I became a Gooner in the late 1970s because at the time ‘The Arsenal’ were laden with Irish Internationals (from both sides of the border). Frank Stapleton, David O’Leary, Pat Jennings, Sammy Nelson, Pat Rice and a young shaggy haired player by the name of Liam Brady were first IX fixtures. Terry Mancini and later John Devine kept the first IX Irish quotient above 50% from ‘74 to ‘81. Oh, and you can include an Irish manager in Terry Neill (an ex-Arsenal player) also.
1979 FA Cup Final
Of the Irish contingent Brady was the pick of the bunch. And of Brady’s 307 games for Arsenal his individual pick of that bunch came on May 12th 1979. At the time RTE showed the FA Cup Finals on Sports Stadium and from 3pm on the second Saturday in May 1979 Brady was sublime. His low weaving dogged running tore Man United apart as Arsenal went ahead 2-0. Brady put the second on a plate for Stapleton courtesy of his unfavoured right foot (who said his right foot was only for standing on?). By the 85th minute Arsenal were 2-0 up and with the cup engraver getting his Arsenal template out what could go wrong?
On the 86th minute, bang! McQueen scored. On the 88th minute, bang! McIllroy scored. I recall being almost physically sick and having to leave the room thinking that there could only be one winner in this game now. Fortunately my renunciation did not last long because I arrived back in front of the TV just as Brady received the ball just beyond the halfway line. He then charged 35 yards forward, evading three tackles and gliding a perfectly weighted ball to Rix who crossed for Sunderland to slide the ball into the net. Ecstasy all around. They called the ‘5 minute’ final’ but it was more like ‘The Liam Brady Final’.
Liam Brady was a truly world-class player and possessor of the sweetest left foot in Division 1. He is unique in Irish football in that he played at the highest club level in two of the world’s strongest leagues.
Liam ‘Chippy’ Brady followed in the footsteps of his brothers Ray (Milwall) and Pat (QPR) in becoming a professional footballer. The 13-year-old exceptionally gifted St. Kevin’s Boys Club player joined Arsenal’s books in 1969. The ‘chippy’ moniker apparently comes from the fact that when he arrived at the marble halls of Highbury his mother told the then Arsenal manager, Bertie Mee, that her son ate nothing but fish and chips. He moved into digs with the Rolands who were a Arsenal obsessed couple in their 70’s. One of Liam’s biggest regrets is that Mr. Roland never got to see him play in the first team as he died of a heart attack at Stamford Bridge when Arsenal met Chelsea in the cup.
Surprisingly, given the presence and support of his older brother’s, Liam did not settle in London and returned home that Christmas vowing not to return. Arsenal however had recognised his huge potential and were not about to let him go without a fight. Their 5-week charm offensive worked and Brady returned to London, where in June 1971 he became an apprentice Gunner.
Brady’s first-team debut arrived in October 1973, away to Birmingham, and he became a regular the following season. He was joined by fellow Republic players, David O’Leary and Frank Stapleton in the first-team for the 1975-76 season. The combination of Brady and Stapleton served Arsenal well for the next six seasons with Brady’s dynamic left foot and his pinpoint distribution setting up many goals for Arsenal, and particular for Stapleton during that period.
His Arsenal careers saw him notch up 307 appearances, 59 goals, countless assists, win the 1978-79 PFA Player-of-the-year and make 3 FA Cup and one European Cup Winners Cup final appearances. Disappointingly his only winner’s medal for the Gunners came on that memorable day in May 1979 at Wembley stadium.
Postcards from Italy
Never one to shy away from going against the grain or public opinion Liam Brady joined Juventus in the summer of 1980 for £600,000. This was despite the fact that Manchester United were prepared to smash the British transfer record with a £1.5 million bid. In a time before “Sky Sports Breaking News’ there was little rumour and speculation so his departure to Italy was a huge shock to Arsenal fans. In his testimonial programme versus Finland Brady recalled that there was little media attention in England over his move.
Brady felt a deep sense of anti-climax and apprehension as he left London. Nobody had recognised him on the flight over but as the plane was taxiing to the terminal in Turin he noticed a sizeable crowd of people on a balcony cheering. His fellow passengers began to look around the plane wondering who the crowd were waiting for. Such was their excitement that Brady was carried shoulder high from the plane through customs and passport control and onto the press conference. With the 40 journalists seated in the room there was also the Juve coach, Giovanni Trapattoni. The whole experience brought home to Liam the passion of the fans and Italian media and the huge expectation that rested on his shoulders. He was fearful but it was an exciting fear.
Moving to Italy was a huge risk for Brady as the tight man-to-man marking in the Italian game had been a shock for many players who had moved to Serie A previously. But Brady proved to be a glorious exception and in his first season Juventus won the championship with Brady their leading goal scorer.
His second season with Juve was slow to start but his performances picked up during the second half of the season.Going into the last three games the Turin side were joint top with Fiorentina. At the time Italian clubs had a limit of two foreigner players with Brady filling one spot and the other about to be filled by Polish superstar Zbigniew Boniek. At that stage rumours had been circulating in Turin that the club were also about to sign Michel Platini, who was probably the best midfielder in Europe at the time. Unfortunately the rumours proved to be true with Brady the one to lose out.
