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Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Boy Who Wanted To Fly" by Don Mullan

"We can state without fear of contradiction, (Mullan's scrapbook) has to be one of the greatest and most moving tributes a child, anywhere in the world, has created to a hero."

--- Foreword by Pelé and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Image courtesy of
Legend Press.

I had the great pleasure to interview Don Mullan for Keeper Skool, which is a publication focused on soccer goalkeeping, in 2008. He briefly discussed his extraordinary childhood in Derry, Northern Ireland, during our conversation. I yearned to learn more, and now have a much better appreciation for his fascinating life story.

In his latest book, "The Boy Who Wanted to Fly," Mullan, an Irish filmmaker, humanitarian and investigative journalist, details his boyhood in Derry and three seminal events that would shape his life: the impact upon meeting English soccer legend, Gordon Banks, his eyewitness account of Bloody Sunday in 1972, and his personal struggles with dyslexia. The author has produced a very personal, provocative, informative and inspirational memoir.

Organized Format and Engaging Narrative

The book is organized into 11 concise chapters. An intriguing interview with Gordon Banks is presented in the second part of book. The short chapters pique your interest, and keep your anticipation level high. Mullan writes in an engaging and conversational tone but with significant detail. I enjoyed his entertaining game reports of various World Cup and English league matches. The author evoked childhood memories, and injected modern-day interviews with protagonists from those eras to provide readers with a unique perspective.

Tributes to His Father and Gordon Banks

One quote by the author stood out with regards to his affection, admiration and respect for two pivotal influences in his life. Gordon Banks would become the focus of a 500-page scrapbook, and Mullan's father arranged a meeting between them in Ballybofey:
"It is no exaggeration to say that my life changed that day. After meeting Banksy (Gordon Banks), my confidence went sky-high and my goalkeeping continued to improve. My biggest regret is that we didn't own a camera and the moment went unrecorded. I do, however, have an autograph that Mr. Banks signed at the front of the scrapbook... But most importantly, I have my favourite memory of my father and what he did for me."
Bloody Sunday and "The Troubles"

Mullan grew up in figurative and literal volatile times, and was an eyewitness to "Bloody Sunday." I liked two compelling personal examples that he used to describe this time in his life. He discussed his best-friend, Shaunie, who had joined an auxiliary unit of the Provisional IRA, and how their fates in life could have been very different:
"That night he brought me to a recruitment officer's home. We knocked at the door but he was out. A short time later, probably within days, Shaunie was told that the IRA had decided to disband the auxiliaries and that members had a choice of leaving or becoming fully fledged members. Shaunie left... In my heart, I knew the path of violence would not be his, let alone my own. Football, once again, dominated our thoughts."
Tragically, Shaunie died in a car accident in 1976.

The other example involved a British raid on his home. Sixteen year-old Mullan was arrested, and taken away for questioning. One of the soldiers was surprised to see what adorned young Mullan's bedroom walls:
"His mouth opened with incredulity at the sight of large posters of the England and Stoke City teams, and of course, many action shots and posters of Gordon Banks."

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks makes a remarkable save from a header by Pele of Brazil during their first round match in the World Cup at Guadalajara, Mexico, June 1970.  Brazil went on to win 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Allsport Hulton/Archive
The famous save by Gordon Banks on Pelé at
1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Mullan shared several personal photos, along with many from Gordon Banks' personal collection. One really stood out to me. Mullan met Banks again in 2005 to discuss the influence the English legend had on his life. He took his son, Carl, to share the momentous occasion. The image of Carl with Gordon Banks in many ways represented Mullan's life journey. From his own meeting in childhood 35 years before with Banks, to all of the time that had passed. His life had come full-circle, and the bright sun had always been the sterling example of Mr. Banks.

"The Boy Who Wanted To Fly" is a profound tribute to an athlete and how he shaped another life in the most powerful and extraordinary fashion.

I would like to thank Lucy Boguslawski of Legend Press in London for her kind assistance.

About the Author

Don Mullan is an Irish humanitarian worker and media producer. He has headed one well-known Irish aid agency and worked for another, spoken widely, and was co-producer of a film about Bloody Sunday. In addition, he is credited with writing the book, "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday," which was credited with triggering the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Don also attended the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in recognition of his work on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement, and is involved in the Pelé Little Prince hospital research complex in Curitiba, Brazil.

About the Reviewer

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer, editor and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the founder, editor and writer of World Football Commentaries. He has written for AC Cugini Scuola Calcio (Italian soccer school), Football Media, Italian Soccer Serie A, Keeper Skool and Soccerlens.
The reviewer was not compensated for this article.

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