heading back to the United States. Paris was his home, and it was in Paris that he intended to stay.

He returned to Paris and renewed old acquaintances from before the war. However, by this time he was no longer just another American in Paris. He was Eugene Jaques Bullard, an honorary French citizen having fought for the country in the war and who had been decorated for bravery.

The runaway was now a bit of a celebrity.

However, no matter what level of celebrity he enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the war, it was to be nothing in comparison to the lifestyle and level of local fame he would enjoy for the next fifteen to twenty years.

Somewhere along the line Eugene Bullard persuaded a friend to teach him how to play the drums. He became more than proficient as a jazz drummer and entered the world of Parisian nightclubs and jazz clubs as a recognised musician.

In 1923 he married a countess, Marcelle Straumann, by which time he was the resident drummer and manager of Le Grand Duc club in Montmartre, and after a while he became the owner of the club.

By 1924, Paris was a real haven for avant-garde jazz, dance and the decadent lifestyle – ironically the only city which had a similar scene was Berlin.

At Le Grand Duc, many a celebrity could be found mixing with locals and former army and air force officers. In that year, Bullard employed an American saloon singer from Chicago with flame red hair who was the daughter of an Irishman and a black woman. The singer had been christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith but because of her unusual parental mix and her flame red hair was simply referred to as “ Bricktop” and she was to become a Parisian fixture and legend.

It is said that Bricktop taught Josephine Baker to Charleston in Le Grand Duc, and that one night F Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway engaged in a wild fist fight outside the club over her affections.

Bullard also owned a gymnasium where he had the boxing fraternity train and eventually he would own the L’Espadrille restaurant.

At Le Grand Duc,  the list of clients and performers read like a who’s who of the entertainment and literary world.

As well as Fitzgerald and Hemingway, TS Eliot and other writers would regularly come in as would The Duke and Duchess of Kent. Bricktop would eventually open her own legendary club up the road but Le Grand Duc was also home to Josephine Baker, Gloria Swanson, Helle Nice and various other artistes.

Louis Armstrong played trumpet there and a certain Dooley Wilson had stints as the pianist in residence before finding greater fame as Sam in Casablanca. The American playwright and novelist Langston Hughes worked as a bus boy in the club serving celebrities, war veterans, politicians and the like.

Regrettably, Bullard and his wife separated in 1935. Eugene retained custody of his two daughters by the marriage, a son having died in infancy, and so he mixed the life of a celebrity club owner and father.

By the late 1930’s however there was once again a clear threat from Germany as Hitler expanded his ambitions throughout Europe.

Bullard’s club was frequented by many German officials and he began to gather information for the French and the British intelligence services by eavesdropping on conversations which the German officers thought he could not understand.

Eventually he was warned by a friendly German officer that when the war came he should take his daughters and leave Paris as undoubtedly things would not be good for him if the German army marched on Paris.

Even before the war started, some in France were watching Bullard and saw that he seemed friendly with high ranking German officials. One night, as he was locking up the club, a bag was suddenly placed over his head and he was kidnapped. His captors proved to be the French resistance movement who feared that the official French authorities would not stand up to Hitler.

Bullard was able to convince them that he was not a Nazi sympathiser and thereafter agreed to pass any intelligence back to the resistance.

In essence he became a sort of spy for a number of months with his intelligence being passed to the resistance and British Intelligence.

Eventually, however, war came and as predicted the German army rolled swiftly over France with devastating results. Prior to the fall of Paris, Bullard decided to heed the advice he had been given and took his daughters to safety and got out of town in May 1940.

However, just as he had at the First World War, he volunteered to fight for France even though he was in his mid-forties. Bullard made his way to the city of Orleans by bicycle and there he met up with his former commander from the Battle of Verdun. As a volunteer he joined the 51st  infantry division and fought alongside the regular army in an attempt to defend the city. In late May he was once again severely wounded in battle suffering severe injuries to his back with the prognosis being that he would never walk again.

There was no way he could continue serving in the war effort and he was smuggled into neutral Spain in late July of the same year. Eventually his daughters were smuggled out of the country by friends and from Lisbon Bullard returned to the United States landing in New York.

It would be the first time he had returned to the country of his birth in 35 years.

Upon arrival in New York, Bullard was immediately taken to hospital and he remained under medical care for several weeks. Although he regained the use of his legs he never fully recovered from his wounds.

Moreover, he found the fame and freedom of association he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States and one again he found himself the victim of prejudice and suffered hardship as a result of the colour of his skin.

