Shedding some light on Dalymount – the true story of the Bohs floodlights

I love a good Western and among many great practitioners of that ultimate piece of cinematic Americana was John Ford, born John Feeney in Maine to two Irish-speaking immigrants. Ford was a man who knew how to mythologise himself and he did plenty of myth-making in his movies as well. For better or ill his film The Quiet Man has probably influenced the American view of rural Irish life to this day. While, his westerns are far from historical documents of frontier life for European settlers in the American west, rather they are among the founding myths of American exceptionalism.

Of course Ford knew this, in one of my favourite of his films, The man who shot Liberty Valance a world-weary newspaper man utters the immortal line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. Ford ackowledges that very Irish trait of preferring the entertaining story to the truth. And so it is with football, there are plenty of myths that grow legs, that persist to the present day despite constantly being debunked. I mentioned the old chestnut of Germany wearing a green away kit as a “thank you” gesture to Ireland in a recent post, but in this piece I’m going to address the notion that Bohemian Football Club bought the iconic Dalymount pylon style floodlights second-hand from Arsenal, and that these same lights once adorned Highbury Stadium.

The origins of the myth

There are several fairly authoritative accounts, including one on the club’s own website, that perpetuate the story that the lights were either sold or gifted by Arsenal to Bohemians. I had in the past shared this story on social media myself before doing a bit of digging on the subject. This myth seems to have arisen from the fact that Arsenal played Bohemian F.C. in an inaugural match for the new lights in March 1962.

Floodlight Arsenal cover

Cover the match programme featuring the newly installed floodlights.

This simple inaugural match has somehow morphed into a story that Arsenal sold the lights to Bohemians. There are a few ways to dispel this myth so lets begin with the idea that these were the floodlights that once adorned Highbury.

The Highbury dilemma

Arsenal began playing matches under floodlights from 1951, at which time league matches under lights were not even permitted by the F.A. they did however play a number of high profile friendly matches including one against Glasgow Rangers. While the glorious old ground of Highbury has since been turned into modern apartments large sections of the stadium received listed status and still exist.

Anyone who ever visited the stadium will likely attest to its architectural beauty, it was however, also known for the compact nature of its dimensions, including an infamously narrow pitch, well exploited by managers like George Graham. Simply put Highbury didn’t have the space for large pylon towers like those that stand in Dalymount today. In the photo below you can see Highbury Stadium from that 1951 game against Rangers. This is verified both here and also here on the official Arsenal website.


From this early photo it is clear that there are no floodlight pylons, all the lights are roof mounted. It is worth noting that this photo is from a mere 11 years before the lights were supposedly “sold” by Arsenal to Bohemians, which would mean that any floodlight pylons would have to have been installed after 1951, survived less than ten years, and then been removed and replaced by another roof mounted lighting system.

From later photos it’s clear that there were no pylons at Highbury and indeed very little space in such a tight stadium for the location of large pylon tower lights. The two photos below are from circa 1960 (roof mounted floodlights again) and secondly from the last season that Arsenal played at Highbury in 2006. As before, roof-mounted lights.



Highbury in 2006

The only connection between Highbury and Dalymount is that they are both tight grounds located in residential areas and that portions of both stadiums shared a stadium architect in the early decades of the 20th century, namely Archibald Leitch.

The story of the lights

The insertion of the Arsenal Football Club and Highbury Stadium into the history of Dalymount is really by accident. Bohemians had organised a fundraising subcommittee to look at the cost and feasibility of installing floodlights at least as early as 1960. It also quickly became clear that once the lights were ordered that some form of inagugural game would prove popular.

To be clear, the Dalymount Park floodlights were not the first set of lights used in Dublin. Stadium lighting was temporarily installed in Croke Park for the Tailteann games of 1924, while Ruaidhrí Croke has written recently about the first games under lights in Tolka Park back in 1953 when it was home to Drumcondra F.C.

However, Dalymount Park was the de facto home ground of the Irish national team and the lack of floodlights meant that international games had to have earlier kick-offs, even when scheduled for mid-week which had an obvious impact on crowd numbers.

