Brodie, Malcolm (1926–2013), sports journalist, was born on 27 September 1926 in Dumbarton Road, Partick West, Glasgow, the elder of two sons of John Brodie, shipyard worker, and his wife Sarah (née Walker). Raised in a Dumbarton Road tenement, he followed the Glasgow Rangers football team and attended Hamilton Crescent School. In September 1939 the second world war began while he and his brother were visiting their paternal grandparents in Belfast. Believing their sons would be safer from German air raids in Belfast, his parents arranged for them to stay there with their father’s brother and sister in Ravenhill Avenue.
An unathletic football, boxing and cricket enthusiast, he set his sights on journalism with a view to reporting on sport. Upon finishing at the Park Parade School, he took a course in shorthand and typing, mastering the former without ever achieving proficiency in the latter. He was a cub reporter for the Portadown Times before joining the Belfast Telegraph as a copytaker c. 1943. The economic hardship attendant on the war delayed his progress, and he was not made a reporter until after its end in 1945. He had a general brief with main responsibilities as city hall correspondent (1946–8) and deputy political correspondent (1947–50). Impressing the Telegraph’s political correspondent Jack Sayers (qv), he enjoyed covering Belfast city hall though not the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont, dismissing its activities as irrelevant. In September 1949 he married Margaret Stevenson of Bloomfield Road, Belfast; they raised three sons in their residence at Rochester Drive, Cregagh, Belfast.
Embarrassed by the Telegraph’s meagre sports coverage, he sought permission in 1950 to establish and head up a sports department. His superiors resisted, having plans for him as a political correspondent, but he prevailed in 1951, also being appointed editor of the Telegraph’s weekly sports magazine, Ireland’s Saturday Night. Once Jack Sayers assumed the editorship of the Telegraph in 1953, Brodie had no problems in getting the funds needed for progressively expanding the scope of the sports coverage, running his department like an independent fiefdom until Sayers retired in 1968. Brodie revered Sayers, endorsing his liberal unionism. In 1958 he expedited Sayers’ wooing of catholic readers by initiating coverage of GAA sports.
Brodie built a dedicated and enthusiastic team around Billy McClatchey and Jack Magowan, the latter playing an important role in improving the Telegraph’s non-football sports reporting. He drove his staff hard, barking out orders across the office and telephoning them late at night. As he was regularly away as senior football correspondent, the deputy sports editors kept the department going; they also restrained Brodie’s excesses with the occasional heated argument being quickly forgotten. The sports pages developed further after the Telegraph was bought in 1961 by the deep-pocketed Thomson Group.
Brodie made his name not as a sports editor, but as a reporter, specifically for his coverage of football across seven decades, encompassing the Northern Irish, English and Scottish leagues as well as the major international competitions for clubs and countries. Other journalists marvelled at his work rate, contacts and talent for improvising good copy under pressure. His playfully overblown prose evoked a pre-television era when words alone conveyed the drama of elite sport to a national audience. Above all he was renowned for breaking stories: Northern Irish players often learned of their selection for club or country and of their impending transfers from reading him. Career highlights included publicising Linfield’s purchase of the ageing Newcastle United record goal scorer Jackie Milburn (summer 1957), the expulsion of Scotland’s Willie Johnston from the 1978 world cup tournament for failing a drugs test and the decision of Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham to dabble on the side in club management in Saudi Arabia (1986).
Such scoops arose from his tireless cultivation, verging on harassment, of sources who appreciated his reciprocity and capacity for discretion. Fans of other teams noted sourly how his cosiness with the Irish League’s most successful club, Linfield, yielded him a steady diet of exclusives. But any biases in his reporting were nuanced enough to preserve his credibility precisely because they reflected a professional rather than a personal agenda. He took pride in his detachment from football, showing little interest in matches when off-duty.
Thus, although he was close to the Northern Ireland football team – effectively being a member of the travelling party during its appearances in the world cup tournaments held in Sweden (1958), Spain (1982) and Mexico (1986) – he had no inhibitions about criticising players and officials. These censures cut deeply coming from Brodie, often leading to verbal recriminations before his irrepressible heartiness won out. His waspishness was less apparent when it came to the aggressive political tribalism (mainly loyalist) that dogged football in Northern Ireland. If he sometimes drew the ire of fanatics by condemning blatant occurrences of hooliganism and sectarian chanting, there were also instances of him either pulling his punches or looking the other way in his reports. This self-preservatory ambivalence was particularly apparent with respect to Linfield, a club that was notorious for its ultra-loyalist following and policy of not signing catholic players.
