TIME Personality of the Century
In the pantheon of 20th century giants, a number of names roll off the tongue for the top spot, but who would have thought of Ronnie O’Brien from Bray, Co. Wicklow? That’s what executives at TIME magazine in New York pondered when this man they had never heard of was topping their prestigious Person of the Century poll.
Back in 1999, Ronnie O’Brien was a 20-year-old footballer who briefly played for Middlesbrough before the Teesside club gave the plucky midfielder the boot. However, in a nice twist of fate, his sojourn on Skid Row was short lived as to everyone’s amazement, not least his, Italian giants Juventus signed him up. His diehard followers saluted such a turnaround in a most ingenious fashion – by clicking their respective mice. A lot.
The TIME 100 poll had been running for several weeks to establish the person who, for better or worse, had most influenced the course of history over the 20th century. Senior editorial staff drew up a 100-strong shortlist of obvious candidates – Hitler, Einstein, Mother Teresa – and invited readers to submit their own nominations to the magazine’s internet site.
Initially voting was as expected with Martin Luther King and Elvis Presley among the frontrunners. But then a mysterious flood of votes for Mr. O’Brien catapulted him to the top of the poll – and crashed the computer. In an effort to avoid the prospect of him beating off such august heavyweights as Roosevelt and Gandhi, TIME decided to change the rules and decided to remove what they saw as “whimsical candidates who do not fall within the spirit of the title”. Once again, Ronnie went from hero to zero, but by now he was getting used to it.
Only four years before, Ronnie O’Brien was stacking supermarket shelves in Ireland. He thought he had hit the big time with Middlesbrough and was reportedly “devastated” when he was released. He was, it goes without saying, “over the moon” when offered a five-year contract with the Turin giant Juventus. However, he’d peaked with the ink drying and barely got a game with the club who loaned him to AC Lugano then Crotone then Lecco before finishing up in Dundee, all without ever hitting the back of the net. His goal scoring duck egg was finally broken when he moved to FC Dallas where he scored 12 goals in four years.
In a remarkable piece of understatement, a Middlesbrough spokesman said after Ronnie’s departure from the club: “It didn’t work out for Ronnie here, but we wish him all the best for the rest of his career, though we think he’s still got something to prove before he can claim to be personality of the century.”