Harry Gregg RIP

I think it is hard for young people to understand life before the Internet. Hard for middle-aged people to understand life before colour TV.

But for old people like myself there was actually life before television. We did not get ours until September 1959.

Uncle Jackie and Auntie Mary had  a TV in  their terraced house. My daddy and I watched the 1956 (Manchester City v West Brom) nd 1957 (Aston Villa v Manchester United) FA Cup Finals there. Actually I was too young to “watch” but I recall how Uncle Jackie called Auntie Mary (who was in a local choral society) out of the kitchen to sing “Abide With Me” and “Keep Right On To The End of the Road”.

Later my granny and granda got a TV and it seemed my daddy brought me there every night to watch Charlie Drake and Tony Hancock and of course the News. One night he suddenly said “oh my God”.

A plane had crashed. Manchester United players. And I (still not 6 years old) asked what colours do they play in. And when he said “red”, I said “oh that’s my team”.

Over sixty years later, it seems a strange thing to say. Daddy was already probably reading me reports from the Sunday Express. But the thing is that United wore white in the 1957 Cup Final so how did I know it was the “red team”. Daddy was a supporter. He liked Matt Busby, Jimmy Murphy, Liam Whelan, Joe Armstrong. United players (later Shay Brennan, Pat Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Tony Dunne) were as likely to be mentioned in The Universe, the weekly Catholic newspaper as the Sunday Express. And so a love affair with a football team was born. My cousin was a  priest in the Salford Diocese in the early 1960s

In a sense I owe it to my daddy, Uncle Jackie, Auntie Sheila who celebrated with me when “we” won and teased me when “I” lost.

Harry Gregg was the goalkeeper. The injury-prone hero of the Munich Air Crash. He went back into the burning wreckage to take Busby, Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and a Yugoslav woman and her baby out.

The team that SHOULD have won the FA Cup in 1957 when Ray Wood (the keeper) was injured fought their way to the FA Cup Final and lost to Bolton. Harry Gregg was barged into the net by Nat Lofthouse. But actually that was a shadow team that included three Munich survivors. I watched that in my grandparents house.

Indeed when United went into training for the first post-Munich match, they only had fourteen professional players.

The years after Munich were not good years. Those of us who cheered on the Reds were not glory hunters. Rather we were romantics. It is ironic as the team was rebuilt, Gregg was often the hero. And yet largely thru injury he missed out.

For the first honour after Munich, the 1963 Cup Final, David Gaskell was in goals. In 1965, the first League title, it was Pat Dunne. In 1967, it was Alex Stepney. And Gregg had left for Stoke City when United won the 1968 European Cup.

Yet Harry Gregg personifies those years of re-building. A no-nonsense goalkeeper, he spoke his mind in the dressing room, sorted out the bullies on the field and in the United dressing room and slapped the kids round the head when they got uppity. The kids included sons of directors.

And re-reading his autobiography “Harrys Game”, just last week  I am reminded that like all goalkeepers, he thought he would have been an excellent outfield player. All great goalkeepers need to be crazy. All great goalkeepers need to be brave.

Harry Gregg was a great goalkeeper.

His legacy? Well to some, it will be a Manchester United goalkeeper who evokes names like Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Liam Whelan and later George Best, Dennis Law and David Herd.

For others it will be as a Norn Iron goalkeeper, the best keeper in the 1958 World Cup. Names like Billy Bingham, Bertie Peacock and Danny Blanchflower will be evoked.

Strange thing from September 1958 to May 1970, Manchester United used only 72 players in the first team. I can name all of them, even if I dont remember the night they played their one match. But those were my schoolboy years. Primary school to Grammar School (ok ok I started school in 1957 but you take my point). But names ….Stepney, Brennan, Dunne, Crerand, Foulkes……they mean something.

It was a Golden Age. Cos those years from 6 to 18 should be “golden”. I neither know or care which millionaires signed for Manchester United in the January Transfer Window. My sons had their “Golden Age” of Ronaldo, Schmeichel, Scholes, Giggs, Irwin…..and my grandsons have their “Golden Age” of de Gea and….er about 25 others.

Still I am more vexed than I thought I would be. Bobby Charlton is the last survivor from Munich. But I am grieving not so much for Harry Gregg as for Football as I knew it. And for Daddy, Mammy, Auntie Sheila, Uncle Jackie and the others.

