Joe Brolly

Andre: A giant amongst men

DOWN County Board statement: “In January, one of our senior players went for an evening walk in the grounds of Abbey Christian Brothers School with his Labrador pup. As he made his way around the perimeter of the pitch in darkness, he slipped on a water bottle. This activated the floodlights, which are motion sensitive.

A number of our other senior players happened to be in the general Newry area and seeing the floodlights, naturally went to investigate. When they arrived, they discovered their team mate lying on the ground, with what appeared to be a nasty ankle strain.

Fortunately, mentors were walking in the grounds discussing Dr Fauci’s recent press conference and immediately attended to the injured player as his team mates gathered round.


At this point, one of the players fell backwards over a bag of O’Neill’s balls that had been left behind on a previous occasion. Some of the balls came loose, and rolled across the pitch. The players immediately went to retrieve them to put them back in the bag. It was at this moment that members of the PSNI arrived and understandably formed the mistaken impression that this was some form of training session.

We would like to point out that the fact the team manager’s car was parked in the school car park is because on an earlier occasion he had run out of diesel and the car had yet to be collected. We would like to compliment our players and support staff for their swift action. We would also like to point out that all of the players were wearing gloves in line with covid regulations, albeit Murphy’s gloves. Our thoughts and prayers are with our injured player for a speedy recovery. Due to GDPR regulations, we do not feel it would be appropriate to name him at this time. We hope this draws a line under this humorous coincidence and we can all now move on in the spirit of the Gael.”

No games again this week or training (except in Down and Cork), but you should watch Andre the Giant, a HBO documentary you can find on SKY documentaries. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Andre was the wrestler who transformed the genre, helping to create the WWE dynasty. Born in Molien in France, by the time he was 15, he was, according to his brother Jacques, “performing the work of three men.”

Billed as The 8th Wonder of the World, he was 7’ 4” tall and weighed almost 500lbs. Shortly after he arrived in the US, a promoter in Chicago called his manager and enquired about putting him top of the bill at an event. “What’s his stage name?” “Géant Ferré” said his manager.  “I can’t call a wrestler a giant fairy,” said the promoter. In that moment, his name was changed to Andre the Giant and a legend was born.

Arnie Schwarzenegger – eyes glowing (which is how everyone talks about this extraordinary man) – tells the story of inviting Andre to dinner after an event. “I said to him ‘I’m paying.’

He looked at me and said “I pay.” I said “’Andre I invited, I pay’. He picked me up, lifted me above his head, placed me on a piece of furniture and said ‘I pay’… He paid.”

I did not know there is such a thing as a wrestling historian, but David Shoemaker, who is one, described Andre as “the greatest drinker that ever lived.”

Better than the Bomber Liston? As it turns out, Andre could drink what the Bomber drank then drink the Bomber himself. With his size 24 shoes and gigantic hands, a beer was like an egg cup in his hand.

The wrestler Ric Flair says, laughing, “Brother, I was with him one night and he drank 106 beers. Yeah (shakes his head in wonder at the memory), 106 beers brother.”

Pat Patterson, another WWE Hall of Famer, tells the story of them drinking together during a tour. “When it was time for bed, we get close to the elevator and Andre drops on the floor and goes asleep. Manager of the Hotel comes over and says what can we do? I said call Triple A.”

Hulk Hogan chimes in “I was there. Next morning, we came down for breakfast and there he was, still fast asleep on the lobby floor.”

A number of the contributors describe his vast flatulence. Hogan says it was “like a deep roar rumbling through the room for 30 seconds.” Beloved by the other wrestlers, he was allergic to one of his colleagues, a showy, baby-oiled competitor called John Stud.

After a bout one evening when Andre had beaten him up badly, WWE CEO Vince McMahon says that Stud “came flying past me saying he’s going to kill me I need to get out of here” before escaping from the venue half dressed, Andre roaring “Baby Oil. Where is Baby Oil?”

Airplane toilets were too small for him. The flight attendants had to draw a curtain around him and give him a chamber pot. When he was finished, a crew member would take it away and empty it. Once he broke his ankle and had to go to the doctor. The doctor, Harris Yett, says “As he came through the door the room temporarily darkened. I never felt anything like it.”

He played the role of Sasquatch in the 6 Million Dollar Man. He was cast in The Disney movie The Princess Bride as the giant. Director Rob Reiner said “he auditioned for the part and I didn’t understand a word he said, but he was perfect.” He used to keep Robin Wright (Buttercup) warm during filming in the forest by cupping her head in one hand. She said it was like an enormous hot water bottle covering her head.

Reiner said “At 9 in the morning, he started drinking beaujolais. He drank 20 bottles of wine. He couldn’t fit on the horse. We had to lower him onto it on invisible guide wires, a 500lb drunken giant shouting “hello” at everyone. Everybody loved him.”

The truth is that he drank because he was in constant chronic pain due to his accelerating acromegaly. By the time he was 30, his body and coordination were degenerating and he did not have long to live.

He still had time to launch WWE with Vince McMahon. Hogan said of his fight with Andre at Wrestlemania 3 for the world title (there were 93,000 people in the stadium), “when I was introduced, the sound was so loud my jaws watered like I was starving and smelt food.”

Watching the scenes at Wrestlemania, it is striking to see how easy it is to manipulate the masses into believing anything so long as it is cast as a simple good v evil formula. Now, we see these same techniques being used for the destructive work of unleashing the forces of darkness into American politics and civic life.

The parts of the documentary dealing with his surrogate family and his daughter are unbearably poignant. As the end nears, it is impossible not to feel heartbroken. His body is still growing but his organs are not. He grows and grows until he dies. It is a story Oscar Wilde could have written.

As the documentary ends, his old friend and sidekick Tim White weeps, big tears running down his face. I defy you to watch this film and not to laugh, cheer, shout out loud and shed a tear at the extraordinary adventures of this gentle giant, who could lift Arnie one handed and drink Bomber Liston under the table.

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