Jimmy Magee, Irish sports broadcaster known as The Memory Man, is born on January 31, 1935, in New York City. He spends over half a century in sports broadcasting, and presents radio and television coverage of the Olympic Games since 1968 and the FIFA World Cup since 1966. By the time of his retirement he is the longest-serving sports commentator in the English-speaking world.
Magee is born to Patrick (Paddy) Magee and his wife Rose (née Mackin). The family returns to Ireland shortly after his birth. He and his three siblings are subsequently raised in Cooley, County Louth. As a child he is influenced by the sports commentary of the legendary Gaelic games broadcaster Michael O’Hehir. He recalls commentating as a seven-year-old for his next-door neighbour on a variety of imaginary games that the young Magee is also playing in. He also speaks of making up his own radio commentary in a field at a young age.
After being educated locally, Magee secures a full-time clerical post with Dundalk, Newry and Greenore Railway. While still working at the Railway he begins his broadcasting career. He starts out as a reporter for the Radio Éireann programme Junior Sports Magazine. Other contributors on the programme are Jim Tunney and Peter Byrne, former football correspondent with The Irish Times. On leaving his Railway job, he presents a number of sponsored radio programmes before concentrating on sport. He is a producer, presenter and script writer for Radio Éireann’s sponsored programmes in the 1950s and 1960s.
Magee and his wife Marie are married on October 11, 1955, and have five children: Paul, a soccer player with Shamrock Rovers F.C. (winning the League of Ireland Cup in 1977), who died of motor neuron disease, in May 2008, Linda (b. 1959), June (b. 1961), Patricia (b. 1962), and Mark (b. 1970).
Magee joins Raidió Teilifís Éireann in 1956. In 1966 he covers his first World Cup for RTÉ Radio. He does likewise for the 1970 FIFA World Cup before transferring to television for the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals. In all he provides commentary at eleven World Cups – his latest commentary coming at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Magee’s column or quiz appears in every single publication of the Sunday World since the first edition in 1973.
Magee is also a staple of RTÉ’s coverage of the Olympic Games. Beginning at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, he attends the eleven subsequent Olympic games as a commentator with RTÉ. In 2012, he commentates on the boxing for RTÉ at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, including Katie Taylor‘s gold medal-winning fight. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, he provides commentary on the football.
From 1987 to 1998 Magee hosts Know Your Sport, a sports-themed quiz show, along with George Hamilton. His broadcasting career also sees him provide commentary for over 200 international football games, 30 European Cup finals, multiple Tour de France cycle races, World Athletic Championships and boxing. He also narrates numerous videos on sport in general such as The Purple and Gold, Meath Return to Glory, etc.
A freelancer, Magee works for Channel 4 in 1994 and signs for UTV in 1995 on a three-year contract where a lifetime ambition of commentating on All-Ireland Finals is achieved. He commentates on three finals in both hurling and football.
Magee launches his memoir, Memory Man, in 2012. Some of his one-liners in commentaries have become famous or infamous, what are affectionately known in the broadcasting industry as Colemanballs after the famed commentating clangers of BBC broadcaster David Coleman.
In the emotionally trying year of 1989, Magee’s mother and wife die within months of each other, Marie dying at the young age of 54.
Magee dies on September 20, 2017, after a short illness. Many tributes are made to him including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who says, “His commentaries were legendary and based on a breadth of sporting knowledge that was peerless.” RTÉ Head of Sport Ryle Nugent says, “It’s hard to put it into words, the man meant an inordinate amount to so many people, I think he was the soundtrack to many generations.”
In 1972 Magee wins a Jacob’s Award for his radio sports commentaries. In 1989, he is the subject of a special tribute show on The Late Late Show. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the International Olympic Committee presents him with a replica of its torch.