Harry Gregg Rest in Peace.




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The General Election 2020

A great day in Irish History. It reminds me of those big days in the French Revolution. We seem to have started in 2016 with reminding ourselves about the Easter Rising Proclamation, progressed thru the two Referendums and the Irish people decided to take the revolution one step further by prioritising housing and health.

Arguably the process began earlier with cutting the Catholic Church down to size.

Only a few were bothered about BREXIT.

Sinn Féin underestimated the change. They are reluctant revolutionries who would have preferred gradual change, even handing seats to political rivals.

We can be proud of our Democracy, a success story. There are only 22 total democracies (Ireland ranks sixth behind some Scandanavians and New Zealand). We do this well.

Voting and standing for election are patriotic acts. In the North, it can be a treasonable act and I enjoy that also.

Taking out an incomplete registrar, apathy and people (criminals etc who have their own selfish agenda), then the rest of the Irish population seem to be divided into four or five groups….Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and assorted lefties and rural based Independents.

For a northern nationalist, it is impossible to make a choice. I am at heart “Fianna Labour Féin” but how would I vote in Roscommon or Dublin South West or Kerry?  No idea.

Likewise I hope I would vote SNP in Inverness, Labour in Salford, Plaid Cymru in Rhyl and I hope Id be a Democrat in USA. But nature and nurture makes me a West Belfast nationalist/republican/lefty.

Of course Sinn Féin would claim to be an all-Ireland party but its only partly true. The northern and southern SFs are more nuanced.

So we get to look at these politicians for decades on RTE. Party doesn’t seem to matter. “I like her”. “I don’t like him” so that among those departing at this election, I am genuinely elated to see the back of some of them. And genuinely saddened to see others go down.

They are flawed. The parties are flawed. Too much influence from bankers, alumni from the fee paying schools, the developers, unconvincing middle class lefties  and in the case of Sinn Féin…well ya know.

But at best, they are all patriots. And I accept them all as such. They have different visions. That’s all. Fractured nation? I would say diverse. They give allegiance…as do I… to the Republic of Ireland. That is the unifying factor. And a contrast with Irish citizens who owe nothing at all to Norn Iron or Britain.

So I think Irish citizens north, south or worldwide can look on it as a good day. Those who are not citizens or indifferent might think different. It is their entitlement but really none of their business.

What happens next?

Well everyone talks about a stable government while doing their best to avoid it.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as a grand coalition does not really reflect the mood for change. Isolating Sinn Féin on “moral” grounds is the same as unionism circa 1998. Respecting SF’s vote and their voters is not a genuine stance if the public representatives are not respected.

Some might say that Sinn Féin are toxic. Indeed circa 1980, in Glasthule, County Dublin the mother of a friend (going thru a “lefty” phase) was very tweedy woman who thought Fianna Fáil were still toxic.

In victory, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could play the “under no circumstances” card whether it was about SF being “immoral” or having an “incompatible” programme for government. But when SF actually win the election, that’s a hard case to make. A FF-FG coalition does not seem representative of the people of Ireland in 2020. And SF voters (and quite a lot of non-SF voters) would shout “establishment cover up”.

Of course SF might well rescue themselves from being in government with their own red line about a coalition of the left.  Do they really want it or will they prefer to scream that they have been stitched up.

I don’t like to hear that a newly elected TD shouted “Up the ‘Ra”. It feeds republican haters who still consider Sinn Féin to be unworthy of being in government. On the other hand, I can live with victorious Sinn Féiners singing “Come Out You Black and Tans”. Indeed I would probably have joined in as it was a clear rebuke to the conflict resolutionists rehabilitating the old RIC.

But they Sinn Féin choir got it right in Kerry. It does feel like “we are on the one road”. Hmmm “maybe the wrong road”? I don’t think so.

But it does seem odd that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael consider Sinn Féin unworthy partners in government. After all, just last month they were supporting Sinn Féin in government in the north. And northern Sinn Féin is certainly more toxic than the southern brand.

But a Sinn Féin Taoiseach? A Sinn Féin Defence Minister? Finance? …Justice? Ah Justice. They and SDLP are vetoed by unionists taking that ministry in the North.

