"I'll tell you who wrote it. I can remember his name."
Eamon Dunphy’s immortal words thrown viciously across the RTE soccer punditry table at the late Bill O’Herlihy.
They are now immortalised and in the same realm of Irish pop culture as 'Man Slips on Ice' and 'Don’t Take Risks on Treacherous Roads'.
Most folks watch the clip of Dunphy’s tirade to get their fix of hilarity and nostalgia, but few remember what Mr. Liddle had written to deserve such an onslaught.
It all began with Roy Keane’s unceremonious departure from Manchester United on the 18th of November 2005.
This controversy prompted a response article days later in the Sunday Times from its brash and controversial sports columnist Rod Liddle.
What Rod Liddle really said about Roy Keane in 2005
For those unfamiliar with Liddle's work, a quick google search will give an impression of the type of writing he produces. He’s found himself in hot water over his career for remarks that offended, among others, gay people. Muslims, and women.
(The previous summer, the dissolution of Liddle's marriage to journalist Rachel Royce had became media fodder in the UK. No one would have ever expected it to be discussed in the build-up to Liverpool v Betis in 2005 on the Irish state broadcaster.)
In an often over-the-top and ridiculous column headlined 'Farewell leaves a foul smell', Liddle is adamant that Keane should have been imprisoned and banned from football for life for his tackle four years before on Alf Haaland.
In fact, if this was a decent world, he wouldn’t get the chance to sign for another club because he’d still be banged up and certainly banned from the game for life.
Sadly, though, we are dealing with professional football, rather than Narnia.
He justifies this claim arguing that if he had also tackled one of his journalistic colleagues in a similar fashion, he would be “charged with occasioning grievous bodily harm.”
The police did nothing — because we’re dealing with Premiership football here, remember, and the top stars are bigger than the law.
In light of the debate in Ireland that the column would inspire, it is pertinent to note Liddle also called Keane a 'thug' for the tackle.
The story of what this thug did to Manchester City’s defender Alf-Inge Haaland may be well known, but the total lack of meaningful punishment still astonishes me.
Liddle goes on to imagine a world where Keane moves across Manchester to sign with Haaland's old club Manchester City, who were then managed by Keane's old Notts Forrest teammate Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce.
Apparently, it was Stuart who taught Roy never to “show pain”, because it’s a sort of weakness. What a perfect irony that would be. If you were a Manchester City supporter, how would you feel about that? If you were Haaland, how would you feel about that? All of a sudden, “stick it up your bollocks ” seems an eminently succinct, understated and appropriate response.
Other highlights of the piece include an homage to 'decent, likeable — and, you have to say, extremely successful' Mick McCarthy and his time as Sunderland manager, and a joke about David Blunkett sleeping with Kimberley Quinn.
If it reads like a vintage Liddle column, it was surely a perspective on Keane that was shared by some in the UK at the time. It was the use of that word 'thug' that proved so triggering on this island, as Liddle would find out days later.
'Because I'm saying there's an alternative view'
Fast forward three days later, November 23rd 2005, and we find ourselves in the RTE studios and at the scene of Dunphy’s most famous tirade.
The setting is the build-up to RTE’s live Champions League game that evening, the rather unassuming aforementioned fixture between Liverpool and Real Betis.
The topic of Keane’s unceremonious departure is brought up by Bill O’Herlihy before the match preview began, and the argument leads to one of the greatest moments in Irish TV history.
Brady takes aim at Keane, and then at Dunphy with quite an undisguised dig, when he calls out Keane’s ‘hand-picked friends’ in the media who performed Keane’s 'dirty-work' for him.
It was no secret of course that Keane's then-biographer Dunphy was one of these 'friends'. Not to be outdone by Brady’s bullishness, he responded in kind.
O’Herlihy smelt blood, and in his classic innocent and affable style he continued to poke the bear, and the rest as they say is history.
Liddle, after gaining this cult-celebrity status in Ireland, gave an interview to Balls.ie five years ago and, to his credit, was able to look back lightheartedly on the affair.
It annoyed Eamon but he did as he always does: he spoke from the heart, he spoke eloquently and, even if the stuff he said about me was a bit nasty... he wasn’t wrong.