He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and occasionally as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him and he more or less faded into the background and out of the limelight in the United States where his war record was not only not widely known or recognised but was initially at least swept under the carpet by those in officialdom. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris some years later, but his property had been destroyed during the war and initially at least he failed to receive any kind of financial settlement from the French government and so he was virtually forced to return to New York where he would enjoy, if that is the right word, a very different lifestyle to that he had built for himself in Paris.

However, he was an ardent supporter of civil rights, especially black civil rights, and it was because of those beliefs that he travelled to Peekskill New York in September 1949 to hear Paul Robson speak and sing in support of the Civil Rights Congress. It was because of those beliefs that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on that September day when “Veterans” and patriotic defenders of democracy and free speech from chapters of the American Legion shouted abuse at him and others, eventually knocking him to the ground, beating him fiercely along with uniformed law enforcement officers who were apparently doing their duty.

Eventually, the filmed beating of Eugene Jacques Bullard would feature clearly but heavily in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist – both of which the late Edward R Murrow would have been proud.

However, in 1949 neither America itself nor the television networks had shown any interest in Bullard.

Had they done so, then maybe those who attacked him as a “commie” a  “Nigger” or whatever would have recognised him and realised that in France he was by that time recognised as a National Hero.

I wonder how they would have felt had they known that the man on the ground was the holder of amongst other things the Médaille Militaire, The Croix de Guerre, The Volunteer’s Cross (Croix du combattant volontaire), The Wounded Insignia, The World War I Commemorative Medal, The World War I Victory Medal,  The Freedom Medal, and The World War II Commemorative Medal.

I wonder how they would have felt had they known that he risked life and limb in two world wars, spied on the Nazi’s and had been friends with and hosted some of the most recognisable celebrities and literary figures of the 20th century?

Alas, the stone throwers of Peekskill never saw any of that and only saw what they considered to be a dumb ageing black man with a distinct limp, and so he was thrown to the ground and beaten.

They were not to know that he had endured much worse in the course of defending the country he had come to regard as home.

Nothing more was really heard of Bullard until 1954 when the French government invited to him Paris to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.

Eugene, standing with two white former soldiers who were invited to light the flame, was treated like a hero. Crowds called his name, soldiers and ex soldiers congratulated him, he was recognised by some and fetted by those who remembered him from his days in Paris. General de Gaul embraced and greeted him.

The day after the ceremony, Eugene was invited to a Government building where he was presented with a cheque representing compensation for his demolished property and his ruined business which was destroyed during the war.

When presenting the cheque, the French Government official said honestly that the cheque did not represent a sufficient sum in compensation but his hands were tied by strict rules concerning the amount of compensation available. He further added, that no matter what sum was paid, it would never be enough to recognise what Eugene Bullard had done for France.

Eugene returned to New York and with the modest sum he received from France he bought a small apartment in Harlem. It was not the greatest area in which to live but he would be away from White Prejudice there.

At one point he returned to Georgia in search of his family but met with little success and huge hostility. The story goes that he was about to be lynched until saved by some FBI agents and his gun. He never returned to Georgia again.

However, The French Republic was not finished with Eugene Jaques Bullard.

In the United States, his war record and remarkable life had gone unnoticed and unrewarded. Whilst other serving soldiers received war pensions and benefits, Bullard was ignored and received nothing. He was not even recognised among the nation’s early aviators though others who had flown for France in the La Fayette Espadrilles were.

There is only one honour which ranks higher in French military etiquette than the Croix de Guerre and that is The Legion of Honour, or to be absolutely accurate when someone is adopted into the National Order of the Legion of Honour which is an order comprising of only those who are deemed to have given the highest and bravest of service to France. It is an order which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 May 1802.

In 1959, The Government of France bestowed the title of Chevalier ( Knight ) de Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur on Eugene Jaques Bullard for his outstanding contribution in defending the interests of France and in upholding the values of the country.

Eugene was presented with his medal at a lavish ceremony in New York.

At long last, some Government officials started to ask “Who is this guy Bullard?” when they heard that he was to be decorated.

In the same year, a state visit was arranged for the following year whereby De Gaul would come to the USA and visit Eisenhower and address the both houses on the Capitol.

However, De Gaul’s staff also had a special request.

“ The General wished to meet with Eugene Jacque Bullard – one of France’s greatest heroes but who lives in America!”

The Whitehouse went into panic as they had no idea who Bullard was or where he was. A search for the mysterious war hero was undertaken and eventually they found that Eugene Jacques Bullard was working as a lift operator at 30 Rockefeller Plaza – one of New York’s best known skyscrapers and a building which housed the Rainbow Room restaurant and the fledgling ABC network.