Where is Naomi Long when you need her? Another paragraph in her already impressive CV of being a MLA/Minister, ex MP and ex-MEP. …and another pension.

I hope Mick Fealty is ok.

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Back in The Saddle

Hello again.

I have not blogged for a while. I am really getting too old for this. In part, the things that got me interested in politics nearly fifty years ago are no longer relevant. In part, the things that got be interested in politics nearly fifty years ago will ALWAYS be relevant. Irish Unity and Justice for example.

But think of these names (internationally) …Moshe Dayan, Alexander Haig, Hubert Humphrey….(in English context) Harold Wilson, Patrick Gordon-Walker, Geoffrey Howe…(in Irish context) Jack Lynch, Garret Fitzgerald, Brendan Corish…(in Nordie terms) Harry West, Basil Glass, John Turnley. And I can now add Seamus Mallon.

My world circa 1975 and my world in 2020 are different.

At my age, I should only be saying my prayers. I have just passed the age where my experiences are valued. I am now more like Grandpa Simpson and it is a struggle to feel relevant.

Some good news is that I have been asked to collate and edit some anecdotes with a view to publication in United States. It is both exciting and challenging. It is not “History”. It is more of a “Memoir”, things as I recall them but even so, this means checking dates and looking at old newspapers.

The downside is that I cant do this AND blog. But I am going to try. A lot has happened recently….the Westminster Election, the Assembly and Executive are up and running again and of course we are now just three days from BREXIT and next week an Election in the Republic of Ireland.

But ultimately the role of a 67 year old person is just to vote in elections. Political progress is dictated by younger people and really I have no agenda beyond having my travel pass, courtesy of the Dept of Infrastructure.

Anyway, I hope to write a review of Westminster results in the next few days.



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The New Executive


Arlene Foster (DUP Fermanagh-South Tyrone) and Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin, Mid Ulster) are again the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

But the two junior ministers, Gordon Lyons (DUP, East Antrim) and Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin, South Antrim) will be the gatekeepers, conduits between their bosses and the civil service, organising the SpAds (Special Advisors) and of course the big link to their Parliamentary colleagues.

The Justice Department went to Naomi Long (Alliance, East Belfast) by acclamation. So again this contentious position is outside the normal d’Hondt choices. DUP wont tolerate a nationalist holding it but Sinn Féin have signalled that this is the last time they will accept this. So Alliance get an Executive seat without it being justified by their mandate. But for once, it is academic. If the Assembly had not been re-instated, Alliance would have gained some seats and qualified for an Executive seat as a right.

DUP took the Economy Department with Diane Dodds (Upper Bann) who will cease being a MEP later this month. She was only co-opted as a MLA last month to succeed new Westminster MP, Carla Lockhart. Hubby, Nigel Dodds lost his North Belfast seat last month…so I am sure we are all relieved that the Dodds family has again landed on its well-shod feet.

Sinn Féin took the Finance Department, the overseer of the public finances. Conor Murphy (Newry-Armagh) is really the main SF player. His leader, Ms O’Neill is a figure-head.

DUP took Education. Peter Weir (North Down) who left the UUP in 2001. Education can be a contentious issue. Fault lines include state (de facto unionist and Protestant) education, Catholic education (de facto nationalist) and “integrated education” a letsgetalongerist option. But it is also marked by a divide between Grammar schools and Comprehemsive schools, often seen as a “class” issue.

Sinn Féin took Communities, a ministry that includes Sport and the Irish language. Deirdre Hargey (South Belfast) was only co-opted into the Assembly a few days ago. I dont like her. Enough said. So clearly fast-tracked and possibly a recognition that SF is worried about holding the seat. I see it more as an attempt to have a Belfast-based MLA at the Executive table.

SDLP took Infrastructure. This means that Nichola Mallon (North Belfast) is now the Minister responsible for my (free, All-Ireland) bus and train pass. She has also responsibility for transport and roads etc. I am extremely disappointed that SDLP dd not take Health. SDLP has had a good winter, culminating in winning two seats at the Westminster Election. The SDLP were also the party who most credibly has been highlighting the problems in health service and appearing (with more credibility than Sinn Féin) at picket lines outside hospitals. So, while not under-stating the importance of transport and roads as well as my bus/train pass, I cannot understand why SDLP did not choose Health. It looks like cowardice, an example of just “talking the talk”.

