A Poem for All Ireland Sunday – Up Tipp!

This Sunday sees my Dad’s beloved Tipperary contest the All Ireland Hurling final against all conquering Kilkenny.

So I have decided to Reblog a post from the early days of The Jukebox which evokes the feelings of anxious exiles listening to the radio on All Ireland Sunday.

Up Tipp! Up Tipp!

Once or twice a year when the stars are in their correct alignment and the muse comes to call I find myself moved to write a poem.

I present one below that came unbidden one Sunday afternoon some years ago just after I had listened to a commentary on an Irish hurling match between arch county rivals Tipperary and Kilkenny.

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Static

Sundays in summer my father took me with him to hear the Gaelic Games
Hurling, of course, a Tipperary Man’s birthright and delight.

Since radio reception of RTE – which on the old valve box still read, ‘Athlone’
Was poor and filled with a blizzard of wordless static we’d take the car (a Hillman Imp)

Up the vertiginous slope of Harrow on the Hill and park next to a telegraph pole –
In search of a perfect signal

As if by magic through the air came the alternating anguished and ecstatic tones of Michael O’Hehir –
his voice slicing through the miles like the Sliothair splitting the posts
For a marvellous point

Listening, rapt, willing victory, the match would pass in what seemed minutes
After, we’d sit in easeful silence as the evening became itself
And we were simply ourselves : a father and a son at one

Listening on a clear channel.

Notes:

Though I firmly believe that a poem should always retain some mystery many of you deeply versed in the lore of music may find some of the references above baffling.

Here’s a key that may help!

Gaelic Games: The principal Gaelic games of Ireland are Gaelic Football and Hurling. They are played throughout the island of Ireland.

The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) was instrumental in the revival of these games in the late nineteenth century.

The GAA was very important then in Irish society and culture in fostering a sense of distinct Irish national consciousness. Now that the Catholic Church, has largely lost its grip on Irish society, the GAA is probably the most interwoven institution within that society.

Its strength is that it is an intensely local organisation calling on and winning loyalty from the family, the town land, the parish and finally the County.

GAA rivalries at every geographic level are staggeringly intense. Reputations made playing these games last a lifetime and more.

Hurling: A wonderful field sport played by teams of 15 a side. Players use sticks, called Hurleys. The Sliothair (a ball near in size to a baseball) can be hand passed and hit through the ground or the air.

A point is scored by sending the Sliothair above the bar and between the posts of the opponent’s goal.

Hurling calls for bravery, speed of thought and action and enormous technical skill. Played well it is absolutely thrilling to watch.

RTE: Radio Telefis Eireann – the national broadcasting station of Ireland.

Harrow on the Hill: A leafy suburb some ten miles from central London. Chiefly known for the fee paying public school attended by such luminaries as Lord Byron and Winston Churchill. I grew up there.

Michael O’Hehir: A much beloved commentator on all Irish sports from the mid 1930s to the mid 1980s but particularly associated with Gaelic games.

For exiles from Ireland listening to him was an extraordinarily powerful emotional experience. He was deeply knowledgeable and had the gift of coining a memorable phrase in the moment an event took place.

His voice could climb dizzily through the registers from marching band flute to ear splitting soprano saxophone squaks!

This post dedicated to the memory of my father, Wally Hickey (1926 – 1989).

Joyous update!

Tipperary 2-29 Kilkenny 2-20 ..

All Ireland Champions 2016 – Tipperary!!

An epic performance by the men in Blue and Gold!

My Dad will be having quite the party in Heaven!

RIP Dave Mackay: The noblest Hotspur of them all!

‘To each his day is given. Beyond recall man’s little time runs by: but to prolong life’s glory by great deeds is virtue’s power’. (Virgil, The Aeneid)

‘Nor have I seen a mightier man at arms on this earth .. He is truly noble. This is no mere hanger-on in a hero’s armour’. (Beowulf)

‘If he had served in a war he would have been the first man into action – he would have won the Victoria Cross’. (Bill Nicholson)

Dave Mackay who has died at the age of 80 was by acclamation the finest player ever to play for Spurs, the finest player ever to play for his first club, Hearts and he would be certain to be selected as a member of Scotland’s best ever team. He was an inaugural inductee to the English and Scottish Football Halls of Fame, a Footballer of the Year and he rightfully graces one of her Majesty’s postage stamps! Yet no recitation of the many honours he won can serve to capture what made him such an admirable player and man. For that you have to consider his granite character.

