Sam was born in 1919, making him six years younger than my father Malcolm. Not a bad soccer player in his own right but nothing compared to his older brother. Malcolm had the gift and Sam worshipped him. At my Dad’s funeral Sam cried on my shoulder. He didn’t just love him – we all did that. Sam adored him.
Sam started collecting Malcolm’s press clippings at the age of six or seven. That would have been when Malcolm first played for the Irish Schoolboys against Wales in 1927 at the age of fourteen.
Most of the information pertaining to Malcolm McClain in Balls of Leather and Steel is taken directly out of Sam’s massive scrapbook that chronicled the amazing career of Malcolm Butler – my Dad.
People who have been kind enough to read my book including literary professionals such as Kristin Lindstrom, have asked me the same questions:
“Did Malcolm McClain win the sprint championship as a kid?”
“Did he really play against Sir Stanley Matthews?”
“Was he shot down and captured over Yugoslavia during the war?”
“Was he broken out of the POW camp by Yugoslavian Partisans?”
With the noticeable difference of his name being Butler and not McClain – all these events are true and right out of Sam’s scrapbook. Bearing in mind there were no clipping services available to Sam, the scrapbook is a treasure trove.
When the Partisani delivered Malcolm to the safety of Allied lines, Sam managed to make his way to Italy to be by his brother’s bedside as he recovered from the ordeal. Yes, Malcolm did have to hide in a ditch – for three days – while a German patrol camped within a few feet of him. I’m not sure his kidneys ever recovered!
Throughout Malcolm’s career, Sam scribed every detail, finally presenting the magnificent volume to me before he passed away.
The downside for me, believe it or not, was trying to grow up in Belfast when everyone knew my Dad or had seen him play. The city’s high expectations could not possibly be emulated by his son, try as I might.