Sunday 19 November 2017

Kids don't play ball in the streets anymore and it is missed

John Giles talks about documentary which captures changes in places where he grew up

John Giles visits Old Trafford for the TV documentary ‘Giles’ which will be broadcast on RTÉ next week.
John Giles visits Old Trafford for the TV documentary ‘Giles’ which will be broadcast on RTÉ next week.

It was strange for me to go back to the streets where I grew up, not just me on my own but with a camera crew accompanying me.

I found it a little sad to go back to Ormond Square, the place in Dublin where I was born and reared, the place where I learned how to play football, and see a sign saying 'No Ball Games'.

But in making a documentary, Giles, about my life in football, I wanted to show people about the places I knew then: Dublin, Manchester, Leeds.

The reason I wanted to go back, to my old digs and to the factory in Manchester where I worked for a year (while I was on the books at Manchester United) was to show kids who are going over to England today what it was like for a young apprentice like me back in the 1950s.

It was odd for me to go back 'home' to Ormond Square now and meet some young lads - one of them living in No. 7 on the square, the house I grew up in - who kick a ball about but with a sign up on the wall saying that ball games are banned. That's the change in the times that I wanted to show in the film.


Kids today don't play in the streets any more. There's a little playground there on Ormond Square now but when I was growing up there, you'd just play, on the four sides of the square. Mrs so-and-so would tell you off, say 'Don't be playing ball here, go over to the other side'.

But you were playing all day, you'd pick the ball up from all angles on the square and it was ideal for learning ball control. Kids don't have that now, and it's missed.


Manchester was an old, industrial city, all smoke and fog. For a year I did an apprenticeship in a factory, it was my father's idea: he wanted me to learn a trade in case the football didn't work out but it wasn't practical and I didn't learn much.

It was a good place to work, with some great lads. I can't remember what they made in the factory. I'd help the other lads put the machines together, but I didn't know what they were.

What people might not know about being in digs was that you were often hungry. The people who were taking you in were doing it for the few bob, not because of anything else. I found that the longer you were in the digs, the more it deteriorated in terms of food. And digs were the same for most lads, you'd be down at the chipper for fish and chips every night, when you could afford it.

I used to go to a bowling green near the digs, and I went back there recently for the documentary. Back then, I'd meet Bobby Charlton there: it wasn't like we'd plan to meet, we'd just end up there as there was nothing else to do.

Thing was, me and Bobby would barely speak (you don't really chat when you play bowls), say 'cheerio' and go back home. It was just a way to pass the time.


Recently I went back to Dalymount Park and stood on the spot where I scored my first goal for Ireland. I never thought I'd do that.

Dalymount was our Wembley. It's sad to see the state of Dalymount Park now, as it meant so much to us back then. There was a Lansdowne Road then but all the soccer games were at Dalymount.

Dalymount was the venue.

So it was sad to go and see a Bohemians game last month with Eamon Dunphy, I hadn't been to a League of Ireland game for a long time, and it's sad to see how dilapidated the place is, but it's good to know that the place is being revamped and rebuilt.


Some things in the film will look strange to people today.

You'll see the Leeds United players sitting down with a pint of milk in the dressing room after a game, in front of the cameras. We used to get paid for all that, if you knew the cameras were there, you'd make sure you'd have your milk. I can't even imagine the Premier League players today drinking milk, just to get a few bob extra.

I went back to Elland Road, where the older supporters would seek me out and chat to me, I had 12 years there, great years. They were a Second Division team when I went there and those older fans don't forget those years.

The film shows Eddie McCreadie's tackle on me in a Chelsea-Leeds game, a bad tackle and he wasn't even booked. That was a key moment for me, after that I said 'enough is enough'. I was going to stand up for myself.


It sounds petty now to say that I wanted to prove Matt Busby wrong, but at the time I needed those things to drive me on. It was always said that no one ever leaves Manchester United and does well. I was only 22 when I left United and I wanted to prove the manager wrong. I left Old Trafford in 1963, and I think it was 1969, when Leeds won the league, that Matt said letting me go was one of his biggest mistakes.


I'm still based in Birmingham but I am over and back to Dublin a lot, there are grandkids in Dublin and Wexford. So Dublin is always home.

Produced by Loosehorse, 'Giles' will be broadcast on RTE 1 on Monday July 3, 9.35pm.

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