I have reached the age when the heroes of my youth are becoming fixtures on the Obituary pages and all too often I reluctantly realise that perhaps those heroes, for all their accomplishments, had, like most of us, feet of clay. Yet, with Dave Mackay it is clear that the term hero is entirely justified. He really did fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run and anyone examining his career and wider life will have to agree that here indeed was a man in full. Dave Mackay’s qualities of bravery, modesty, loyalty and honesty applied under the glare of public pressure show manhood at its best.

Dave Mackay as a player combined complete physical and mental commitment with extravagant skill. With Hearts his pre-match party piece was to run out into the centre circle and then to back-heel the ball into the net on the half volley. At Spurs he would volley ball high into the stratosphere as he came out and then nonchalantly perfectly trap it as it came back to earth. Once the game started it was a very foolish opponent who imagined that they could intimidate Dave who could tackle with the force of a JCB. Once the ball was won with his head up and barrel chest out he could see the pass that would open up the opposition and then deliver it with casual aplomb.

As a captain he led by example – Dave Mackay never left the pitch without having given every ounce of effort possible and he demanded nothing less from his team mates. But, his leadership was not merely a matter of fist shaking exhortation: his greatest attribute as a captain was that all the players he played with wanted his good opinion. To have Dave Mackay pat you on the back and for him to say well done as he lifted a glass with you after the game was treasure far beyond the roar of the crowd.

Dave was a footballer’s footballer the canniest judges of a players worth, his fellow professionals, all knew that he was a very special player. All time great players such as George Best, Eusabio and Spurs own Jimmy Greaves all spoke with head-shaking wonder about Dave’s range of football talents and the physical presence and impact he brought to the game. To be on his team made you feel inches taller while to see him leading your opponents out was a sure signal that today your mettle was really going to be tested!

Dave Mackay was a winner. With Hearts in the 1950s he won the League title, the Cup and the League Cup. With Spurs he was a member of the immortal 60/61 double winning side which set a standard for thrilling excellence that has rarely, if ever, been matched in English football. A team which included the sublime skills of John White, the canny, pulling the strings of the game intelligence of Danny Blanchflower, the blistering pace of Cliff Jones and the battering ram belligerence of Bobby Smith made for an irresistible attacking force.

What Dave Mackay added was tempered steel as well as silky skill. Any team with Dave Mackay in it would never lack for heart and there could be no such thing as a lost cause while the final whistle was yet to be blown. With the addition of the genius of Jimmy Greaves Spurs became a team of all talents. FA Cups and the first European trophy for a British side filled the White Hart Lane Trophy cabinet and the memories of the glory of that side will never tarnish.

Though Mackay faced broken legs and the frailties of increasing age as the 60s ended he took the opportunity offered by Brian Clough with Derby County to show that his football brain and charisma made him the perfect mentor for a team filled with youthful burgeoning talent. Roy McFarland and his colleagues were treated to master classes in what it meant to be a footballer in every training session and in every game they learned under Dave’s watchful eye how to apply those lessons in the heat of battle.

Dave later won a league title as a manger with Derby and that team reflected his continuing belief that football was a Man’s game to be played skilfully with whole-hearted commitment .

Dave Mackay through his talent, his character and his achievements gave dignity and honour to the profession of football. He knew that he was blessed to play the game he loved at the very highest levels and he repayed those blessings in the fullest measure. We shall not see his like again.

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – Bundini Brown

At the court of a King, and Muhammad Ali is nothing less than a king, there must always be a licensed fool : a Jester ; someone who while embodying the spirit of anarchy and ridicule also knows, to preserve their life and position, when to bow the knee and when to sing the praises of their liege.

A Jester, someone who is by nature a rule breaker, has to push the boundaries of taste, manners and position but not forget that there are boundaries – which sooner or later must be enforced to preserve the system as a whole.