Taking inspriation from another national football stadium a preferred design and supplier emerged after from a visit to Hampden Park in Glasgow who installed their own floodlights in 1961. In a report in the Dublin Evening Mail from November 14th 1961 it was reported that the contract had been signed with “a Scottish firm” for the lights and that these would take approximately three months to manufacture, transport and install. The firm in question was Miller and Stables of Edinburgh who, apart from Hampden, had also provided floodlights (or drenchlights as they dubbed them) for Windsor Park, Celtic Park, Easter Road and many others.


Original lighting console from Dalymount plyons showing the name of the manufacturer, Miller & Stables (pic Graham Hopkins)

Earlier in January 1961 an edition of the Irish Times confirmed that the FAI had accepted the recommendations of their own Finance Committee in guaranteeing major matches for Dalymount Park for at least the next ten years in order to assist with Bohemian F.C. in funding the purchase of new floodlights. Even by that stage the lights had been costed at £17,000 including import duty and transportation costs. This figure rose slightly when the lights were installed early in 1962 and were reported as costing £18,000 or even £20,000 according to one report.

The floodlights themselves are 125 feet high and originally featured three banks of ten lights on each pylon and a special transformer station had to be constructed to meet with the power supply demands. With the new lights it meant that mid-week games could be played in the evenings, for internationals this should mean bigger crowds and with Bohemians getting approximately 15% of the gate from international games this meant greater revenue for the club.


From the Dublin Evening Mail in 1961

Despite the expected future return on investment this was still a huge outlay for the amateur club. Initial notices suggested that the lights would be in place by September 1961, which was then extended to October and ultimately until February of 1962. In the words of Club Secretary Andy Kettle, as quoted by Ryan Clarke in his recent series on Dalymount, it also meant that Bohs could “invite many top clubs to Dublin from time to time”.

The first of which ended up being Arsenal, though they weren’t first choice. But before these glamour matches could be paid Kettle had to deal with some level of internal dissent from Bohs members about the level of expenditure and even had to engage in a little bit of what might be termed “crowdfunding” in the modern parlance. Kettle elaborated in the Dublin Evening Mail that the club had “approached their bankers, the Munster and Leinster Bank, their members, players, traders, FAI and League of Ireland for financial assistance”, before adding “Bohs are keeping open their fund and will only be to happy to receive any further contributions. No matter how small…”



The Arsenal Game

As Andy Kettle had hoped the installation of floodlights would help Bohemians raise additional funds by playing friendly games against some of the “many top clubs” that could be invited to Dublin. But the question remained which team should receive the honour of being first? There were suggestions from media commentators that Shamrock Rovers should be invited although the preferred option emerged as a game between a League of Ireland selection against a British based Irish XI. However, as this would require multiple clubs across England and Scotland to release players it quickly because clear that this was unfeasible.

Among the other clubs sounded out by Bohemians to fulfil this fixture were Sunderland and Leeds United, as well as Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers (both of whom declined due to FA Cup committements). Attention was then turned to Arsenal, Celtic or Wolverhampton Wanderers with Arsenal finally being chosen from that shortlist of three.

From this is it clear that Arsenal, despite being a famous First Division side were realistically a fifth or sixth choice on behalf of the Bohemian’s committee for the role of opponents for this inaugural game. Arsenal were ultimately chosen and played in Dalymount on at least their third occasion (the previous two being in 1948 and 1950) and fielded a strong team including Welsh international goalkeeper Jack Kelsey, George Eastham, and future Cork Hibernians player-manager Dave Bacuzzi. The Bohemian XI featured players like Tommy Hamilton from Shamrock Rovers, Eric Barber and Tommy Carroll from Shelbourne as well as Ronnie Whelan Sr. and Willie Peyton from St. Patrick’s Athletic.

Arsenal would ultimately win an exciting game, played in poor weather, 8-3. However, throughout all the media coverage during the build-up to the game and afterward there was no mention of any Arsenal or Highbury connection with the lights other than their being chosen as the opposition.

Maybe it is a little bit of an inferiority issue with Irish football fans that we’d rather believe that we bought the most iconic set of floodlights of any stadium in the country, second-hand from a big English club rather than believe that an amateur club, working in partnership with the League, the FAI and ordinary fans and players managed to successfully fundraise a huge amount of money for a major infrastructural project.

For me that’s a bigger story than any mythic historical connection with a defunct football stadium in London. But as they say “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” I’d rather it be shine your own light rather than bathe in reflected glory.


