Tommie Gorman – A Personal Tribute By Jim Gray

Like everybody else in Sligo and beyond, I’ve been trying to make sense of the shocking sadness of the loss of the great Tommie Gorman.

I feel the loss on a deeply personal level, and I’m well aware I’m not alone in that sentiment.

I’ve known Tommie all my life. We started school on the same day in Scoil Fatima on Pearse Road. He was a little rascal, full of devilment, a star in the school plays and later in Bro. Einard’s famous choir in St. John’s School on Temple Street. Indeed, I would say the first time Tommie Gorman ever appeared on RTE RADIO was as a young member of that choir, performing to the nation, as he was destined to do throughout his life.

Of course, he has become synonymous with Sligo Rovers. He inherited the love of the club from his later father, Joe, who in his own way was a Trojan worker behind the scenes for Rovers back in the 1950s and 60s. Tommie was a supporter like the rest of us, but as his work as a journalist flourished and allowed him access to top level contacts, he used that profile to elevate the club’s ambitions to new heights. The very mention of his name could open doors that would otherwise remain firmly locked; his reputation for integrity and up-front honesty afforded him audiences which would normally be far out of reach for a provincial League of Ireland club. He used all of that clout and influence, not to enhance in any way his own ego, but to ensure Rovers would never be too far from the top of any agenda. This has been particularly true in recent years as the club seeks to implement its ambitious plan for a new stadium. Others with more profound knowledge of this scenario will share their insights over the next short while.

Tommie’s first by-line as a journalist appeared in the Sligo Champion, under match reports on Rovers’ games in Dublin. He was studying journalism at Rathmines College at the time, and needed to build up a portfolio of work. We were delighted to oblige this rising young star. As was to become normal for Tommie, everything he touched turned to gold, as it was in that first season of his coverage for the Champion that Rovers went on to win the League title for the first time in 40 years.

He also famously covered Rovers’ first excursion into European football. By then, he was working for the Western Journal. (I later joined him there to help launch THE SLIGO JOURNAL). It would have been unthinkable even for a national newspaper, never mind a fledgling regional paper, to send a reporter to Eastern Europe to cover a game. But Tommy was resilient and enterprising even then – he pounded the streets of the town and county selling advertisements for the paper which would cover the cost of the trip. I still vividly recall the two-page spread he produced on return, including the famous description of Fago sitting on the ball in the centre circle of the vast arena in Belgrade, happily waving to the bemused fans of Red Star Belgrade. He also brought his own camera, capturing a catalogue of iconic pictures from one of the most historic nights in the club’s history. At the time, it would have been frowned upon by trade unions for a reporter to double as a photographer, but Tommie never let silly rules get in the way of a good story. I imagine it wasn’t the last time he would bend a few rules in order to bring home the yarn.

Another early Rovers memory of Tommie is that he used to travel to away games on the team bus, which would have been unheard of at that time. Players would tell me how great it was that on the way home, when they stopped in for some refreshments, Tommie would produce a cheque book and cover the costs. No wonder they loved him!

He would later join the management committee, working on the nuts and bolts beneath the bonnet to help keep the club ticking over. In more recent years, his work was more behind-the -scenes, but no less important. His lasting legacy will be the new stadium, to which he devoted practically all of his time after his retirement from RTE.

Tommie Gorman Sligo Rovers Committee 2013

I just want to share a few personal stories about the decency and dignity which shaped Tommie’s life. The great journalist is being, and will be, rightly lauded over the coming days, weeks and months. But here’s a few snippets of the boy and man that I knew.

Just a few examples:

Tommie always loved a scoop. I was present for what I’m fairly certain was his first ‘exclusive’. We were working with THE SLIGO JOURNAL at the time, early 1980s. The English tabloids were full of a story about a man who had absconded from his Birmingham home with his young daughter. There was a full- scale manhunt in operation. However, the combined might of Scotland Yard and the British Tabloid press could not find the fugitives. But Gorman did.

He tracked them down to a battered old caravan in Strandhill, and he brought me along to meet them and help with the interview. Neither of us were old enough to drive, so our chauffer was Tommie’s dad, Joe.

For us young bucks, there was the thrill of the story, the scent of a genuine scoop. But Joe Gorman could only see the plight of this frightened young girl living in a tawdry caravan, far from home in a strange land, being battered by howling wind and rain in the dead of a Strandhill night.

He marched the fugitive and the young child across to the Baymount Hotel, banged a fistful of pound notes on the reception desk and demanded that this man and child be given a warm room for the night and a hearty breakfast in the morning.

“Ye can have your headlines”, he admonished us. “But I’ll do right by the child”

Many times over the years, whenever I heard stories of Tommie’s selfless good deeds, my mind raced back to that night in Strandhill, and the example set by his father. The apple didn’t fall far.

By the time Sligo Rovers won the League of Ireland title in 2012, I’d be writing about the club for more than 40 years. But I wasn’t in the Showgrounds on that momentous October day when they clinched their first championship since 1977. Instead, I watched the game on television from home, having just been discharged from hospital during a difficult period of cancer treatment.

Naturally, I became quite emotional when Rovers scored the winner late in the game, and watched the wild celebrations, wishing I could be there. Within minutes, my phone pinged. It was Tommie: “This one’s for you, Jim”. In all the euphoria and excitement erupting in the Showgrounds, Tommie found the time to include me in the celebration, to make sure I wouldn’t be forgotten. Just so typical of the man. He’ll never know just how much that mean to me at that difficult period of my life.

His personal letters are stuff of legend. Whether it was a birth or a bereavement, the hand-written note would arrive, perfectly pitched, dripping with empathy, friendship and love.

On radio the other day, when the sad news first filtered through, I heard John Downing, the former Brussels corr with the Irish Independent telling how, after his first meeting with Tommie, he had made a note in his diary: “Mad, or what!” And I thought, thank God, I wasn’t the only one. Because being around Tommie could be mad at times. He was so unconventional. The sharp political analyst, making light of the most complicated developments of the day, was a million miles from the man who would stop you in a busy street, grab you around the neck, and plant a massive smacker of a kiss on your lips; or the fiercely competitive beach footballer who would contest every ball or throw-in as if playing in a Champions League final; or the guy who, after we’d manage to talk a few girls from St. Angela’s College into letting us take them home, would drive them instead to the Holy Well in the dead of night to say a few prayers!

On the morning after his wonderful wedding and marriage to the love of his life, Ceara, when most new grooms would be nursing a hang-over or spending blissful hours in the company of his new bride, Tommie demanded that we all meet for a game of ball on Rosses Point beach. Some start to the honeymoon!

When my twin brother, Leo and I, wrote our book, Local Heroes: A Celebration of Sligo Sport, in 2022 we invited Tommie to write the foreword. Despite being in the middle of writing and promoting his own memoir, he immediately fulfilled our dearest wish, penning the most personal and beautiful introduction to our book. It was probably the best thing in it!

These are just a few random thoughts, an attempt at a coherent tribute to a man we all loved. Tommie, as is widely known, loved Sligo. These next few days will demonstrate just how strongly and genuinely that love is reciprocated. We will never see his likes again. How lucky we are to have shared this landscape with him, and how sorely we will miss him. Rest easy, Scoop.