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Book Review: Boy Wonder - Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood by Dave Hannigan

Sun, Jan 14 2018

None Credit: Macdara Ferris (ETPhotos)

The Republic of Ireland team did better than anyone expected at Italia 90. They drew their opening game of the tournament against England before getting out of a difficult group that also contained the Netherlands and Egypt.


The Boys in Green progressed through the last 16 on penos to reach the quarter-final. Looking through the results now 28 years later, written out in my neat schoolboy handwriting, I’m drawn back to that summer and an incredible tournament.


Ireland winning the quarter-final in the Olympic Stadium, dispatching the USA 6-0. In the semi-final losing to the eventual tournament winners Scotland before defeating Austria in the Third/Fourth Place Play-off.


Okay, maybe there is something I should explain to the reader here who is wondering why I’m not talking about Ireland’s elimination at the hands of hosts Italy in the quarter-final.


You see I’m not talking about the actual FIFA World Cup that West Germany would win but my own, mirrored Subbuteo tournament that I held at the same time in 1990!


I was inspired to dig out my records of that tournament over Christmas having read Dave Hannigan’s book ‘Boy Wonder – Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood’.


Hannigan has written a poignant childhood memoir of growing up in Ireland in the 1970s. While I’m not quite as old as Hannigan, and when he talks about Blackrock it is in Cork rather than Dublin he is talking about, there are many echoes of my own childhood in the pages as I would imagine there would be for so many other grown-up kids born in that decade.


The opening chapter describes summer days spent in the Lee Baths which brought me back to my mother sending me off to Blackrock Baths as a kid for an afternoon of shivering in the cold Dublin Bay water underneath the towering diving platform.


There is the discussion on footballs and I reminisce like the author about owning one of those Texaco David O’Leary balls. While Hannigan was a SHOOT! Magazine reader, I was more likely to have Match but we both had the cardboard cut out league tables where each week we moved around and slotted in the latest standing for each team in all four divisions of the English football league.


The Brookfield stream in my childhood takes the place of Hannigan’s Glasheen stream from which both watercourses we seemed to spend a lot of time fishing footballs out of from wayward shots.


It was the ‘Flick to Kick’ chapter in Boy Wonder that had me rooting through boxes to dig out the relics of my own Subbuteo career. Amongst several hundred old match programmes, I find my Republic of Ireland team or EIRE as it is noted on the box.


This team, along with a Manchester United team, that played out my Subbuteo World Cup in 1990. Of course one of the United player’s ankles are taped up having been accidently stood on. Number 2 is written in felt tip pen on the back of his jersey so I suspect it is Mal Donaghy who has the broken ankles.


In the box I find several home made pitch-side hoardings where I got creative with my felt tips pens with Holsten Pils, Draper Tools and NEC logos on display. I even did a ‘Book this Space – it’s cheaper than you think’ hoarding!



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If my nerdish childhood behaviour needs anymore evidence, amongst the detailed results for every match, I find it at the bottom of the box. There is the full list of goalscorers from my Subbuteo Italia 90 World Cup.


Gary Lineker would get just three goals in my competition, Toto Schillaci one more than that while Mo Johnston would score five en-route to helping Scotland lift the trophy in a 2-0 World Cup Final win over Belgium.


Kevin Sheedy grabbed six goals for Ireland but the Golden Boot went to plastic Jan Ceulemans who could at least console himself after losing the final by being top scorer with seven goals!


Hannigan’s book has some beautiful stories none more so than the reverence for his replica French international jersey from 1982. He also tells the story of the day he played against a Rockmount team that contained a certain Roy Maurice Keane.


The book is a tale of street football, kit that never fitted and of growing up surrounded by sport and a book that transported me back in time to more simpler sporting days.


Boy Wonder by Dave Hannigan is published by Gill Books.




Transported back in time #bookstagram #books

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