Liam Brady is a true Irish soccer great. It is a major regret for many Republic of Ireland fans that this wonderful soccer talent was never displayed in a major international championship finals. Injury, bad luck and his inability to adapt fully to the Jack Charlton football philosophy all conspired to prevent him from appearing in the finals of either the Euro Championship or World Cup. Undoubtedly Liam Brady was the most Irish talented footballer of his generation and he went on to play for top soccer clubs in England and Italy. Brady was born, and raised in the 1960's, in Dublin. As a schoolboy he played for the northside Dublin football club St Kevin's Boys and very quickly came to the attention of the Irish based scouts for English top flight clubs. While Brady was playing his schoolboy soccer in Ireland the English First Division (the fore runner of the Premier League) was being dominated by football clubs from the North of England. Clubs from London were struggling to make the big breakthrough. Nevertheless it was London club Arsenal that attracted a 13 year old Liam Brady over for soccer trials. With hindsight it seems obvious that the young Brady would impress the Arsenal staff with his footballing gifts in general and his sublime left foot. Equally the professionalism in approach and the high quality set up at Highbury impressed Brady. In 1971, at the age of 15, Brady moved across to Arsenal on a full-time basis.
Arsenal had just completed the League and FA Cup double. This was only the second time that this remarkable feat had been achieved. The Arsenal team at the time included such soccer luminaries as Charlie George, Ray Kennedy, George Graham and, subsequent TV football pundit, Bob Wilson. The young Liam Brady couldn't have arrived at the club at a better time as everyone was buoyed by the recent success and the mood at the club was very positive. Unlike other young Irish football greats such as George Best and Damien Duff, Liam Brady does not seem to have suffered from homesickness. The player himself puts this down to the fact that two of his brothers were already playing professional football in London. Ray Brady was playing for Millwall and Pat Brady played for QPR. He always had family support at hand whenever needed. At the time Arsenal were committed to a strong youth policy and in fact half of the double winning squad were homegrown. Of the group of young players that the teenager Liam Brady rubbed shoulders with, David O'Leary, Frank Stapleton, Graham Rix, John Matthews, and Richie Powling all went on to play for the Arsenal senior team. The club obviously believed that Ireland was a good source of fodder for it's youth policy as not only did the club recruit Brady, Stapleton, and O'Leary it also recruited Niall Quinn, John Devine who both went on to also play for the senior team and Johnny Murphy who ultimately returned to Ireland to play top flight rugby. Liam Brady played his first senior competitive league match for Arsenal in October 1973. The opposition was provided by Birmingham City. With his exquisite left foot and stunning array of passing Brady was an instant hit with the fans. These skills that were obvious from the off were to go on to keep the Arsenal fans, and others, captivated for the remainder of the decade. Brady developed legendary status with the club.
Following the heroics of the 1971 double winning team was always going to be very difficult. During the Brady years the First Division title eluded Arsenal but in 1978, 79 & 80 the team reached three FA Cup Finals. In those days winning the FA Cup was a big deal and was a very close second to the league title. Reaching three consecutive Cup finals was a significant achievement in English soccer. Unfortunately for Arsenal and their fans they only won one of them. Significantly the lost the two they were expected to win, against Ipswitch Town in '78 and versus West Ham United in '80. Ironically they were given little chance against Manchester United in '79 yet Arsenal won 3-2. It is sometimes referred to as the Liam Brady Final because Brady had a significant role in all three of the Arsenal goals. Arsenal had been leading 2-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Amazingly United scored two late goals and extra time was looming. With about one minute of normal time left, and from the kickoff after the second United goal, Liam Brady burst forward laying off a beautifully weighted pass to Graham Rix on the left wing. Rix crossed the ball to the back post of the United goal to be met by a lunging Alan Sunderland. 3-2 to Arsenal with no time for a reply from Manchester United. Utter despair followed by complete soccer ecstasy for the Arsenal players and the fans. Perhaps this was the defining performance by Liam Brady for Arsenal. Winning the FA Cup in 1979 meant that Arsenal qualified for the European Cup Winners Cup in 1980. The Londoners reached the final against Spanish football club Valencia. Honours were shared after normal and extra time so a penalty shoot-out was required to separate the teams. Unfortunately Liam Brady missed his penalty and Valencia captured the trophy.
