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When George Hamilton wrote Irish newspaper columns under a fake name...and how it duped Ronnie Whelan

George Hamilton – or Michael Henry as he was known to Sunday Independent readers – is our latest guest on Behind the Lines.

George Hamilton.
George Hamilton.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Nov 9th 2021, 8:26 AM

THIS WEEK’S GUEST on Behind the Lines is the voice of Irish football, George Hamilton. 

Or Michael Henry as he was known to Sunday Independent readers in the 1980s. 

  • George Hamilton is the latest guest on our sportswriting podcast, Behind the Lines. To get access to the full interview along with the 90-episode series archive, subscribe at members.the42.ie. And for a limited time, you can get €5 off an annual membership by using the promo code BTL. 

George’s first work with RTÉ was the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, but he spent four years working with BBC Sport in London from 1980 prior to returning to Montrose. It was there he worked with a cast of recognisable presenters and commentators – Terry Wogan, Des Lynam, Alan Parry, Ian Darke, and Peter Bromley – and was accompanied in the gantry for live commentaries by the likes of Jack Charlton and Tommy Docherty. 

That’s not to say he wasn’t making any contribution to the Irish media. While in London he wrote a football column for the Sunday Independent, though given the fact he had a contract with the BBC, he wrote it under an assumed name. Hence Irish readers were introduced to Michael Henry. 

Screenshot 2021-11-08 at 13.54.34 A sample of a 'Michael Henry' column in the Sunday Independent, from January 1983.

“I had a good friend in newspapers called Sean Ryan, who wrote for the Sunday Independent at the time”, says George on Behind the Lines

“He suggested to his bosses that it might be a good idea to make use of the fact that his mate was in London and could probably give him material. I said that was a lovely thought, but didn’t believe the BBC would be too enamoured with me doing a column.

“So the way we got around it was as long as it wasn’t known it was me, it was alright. So I had to come up with another name, and I became Michael Henry.” 

The intrigue of it all soon interested Ronnie Whelan, now a close friend and colleague. 

“I got into terrible trouble with Ronnie Whelan on one occasion”, recounts George.

“He never lets me forget it. He had been out injured and I had got word that Liverpool weren’t all together with his state of fitness when he returned from his injury, that he maybe hadn’t done enough gym work. That was the suggestion that came from my sources.

“I couched it in suitably gentle terms, but making that point. The word came back from Dublin to Ronnie, ‘This fella is writing about you in the Sunday Independent, he says you’re fat!’

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“Ronnie – whom I didn’t know terribly well, and maybe I should have asked Ronnie but that would have ruined the story – set about investigating who Michael Henry was.

“Through various channels discovered that he was this Irish bloke, but he chose the wrong Irish bloke: Alan Green.

“So Alan got it in the neck from Ronnie, totally unaware who Michael Henry was.” 

Green had a lengthy sports commentary career on BBC Radio, and forged a reputation for being one of the more truculent voices on air. Did he take the mix-up with good grace? 

“Yes”, says George. “Several years later.” 

Listen to the full podcast interview with George by subscribing at members.the42.ie. 

George Hamilton’s autobiography, The Nation Holds Its Breath, is published by Merrion Press and is available now. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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