Drew Brown, universally known as, ‘Bundini’, occupied this role for the Greatest with festive wit, finesse and wholehearted distinction from the days of youthful glory in 1963 through the ensuing stratospheric ascent, the triumphs, the comebacks and comedowns down to the last unutterably poignant fight with Trevor Berbick in 1981.

Despite a five year exile from the court for flagrantly ignoring the Nation of Islam morality which held firm sway in the camp in the mid and late 1960s he emerges from all the reputable histories as a key figure in Ali’s court.

He was born in 1928 and spent his youth in Florida before, barely into his teens, joining first the US Navy and then the merchant marine. He roamed the globe and learned how to look out for himself, how to drink (he loved to drink and went on shore leave binges throughout his life) and how to mock and outmanoeuvre authority.

He was a tough street poet and philosopher who figured out that God was best thought of as, ‘Shorty’ – the guy you might disregard but who knew everything about you and who you would have to reckon with some sweet day.

He shared a generous love of live and humanity, energy, ego and quick witted humour with his master. They had a deep bond and recognised the distinction in the other.

Bundini was usually aware that while his own talents were far from negligible, with their skilful use an important element in preparing Ali for each battle, they were as different in scale and impact to the world at large as moonlight is to sunlight.

From time to time he fell into the Jester’s trap of overestimating his own importance but an actual or metaphorical cuff around the ear soon cured that. A king may be teased but not taunted.

In partnership they lit up the world as supreme patter merchants and travelling players who performed with as much brio to an audience of one as they did to the TV audience of millions.

Throughout Ali’s career they put on a kind of peripatetic medicine show selling and demonstrating a genuine elixir of life which bottled a 100 per cent proof mixture of drama, excitement, passion, skill and wonder.

Together their act was eyebrow raising, heart lifting, spirit surging, smile inducing, head shakingly outrageous and entirely wonderful.

No Don Draper, million dollar Madison Avenue advertising team, could have devised more successful promotional campaigns than those devised off the cuff by Bundini and Ali. Bundini was there with the net and the honey when they marched outside Sonny Liston’s house when angling for the first title fight.

He was there, boosting the hysteria at the weigh in for that fight, as they yelled over and over the immortal lines, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee – Rumble young man rumble!’. Poor Sonny thought he was dealing with lunatics and got his mind thoroughly messed up.

Bundini was there to echo and amplify Ali’s preachers calls and to spur him to greater flights of oratory to win the audience for their cause. He was in the corner for the fights and while it was properly Angelo Dundee who set the strategy and was in command of the back up team it was Bundini’s voice you could hear clearest amid the maelstrom, ‘Dance Champ, Dance!’ ‘End the Show, End the Show!’.

Bundini lived every moment of every round: delighting in the Champ’s jabs and feints and the audacious brilliance of his combinations while wincing when he was tagged by his opponents.

It was Bundini, in the dawning early morning light, who could risk the wrath of the sleeping giant and cajole Ali to put on the track suit and pound the roads – putting the endurance into those dancing legs.

Bundini through his own largeness of life could charge Ali’s batteries. A King and his Jester who last beyond initial mirth and diversion must come to see each other in their common humanity and as they do so their bond deepens beyond place and fealty into what can only be described as love.

Bundini was the first of the original court to pass from this realm in 1987. Ali knew that he had lost a faithful friend – someone who had helped create the legend and the myths, someone who knew the price paid in sweat and pain as well as the glow of triumph on the summits.

He also knew that Allah, or call him Shorty, would be royally entertained by the tales only a Jester of genius like Bundini could tell.

Footnote: There are two further Muhammad Ali posts on the Jukebox – on his first title victory and his first Pro fight – Check them out!

Once in a blue moon a poem : Static

Once or twice a year when the stars are in their correct alignment and the muse comes to call I find myself moved to write a poem. I present one below that came unbidden one Sunday afternoon some years ago just after I had listened to a commentary on an Irish hurling match between arch county rivals Tipperary and Kilkenny.

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Sundays in summer my father took me with him to hear the Gaelic Games
Hurling, of course, a Tipperary Man’s birthright and delight.

