- 27 Apr 18
One of the League of Ireland’s greatest ever poachers is honoured in a new song by a Northern Ireland band proud of their tumultuous heritage.
In a career which lasted from 1969 to 1986, Brendan Bradley scored 235 goals – 181 of them for Finn Harps – more than any other player in League of Ireland history. He once hit Sligo for six. A ballad about him can still be heard wherever Harps fans gather:
For nigh on 20 years he played/The bane of most defences/Perfection in his chosen trade/Astounding people’s senses/We won the Cup in seventy ’74/Against St Pats Athletic/Twice that day did Brendan score/With grace and style balletic.
The new anthem is something else again – a moving, mournful, uncategorisable rock song by Rory Moore of Strength NIA. “I wrote it after seeing him one day on Carlisle Road. I thought, ‘That’s Brendan Bradley, I should write a song about him.’ So I did, and this is it.” Strength NIA take their stance sideways to the world. Organ, bass guitar drum beats and, sometimes, bits of broken machinery a rhythmically bashed. Vocals that veer from frantic Iggy Poppery to basso profundo incantation. Strength NIA don’t sound like anything else.
NIA means Northern Ireland Artists. Not many bands proclaim Northern Ireland, other than as an arena for posturing and aggro, or as providing entitlement to angst. There’s defiance in the name even before you open your mind. Sassy insubordination swirls around them.
Brendan Bradley, a gentle man – except when centre-halfs were bouncing off him – might seem an unlikely focus for angry lament. But anger was all-pervasive back in the days. You didn’t have to be hard to seem to radiate antipathy. The song has to do with Brendan being detained by soldiers at the Piggery Ridge army emplacement at the foot of Sheriff’s Mountain at the top of Creggan as he drove home from an evening match in Ballybofey.
They didn’t hold him for very long. But the resentful consensus in the town was that they shouldn’t have been able to hold him at all. Cheek of them! You couldn’t imagine Bobby Charlton having his collar felt when driving home from Old Trafford. In Donegal and Derry, Brendan had much the same image and status, in a neighbourly sort of way. By far the most formidable player in Ireland, and one of our own.
The song tells of decency becoming entangled in the barbed wire of conflict, innocence occluded by gun smoke and fear, all in the end for nobody knows what. ‘Piggery Ridge used to be an army base long ago, But there’s nobody here now.’
On top of all, it’s an elegy for the spirit of football, too. A longing for what’s been lost.
The video images mesh into the music. Howling at the heavens atop a steepling Donegal escarpment, Brendan in solo kickabout on the expanse of an empty pitch, Rory lip-syncing amidst oblivious Finn Park fans. Doomy, romantic, darkly poetical, and swathed in grace and style.
There’s an awful lot of people running around with beards and now, more than ever, with the sort of thick, long, glossy beards once associated with the Amish people, ZZ Top and Charles Stuart Parnell.
I heard an explanation of this phenomenon while over in Liverpool last week for a spot of rest and spectacular relaxation with my old friend, the rock and roll guru, Terry O’Neill.
It appears that when beards became newly fashionable a couple of years back, many men who had beards forever started growing theirs longer, so as to maintain their advantage over the newcomers. Thus the spurt in beard growth.
Mind you, it was around three in the morning and against a background of the Incredible String Band that this nugget of information was gifted to me. It sounded true at the time, and sure maybe it is.