Three fates of the German League

In February 1956 the League of Ireland XI played an inter-league match against a team from the Oberliga Hessen, a German selection from the state of Hesse, home to cities like Frankfurt and Offenbach. Adorning the cover of the match programme is a photograph of a three-figured statue with a vaguely religious air and surrounding the statue are rows of men in suits and still others in uniform, all solemn onlookers. This photo seems incongruous with its subject matter, that of a simple football match. But perhaps it tells us something more about Ireland, Germany and the two country’s relationship in the 1950s.

Saint Stephen’s Green – Saturday 28th January, 1956

It was just over ten years after the end of the Second World War and on a cold January morning a crowd had gathered at the Leeson Street corner of St. Stephen’s Green park. Among their number was the 35 year old Minister for External Affairs, Liam Cosgrave, a future Taoiseach and opposite him stood the German Minister to Ireland Dr. Hermann Katzenberger, a man who had once presided over the upper house of the German parliament.

Katzenberger looked ever inch the stereotypical German gentleman, with his rounded spectacles framing a bushy Edwardian era moustache. The left sleeve of his suit jacket hung empty, tucked into a pocket, the result of an arm amputated when he was barely out of boyhood and serving in the trenches of the First World War. As a conservative Catholic he was a member of the Zentrum (Centre) party of the late 1920s and early 1930s but had fallen foul of Franz von Papen who sought to move the party further to the right and ultimately assisted in bringing Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. When the Nazis came to power they viewed Katzenberger as “politically unreliable” and saw to it that he was removed from any position of influence during their murderous reign.

But Katzenberger prevailed, after the War he was involved in setting up the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) which became the most successful political party in the country. As a man with a passion for writing and journalism he was also involved in founding the Neue Zeit, the newspaper of the CDU, but that was years earlier – Here he was on a winter’s morning in Ireland, just months away from his final professional posting, with his retirement on the horizon. He stood before a statue of three female figures, the Three Fates of Norse mythology; Urd (past), Verdandi (present) and Skuld (future), they who control the destinies of Gods and men.

This theme is laid bare in the bronze plaque that the men must unveil in front of the waiting dignitaries and press corps, written in English, Irish and German it states “This fountain, designed by the sculptor Josef Wackerle, is the gift of the people of the German Federal Republic to mark their gratitude for Ireland’s help after the war of 1939-45. The bronze group portrays the three legendary fates spinning and measuring the thread of man’s destiny.”

Stephen's Green plaque three fates

Bronze commemorative plaque at the Three Fates monument

Absent from the gathering was Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who had passed away some four months earlier, the vice-chair of the Save the German children campaign which had helped give safe and secure homes to almost 500 German children in the years immediately after the war. Lynn had spent some of her early education in Germany in the late 19th century, like Katzenberger, and like Cosgrave’s father – W.T. she had seen violence first hand, had seen what a bullet or grenade could do to a body. During the 1916 Rising she had been Chief Medical Officer for the Irish Citizens Army, stationed at City Hall. As she moved away from politics she had devoted her life to helping children, through her work in founding St. Ultan’s children’s hospital and later through her wholehearted support for offering respite for children in post-war Germany.


The Three Fates statue in St. Stephen’s Green (photo Gerard Farrell 2019)

It was these actions that were primarily in the mind of the sculptor when the words “Ireland’s help after the war” were cast in bronze. When Katzenberger arrived in Ireland in 1951 to present his credentials to Sean T. O’Kelly as German minister, the generosity of Irish families in offering to host German children, (some of them orphans, most of them merely suffering the poverty of a vanquished, rubble-strewn nation), was foremost in his comments. For O’Kelly’s part he referenced with pleasure the role that German scholars had played in studying and documenting the Irish language and folklore, and cited this as a particular tie connecting the two nations. The Irish President would later be awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. When the award was created in 1951 its stated aim was to acknowledge achievements that served the rebuilding of the country in the fields of political, socio-economic and intellectual activity, and is intended to mean an award of all those whose work contributes to the peaceful rise of the Federal Republic of Germany.

So much for the political and diplomatic context, now on to football. While the February 1956 game was not organised to coincide with the unveiling of the “Three Fates” statue in Stephen’s Green an explicit connection between the fraternal relations enjoyed between the two nations was made by the use of the cover photograph on the match programme.

