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Cult heroes: Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards was a compelling character although his lowly reputation reflected poorly on his critics

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Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, prepares for a fun jump in Oberstdorf, southern Germany in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, prepares for a fun jump in Oberstdorf, southern Germany in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, prepares for a fun jump in Oberstdorf, southern Germany in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

"If I wanted all the glory... I wouldn't wear a mask" - Spider-Man

John Eales had the best nickname in sports. 'Nobody'. Why so? 'Nobody's' perfect.

The great Aussie lock was at once somebody but nobody. That's the allure of sport. A nobody can be a somebody. Any given Sunday. Or Friday morning.

Sure, sport is about heroes and seemingly multiples about; but humbling times remind us that true heroism lies not within the ropes or the white lines, but without.

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Reading Jack Schaefer's 'Shane' before seeing Alan Ladd's 'Shane' teaches you this at an early age; he is not the hero, the parents are. And if you haven't got parents, or only one, there'll be someone else close by. But not out of reach.

Which is probably why the idea of role models has always been suspect, because the idea falls down when they do; you may hit a ball or run like your idol but would you cheat on your partner or do drugs or cheat just because he does too?

Quite aside from that, heroism itself seemed a repugnant idea in the Ireland of the 1980s - priests, politicians and patriots were held aloft as virtuous figures but a mostly compliant country would soon learn otherwise.

The only example for any kid to follow should be their parents. Anything else is bulls**t propagated by those involved in sport or - worse! - those who write about them.

Perhaps it was my own inability to master the many sports I tried, a gawky, geeky frame disabled and discombobulated still further if a bat, stick or racquet were appended to it or, worse, if a ball of any size were flung towards it.

Humanity always seemed more approachable; heroism - such a nebulous concept - unreachable. The sights and sounds of my teenage years were hewn by human frailties, not heroic feats; especially in 1988.

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Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, in action at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Photo: Getty Images

Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, in action at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Photo: Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Former English ski jumper Michael Edwards, known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, in action at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Photo: Getty Images

Pound coins jangling in brown envelopes as Curtis Fleming lined up to receive his post-match stipend in a pub. Walking down Jones' Road and bumping into Charlie Redmond, kit bag drooping over sad shoulders after a missed penalty against Meath.

Multiple muddy mishaps in Lakelands watching Terenure RFC when it seemed witnesses were compelled to attend.

Seoul and Euro '88 easily enthralled but were harder to embrace. Which is why one instead tended towards the outsiders; the less gifted; the accidental heroes.

Like the world's worst ski jumper, or the Olympic bobsledders from the country with no snow, or the Open golfer who couldn't break 100.

Michael 'Eddie' Edwards was a compelling character although his lowly reputation reflected poorly on his critics. How many of them would have contemplated cresting a 90-metre, ice-bound slope, never mind pondered plunging straight back down, head first?

Someone once had the temerity to ask why, after thousands of attempts, he still couldn't master his chosen discipline?

"Have you ever tried it?" the Eagle demurred. Point made, clearly. Those who can, fail. Those who can't, write about it. Where does that leave us hacks?

Even if he could barely see the end of his nose, never mind the end of his 90-metre plunge, Edwards became a celebrity even without having any victory to celebrate.

Just Being There, like Chauncy Gardiner, seemed enough. He may have become one of sport's first reality stars but he had devoted his life to his sport.

And, notwithstanding the absence of fierce competition within British ski-jumping, that he became an Olympian at all grants him equality with the true giants, from Owens to Comaneci, Spitz to Lewis.

Like Edwards, the Jamaicans may not have finished first, but they started. They were there.

Ghana and Nigeria now have Winter Olympians, too. The cult of 'Cool Runnings' was inspirational in more ways than one; they were allowed a reprise in 1992, and actually improved their performance (beating the USA, for one thing).

Edwards was not allowed such a luxury as officials introduced stringent qualification rules to ensure that his human expression would remain forever hidden from public view. Which clearly went well.

A film of his life is now on Netflix, 32 years later, and, for the life of me, I cannot recall who came first in the 1988 ski-jumping competition. Nor, indeed, who were crowned bobsleigh champs.

Golf would appear to obviously disbar the less proficient but 1988 was also the year when, after making my first intemperate steps on a nearby fairway, the name Maurice Flitcroft appeared on my distinctly odd radar.

Vignette Regrettably, his life remains untouched by Hollywood; it is perhaps more suited to a vignette from Mike Leigh. His intrigue was heightened by the fact that, like me, he had started the game by hitting golf balls on a beach where everyone assumes they're smacking it like Seve.

Our Maurice hadn't even played a full round when he decided he'd try to qualify for the Open in 1976; a 121 left him, as the budding sportswriter may have penned it, just outside the cut line.

As Edwards would soon discover, officialdom frowned upon such larks - the unsuspecting playing partners were refunded their entry fees by red-faced R & A blazers - and so Flitcroft was banned.

And so he adopted Beckett's much-quoted maxim of failure.

It would also help that he adopted several nom de plumes, amongst them Gerald Hoppy, James Beau Jolly, Count Manfred von Hofmannstal and Gene Paychecki, as evasive tactics. In 1983, he only reached the second hole - either as Hoppy or Jolly - before being chased from the scene.

"Everything was going well," he remarked, "until I five-putted the second."

On another day, a journalist rang his wife after another calamity.

"We want to speak about what your husband did in the Open today."

"Oh, did he win it?"

A reminder that all of us start somewhere, even of just in our dreams.

Glory is often more about the beginning, not the ending. And heroes not always who we think they are.

In this series, our writers have been selecting their favourite sporting mavericks, those who didn't always prevail but always added colour to the games we love

MICHAEL edwards, MAURICE FLITcroft AND THE JAMAICAN BOBSLEIGH TEAM

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