Eamon Dunphy is often derided as a deliberate controversialist, a mouth almighty. Irishmen have known him as a face of football punditry for many decades, a regular newspaper columnist and rabble rouser. You might recall him as the ghostwriter of Roy Keane’s first autobiography, a tome that got its subject into trouble. A rift between two explosive Irishmen eventually followed.
But before such caricatures, Dunphy wrote two of the finest books on football in the English language. Both were a product of an intimate knowledge of the game, gained from playing for Manchester United, York City, Millwall, Charlton, Reading and Shamrock Rovers.
“Only A Game? The Diary of a Professional Footballer,” is an insider’s view of being a professional footballer with Millwall during the 1973-4 season, which Dunphy fails to see out at The Den, bitterly falling out with legendary manager Benny Fenton. It is an unabashed exposure of the life of a Second Division footballer for whom the game is no more glamorous than the blue-collar jobs supporters must endure.
And “A Strange Kind Of Glory” is Dunphy’s biography of Sir Matt Busby. It also serves as a poetic social history of Manchester and Manchester United’s place within the world’s first industrial city. Dunphy arrived as a United apprentice in the aftermath of the Munich Air Disaster, an event then hidden behind a wall of sorrowful silence at the club. Still, he manages to tease a most sensitive account of the event itself and its aftermath via a rare lyricism he couples with an appreciation of the game’s inherent cruelty.
Published in 1991, before United revived under Alex Ferguson, it documents a club that had come off its bearings in trying to live with Busby’s legacy. That makes it as pertinent now as it was back then.