This can been seen as part of an ongoing football and political relationship between the two nations stretching back at least to the 1930s. I’ve written extensively elsewhere on this blog (here and here for starters) about Irish football connections with Germany during Nazi rule and the problems that this raises. The post- war relationship is one that I haven’t covered as much until now.


1956 cover

Cover of the 1956 programme showing the unveiling of the “Three Fates” statue

There is a popular footballing myth that the West German National team wore a green away jersey for many years out of a sense of gratitude to Ireland because the Irish were the first country to play them after the war. This of course is not true, the German national team did indeed play Ireland in October 1951 (Ireland won 3-2 thanks to a goal by Drumcondra striker Dessie Glynn) but the Germans had already played Switzerland, Austria and Turkey during the previous year and a half. The more prosaic origin for the green away kit was that green and white are the colours of the German FA’s (DFB) badge, with the colours symbolising the green and white of the football pitch.

That the myth persisted does demonstrate the sense of a sporting connection between the two nations however, Ireland were the last country to play Germany before the outbreak of the war, at a time when the abuses of the Nazi regime were almost impossible to ignore (though ignore it the FAI did), and between 1951 and 1960 Ireland played West Germany five times in international friendlies, more than any other nation over that period.

From a League of Ireland point of view, more than six months before the international sides would meet in that October 1951 match a League of Ireland XI had faced off against the first visiting Hessenliga selection in a game that took place in Dalymount Park on St. Patrick’s Day of that year. The Hesse selection was only picked from two German clubs on that occasion, Kickers Offenbach and FSV Frankfurt, however this selection was sufficient to run riot over the hapless League of Ireland players, trouncing the Irish 7-0 in front of 24,000 spectators in Dalymount.

A further game against the Hessenliga was played in 1954, this time a well-taken, chipped finish from Drums’ Rosie Henderson gave the League of Ireland a measure of revenge for their humiliation three years earlier. There followed a double-header of away matches (in Frankfurt and Kassel) in 1955 with the Hessenliga winning both.

1954 lineups

Starting teams fromt the 1954 game

There was a return to success for the League of Ireland XI in 1956. A strong Irish selection ran out confortable 4-1 winners after the Hessenliga had taken an early lead. This was a strong selection from the Hessenliga with at least two full German internationals; Gerhard Kaufhold, who made his debut against England two years earlier and Richard Herrmann who had been part of West Germany’s World Cup winning squad in 1954, in the starting XI.

Apart from internationals there was good quality throughout the side, centre half Adolf Bechtold was a club legend at Eintracht Frankfurt where he was a league winner and club captain who also featuring in the European Cup. At centre forward was Helmut Preisendörfer, a prolific striker for Kickers Offenbach he had been called up by West German coach Sepp Herberger to the national team but never won a full cap.

1956 team

Starting line-ups from the 1956 fixture

The Hessen League actually took the lead through a Kraus goal in the first half. He was unlucky not to double their advantage as his powerful header hit the bar a few minutes later, however, before half-time the League of Ireland took the lead through Waterford’s Jack Fitzgerald who scored two in quick succession. Early in the second half Shamrock Rovers’ Liam Touhy made it 3-1 before Fitzgerald secured his hat-trick 15 minutes from time. Despite the comprehensive nature of the victory in front of the bumper crowd of 23,000 there was some controversy.

Many reports in the following days were critical of the performance of Ignatius Larkin the referee in the game, criticising an undue leniency towards the League of Ireland side, particularly an apparently obvious foul by Shay Gibbons in the build up to Fitzgerald’s second goal. Despite the suggestion of hometown bias it seems clear from the match reports that the League of Ireland were the deserved victors on this occasion. This was probably one of the strongest sides available at the time with Liam Tuohy, Eddie Gannon, Tommy Hamilton, Shay Gibbons, Gerry Mackey, Dinny Lowry and Ronnie Nolan all being present or future Irish internationals.

There would be one further game against a Hesse selection in 1960, this yielded yet another victory for a League of Ireland inspired by the brilliance of Alfie Hale securing a 5-2 scoreline but by the early 1960s changes were afoot in German football which led to a major restructuring of the league, by the start of the 1963-64 season a truly national top division, the Bundesliga was formed, eventually the regional leagues would give way to a national competition across the highest divisions in German football.