So UUP thru Robin Swann (North Antrim) took Health. The poison challenge. Steve Aiken, UUP Party Leader made reference to the civil servants in the public gallery. He might well be expecting some hassle.

And DUP took Agriculture & Environment. Fundamentalist and Creationist, Edwin Poots (Lagan Valley) is the Minister.  He is a farmer and his most extraordinary belief is that Brexit is a good thing.

And there we have it. A new Executive that has just two years left on its mandate.

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Assembly: A Few Thoughts

I am not really enthused about the Agreement that kick starts the Stormont Assembly after three years.

The Assembly was brought down three years ago because of the RHI Scandal and now it is back and there is still no publication of the report into the Scandal.

It is a negotion that DUP has won or more precisely Sinn Féin have lost. The farcical standing ovation for Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and Conor Murphy as they walked into a hall to explain the “deal” to Sinn Féin activists.

The “red line” of the Irish Language…well SF gave in. And in what SF say is a side deal between DUP and the British Government, there will be three more days when the British Fleg is flown. And there is the curious case of Alex Maskey as the new Speaker …with DUP support.

Carve up or Cross Community Co-Operation?

There are hopeful signs. I congratulate Christopher Stalford (DUP), a genuinely decent guy on his election to the Speaker “team” and of course Patsy McGlone (SDLP) the best kind of public representative. Its a disgrace that Patsy was not elected as Speaker.

So Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill are back as First Ministers. And to be fair, their speeches were generous and gracious.

The big problem now is the Civil Service. Steve Aiken (UUP leader) alluded to the civil servants in the public gallery. They have had three years running Norn Iron without any democratic accountability and there is now hopefully a looming battle between the the permenant civil service and the new ministers.

Will the civil servants control the ministers? Will the Ministers put some manners on the civil service? Will scores be settled?

There is …I think …support in the communities. People seem to want this Stormont thing to work. I am not convinced.

I write this and publish it as the Assembly takes a 30 minute adjournment so the new Speaker can take advice on the upcoming election of eight ministers.

The eight departments will be distributed on the following d’hondt basis.

Pick 1 : DUP (who also get Pick 3 and Pick 7)

Pick 2: Sinn Féin (who also get Pick 4 and Pick 8)

Pick 5: SDLP

Pick 6: UUP

So strictly speaking, the New Executive will have ministers from DUP (3), SF (3), SDLP (1) and UUP (1).

However the Justice ministry might go to Alliance on the gift of DUP-SF which would take a ministry from the SF allocation.

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O’Tooles: A Guide

With the co-option of Matthew O’Toole as the new SDLP MLA for South Belfast, there appears to be a lot of O’Tooles around.

My guide:

St Laurence O’Toole…Archbiship of Dublin in 12th century. Fought the Normans. Good guy.

Fintan O’Toole…jounalist who was on “Have I Got News For You”. Famous for losing an argument with the Wolfe Tones.

Peter O’Toole…Actor. Laurence of Arabia, The Ruling Class, The Lion in Winter, My Favourite Year.

Timmy O’Toole…a young boy in Springfield, USA. He was apparently trapped in a well.

Slugger O’Toole …a crewman on board the “Irish Rover” who was infected by measles and later drowned when the ship hit a rock.

Slugger O’Toole (no relation)…Norn Iron’s leading political “message board”. Has absolutely no political agenda and is not trying to arrange a merger between the DUP and Alliance Party.

Adam O’Toole…mentioned in the Bible (Genesis) as the first man created by GOD. His wife,  Eve O’Toole (nee O’Hare) was the first woman. Thus creationists can prove that the first people created by GOD were Irish. After they were thrown out of the Garden and Eden, they lived briefly in the two Irish cities mentioned in the Bible…Sod’em and Begorrah. That did not end well.

Matthew O’Toole…SDLP MLA for South Belfast. Good luck to him.

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Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream…

One of the strange things about being a political nerd is that I sometimes dream about Politics.

Last night, I dreamed  that the DUP had merged with the Alliance Party and Mick Fealty was the Press Officer.

How ridiculous is that?

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