Dublin: 5°C Monday 6 December 2021
Advertisement

Chippy: 40-year-old documentary on Liam Brady reflects society's jump into the unknown

RTÉ director Peter Kennerley embedded himself in Liam Brady’s life for a sizeable part of the 1978/79 season.

Brady1

A DRUNK IRISHMAN, a man from the West Indies, a young skinhead, a London woman and an archetypal white London male, who never misses a beat to moan about taxes, are standing in a queue debating the merits of a lad from Dublin’s northside.

It’s late May and the sun is shining.

It’s also 1979 and two weeks previously, in an era-defining general election, the British people consigned the Labour Party to what would become 18 years in opposition, as Margaret Thatcher strode on the back of social discontent and led her Tory party to victory.

She would become the avatar for the 1980s. Her rule would radically change the face of post-war Britain and cause even her opponents in the vanquished Labour Party to smash and re-build anew in her image. Her rule would lead to death in the North and South Atlantic and usher in the age of the individual.

But what of the debate in the queue? What of this lad from Dublin’s northside?

***

Reporter: “Do you think he’ll stay at Arsenal?”

Skinhead: “I hope so, let’s buy him a house. Buckingham Palace!”

Man from West Indies: “I think he wants to go abroad to follow [Kevin] Keegan.”

Archetypal white London male: “He wants to be a dollar millionaire or something like that. Arsenal can’t pay him enough, plus this country’s got too much tax. We’re paying enough of taxes, we are. If he gets £500 a week, he’ll pay about £200 or £300 in tax. So it’s not worth it to him really.”

Off-Camera: “He should be more loyal to Arsenal. There’s not a lot of loyalty about, it’s all money.”

London woman: “Well it’s a poor show if he leaves the club, put it that way.”

Drunk Irishman: “Frank Stapleton is just as good. They’re all Southern Irish.”

London Woman: “Oh well, I’m not too bothered about nationality.”

Policeman: “Arsenal fans to the Britannia Gate. Arsenal fans to the Britannia Gate.”

***

Brady5

It’s seven days since Arsenal won the FA Cup, beating Manchester United in what would become known as ‘the five-minute final’. The lad from Dublin’s northside who is proving to be a hot topic of debate is Liam Brady.

According to one Arsenal fan in the line to enter the away end at Stamford Bridge for the last league game of the 1978/79 season, Brady’s performance in the FA Cup final put another £400,000 onto his asking price.

In the sleepy London sun, the debate rages. The individual versus the collective. Loyalty to an idea — that idea being Arsenal — versus the individual’s right to advance ones-self. It could lead the viewer to speculate on how each fan recently voted.

For a group of people who were only a week previously celebrating their club claiming the then-grandest prize in English football, the mood is downcast.

Maybe it’s because Arsenal are about to finish seventh in the league, maybe they’re hungover, or maybe it’s because they could be about to witness Liam Brady’s last day as an Arsenal player.

As it happens, it isn’t.

The summer melts away and come August, Liam is scoring in Arsenal’s opening game of the new season away to Brighton. The newspapers are calling him the Two Million Pound Man.

The aforementioned scene is captured through the lens of RTÉ director Peter Kennerley. Embedding himself in Liam Brady’s life for a sizeable part of the 1978/79 season, Kennerley’s camera captures a hinge moment in the career of one of Ireland’s most gifted footballers.

Kennerley would capture various snippets of Brady’s life from this season before piecing them together for his documentary Chippy which aired on RTÉ in early 1980.

The film is beautiful. The film is simple. There are no narrative gimmicks employed. No twists. What Kennerley shows us is an honest portrait of the footballer as a young man.

But there is an overarching spectre hanging over the film. That of money and choice. It’s clear Brady is happiest when playing competitive football, telling the viewer early on of his distaste for training. It’s also clear that his ear is a conflicted zone with many vying for a word in it.

Brady2

Late on in the film we meet Dennis Roach, Liam Brady’s agent. The conversation seems grubby, but maybe that’s because he’s talking about money and shot close-up in a dimly lit office with his shirt riding up his back. We’re told that he has worked with Trevor Francis and Johan Cruyff.

Dennis explains the role of an agent: to maximise the earning power of his client through the contract signed with the club and seeking out extracurricular roles such as endorsements.

The camera cuts from the interview with Dennis to an advertisement featuring Liam Brady in a Texaco petrol station pushing Havoline Motor Oil. If you bought two tins, you could get a Liam Brady signed ball for just 75p. It aired in the autumn of 1979; the shock of the fall of the Shah of Iran, which led to a wave of petrol hoarding across Britain earlier that year, had by then eased.

SEE SPORT
DIFFERENTLY

Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

Brady6

The next character we meet is John Giles. Even then he seems grandfatherly. He is both Liam’s Ireland manager and international team-mate and, as John Giles tells us, his close-friend.

John confides to the viewer that the fate of George Best lingers heavily on him and he wants to make sure Liam doesn’t go that way. Not drinking, but rather having his head turned by off-field endorsement chasing. The Giles interview is set up to be the opposite to that of the agent Dennis Roach. But it’s not.

The camera follows Brady and Giles as they hack their way through a round of golf on what seems to be the Royal Dublin course. The language of the shop-steward is employed by John. The game is a business and the worker must maximise his takings. This is one of the few routes through which a working-class kid can make it big. In a sentence he would echo over and over again on his latter days as an RTÉ pundit, Giles tells us that all the best players have been working class.

But though he is shot in the lush expanse of the golf course and filters his talk of money through the prism of class struggle, it’s hard to tell the difference between the advice being offered for free by John and coming at a price from Dennis Roach.

Money, oil, agents, wantaway players. Has it always been thus?

Brady3

Away from the business end of the film, Peter Kennerley captures incredibly heart-warming moments. He flies with Brady’s parents from Dublin to London as they travel across the Irish Sea for the FA Cup final.

They speak of their son in proud and confident terms. Liam’s mother speaks in a soft Dublin accent which seems to have now faded from the county and which I’m finding hard to describe. The images it conjures up though are that of a gramophone, wallpaper stained with cigarette smoke, and Sundays spent in an older neighbour’s house listening to adults talk.

The highlight of the film is the trip to Ray Brady’s pub, the Railway and Bicycle, in Sevenoaks, Kent, to celebrate the Cup win, Ray being Liam’s brother and himself an ex-footballer. It seems all of Whitehall is there with one Dubliner in exile regaling the crowd with a poem about a fictional football team named the Whitehall Whippets reaching Wembley.

Liam, surrounded by family and close friends, is enjoying himself. It’s a wonderfully-upbeat, expertly-shot, natural piece of film. Everyone seems oblivious to the camera. The cigarette smoke fogging up the bar cements it in an age.

Brady4

This film lies buried deep in the RTÉ library. When it last aired in 1980, the western world was rushing head-long into a new era of privatization and individualism. The footballer was the perfect mirror to portray this.

Over 40 years later, with a push from a pandemic, we are gradually inching out of that epoch. No retrospective look-back could ever match the timeless intimacy created by Peter Kennerely’s camera or, most of all, to being there in the moment as a young footballer and society itself prepared to jump into the unknown.

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Read next:

COMMENTS (17)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel