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Memory Man's most unlikely broadcast we never got to hear

In a globe-trotting adventure to Brazil, Jimmy Magee gave locals an unusual commentary, writes Wayne O'Connor

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Jimmy Magee

Jimmy Magee

Jimmy Magee

With his passing last week Jimmy Magee left behind thousands of memories, but it remains unlikely that we will ever hear his most unique broadcast.

In 1977 the 'Memory Man' embarked on a world tour that took him from Dublin to Brazil by way of the Tour de France, the World Chess Championships in Switzerland and a golf tournament in South Africa. He then boarded a flight to Senegal, before moving on to Rio de Janeiro.

It was here Magee got the chance to reach what was probably his largest-ever TV audience, in one of the world's most populous countries. It was unfortunate that his commentary on a domestic club match at the home of South American soccer was in a language spoken fluently neither by the broadcaster, nor by most of his audience.

"I'm probably the only Irish man to have given a live commentary on Brazilian television," he wrote in his memoir, Memory Man.

"A friend of mine was a commentator for TV Global in Brazil, and I went to visit him when he was covering a game between Corinthians and Vasco da Gama at the famous Maracana stadium. Half way through the game he turned to me and said nonchalantly, 'I have to go to the bathroom, my friend; why don't you cover for me?'"

Magee was concerned his inability to speak Portuguese might be an issue, but his friend, Walter, convinced him otherwise: "My friend, you don't need to know any Portuguese. You know all the players. All you have to do is name the players."

Walter got up and left Magee with the microphone and the responsibility of informing the millions of people watching a hotly-contested tie.

"I did about five minutes of this, just saying the players' names, with the occasional Spanish word thrown in, like bueno or muy bueno... even though I was in a Portuguese-speaking country."

Nonetheless he was told he did well - insofar as nobody made a complaint to the station.

"I was afraid," Magee admitted, but he was also hopeful he would get to fulfil the ambition of a lifetime.

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"I was half hoping there would be a goal scored so I could shout 'gooooooaaaaal!' and mimic the way the South American commentators scream when the ball is slotted into the onion sack."

Later that day the commentator pals were in a television studio when Walter said there was a special man he wanted Magee to meet.

"He pressed a button," said Magee, "and there was Pele on the screen, saying in a recorded message: 'Jimmy, you are welcome to Brazil'."

Magee would return later to Brazil but his final World Cup commentary came in South Africa in 2010, his 12th finals.

He was also the man to most recently commentate on an Irish Olympic gold, when he saw Katie Taylor box her way to glory in London in 2012. It was the 11th and final time he featured at the Olympics, but it proved to be an equally special occasion for him. The Louth man was honoured by the International Olympic Committee for his services to the games and presented with a replica of the Olympic torch.

Magee died last Wednes­day, aged 82. The autobiography in which he first told the tale of his dabble with foreign commentary rested on the altar at the Church of St Laurence O'Toole in Kilmacud, Co Dublin on Friday, before he was laid to rest. Alongside was a picture of him in his younger years, an Olympic torch, boxing gloves and a broadcasting award, recognising his achievements. In the pews sat family and friends, alongside the sports stars with whose careers he became entwined - as the soundtrack to their achievements.

Michelle Smith de Bruin, Michael Carruth and Roy Keane were there to pay their respects, with colleagues from the media.

Magee had thought about his own funeral in the years before he died. He wanted jazz music, country songs and tenors 'so nobody could say I didn't give them variety'.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, World Cups, Olympic Games, 29 European Cup finals, 11 athletics world championships, 30 world title boxing matches and 10 Tours de France, variety was never a concern.


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