Gilesy brings his Walk of Dreams here

Gilesy brings his Walk of Dreams here

Gilesy brings his Walk of Dreams here


By Paddy Walsh

For many football fans, particularly those of long standing vintage and those with affiliations to his clubs and country, John Giles helped realise dreams.

His ability on the ball coupled with a never-say-die tenacity marked him out as one of Ireland's footballing treasures.

Yesterday, the former Leeds United and Republic of Ireland midfield general - now more familiar to viewers of R.T.E.'s soccer coverage - was in Letterkenny to launch another set of dreams which he hopes will generate both awareness and funding for football immersed communities here in Donegal and right throughout the country.

"Without being sanctimonious about it, football has been very good to me and now I want to put something back into it," the popular pundit told the ‘Democrat' in advance of the launch of the ‘Walk of Dreams' which is set to harness the energy of Irish clubs, schools and communities to create much needed resources for local areas.

Sunday March 27th has been designated for the national walk day and Giles, through the formation of his own Foundation, is leading the call to arms and legs.

The John Giles Foundation was formed through the Football Association of Ireland and the idea of the ‘Walk of Dreams' took root. "We hope it will unite the football community and harness that particular energy at all levels of the game."

As someone who started out in the Dublin and District Schoolboys League, the affable Dubliner knows the importance of those formative years and why funding and facilities are so necessary.

"The Walk of Dreams will hopefully be of significant benefit from grassroots level up. We want all schools, clubs and communities to take part in it - it should be a great day for the soccer community,

"Clubs throughout the country will keep half of the proceeds while the other half will go to the Foundation and filter back to the kids to help provide facilities, particularly in under-privileged communities," Giles explained.

Yesterday's visit to the county was, of course, not his first. He recalled his days when he was player-manager with Shamrock Rovers, performing in Ballybofey against Finn Harps. And when he managed West Bromwich Albion - helping the Midlands club win promotion from the old Second Division to the then top tier in the 1975/76 season - he took his charges to Finn Park for a pre-season friendly.

"They're good footballing people in Donegal and it was always a good place to go," said Giles who remembers in particular the late Fran Fields.

The former Manchester United player recently launched his autobiography ‘A Football Man' - a publication that has been well received.

"I wrote it over a couple of years and it's gone better than I expected," he maintained. In it he shows his compassionate nature - focusing on the Munich air disaster of 1958 which left eight members of the Manchester United squad dead along with officials and journalists.

"It was obviously a big thing at the time but from the club's perspective only purely in a footballing sense. They seemed to forget the families of the bereaved who were going through a traumatic time," he declared.

Giles lives in Birmingham but spends, he says, almost as much time in his native Dublin. He's back and forth to occupy the R.T.E. studios alongside Eamonn Dunphy, Liam Brady and Bill O'Herlihy as they, and others, analyse the English Premiership, the Champions League and the Republic of Ireland. Can the latter qualify for the next European Championship Finals?

"I don't see why not - we have as good a chance as any of the teams in the group," he insists.

Last night, his old team Leeds faced up to the mighty Arsenal in an F.A. Cup replay but with a meeting to follow the launch in Letterkenny yesterday evening, Gilesy wasn't sure he'd get to see any of of the live televised coverage.

"I watch them from a distance these days but still keep in touch. I suppose Peter Lorimer is the only one still at Elland Road from my time."

His time may be long gone as far as his actual footballing career goes but, who knows, lurking in the undergrowth from the ‘Walk of Dreams' initiative may be a handful of more midfield generals waiting for their chance at the big time.

Football may indeed have been good to Johnny Giles but he, in turn, long before the setting up of the Foundation in his name, has been more than good for it.