News Analysis

Thursday 18 September 2014

Philip Greene -- voice of soccer and man of principle

Sean Ryan

Published 16/05/2011 | 05:00

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PHILIP Greene, who died yesterday, was not only a legendary broadcaster but also a fine creative writer and a man of principle.

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While his broadcasting achievements are well known and are safely stored in RTE's archives, his earlier work as a writer of popular stories for boys is less well known.

Written in the late 1940s, they featured a fictional Irish school and were probably offered as a counterbalance to the popular Billy Bunter and Tom Merry books by Frank Richards.

As a teenager, I read most of these books and found Greene's 'Purple and Gold' series superior to their English counterparts. A biased view maybe, but I can live with that that.

In October, 1955, Greene took a principled stand which brought him into conflict with the Football Association of Ireland. Ireland were due to play Yugoslavia at Dalymount Park, and the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, asked the FAI not to proceed with the game because of the persecution of Catholics in Yugoslavia.

Despite pressure from the church and the State, the FAI decided to go ahead and feelings ran high in some quarters, including Radio Eireann, where Greene, who was the regular soccer commentator, refused to commentate on the game.

When Radio Eireann applied for permission to broadcast an international against Spain the following month, the FAI's International Affairs Committee granted it, "provided Mr P Greene is not the commentator, as he is not acceptable to our association."

The committee was keen to make Greene eat humble pie on a matter of conscience, and when he asked for a personal hearing he was kept waiting. After he explained that he had never intended to cause any trouble for the FAI, he was given the go-ahead for the Spanish game.

As a broadcaster, he had a marvellous flow of words, and it wasn't confined to soccer. One of his finest commentaries was on the magic night in Santry stadium in 1958, when an unprecedented five runners broke the four-minute barrier for the mile, and Herb Elliott set a world record 3:54.5.

Although raised on the north side of Dublin in Phibsboro, Greene was a diehard Shamrock Rovers fan, known universally as Philip Green-and-White. Whether apocryphal or not, the story is told that he reported that "the score is 2-2, in favour of Shamrock Rovers."

He retired in 1985, just before the international team's glory days, but he was subsequently honoured with merit awards by the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland and the FAI.

For many people growing up in the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s, he was the voice of Irish soccer.

Irish Independent

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