Last updated : 28 December 2004 By editor
From the Guardian

The Pele of Ipswich Town has been taken off his radio show due to drink, sacked for failing to turn up and reinstated due to public demand. He tells Donald McRae why his popularity keeps rising.

If there is a tendency to see Brazil as TalkSport's answer to Chris Evans, there is something far more resonant and touching about the former striker's bruising past and gently swaying rise on radio.

Earlier this month he disappeared after only 12 minutes of a Tuesday morning show. A diary story in the next day's Daily Mail entrenched Brazil's intoxicating reputation. In October he had been removed even more swiftly - after four minutes on air. "I'd been to a big dinner and shouldn't have come in. I was just getting over bronchitis. When I'm knocking back all these pills and swigging Benelyn, the drinking's difficult. The problem is I love socialising and find it hard to say 'no'. I think, 'Oh, I'll go out for a short while but I'll be careful.' And then, well, it's not easy being disciplined."

He recalls the watershed in his radio career with sober honesty.

"We presented the show live from Cheltenham and after three days of racing - even if you're not drinking - you're shattered. And of course, with me the Festival ritual means meeting all your pals in the Guinness tent at 11 every morning. So I decided to spend the Thursday night in Cheltenham and travel early to London for Friday's programme”.

"I had a brand new phone - and this is not a word of a lie because I remember chucking it at the feller on the desk who was meant to wake me - but its button got jammed. So I couldn't use it as an alarm and, as far as I'm concerned, I never got any wake-up call. It was a nightmare."

McKenzie dumped Brazil instantly. "He's a hard man who doesn't mess about. I was heartbroken because I'd put 3 years into this show."

Brazil returned home a week later from a skiing holiday with his three daughters to discover that a deluge of listener opinion had forced McKenzie to admit TalkSport could not afford to lose him. "I was astonished. Every day there were literally hundreds of emails on my racing website and even more were being sent to this place. So the station suggested a compromise."

Part of that "compromise" entails Brazil being fined £5,000 for every failure to complete a programme. Beyond the £15,000 TalkSport has already clawed back from his £200,000-a-year contract, Brazil has generated priceless publicity. It is all knockabout stuff, delivered in typical McKenzie style, but Brazil is a more ambitious and layered man than some old pundit churning out platitudes while lapping up the free drinks. Although he painstakingly reiterates his commitment to TalkSport, he is primarily driven by an unbridled passion for the racing syndicate he began a year ago. The Alan Brazil Racing Club already has 750 members, and its balding figurehead has his sights set on "at least 2,000".

Even his earlier crawl across the wasteland of sporting retirement and up the lower reaches of punditry reveals a resolve his persona never implies. After playing for the cultured Ipswich Town side of the early 1980s and then Spurs and Manchester United, Brazil was forced out of football at 27. "Christ, I loved playing. But my back was so bad that, on a Sunday morning, when I tried to clean my teeth I had to use my left hand to prop myself up; otherwise I'd crash head-first into the sink. I had to wash my face with one hand. But when the end came there was no fear. I knew I'd be successful.”

Brazil got his break on GMTV. "I'd normally get the call after a European game. It would mean coming into London for a 6.15am slot that might last 30 seconds. I remember telling myself, 'Do it, do it. It's a rung on the ladder.'"
For all his hard work, Brazil argues that his current success "was never part of any grand plan. It just fell into place. Look what happened when I didn't get a contract at Celtic. I then got offered a trial at Ipswich. I was 15 and I said, 'Where's Ipswich?' I had no idea. But I fell in love with the place and had my greatest years in football with Bobby Robson, George Burley, Kevin Beattie, John Wark, Arnold Muhren, Frans Thijssen and Eric Gates."

While Brazil tells wonderful football stories, his heartbreak at Celtic carries the most powerful undertow. It is both poignant and shocking when, stepping quietly away from the drunken shenanigans which define his one-dimensional TalkSport image, Brazil relives the child-abuse that scarred his years at Celtic Boys Club in the mid-1970s. Like countless other boys in Glasgow, he was sexually assaulted by a man called Jim Torbett. More than 20 years later Brazil delivered one of the key courtroom testimonies which sent Torbett to prison.

"I wasn't haunted by it but lots of people suffered psychiatric problems for years. It's heartbreaking to think it happened to those boys and that the same thing is happening somewhere today and some poor kids are too frightened to talk."

"That guy had a huge say over who moved on to Parkhead. Roy Aitken was my captain and Danny McGrain's brother, Tommy, also played in our team. Charlie Nicholas came out of Celtic Boys. I have no proof [Torbett] stopped me getting in but I wonder what might've happened if not for him. But, if I'd gone to Celtic, I would never have played for Ipswich. And Ipswich is now my favourite club. Everything worked out just fine in the end."