Since radio reception of RTE – which on the old valve box still read, ‘Athlone’
Was poor and filled with a blizzard of wordless static we’d take the car (a Hillman Imp)
Up the vertiginous slope of Harrow on the Hill and park next to a telegraph pole –
In search of a perfect signal

As if by magic through the air came the alternating anguished and ecstatic tones of
Michael O’Hehir – his voice slicing through the miles like the Sliothair splitting the posts
For a marvellous point

Listening, rapt, willing victory, the match would pass in what seemed minutes
After, we’d sit in easeful silence as the evening became itself
And we were simply ourselves : a father and a son at one
Listening on a clear channel.

Notes:

Though I firmly believe that a poem should always retain some mystery many of you deeply versed in the lore of music may find some of the references above baffling. Here’s a key that may help!

Gaelic Games: The principal Gaelic games of Ireland are Gaelic Football and Hurling. They are played throughout the island of Ireland. The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) was instrumental in the revival of these games in the late nineteenth century. The GAA was very important then in Irish society and culture in fostering a sense of distinct Irish national consciousness. The GAA, now that the Catholic Church, has largely lost its grip on Irish society, is probably the most interwoven institution within that society. The GAA’s strength is that it is an intensely local organisation calling on and winning loyalty from the family, the town land, the parish and finally the County. GAA rivalries at every geographic level are staggeringly intense. Reputations made playing these games last a lifetime and more.

Hurling: A wonderful field sport played by teams of 15 a side. Players use sticks, called Hurleys. The Sliothair (a ball near in size to a baseball) can be hand passed and hit through the ground or the air. A point is scored by sending the Sliothair above the bar and between the posts of the opponent’s goal.

Hurling calls for bravery, speed of thought and action and enormous technical skill. Played well it is absolutely thrilling to watch.

RTE: Radio Telefis Eireann – the national broadcasting station of Ireland.

Harrow on the Hill: A leafy suburb some ten miles from central London. Chiefly known for the fee paying public school attended by such luminaries as Lord Byron and Winston Churchill. I grew up there.

Michael O’Hehir: A much beloved commentator on all Irish sports from the mid 1930s to the mid 1980s but particularly associated with Gaelic games. For exiles from Ireland listening to him was an extraordinarily powerful emotional experience. He was deeply knowledgeable and had the gift of coining a memorable phrase in the moment an event took place. His voice could climb dizzily through the registers from marching band flute to ear splitting soprano saxophone squaks!

This post dedicated to the memory of my father, Wally Hickey (1926 – 1989).

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – Tunney Hunsaker

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…. Tunney Hunsaker!!

Muhammad Ali is a sporting and cultural star to outshine Sirius.

He has become a totemic figure occupying significant space in the global collective consciousness and our dreams. Many of us have measured out our youth, maturity and now old age following and being inspired by his legendary deeds and the generosity of talent, heart and spirit he has expended in his regal life.

In the brilliance of his life and career the lives of many others from an extraordinarily diverse range of backgrounds have been illuminated.

The Supporting Cast series of posts will spotlight some of these lives.

David Remnick in his excellent book on Muhammad Ali calls him the King Of The World which seems entirely appropriate to me. And, like Kings from time immemorial Ali has had inner and outer courts seeking and competing for his attention, his financial largesse and his affection.

Beyond the courts there have been multitudes who have witnessed his reign and interacted with him directly and indirectly as bitter enemies, flag waving supporters, sceptical observers and head shaking in wonder historians.

Again, like a King he has had to face internal dissension and threats to his crown from dangerous outside and foreign sources – opponents within the boxing ring and from society at large.

He has had his trusted advisers, his jesters and his nay saying doubters. He has survived it all and not without heavy cost triumphed against all these forces to end his days in seemingly serene repose.

Enter in Act 1 aged 30 from Fayetville West Virginia weighing 192 pounds, Tunney Hunsaker! The date was October 29th 1960 when Eisenhower was in the last dwindling days of his presidency and the seemingly endless promise of JFK’s new frontier was about to begin.

The venue was Ali’s home town of Louisville Kentucky. Some 6000 souls can say they were present at Ali’s professional boxing debut and Tunney Hunsaker’s cameo role in his legendary career.

Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Chief of Fayetville.

He had turned Pro in 1952 and following a promising early start, winning ten of his first dozen bouts, he had taken a long lay off between the middle of 1953 and 1958.

On his return he was coming off a series of 6 straight losses including one against Ernie Terrell when he laced on the gloves to fight Ali. Ali’s management team, like all those wanting to ease a serious prospect into his career, wanted a match that would teach the young cub something about the pro game but not one that would place him in any serious danger of defeat.

Hunsaker was there to be a literal and metaphorical range finder. He was an honest and durable fighter but not one blessed with outstanding talents.

Ali was starting his professional life after a stellar amateur history. He had over a hundred contests under his belt and he was just back from Rome with a gold medal around his neck.

He was also the proud owner of a hatful of golden gloves titles – all these triumphs attained while still a teenager. His early trainers, Joe Martin and Fred Stoner, knew he was something special but how far could he go? Tunney Hunsaker was the first step on the unfolding story which would answer that question.

As Tunney stood in his corner looking across the ring the young Ali he saw was a superb physical specimen. Six foot three in height and weighing 186 pounds with the sheen of youthful fitness and condition.

More than that he had a personal aura, a glow that said this is somebody who will make a mark on the world.

Hunsaker’s hope would have been the knowledge that frequently lions of amateur boxing do not deliver on their promise in the brutal mans world of pro boxing. Most of them will not become contenders let alone champions.

Did this jive talking flashy pink Cadillac kid from Louisville have a true fighting heart? Could he take a heavyweight punch and recover?

Hunsaker was not to know that Ali, at this stage of his career, virtually lived in the gym spending long sweat soaked hours forging the fighting skills that he would so thrillingly display in the decades ahead. Or that he had a fighter’s heart as big as his imagination which was virtually limitless.

The six rounds of the bout were an education for both fighters. Ali learned that a heavyweight punch did hurt but that he coud handle the pain and not let it distract him from his work.

Hunsaker learned that the kid was much faster with his jab, his movement and his thought than any boxer he had ever faced. All his old pro tricks, the holding and pushing and feints were to no avail against an opponent who had talent and fitness to burn.

Tunney Hundaker became the first pro to learn the hard way how Ali’s lightning jab and the slashing combinations of punches that followed could sap the body’s strength and befuddle the mind.

At the end of the fight Hunsaker was bloodied and well beaten and Ali elated and looking forward to a future as a champion of champions. Hunsaker with typical honesty admitted that Ali was just too good and predicted that he would become heavyweight champion of the world.

We all know what happened later for Muhammad – tales of impossible glory, triumph and tragedy celebrated in story, song and myth.

But what became of Tunney Hunsaker after he had banked the three hundred dollars he got for the fight and the caravan moved on?

Well, he had six more fights winning two before he faced his final opponent in the ring, Joe Shelton, in his home state on April 6th 1962. He lost this fight when he was knocked out in the tenth and then faced the toughest battle of his life as he lapsed into a coma from which he did not emerge for nine days.

His fighting heart and devoted medical care pulled him through and he returned to Fayetville to resume his role as a community cop for decades after. He was inducted into the law enforcement hall of fame and was thrice awarded the title of Sunday School teacher of the year.

Tunney Hunsaker died on April 27th 2005.

There is a bridge named after him crossing the New River Gorge. He served his sport and his community with steadfast courage and loyalty and won their respect and affection.

That’s an epitaph any one of us would be proud of.

This post dedicated on Father’s Day to my Dad, Wally Hickey, with whom I spent many happy times discussing the life and lore of Muhammad Ali.

Alan Gilzean: Elegance In Action

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Elegance as a quality in life, sport and the arts is hard to define but easily recognised. It’s surely something to do with speed of thought, economy of movement, grace under pressure.

The elegant glide to triumphs without overt strain so that we catch our breath and sigh, ‘that’s how to do it!’. And, having seen the elegant work their magic with such panache we queue up to see them do it again so we can exclaim I was there and saw them do it.

Fred Astaire in every dance routine of his career. Lester Young launching into a saxophone soliloquy, Barry Richards caressing the cricket ball to the boundary, Barry John casually wrong footing an entire All Black defence.

