From Dortmund to Dalyer: George Hamilton walks through his love affair with football
“I could never walk away from this, I love it too much. The League of Ireland, it’s like a family, there is a connection there and I want to maintain it. That’s important to me.”by David Sneyd
THE THINGS YOU learn about George Hamilton as he hurtles towards Dublin Connolly on the train from his native Belfast.
From his love of German football dating back to his time as a student teacher in The Ruhr during the 1970s, to his ‘deep connection’ with Dalymount Park and the family ties dating back to the ’30s.
The legendary broadcaster is a fountain of anecdotes, revealing how he even had friends in high places at Bayern Munich to help secure tickets when RTÉ lost the rights to Champions League games.
“I got to know the press director very well and had very good connections there until he got the boot,” Hamilton laughs.
He recalls the heady days of his youth in the 70s, going to see Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach play on alternating weekends whenever they were at home, and the joy of being able to continue his love affair with the game his father introduced him to.
Jim Hamilton was a striker for Cliftonville and some of Hamilton Jnr’s first memories are of pitching up at Solitude and making it his home.
“There also used to be a game played every year between Cliftonville and Bohemians. One year in Dublin, the next in Belfast,” he explains. “This was back in the 30s and my father would have played in those games. So every time I go there I feel a connection.
“There is a sense of belonging, it is a family thing and being able to keep working at places like Dalymount Park, I certainly wouldn’t ever want to walk away from that.”
Hamilton is happy talking about football and the moments it has given him.
And just as the flow continues… disaster.
“I think I’ve… Yeah, I have, I’ve got on the wrong train,” he rues, as he prepares to continue his journey to the southside of the city centre.
He manages to disembark and settles himself. The crackle of the station announcer interrupts again but soon Hamilton is able to gather his thoughts.
“There’s an element of the Marx Brothers about this conversation,” he laughs. “Now, where were we?”
It’s the start of a new season, the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division returns tonight but it will be tomorrow that Hamilton, 41 years after first commentating on the 1979 FAI Cup final, picks up the microphone to be RTÉ’s voice of yet another campaign.
I could never walk away from this, I love it too much,” he enthuses. “The League of Ireland, it’s like a family, there is a connection there that goes back a long way and I want to maintain it. That’s important to me.
“Possibly, because of the way the game has developed in Ireland, and across Britain and in Europe, what we’re seeing now is maybe a realisation that ignoring all these talents from home is wrong, that these guys can compete at the top level if they get their chances.”
If he were holding a mic you could well imagine he would be gripping it just that bit tighter as he continues to make his point.
“The number of players over the years that have gone over as youngsters and the difficulties they have faced so early. The set up hasn’t helped them, so I would be a great believer in getting sorted at home before trying to make the splash somewhere else.
“Players can get the experience of being full-time professionals in an Irish context, with the demands that come with being in that first-team environment. They should stay at home a bit longer, learn about the game here and develop their edge here.
“Rather than going to an academy set up in England, where they are buying in players at ridiculously young ages to pump up academies that can’t possibly produce more than one or two for their first team.
“So the percentage of in inverted commas, failures that don’t make it is then huge. I feel strongly that they should stay at home and the League of Ireland can be a place where players should be learning.”
With Republic of Ireland duty and Champions League nights offering a mix of glamour and prestige, Hamilton’s grá for the domestic game is such that these Friday nights are the ones which sustain him.
He has his notes already prepared for the live Dublin derby clash between Bohs and Shamrock Rovers tomorrow.
On Friday week he will be in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium for Derry City’s game with Finn Harps, while the final live televised fixture of the month will be the meeting of last season’s top two, champions Dundalk and FAI Cup winners Rovers.
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The Hoops have come in for criticism after they applied for, and received, a licence from the FAI to have a ‘B Team’ fill the space left behind by Limerick in the First Division.
I think it’s a good thing that Shamrock Rovers have a team that can play in the First Division. It gives other players a chance to experience it and perform at level they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do, it will continue their progress and that can only be good for the League of Ireland.
“That’s what we want to see, young players getting chances and then hopefully taking them when they come.”
Danny Mandroiu is once such example of a talented youngster who has been able to rebuild his confidence, and career, in the Premier Division. “I don’t mind saying it, I did pick him out at the start of last season as someone who people should keep an eye on.
“Bohs have brought JJ Lunney back from Waterford and I have been impressed by him. It looks as if it will be Dundalk and Rovers going for the title. The way the game has gone as a whole now it seems that success breeds success and money breeds money.
“It will be hard for anyone to stop them, but I do expect big things from Bohs this season.”
Starting against their great rivals tomorrow.