I've been trying to write a post about Éamon Dunphy and Lord, how I've struggled. As someone once said, I just don't know where to begin. Dunphy was the basis of a character in a hit comic musical, but the more you think about him, the more you realise that there should be an opera or an epic poem or a portrait written about him and, so help me, I'm not the person to do that.
So what to do? I could simply call him "a bleating, know-nothing, blowhard, self-serving, egomaniacal, bufoonish hack" and leave it at that, except I did that already.
Instead, and in the absence of a unified, coherent post, I give you some rough sketches, like some space dust which could have coalesced to form a medium-sized plant just the right distance from its star and with plentiful life-giving water and oxygen, but instead merely formed a group of misshapen asteroids notable chiefly for their deposits of sulphur. Or, some text padded out with some other tat. Or, if you feel like being totally bullshitted, a Multimedia Presentation. Don't have nightmares, kids.
"He's a gentleman, he's a class act, he's a rebel, and he stands up to bullies"
Maybe enlightenment is a chimera. Maybe it's foolish to read anything into it all beyond what is manifest.
So you're a TV company with the rights to some live football. You can't just show the game and be done with it - it's not the old days - so you have to pad out the rest of the programme with something. It's not so hard to do, because there is a slew of people who have been training for this very purpose for years, weekly, after their shower and meticulous hair-gel-and-cologne application. It's not difficult: all you need are a footballing philosophy which amounts to When In Doubt, Kick It Out, and its verbal equivalent, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.
All the world's a stage, and you're fabulous. Why not take a whacking great powerboat to this sea of mediocrity?
Éamon Dunphy knows what's what. Ever taken a deep sniff out of a bottle of vanilla essence? Makes you puke. As for intelligent insight: show me Stephen Hawking's studio deal, baby.
Euro '84 isn't Michel "nine goals, player of the tournament and captain of the winning team" Platini's moment, it's Éamon "Platini's a good player, not a great player" Dunphy's. The Charlton era is defined almost as much by the flying pencil of an indignant Éamo as for the football (though few remember the 50p cloth cap he briefly donned in a moment of silliness after the Romania game).
Of course, the whole Saipan business in 2002, which immediately cleft a nation in two, divorce referendum stylee, became all about Dunphy: the impassioned defences of Roy Keane; the tie in the colours of Cameroon he wore to the studio for Ireland's first World Cup game; the suspension showing up "tired and emotional" for an early morning World Cup kick-off. It's a show, and a show needs a star.
Excerpt from an RTE press release, October 17 2008
RTÉ Two's live coverage of Ireland's 1-0 defeat of Cyprus in their 2010 World Cup Qualifier match drew a huge audience last night. The audience peaked directly after the final whistle when 752,000 people tuned in for RTÉ's analysis of the game...
...517,000 people tuned in for the entire duration of the programme...
That is to say, there are people who will watch RTE's post-match analysis but won't watch the game the panel are discussing. It's arguable whether John Giles and Liam Brady, two of the greatest Irish footballers ever, are more famous for their TV work than for their football. It's inarguable that Dunphy is. Ireland is a small country whose broadcast media is dominated by RTE. These boys have clout.
Ronaldo is the classic modern brat. He's a brat of a person. He's the modern player: he's got gifts, he's got no character, no resilience, he's flash, and he'll always do it against the little teams, but last Sunday when they needed him against Arsenal, he cost them the match. And he'll cost them a lot more matches and he'll give Ferguson a headache.
I'm waiting for the day a middle-aged woman turns up at the studio and asks Éamon whether he remembers what he got up to one particular drunken evening on holidays in Funchal in '84. I can't figure out whether he secretly knows or if it's an example of that dramatic irony thing our English teacher told us about at school.
In September 2003, independent Irish station TV3 launched The Dunphy Show, a Friday night chat show hosted by Éamon Dunphy. It was scheduled in direct opposition to RTE's The Late Late Show, the nation's most popular programme for over four decades. The Dunphy Show was cancelled twelve editions into its thirty-show run. The Dunphy Show's theme tune was 'I Fought the Law' by the Clash.
Excerpt from an Apres Match sketch, December 2000
Éamon Dunphy (Gary Cooke) tells us who he's really doing it for.
I'm standing up for the little guy - the little guy in the street who went to Shelbourne to a raffle to win a ticket to a cake-sale in Shamrock Rovers where he might win a little voucher which may go into a draw drum where he hopefully will win a ticket to go and see Home Farm versus Stella Maris on a dank Tuesday in Whitehall with eight other people. Bottle of coddle, loaf of Brennan's bread, the auld triangle - Dublin as it was...as in t-those days...(becomes incoherent and begins to sob)
Excerpt from an Apres Match sketch, June 2000
Éamon and Liam Brady (Barry Murphy) are in rehearsals.
ÉAMON: Can I ask - why can't I be the clever guy for once? The sage? Why is it always Chippy? Why am I always the gimmick?
LIAM: Eh, Eamon - (gestures towards himself) Juventus, Sampdoria...(gestures towards Éamon)...Millwall...
ÉAMON: Yeah, sorry, I forgot...
Beneath Dunphy's peacockery lies something else. His man-of-the-people shtick may be delusional or simply wishful thinking. But it may also be an example of his vulnerability and insecurity. When excoriating Giovanni Trapattoni for not selecting Andy Reid for the latest Ireland squad - Dunphy sees it as an act of "bullying" and "abuse", no less - it's notable how often he appealed to the ordinary fan who, Éamon was full sure, or was hoping, would agree with him.
In the studio, Dunphy will often defer to those of his colleagues with more footballing substance than he has (see in this clip how desperate he is for John Giles to back him up - "John, is it outrageous? It means more if you say it. They think I'm mad!"). One of the most interesting aspects of Dunphy is the tension between the times he recognises that someone else (usually Giles, often Graeme Souness of late) is able to speak about the game with greater authority than he can, and the times (much more frequently) he is utterly convinced that his opinion is correct.
Is Dunphy a breath of fresh air in the stale room of TV football punditry? Is he just a sporting version of the odious redtop columnist or local radio hack of whom the best one can say is "you may love him or hate him, but you certainly can't ignore him"? Both, perhaps? If he ever gets round to writing an autobiography, I may not buy it, but I'll borrow it from the library.