P G Woodhouse crafting a perfect inimitable paragraph. Maria Bueno conjuring a Wimbledon winner.

The elegant performer wins your heart and your allegiance to their cause. This is not a matter of statistics, of heaped titles or medals but of indelible memories, stories of famous feats to be retold to your own and the following generations.

My own exemplar of elegance is the one and only Alan Gilzean a footballer whose fabled history at Dundee, Spurs and for Scotland feels more wondrous as each season passes.

At Dundee he scored an incredible 169 goals in just 190 games between 1959 and 1964. He was the glory of the best side they ever had under the tutelage of the great Bill Shankly’s brother, Bob.

With the Dark Blues he won the the league title in 1961/62 and the following year he was the spearhead of their thrilling run to the semi-final of the European Cup where they lost to the eventual winners – the lordly AC Milan.

At the end of 1964 the ever shrewd Bill Nicholson bought him for Spurs where he was to remain until the endof the 73/74 season. The Spurs fans quickly came to adore Gily recognising a player who met their demand for style as well as success.

In no time he was lionised as the King of White Hart Lane – a title he will hold in perpetuity!

The statistics relate that he scored 133 goals for Spurs in 429 games and that he was a member of the sides that won an FA Cup, two League Cups and a EUFA cup.

But, with Alan Gilzean it’s not the numbers that you remember it’s the breathtaking elegance of his play – the way he could amaze you game after game with the subtlety of his footballing imagination.

He insouciantly brought off feats of skill and technique that other fine players could only dream of – leaving opponents admiringly bemused and teammates exhilerated.

Alan Gilzean was to use a fine Scots term a supremely canny player. He seemed to have an advanced football radar system that allowed him to know exactly where he was in relation to his markers and his team mates. He could compute the trajectory of any pass that came towards him on the ground or in the air and instantly assess whether the ball should be held up or delivered on.

He had exquisite touch on the deck regularly wrong footing defenders before setting up goal chances for himself or one of his strike partners. His sense of football space and keen eye for opportunity made him one one of the great collaborators.

He forged a legendary striking partnership (the G men!) with the peerless Jimmy Greaves who profited greatly from Gilzean’s vision. No one has ever been better at coolly converting chances into goals than Jimmy Greaves and Gilzean provided him with a wealth of those chances.

Indeed, Jimmy has called Gilzean the best player he ever worked with – some accolade. Where Jimmy was all poise and deadly sureness Gilzean’s other principal strike partner, Martin Chivers, was all power and swagger. Gilzean was a superb foil to both.

One of Alan’s great attributes was his ability to change the direction of play to open up seemingly closed paths to goal. He was the master of the shimmy, the feint and the dummy – leaving many a defender bewildered and bamboozled in his wake.

He turned the back-heel into an art form and won the plaudits for artistic impression from the White Hart Lane faithful.

However, the defining skill of his genius was his heading of which he was the supreme master.

To watch Alan Gilzean working his way through his heading repertoire was an intensely pleasurable privilege. The power header, the precisely placed in the corner of the net header, the chance on a plate for Jimmy header, the eternal glory of the Gilzean glancing header and the masterpieces that were the Gilzean back headers will forever define the art and science of heading a football.

He seemed to intuitively understand a geometry too complex for Euclid when it came to directing headers.

Given his eminence and elegance as a player I propose some additions to the language to reflect his unique contribution to footballing and sporting culture.

Gilzean: Noun – A sporting term for a perfectly executed back header or back heel gemerally resulting in a goal being scored.

Gilzean: Verb – To display enormous technical skill with nonchalance.

Alan Gilzean was brave, hugely talented and gave unstintingly of those talents.

He is a footballing immortal whose legend will burn bright wherever elegance and beauty of style are celebrated.

God bless you Alan Gilzean – long may you amble!

Further reading: Happily there is an excellent book on our hero, ‘In Search Of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend’ by James Morgan.

Fanfare For The Duke

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One thing leads to another. The other morning I was listening to the glory that was the early 1940s Duke Ellington Orchestra playing, ‘Harlem Air Shaft’ – a four minute masterpiece evoking a world and a culture with thrillingly eloquent charm.

