By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — "I must owe people a lot of drinks at this stage," was the reaction of a stunned young Wicklow soccer player to the news that he had provisionally been in the running for the accolade of being Time magazine’s Person of the Century.
Ronnie O’Brien, 20, from Bray, who is under contract to the Turin-based Juventus football team, leapfrogged over people like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Bill Gates and Adolf Hitler.
The former Middlesborough player was on course to be elevated from being Wicklow’s up-and-coming midfielder to being hailed as the most distinguished luminary of the 20th century.
O’Brien lasted about 12 hours in the top spot before being relegated to the touchline pending an inquiry.
It appears the player’s hometown fans turned out in force on the computer Internet to support their hero and he received thousands of electronic votes.
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It is not the first time the fans have demonstrated their loyalty. They previously rallied around to vote him the Most Promising Newcomer on the English-language Juventus website.
"My agent told me about it and my Mam told me. Over here I hear nothing about what goes on back at home," O’Brien told RTE from his base in Switzerland, where he is on loan from Juventus to a local club.
He couldn’t explain his brief moment of fame at the top of Time’s poll.
"Somebody is fixing something somewhere," he said. "Nobody has said a word to me about it. Nobody has said they have done it, gone on-line for me or anything, so I don’t know who did it.
"Not many of my friends use computers, so I don’t known who it could be. It was good while it lasted, very strange."
O’Brien’s ambition is not to appear on Time’s cover but to make it to become footballer of the year.
Meanwhile, the deputy editor of the magazine’s webpage, time.com, Mathew D. Bell, said O’Brien had shot to the top of the poll when the computer server holding the votes went down.
This happened just as the e-mails for O’Brien came in and all the votes which had accumulated for people like Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt disappeared at the same time.
"He immediately went to the top," Bell said. "He actually did pretty well. He got a total of about 4,500 votes, which puts him at present in about 23rd or 24th place, beating such people as Michael Jackson. He is not too badly for a lad from Bray."
He said Time realized pretty quickly it was some sort of glitch and computer technicians have quickly sorted out the problem.
Bell, who is British and had not heard of O’Brien, said there had been scratching heads at Time as they wondered "Ronnie O’Who?"
"We thought he was one of those young rising pop stars or an actor that teeny-boppers like and we hadn’t heard of," he said.
The magazine’s Person of the Century is to be declared on Dec. 27r as a result of an editors’ selection, which will be "informed" by the poll, Bell said.