Bob Hennessy, who died peacefully on Christmas Eve at his home in Surrey after a long illness, was a legend in his own lifetime to a generation of vulnerable young Irish lads.
For the past 25 years, Bob had tracked the fortunes of every Irish boy who departed the Republic to seek his fortune as a professional footballer in England.
That was some task, for they have travelled virtually by the boat load, seeking to emulate the success of predecessors such as Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and David O’Leary.
Most of the youngsters found it difficult to adjust to their new surroundings and their ambition was sapped by loneliness. In those circumstances, the phone calls they received from Bob in the course of his work as a chronicler of their fortunes were like manna from heaven.
Bob empathised with these boys, for he had been one of them himself back in the late Fifties at Southend United.
From Donore Avenue, off the South Circular Road in Dublin, Bob attended St Catherine’s NS and then St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, where he was confirmed and became a chorister.
He started work in the reading room of the Irish Independent, before moving to England to pursue his football ambitions with Southend. He may not have made the grade there, but he met his wife Lynda, which was ample compensation.
After a couple of years working for the Automobile Association, Bob joined the Press Association as a racing writer, travelling to the tracks and recording the comments of owners, trainers and jockeys.
But football remained his first love and when Alan Dalton and John Grant started Soccer Reporter, Bob contacted Alan and offered him a column from England.
From that small beginning he moved on to writing for the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald and the Daily Star, and reporting matches for the News of the World. He was assiduous in his pursuit of any new Irish lad to land in his bailiwick, which extended from one end of Britain to the other.
Bob’s contact book was the envy of every Irish football writer, and there is hardly one of them who didn’t at one time or another receive help – with a contact or a phone number – when working on a story.
He never lost his love of singing and was a faithful member of the Reading Male Voice Choir, making the 34-mile journey from his home every Friday night.
Bob, who was 62 last August, is survived by his wife Lynda, son James and daughter Carly.
His funeral was held at St Peter’s Church, Frimley, Surrey, on 9 January. A memorial service will be held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in February.
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Independent