As the music faded the numbskulls (remember them?) in my brain, unbidden, went searching among my memory cells for other Dukes. Slim files came back marked : Duke of Wellington and Duke of Windsor. Middle size files had the titles Duke Fakir, David Duke, Duke Robillard and John ‘Duke’ Wayne.

However the two really bulky files bore the legends, ‘Duke Of Earl’ (a guaranteed jukebox selection for the future) and Duke Snider – the latter one of my very favourite baseball players from my favourite sports team of all time – the late, much lamented, Brooklyn Dodgers.

Here’s a fanfare for the Duke:

There have been few better times and places to have been a baseball fan than New York in the 1950s. The New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers and their fanatical supporters played out an intense rivalry which was illuminated with iconic moments of drama in a series of historic pennant races and world-series finals.

The names and feats of players such as Yogi Berra, Don Mueller and Jackie Robinson are indelibly imprinted on the memory of baseball aficionados. However, it was the star centre-fielders for these teams – Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, who has died at the age of 84, who came to personify the arguments about which team should have superior bragging rights in the big apple.

Mantle was all explosive power and glamour while Mays was superhumanly enthusiastic and athletic. Duke Snider, the pride of Brooklyn , was a complete player with stellar achievements in all aspects of batting along with brilliant fielding skills combining speed and poise with a whiplash throwing arm. In the four seasons, 1954-57 that Snider, Mantle and Mays went head to head as centre-fielders it was the Duke who hit the most homers and drove in the most runs. Indeed, throughout the entire 1950s it was Snider who slugged the most home runs (320) and RBIs (1031) as well as placing second in runs (970). These numbers gave powerful ammunition to Brooklyn ’s blue collar fan base ‘them bums’ in the ceaseless argument as to whose centre-fielder was the best.

The Duke, named so by his father at the age of 5, was born far from Brooklyn in Los Angeles in 1926 (where ironically, chasing revenue, the Dodgers would relocate in 1958). From his early youth he excelled as an all round sportsman and it was no surprise when he was signed out of high school in 1943 by the Dodgers. Following a brief period in the minors and military service in the navy he made his first appearance in blue in Ebbetts Field the legendary, now demolished, home of the Dodgers in 1947. Ebbets Field with its short right field fence was ideally suited to a left handed power hitter like Snider and he would go on to become a regular home run hitter there. It was 1949 when he firmly established himself in the team and he was a fixture thereafter until he left in 1962.

During that time he became a key member of a great inter-racial team, a band of brothers, which included heroes such as Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. The glories, trials and tribulations of this remarkable team were immortalised in Roger Kahn’s classic memoir/history ‘The Boys of Summer’.

This team despite regularly winning the National League Pennant seemed fated to fall at the last hurdle, usually at the hands and bats of the hated Yankees, in their quest to be World Series champions. The mantra of the long suffering Brooklyn fans became ‘Maybe next year’. In 1955 the dream at last became reality when the Dodgers triumphed against the Yankees with the Duke’s magnificent contribution being four home runs and seven runs batted in. He became the only player to have twice hit four home runs in the fall classic having previously accomplished the feat in 1952 (though still on the losing team!)

Prior to the relocation of the Dodgers to Los Angeles , which the citizens of Brooklyn have never forgiven, it was fittingly the Duke who hit the last home run in the iconic stadium. A combination of injuries and the design of the LA stadium meant that he was never the player he had been in Brooklyn on the West Coast though he was a member of the 1959 World Series Championship team. After leaving the dodgers in 1962 he played briefly for the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants before retiring in 1964. In his career as a whole he hit 407 home runs and was eight times selected as an all star. After retirement as a player he worked as a scout and later as an announcer for the Montreal Expos.

His global achievements were duly recognised in 1980 when he was elected into the Valhalla of Baseball – the Hall of Fame. The ‘Duke of Flatbush’ will always be remembered for his heroic feats wearing No 4 for the boys of summer whose legend only grows brighter as the years roll on.

Edwin Donald (Duke Snider) born 19 September Los Angeles Ca

Died 27 February 2011 Escondido Ca.