Why particularly the Hesse league was always represented poses an interesting question. Perhaps this was because of the German FA are based in the Hessen city of Frankfurt? Early reports ahead of the first game in 1951 suggest that the arranging of that match was quite a haphazard affair based on informal discussions after the arranging of a series of amateur boxing contests between German and Irish fighters. It seems that the idea might even have been something pushed by a couple of intrepid German sports journalists. Initially it seemed that a game set for St. Patrick’s Day would be unlikely. Even as late as February Kurt Schaffner of the DFB suggested such a game wasn’t expected to take place as it was in the middle of the footballing season, however, just a month later the first Hessen League XI made their appearance at Dalymount Park.

This snapshot of time gives an interesting insight into Hiberno-German relations, like the statues of the Three Fates they showed the past, present and future of a German nation and their football culture. From the past, the deeply dubious sporting relationship cultivated between the FAI and the DFB during Nazi rule, to a post-war present where a vanquished Germany tried to rebuild literally and figuratively and sought to rekindle associations with Ireland. This was done in a sporting sense through the numerous friendly games between the Leagues and the national teams, but also away from sport through the fostering of German children by Irish families, redevelopment of trade connections, and through cultural and artistics ties, whether through gifts like public art or through German support for the study and research of the Irish language and culture. These connections are at least tacitly acknowledge by the match programme from 1956.

It might seem strange for Ireland to have been in a relatively more influential position than Germany but that is to underestimate the scale of post war destruction. Of course as we know now the scale and pace of German rebuilding was rapid, both in economic terms, with the Wirtschaftswunder economic miracle as it became known, and in footballing terms with the triumph in the 1954 World Cup, but in the immediate post-war years these successes were far from obvious or preordained. The third fate, that of the future, was perhaps echoed in the “Miracle of Bern” victory in 1954 and in the creation of the Bundesliga, or even with West Germany’s role in the Treaty of Rome and laying the foundations for the modern European Union.


With special thanks to Kevin Haney for providing the images of the match programmes shown above and sparking my interest in researching these games. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @29Palmateer – he regularly shares excellent football history content.


The Dubliner who took the biscuit (Podcast)

As part of a regular series of articles that I was writing for the SSE Airtricity League website a number of my stories have been turned into podcasts, as read by Con Murphy. One of the most recent is this piece on the playing career of Luke Kelly Senior, father to the great ballad singer and activist Luke Kelly.

This podcast covers not only his playing career for Jacobs FC in the early years of the League of Ireland but also some family background and some incidents of his early life like why he got arrested for swimming across the Liffey or how he ended up in hospital with a bullet wound aged just 9.

Links below for both Soundcloud and Spotify


Indo hospital picLuke Kelly Jacobs


From top to bottom: Luke Kelly in hospital aged 9, Luke Kelly as a footballer in 1927, the statue of “Dubliner” Luke Kelly

Calling Captain McCue (Podcast)

A few months ago I wrote a piece for the SSE Airtricity League website about the life and career of Harry McCue Snr, a footballer for Bohemian F.C. Waterford United, Limerick and Sligo Rovers among others.  This came off the back of meeting Harry’s son Ken at a football history conference in Belfast. Ken is a fascinating character in his own right and was one of the founding members of Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI), and he regaled me with stories of his Dad’s many adventures from playing against German POW’s in the Curragh to coaching Paul McGrath.

That article has been turned in a ten minute bonus podcast as part of the Greatest League in the World series, with Harry’s story being read by Con Murphy. The links are posted below if you want to have a listen.

Calling Captain McCue (Spotify link)

Calling Captain McCue (Soundcloud link)

Oh the Cologne – a football weekend on the Rhine

Last month I finally ceased procratinating and managed to get myself over to catch a Bundesliga game, it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while but for one reason or another never managed to get round to actually booking. The last time I’d been in Germany when there was a regular season game on was way back in 2012, when I visited Berlin. There was quite the apetising fixture as Hertha Berlin has been relegated to the Bundesliga II and were going to face city rivals Union in a league game for the first time. However, the game was being played in Union’s Stadion An der Alten Försterei which at the time had a capacity below 20,000, no chance for a blow-in tourist to snap up a ticket so.

Certain things have to be considered when picking a game, avoiding the worst extremes of the German weather and potential sub-zero temperatures ruled out games in February and much of March so we settled on getting a game in early May as the season drew to a close, it gave a better chance of getting some good weather and being able to enjoy a few beers outside before the kick-off.