No one in the building knew Eugene as anyone other than the lift man.

On December 22, 1959, just over a year after Murrow’s wires and lights speech, Eugene, wearing his lift operator’s uniform, was the subject of a short interview on NBC’s Today Show by Dave Garroway and received hundreds of letters from viewers as a result.

It was not an in depth interview and it failed to tell many aspects of his remarkable life. It made no mention of his having been the man who was seen to be beaten by law enforcement officers and protestors at the Peekskill riots.

In 1960, De Gaul came to America and at a public ceremony in New York he proclaimed Bullard as a true hero of the French Republic and the people of France.

Less than two years later, on October 12th 1961 Eugene Jacques Bullard died at the age of 66 in his New York Apartment. He died of stomach cancer and it can be surmised that his illness was brought about by the gases he inhaled in the First World War trenches.

Five days later he was buried with full military honours in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens with representatives of the French Government present. There were no representatives of any official American body present. His coffin was draped with the French tri-colour.

Eugene Jaques Bullard was the recipient of no less than fifteen official decorations from the government of France:

Chevalier de Legion of Honour, Médaille militaire, Croix de guerre with bronze star, Volunteer combatant’s cross 1914–1918, Combatant’s Cross, Insignia for the Military Wounded, The Victory Medal, The Verdun Medal, The Somme Medal, The World War I Commemorative Medal, The Commemorative medal for voluntary service in Free France, The World War II Commemorative Medal, The Voluntary Enlistment Medal (World War I), The American Volunteers with the French Army Medal.

On August 23, 1994, thirty-three years after his death, and seventy-seven years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Eugene Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

Over the years, Bullard was referenced in some Hollywood movies but his name was always obscured and his full story was never told. The late Richard Attenborough was said to be very keen on making a full movie of his remarkable life and at the time of writing a film entitled “Black Jacques” is said to be ready to start production in early 2016.

Each year, The Actors Equity Association awards the Paul Robeson Citation Award to that actor or actress who has  best exemplified the principles by which Robeson lived his life; namely, a dedication to freedom of expression and respect for human dignity regardless of race or nationality.

In 2015, the award was presented to Arthur French who has worked on and Off Broadway for more than 50 years. Past winners include Maya Angelou, Sydney Poitier, James Earl Jones and various others.

Each and every year, since 1971, The Radio and Television Digital News Association have been honouring those responsible for outstanding achievements in electronic journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Murrow Award recipients are meant to have demonstrated the excellence, courage and ethics of the chain smoking newsman in his prime.

Murrow’s historic fight with McCarthy and all the tension that surrounded it was brilliantly captured in the movie “ Good Night and Good Luck” which was produced and directed by George Clooney. David Strathearn is absolutely brilliant as Murrow.

All three of these men stood up against prejudice, bullying and harassment in their different ways and different forms. All three lived lives which in different ways stood for freedom of speech, freedom to associate and freedom from oppression. Or to put it another way they all believed in Liberté, égalité, and fraternité.

Perhaps you knew of their story before?

However, I genuinely hope that you have read this on your laptop, tablet, desktop or phone and learned at least something about these people for the first time.


Because the screen you are looking at, no matter how large or small, can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.

Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.

The spirit and determination of men such as Robeson, Murrow and Eugene Jaques Bullard deserve to be remembered.

Good night ……….. and Good luck.


I hope it becomes clear to anyone reading these entries that I enjoy writing them. As it says on the homepage of the Strandsky website they are for the enjoyment of the reader ….. and the writer.

If you did enjoy this, or any other of my stories, please bear the following in mind.

It has cost you nothing but your time to read this: similarly it has cost me nothing but my time to write it from the comfort of my home.

Some people don’t have such comforts as they have no home at all.

I am sleeping out voluntarily for the homeless on Saturday 14th November with a view to raising some money to help homeless and poor people this Christmas.

Over 1,000 Glasgow children will wake up on Christmas day without a home and that is a disgrace.

Accordingly, if you have gotten this far, would it be too much to ask that you pledge £1 to my homeless campaign by donating here.

Normally, my stories are read by about 3,000 different people and if every single one gave just one pound that would make a huge difference.

It would bring a whole new meaning to the phrase – Good night, and Good luck!

Thankyou for reading.

Ordinary Miracles

This blog is my story about a life forever changed by chronic illness. I hope you'll laugh and cry with me as I try to make sense of it all. Oh, and nothing I say should ever be construed as offering medical or legal advice.


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