Dancing Shoes Returns

Watch video featuring Martin Lynch and Marie Jones, and find out why a lifelong love affair with Manchester United has come full circle for director Peter Sheridan

It was a recurring dream when I was 12 years old: I stood in the inside right position wearing the number eight shirt of Manchester United. To my left was Bobby Charlton, wearing nine. To my right was George Best, wearing number seven.

At the kick off, Charlton rolled the ball forward to me and I immediately sent it out wide to George. He ran forward along the touchline, beating several defenders in the process. Then he squared it and I met it perfectly to score in the far corner.

I made over 200 appearances between the ages of 12 and 16. I scored 650, a world record for an underage player. At age 16, however, the dream began to fade. It wasn’t by choice. I just knew I wasn’t going to make it as a professional footballer. I let the dream die and followed the fortunes of my beloved Manchester United as a spectator.

It was my father who introduced me to United. I remember the Munich Air crash – it happened the day after my eldest brother, Jim’s ninth birthday - and my Da crying at the kitchen table as my mother related the news she’d heard on the radio.

I held his hand on the pavement outside the church in Cabra when Liam Whelan’s body came home for burial. I made mental pictures of Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor so that I could grieve for them, too. I knew as a child that United were more than an ordinary football team. They felt like family. And they felt like an obsession.

The theatre replaced football in my life and dreams, ironically, and it was my father who introduced me to that, too. It was in 1968 that he founded the Saint Laurence O’Toole’s Musical and Dramatic Society. Just as I was stepping onto the stage to make my debut as Tommy Owens in The Shadow of a Gunman, George Best was taking the field at Wembley to claim the European Cup for United.

At age 19, I made my first professional stage appearance in the Lyric Theatre. It was an exhilarating time in my life, to be in the city of George Best, plying my trade.

Almost 40 years later to the day, I was at home in Dublin when I got the call from Martin Lynch and Marie Jones (from a house in Donegal) that they wanted me to look at a play on the life of George Best. I was intrigued to see what they’d come up with.

By page three of the script I knew that I would say yes. Somehow the writing connected me to my childhood dream. It felt like I was being given an opportunity to play for United again. More importantly, I was going to spend time with George Best.

Through the medium of drama, I was going to get to ask him lots of questions I had stored up, questions that seemed anachronistic after his demise in 2005.

But we were bringing him back to life and I was being invited to the party. How could I refuse that? I had played so many times with him and scored great goals from his sublime passes, I couldn’t resist the temptation to have that back all over again.

Dancing Shoes begins its forthcoming run at the Grand Opera House on August 4 and continues until August 27, before touring around Ireland and visiting Scotland and Manchester.