I was lucky in having a good guide for German football in the shape of my friend Brendan. Son of an Irish mother and German father Brendan grew up in Hannover where he became a season ticket holder at Hannover 96 before he moved to Ireland a few years ago and I managed to indoctrinate him into becoming a Bohs fan.

The itinerary we eventually decided on was to fly direct to Cologne, get a game at Rot Weiss Essen in the Regionliga West on the Saturday, before getting a FC Kóóln game on the Sunday and flying home that Monday. A good efficient plan.

This plan wasn’t helped by my bringing the wrong passport with me and having to book in a later flight to Frankfurt, meaning I arrived in Cologne several hours after Brendan. First things first, the bar, a nice unprepossessing, traditional local bar next to the apartment where we were staying in Ehrenfeld adorned with some FC Koln memerobilia, including a rather impressive portrait of the almost ubiquitus Hennes the goat.

To explain briefly, Hennes the goat is the mascot of FC Koln, although mascot seems too small a word, the club are nicknamed the Billy Goats on his account,  he appears on the club crest, looming over the other famous image of the city; its Cathedral, and is held in the highest affection by Cologne fans. He’s named Hennes after the former player and manager Hennes Weisweiler, the goat was presented as a gift from a local circus in 1950 and the manager happily adopted him and named him after himself. The current Hennes is the eighth incarnation since then and we did indeed get to see Hennes VIII on our weekend.

One of the other striking things about Cologne is the beer, the local brew is a light lager called Kolsch after the city, it is best drank on draft and is served in 200ml, test-tubelike glasses. The effect on someone more used to drinking by the pint is to lull you into a false sense of security where you convince yourself you’ve drank hardly anything when you’re well into double figures of the diminutive glasses. Usually the local bar runs a tab by marking a beermat to keep track on how many of these refreshing beverages you’ve had. They also tend to be pretty keenly priced, our local charged us a very reasonable €1.40 per glass. Drink til you make a profit lads.

Somewhat bleary-eyed we roused ourselves the following morning, the free-flowing Kolsch and welcoming locals had slightly dulled our senses but we had a game to get to in the nearby city of Essen. About an hour away on the train, wikipedia reliably informed me that Essen was Germany’s ninth largest city and we were off to catch their premier club Rot Weiss Essen in action.

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Rot Weiss Essen’s (literally the Red and whites of Essen) greatest claim to fame is being the hometown club of Helmut Rahn, the man who scored the winning goal for West Germany in the 1954 World Cup final against Hungary. Rahn had been a star forward for Essen throughout the 50’s, helping them to a German Cup triumph in 1953 and the league title in 1955. This was in the years before the foundation of the national, professional Bundesliga was set up in 1963.

The club are a long way from those lofty heights, financial problems in the 1990’s and again within the last ten years see them playing in the Regionalliga West, effectively a vast, regionalised 4th tier of German football. They do however possess a very impressive stadium, the Stadion Essen replaced the much older Georg-Melches-Stadion in 2012 and this modern, four-sided ground boasts a capacity of just over 20,000.

The game that Saturday was against SC Wiedenbruck who were struggling against relegation. With the season drawing to an end Rot-Weiss Essen, who were comfortably mid-table had little to play for, and it showed. We took up our spaces in the main standing terrace behind the goal, a group of locals quickly – and fairly directly – advised us that we were in their spot and should move further back. While the terrace boasted a few thousand souls the other stands were sparsely occupied, I estimated the attendance at no more than 3,000.

The “ultras” group did make some noise throughout the game, with my limited German I could work out that they were big fans of their goal-scorer on the day Timo Brauer, and their main chant seeming to be singing the clubs name along to the tune of Mike Oldfield’s 1983 hit Moonlight Shadow. So imagine “carried way by a ROT-WEISS-ESSEN!

This wasn’t the most enthrawling of games; Weidenbruck took the lead through a wickedly deflected own-goal, Essen equalised but rarely threatened and Weidenbruck had the better of the play and ended up deserved 2-1 winners. We took the opportunities during the various lulls in play to hit the bars and enjoyed the really quite good quality local lagers and the odd wurst. Both teams did try to play football and were technically adept but played at a deadeningly slow pace and seemed to telegraph every pass, all of  which looked like they had already been agreed upon on the training ground the previous day. The few moments of pace and creativity tended to come from Weidenbruck and generally created some manner of attacking opportunity as a result but these forays were disappointingly rare. As for the overall standard, my limited knowledge would suggest that either of these sides would have struggled against a decent League of Ireland side. That said, perhaps Essen’s apathy was simply a result of it being a “nothing to play for” end of season game against an opponent motivated to avoid relegation?

