Young Roderick McGillicudy was not long on his new old trafford ball boy job back in 2005 when Roy Keane changed how he approached his entire life.
The ball boy had just been chosen from a local schools team to have the honour of collecting balls at Old Trafford during FA Cup matches. Having been forced to use a walking cane the previous year, his only solace was the screeching seeing-eye cockatoo perched on his shoulder to help him with his inability to distinguish red from blue, causing him to have to wear a tinted monocle. The cockatoo could not be stopped singing operatic arias, and stealing the lovingly prepared prawn sandwiches his mother wrapped for him in superman branded cling film. He recounts the following in his journal of the period.
“That year Maman had sent me to summer with Aunt Mathilde in Chartes, so I arrived back with a slight French twang and a heightened sense for both haute cuisine and the heart stirring music of Berlioz. They were long summer days gamboling through sun dappled corn fields, reading the poetry of Apollinaire and having my heart opened to the sensory stimuli of a young man on the very precipice of adulthood. Music, the paintings of the young Poussin, opened my eyes to the delicacy of how light falls in a room, the overlapping of various coincidental dissonant sounds to almost form a harmony and the true experience of how flavours can elevate a plate of food to a moment to bring tears to your eyes. I arrived back in England still wearing the velvet beret my cousin Agathe had given me handwrapped as she wept at the train station seeing me away.
We had fostered a tentative romance, she and I, that summer, and even though we both knew it would be grossly forbidden by everyone, we started a habit of composing sonnets together, each taking a line in turn and then setting them to orchestral music which we would perform for our families after the staff had moved us to the smoking room after the evening’s dessert. Agathe had a firm grasp of the harmonium and I the lute and together we would often bring our families to tears as they passed around the dessert wine and long filtered cigarettes.
I took the locomotive back to Manchester that autumn, watching the golden leaves fall as my new career as a ball boy was about to begin. My heart pounded in my chest the first day of my appointment. It was a cup match against Wycombe Wanderers. The ball had bobbled out of play in my direction. I knew all eyes were on me, likely the televisual cameras also. The noted fiery Irishman Royston Keane was making his way toward where I stood, behind the advertising boards. It was an intemperate day so I had on the scarf my grandmaman had knitted earlier that year, a lush purple wool complete with the dazzling cross stitching pattern for which she had won a score of village prizes in Chartres. I felt it matched rather well with my mittens, cravat and beret. ‘I say gentle-sir’ I called to him over the noise of my cockatoo, setting down my book of poetry, ‘would you mind terribly fetching the kicking ball for yourself? Only my infernal hayfever precludes me from venturing out onto the lawn.’ Well, at first it seemed he couldn’t hear me above the noise of the crowd, the blustering wind and my gramophone playing Debussy beside my wicker picnic basket of fairy cakes and sparkling spring water. But as he ventured nearer I made out that he was saying something to me ‘one moment if you will’ I called back, ‘I’ll just put a halt to my picnic for a moment’, and made great haste taking the needle of my record. By the time I made it back to the advertising hoarding the Irishman had arrived and was trying to convey something to me, I know not what.
‘I say’, I called back to him, ‘would you mind speaking more slowly and clearly, as I find your rich Irish brogue quite impenetrable.’ He all of a sudden looked quite baffled. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked, referring to how I was wriggling my hips in a circular motion and kicking by heels forward and back to keep warm. ‘Maman’s doctor told me that I have poor circulation, so it’s advisable that I keep moving even when I am forced to stand still.’
I woke up some three weeks later in the Intensive Care unit of Manchester Royal Infirmary. My cockatoo was dead and I had suffered irreversible brain tissue damage. My IQ was shattered, my speech ruined. But something much more. I was no longer interested in my lute, my collection of French cheeses or gramaphone. I even stopped replying to Agathe’s hand written love poems. Instead, I shaved my head, began drinking cans of Tennants lager and felt a longing in my heart to move to a place which called to me as a new spiritual home, Glasgow. My next move was to change my name. I never looked back. And I owe it all to Roy Keane.”
And that he did. That plucky young ball boy you now may know as Celtic captain Scott Brown.
Featured image: Goal.com