Brodie reported on a record fourteen world cup tournaments from Switzerland in 1954 to Germany in 2006. This span started with primitive press facilities – he was soaked watching the 1954 world cup final in an uncovered stand – more than compensated for by the ease of access to players. In 1954 he was outside in the corridor for the ‘battle of Berne’ when the Brazilian team invaded the Hungarian dressing room following their world cup quarter final match. During the 1966 world cup he befriended many members of the England team. Such casual interactions later became unthinkable. He had no interest in the stage-managed press conferences or in haunting the so-called ‘mixed zones’ where journalists jostled to interview players. In any case, he was abreast of developments within world football’s governing body, FIFA, having got his foot in the door via Harry Cavan (qv), the long serving IFA president and FIFA vice president.
A short, dumpy man with bustling mannerisms, he looked every inch the hardened newshound, his creased features and overflowing girth testifying to years of convivial networking during the ‘rivers of gold’ expenses era. He charmed journalistic peers and football insiders with jokes, anecdotes and opinion, delivered uproariously and at speed in a fitfully penetrable Scottish accent. Managers, most notably Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, rang him seeking gossip and advice. Generous with his time to young reporters, he readily briefed rivals in need of background information, but as celebrated Scottish sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney put it: ‘Malky would swamp you with kindness at the bar … then slit your throat in the toilets to be first with the story’ (Laverty, 209). There was an ego to match the outsized personality.
From 1959 to 1964 he appeared regularly on UTV, doing football interviews and Irish League match previews. Also moonlighting for any newspaper or press agency looking for stories on Northern Ireland sport, he cornered the market by never refusing custom, sub-contracting commissions that he lacked the time or expertise to accomplish. He used pseudonyms (Steve Smith, Don Ardmore, Mike Williams, Ian Stevenson) in becoming the local ‘stringer’ for various British national newspapers, including The Sun, the News of the World and the Daily Telegraph, as well as for a Canadian media group. In the 1980s he was earning over £1,000 a week in retainers alone.
Exceptionally generous, he contributed to good causes, settled ruinous bar tabs and tipped extravagantly but angrily dismissed anyone soliciting him for money. Despite being one of the richest journalists in the UK, he was content with his modest semi-detached house on Rochester Drive while his idea of fine dining remained steak and chips with a glass of milk. Initially he holidayed locally until his wife insisted on going abroad. They went every year to Barbados where he spent hours talking cricket – his true sporting love – with retired West Indian batsman Sir Everton Weekes. His one indulgence was for membership of exclusive clubs, including the Ulster Reform Club, London’s Caledonian Club and Belfast’s Masonic Lodge; the masons long predominated within his Belfast Telegraph sports department.
He wrote various informative straightforward histories including The history of Irish soccer (1968), 100 years of Irish football (1980), Linfield: 100 years (1985), Glenavon football club: 100 years (1989) and The Tele: a history of the Belfast Telegraph (1995). The IFA-commissioned 100 years of Irish football benefits from access to the IFA’s papers and outlines the association’s take on the acrimonious partitioning of Irish football between north (IFA) and south (FAI). It has the strengths and limitations of an official history, as do his books on Linfield, Glenavon and the Telegraph. For over forty years from the mid-1960s, he edited a Northern Ireland football yearbook with all proceeds going to charity; it became the source of record for the local football scene, being continued by others.
Always busy, Brodie was acting president of the Belfast Benevolent Society of St Andrew, chairman of the Northern Ireland Football Writers Association and chairman of the Belfast and District Area Newspaper Press Fund. He was also involved in fundraising initiatives, most notably that for Belfast’s first international standard synthetic running track, opened in 1976. In 1988 he organised a testimonial match in Belfast for his favourite player and occasional confidant, George Best (qv), allowing him to clear his debts. Brodie was awarded an MBE (1979), the Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism (1990), an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster (1999) and FIFA’s Jules Rimet Award (2005).
Towards the end of his tenure as the Telegraph’s sports editor, he relied heavily on his deputy Jimmy Walker, who assumed the mantle of office enforcer. After retiring in 1991 as sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph and editor of Ireland’s Saturday Night, Brodie continued to report, opine and reminisce freelance for the Telegraph, where he was an honorary life employee, and to do work for an international network of newspapers and press agencies. He remained obsessed with scooping the opposition, his Telegraph colleagues included.
From 2007 a combination of a heart attack and a bad right knee restricted his travels, ending his run of reporting on every Northern Ireland football international since the mid-1940s. Given two years to live in 2011, he persevered with a weekly Belfast Telegraph column and in supervising the Northern Ireland football sections for the Irish editions of The Sun and the News of the World. He was filling four feature pages every week in the News of the World until its demise in July 2012. Those dealing with him in his last years were struck by his enduring hunger for reporting and by his fluent, authoritative recall of bygone events. Working to the end, he died on 29 January 2013 in Belfast City Hospital. Following a funeral service in Cregagh presbyterian church, his remains were brought to Roselawn Crematorium.