The match against Valencia turned out to be one of Liam Brady's last football matches for Arsenal. As he admits himself, Brady had decided that he wanted to test himself at a higher level. Previously Kevin Keegan of Liverpool FC had successfully moved to Hamburg in the the Bundesliga. The German soccer giants Bayern Munich had shown some interest in Brady but the move never materialised. Arsenal had defeated Juventus in the Cup Winners Cup semi-final earlier in 1980. Obviously Brady had impressed Giovanni Trapattoni (who would in future years become Republic of Ireland manager) the then manager of the World renowned Italian club. When Juventus made an official bid for Brady the player jumped at the chance of playing football in the most competitive soccer league in the World at the time. Juventus hadn't won Serie A for a few years but the team included some truly outstanding players including Bettega, goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff, Gentile, Tardelli, Scirea and others. A half dozen of the Italian football team that won the World Cup in 1982 came from Juventus. After a somewhat tentative start with the club things took a turn for the better when Brady made one goal and scored another in a match against Inter Milan. Juventus went on to end their barren spell when the club won the league in Brady's first season in Italy. In the process he scored eight goals which was a very impressive return from a midfielder in the notoriously parsimonious Italian league. A second consecutive scuddeta was delivered the following year. After all the years of effort to win an English league title with Arsenal, Brady won two Italian titles in two years with Juventus. Brady went on to play for three other Italian clubs during his stint in Serie A, Sampdoria, Inter Milan and finally Ascoli. He didn't manage to scale the kind of heights, achieved with Juve, with these clubs but he graced football pitches across Italy with his sumptuous talent for a total of six years. After that Brady returned to England to finish his career playing for West Ham United.
From a very early age it was obvious that Liam Brady would be a star player and not just in soccer. He was an accomplished GAA player however his decision to captain the Ireland under-15s in a match saw him expelled from his secondary school, St Aidan's, run by the Christian Brothers. The young Brady was a victim of GAA rule 27 that banned peolple from playing 'foreign sports' such as soccer and rugby. In October 1974 Liam Brady made his International football career debut against the Soviet Union at Dalymount Park. This is one of the most famous matches in Irish soccer history. Not only did it see the launch of an international career of a great Irish footballer it was also a famous thrashing of a true soccer power at the time. The main headlines were about the fact that Don Givens scored a great hat trick but the significant subtext was the introduction of a young gifted footballer with a maturity beyond his years. Johnny Giles, another great Irish soccer player, had recently taken charge of the national team as player / manager. Under his management the Irish soccer team showed significant improvement in performances and results. This was due to a combination of John Giles' ability as a manager and the available crop players at the time. Not only had Brady arrived on the scene Giles could also select players of the quality of Frank Stapleton, David O'Leary, Gerry Daly, Steve Heighway, Mark Lawrenson, Don Givens and himself. With the exception of the Jack Charlton era it is difficult to imagine that Ireland ever had such and array of talent available at the same time. Despite a number of close calls the Republic failed to qualify for a major soccer championship finals tournament under Giles and his under his successor Eoin Hand. In 1986 Jack Charlton was appointed manager of the Irish senior team. Charlton introduced a new direct style and also encouraged a number of UK-born players to declare for the Republic under the so-called Granny rule.
Players such as John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Andy Townsend were now pushing for places in the Irish team. Despite the popular view, Liam Brady was a regular in Charlton's earlier teams and he played in every match during the successful 1988 Euro qualifying campaign. It is true that the Charlton game plan did not particularly suit very creative players like Brady but he almost certainly would have been in the squad that went to Germany for the finals if injury hadn't intervened. A cruciate ligament injury sustained while playing for West Ham ended Brady's his hopes of going to Germany. Any chance of a swan song appearance in the Word Cup Finals in 1990 evaporated when Charlton substituted Brady in the first half of a pre-tournament friendly against West Germany at Lansdowne Road (now Aviva Stadium). Later Charlton admitted he only started Brady in the match to prove to the Irish fans that the great player was past his best and that Andy Townsend was better suited to the team's style. It was an ignominious end for one of the few truly world class footballers that Ireland has ever produced. At the age of 34 and with 72 caps Liam Brady retired from international soccer. Following brief unsuccessful stints at club management with Celtic and Brighton & Hove Albion Brady took up a backroom role with Arsenal where he is still revered as the great Irish footballer that graced Highbury during the 1970's.