With the game over we went to a couple of decent local bars in Essen with a group of Bochum fans we’d met. Bochum were playing away that weekend and the guys fancied catching a game. They were also in the first flushes of young adulthood and had a drinking stamina that Brendan and I have long since lost. We somewhat sensibly turned down their kind offer of a visit to a house party followed by a local club night and got the train back to Cologne.

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Recuperating on the train back from Essen

We did get a second wind once we reached Cologne and did manage a few more Kolsch before ending up in a fairly uninspiring “club” but at least we got to plaster a few Bohs stickers around the place. Having survived our Saturday game and subsequent outings relatively unscathed (okay slightly in bits) we had to psyche ourselves up for the main event – FC Koln versus SSV Jahn Regensburg in Bundesliga 2.

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Koln were the Champions in waiting and already guaranteed promotion back to the top flight after just a year in the second tier, Regensburg, a Bavarian club had done relatively well that season, but it had just been confirmed that their manager, Achim Beierlorzer had agreed to join Koln for the upcoming season back in the top division which added a little bit extra to the atmosphere for the loud and colourful travelling fans.

Incidentally Regensburg is the Bavarian town the club come from while the “Jahn” in their name refers to a Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who was a 19th German nationalist who is seen as the father of the gymnastics movement. So there you go.

The Koln stadium is a relatively short tram journey from the city centre and both we and our hangovers got out there early to soak in a bit of the matchday atmosphere and also collect our tickets. The stadium is located in a huge swathe of green space on all sides and there was somewhat of a carnival atmosphere, plenty of food vendors, people having picnics, live music playing.

At the rear of the stadium are a number of well-kept public football pitches which were all well-occupied by groups of all ages and then further beyond the pitches stretched a large and picturesque public park where people were treated like adults and could have a beer and a barbeque without fear of censure. Imagine!

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After trudging for what seemed like an eternity to collect our tickets from a small office operating from a not-so-nearby hotel we got ready to head onto the terrace. Fortified with some beer and pretzels we felt a bit better and were about to take our position as nominal Jahn Regensburg fans for the day, through this did mean hiding my snazzy new Hennes the goat pin badge.

This was clearly going to be much different from the Essen game, the Rhine Energie Stadium was pretty much full a good thirty minutes before kick-off and even getting a good vantage point among the away fans proved a challenge. With the game kicking off there was something of a carnival atmosphere in the ground, understandable since Koln were already promoted, but many of their fans were far from happy. From early in the game right through to after the final whistle there was an array of banners held aloft by huge numbers of the Koln faithful in the opposite terrace criticising the board and their running of the club. Promotion from the second tier was something that had to be achieved but the fans explicitly viewed it as a situation they never should have been in in the first place.

The game itself was no less lively with Regensburg racing into an early lead thanks to a 7th minute OG. They doubled their lead before on the stroke of half-time as Koln had a player sent off and only seconds later they conceded a penalty. While they finished the half a man short and 3-0 down, but by that stage things were only getting started. Koln mounted something of a comeback through the unlikely figure of German international Jonas Hector who was playing at left-back who managed to score two second-half goals either side of a Sargis Adamyan goal for Regensburg.

On 76 minutes a frantic, 10-man Koln seemed within touching distance of an unlikely draw when substitute Anthony Modeste grabbed a goal to bring the score back to 4-3 but as they continued to throw everything into attack in search of an equalizer, and I mean everything, Koln were caught on the break by Regensburg with the Koln goalkeeper Timo Horn caught up the pitch the visitors had an empty goal to shoot into as they scored their 5th and destroyed any slim chances there might have been for a Koln comeback.

Still it wasn’t all bad for Koln, despite their defeat in a hugely exciting, frenetic game they still had the won the Bundesliga II and got to raise the divisional trophy on the pitch after the game. There was also some cheering and celebration when news filtered through that results had conspired to make sure that Hamburg finish fourth and outside of the play-off places. Der Dino, never the most popular club to begin with, must be getting very used to the enthusiastic application of the German concept of schadenfreude over the last couple of seasons.