Heading into the last game of the 1981/82 season Juve and Fiorentina were still neck and neck. Brady’s team were playing away to Cantanzaro but just couldn’t score but with 20 minutes to go they were awarded a penalty. Brady was the regular penalty taker and despite being upset with the circumstances he found himself in scored and Juve ran out victors on a scoreline of 1-0. With Fiorentina only drawing the Old Lady were champions for the second season in a row. Brady had won it for them and as he sat in the dressing room with a bitter-sweet feeling of success coursing through his veins he couldn’t understand why he had been cast adrift.
Italian clubs that were not Juve
As predicted Brady left for Sampdoria following Juve’s league success where he would play 57 games for the club over two seasons. Following this he joined Inter Milan for another two seasons where he made another 58 appearances. His final port of call in Italy saw him spend a season at Ascoli where he played in 17 games. Brady’s Seria A adventure had lasted 7 seasons which was a genuine achievement in itself given that the league was going through a golden era. That he had also won two championship medals means he stands apart from other Irish players who have played on the continent.
Liam Brady returned to the English League for the 1986/87 season, not to Arsenal as I had hoped but London rivals West Ham. In his first season with the Hammers a serious knee injury threatened to finish his career but his tenacity shone through again and he went on to play three seasons and a total of 89 games. His last game was against Wolves in May 1990 where he scored a wonder goal at the tail end of the game. Watch it below just for the pitch invasion where Liam is engulfed by adoring fans.
Don’t cry for me Argentina
Liam Brady admits that the International match which he cherishes the most was his debut on October 30th 1974 in Dalymount Park when Ireland played the Soviet Union. A Don Givens hat-trick was part of a dream debut for Brady as the Boys in Green triumphed 3-0, thumping the mighty Soviets. Brady’s whole family were in the crowd and they must have been impressed by the promising on-field partnership he and player-manager Johnny Giles struck up. It was to be the beginning of a promising international career which encompassed 71 caps and 15 goals.
Sadly Brady’s international career however was littered with disappointments and ‘if onlys’. There was the infamous night in Sofia in June 1977 when a wretched refereeing performance ultimately cost us a place at the 1978 World Cup Finals in Argentina. The 1982 qualifiers for Spain were another tale of heartache. We were drawn in the ultimate Group of Death including Belgium, France and Holland and we lost out on a finals place on goal difference. This time the obligatory disallowed goal came against Belgium which ultimately costing us a place in Spain.
Jacking it all in
The final years of Brady’s international career were less than stellar. Jack Charlton’s arrival in 1986 saw to that. Jack’s uncompromising style was not compatible with Brady’s refined style and while he tried to adapt to Jack’s tactics it was alien to him. It was an uncomfortable alliance but he still played in every game of the 1988 Euro qualifiers. However a red card in the final group game against Bulgaria and a cruciate injury before the ’88 finals meant he was not selected for the Euro ’88 squad. The final ignominy came in a friendly versus West Germany in 1989 when Brady was unnecessarily substituted in the first half by Jack Charlton.
On a happier note Brady’s most memorable goal for Ireland and indeed one of the most memorable Irish goals ever came when the Boys in Green beat Brazil 1-0 in a friendly on May 23rd 1987. Brady managed to put the whole Brazilian team, and most of the Irish team, on the wrong foot to roll the ball into the net. It was his defining moment in a green shirt, it is just a pity there were not lots more of them.
That’s rubbish Bill!
Following his playing career Liam Brady went on to manage Celtic for two seasons and Brighton for a further two years, neither met with any great success however. He finally completed the circle by re-joining Arsenal as head of youth development in 1996. While Arsene Wenger has deservedly received most of the praise for Arsenal’s rise since his arrival at Arsenal in 1996, Brady deserves some praise for his part too. He would step down from this post in 2014 but is still involved with the club as an Ambassador.
In 2008 Brady teamed up with his old Juve manager Giovanni Trapattoni for two senior International qualifying campaigns. As Trap’s assistant Brady spent an inordinate amount of time attempting in vain to defend Trap’s tactics on the RTE football panel. Brady had joined the holy trinity of O’Herlihy, Giles and Dunphy on RTE as far back as 1998 and continues to be a vital part of the success of RTE’s soccer coverage ever since.
Brady is an intelligent pundit but most of all he is his own man. He has never been one to pull his punches and doesn’t suffer fools easily. He may come across as a particularly acerbic at times but a story by Con Houlihan demonstrates another side of the man. Con wrote of the Irish team and media returning from a game versus Iceland in September of ’83 after a 3-0 victory.
Brady bought a round of drinks for about 30 of the group in the bar in Dublin Airport. Some people might say that he could well afford it – but that isn’t the point; it was a nice gesture.
Liam Brady’s Ireland testimonial came in a dour 1-1 draw against Finland in May 1990 and a standing ovation from the 31,000 Lansdowne Road fans was no less than he deserved. We will never see his likes again.
- Author: Carl Musgrave