As the Koln players lifted their trophy the lines of stewards were quickly bypassed and first hundreds and then thousands of spectators began pouring onto the pitch. Located as we were in the away end, a significant number of riot police kept us penned in and well seperated. The Koln fans however began by taking apart the goal nets as souvenirs before eventually the goal-frame closest to us collapsed under the weight of supporters climbing on top of it.

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We were eventually spewed back out into the stadium concourse and walked on towards the tram stop at the far side of the open green space that surrounds the stadium. No more than 15 minutes later we were back in Ehrenfeld and despite promising ourselves that we would do otherwise we ended up in a local bar after a quick dinner.

The Cologne locals throughout our short trip were friendly and engaging, and in this instance a request that we keep an eye on another customers dog led to a conversation about football (he coached a team playing in the regionalised 6th tier) and even the possibility of arranging a match against Bohemians.

So after years of procrastinating I got myself to a couple of games in Germany, plenty of colour, excitement and genuinly good people who love their sport, I’ll definitely be back.

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Freebooting around the rock of Gibraltar

Co-written with Michael Kielty

Given that Gibraltar are one of the newest members of UEFA you wouldn’t expect there to be much of a footballing history between the tiny British Overseas Territory and Ireland, but what if I told you there was a prominent footballer from Gibraltar playing in Dublin at the very dawn of organised football? That man was Gonzalo Canilla and he was a fixture on the Dublin sporting scene of the 1890s, lining out for both Bohemian F.C. and Freebooters F.C. as well as excelling on the cricket pitch.

Canilla was born in Gibraltar in 1876, he came from a pious Catholic family, with his uncle and namesake having been made Catholic bishop of Gibraltar in 1881. The younger Gonzalo was sent to England to further his education, where he attended the prestigious Catholic boarding school, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, and this is where his connection with Irish football first emerges. Among his fellow classmates were many young men from prominent Dublin families, including Oliver St. John Gogarty and the Meldon brothers George and Philip.

Gogarty found his greatest fame as a writer but was also a talented athlete, he was a strong swimmer and was also a Leinster Senior Cup winner with Bohemians as an outside right, while Phillip Meldon, one of the founding members of Freebooters F.C, became an Irish international footballer.  Freebooters, one of Dublin’s earliest clubs, were based in Simmonscourt, near the present-day Aviva Stadium and were also founding members of the Leinster Football Association.

Canilla, played for both clubs after leaving Stonyhurst for further studies in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. He even took his preparatory exams in Bell’s Academy on North Great George’s Street. Several students at Bell’s Academy had been among the founders of Bohemians in 1890.  It’s during this time that an 18 year old Canilla first appears for Bohemians as a full back against Athlone in January 1895. By then Canilla was also playing cricket for Phoenix Cricket Club. This was quite common at the time and many of his footballing teammates were also colleagues or opponents on the cricket pitch.  By 1897 there are reports of Canilla lining out for Freebooters and by the end of the following year he had formalised this by switching his registration to them, from Bohemians. The club, with Canilla in their side at full back finished in second place in the Leinster Senior League.

By 1899 however, having successfully completed his final examinations in the RCSI, Dr. Gonzalo Canilla departed Ireland for his native Gibraltar. Newspaper reports described him as someone “long and favourably associated with cricket and football” and that a “large crowd of sportsmen” gathered to see him off from Westland Row station to the strains of Auld Lang Syne.  In total Gonzala Canilla’s Irish sporting career lasted about four years which saw him play at the highest level in Dublin at the time.

Canilla married his wife Antonia in 1904 and they had at least two children. Gonzalo practiced medicine in England until 1916 then becoming the Rio Tinto mining company doctor in Huelva, Spain. He played competitive cricket in Spain and then recreational golf until his retirement, he passed away in 1955.

His grandson David Cluett was also a successful footballer, he won 69 caps as a goalkeeper for Malta, including an appearance in a 2-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland in 1989 as well as winning numerous honours in the Maltese game, primarily for the Floriana club.

Cricket team 1901

Dr. Canilla is in the front row holding the cricket bat


With special thanks to the Canilla/Cluett family for their assistance. This piece featured in the Ireland v Gibraltar match programme (June 10th 2019) and has also been shared on