From Dalymount to New York

Co-written with Michael Kielty

Certain things are hard to ignore, just as a ringing phone demands to be answered, the revelation that Bohemian FC had a sister club playing in New York in the 1920’s was something that I couldn’t put to one side after reading about it. I discovered an article entitled “New York Bohemian FC, USA” in a copy of the “Football Sports Weekly” newspaper from 1927 when carrying out some other research and being honest, it raised more questions than answers; Who were these men? How did they end up in America? What happened to the club? Were they even any good?

The original article mentioned some basics. Where the team played; the New York Oval with a stated capacity of 60,000, it mentioned that through fundraising the team had raised $1,000 and also listed the various players who had joined the club and in some cases short notes about their earlier playing careers. Most were ex-Bohs men but clubs like Seaview, Bedigo and Glentoran also featured. But first, it is probably worth providing a little historical background.

Irish immigration to the United States in the 1920’s was no new phenomenon. It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. Between 1820 and 1860 alone, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. While emigration slowed down in the 1920’s there were still significant numbers travelling across the Atlantic, leaving an Ireland that was economically depressed and still in the early stages of rebuilding after the War of Independence and the division of the Civil War.

The Bohemian players did not travel as professional players to the States, although plenty of footballers from Ireland would do this, rather they were clerks, actors, labourers and tradesmen in search of a better life who happened to be talented amateur footballers who sought to recreate their beloved Dublin club in New York City. The correspondence back to Dublin makes this clear. Letters were sent to Bohs’ trainer Charlie Harris and were later published in the Evening Herald. These letters came from Billy Cahill and Godfrey O’Rourke, ex players for Bohemians in Dublin but if their names don’t seem familiar it shouldn’t be taken as much of a surprise. Cahill and O’Rourke were mostly players for Bohemian’s “B” side, plying their trade in the Leinster Senior League, still that didn’t stop Cahill from perhaps exaggerating his prowess, with one report in America noting that he was top scorer in Ireland 3 years in a row!

Their letters do give some insight into their motives and ambitions. They mention that the new club had approximately 80 members and wore the traditional red and black of Bohemians. They had grand plans to rename the Oval where they played as “Dalymount Park”, and arrange a visit to play in Dublin which never materialised. O’Rourke did mention that one crucial ingredient was missing from their Bohemian vista, that was the absence of “The Hut”, then, as now, a favoured watering hole of the Bohemian faithful. As this was the United States in the 1920’s the prohibition laws made getting post-match refreshments that bit more difficult.

There were some more senior Bohemians as part of this ex-pat group, such as goalkeeper Freddie Mason who had played first team football for Bohemians and had even featured against a touring South African national team in Dalymount, half back Ernie Gillespie also had first team experience for Bohemians and among the forwards was Joe Stynes who had scored 11 goals for the Dublin Bohemians in the 1925-26 season.

Joe Stynes pic

Joe Stynes in his Bohs days

Stynes had come to soccer later in life, born in Newbridge, Co. Kildare he became well-known as a Gaelic Footballer, winning the 1923 All-Ireland final with Dublin. He was also an active participant in the War of Independence and the Civil War. After being captured by the Free State Army he was imprisoned in the Curragh Camp which is where he took up the Association game in the cramped confines of “Tintown” as the camp was known. While there he played with a teenage Jimmy Dunne who would later win a league title with Arsenal, become Ireland’s record goalscorer and also manage Bohemians. Such was his fondness for his new sport that Stynes defied bans from the GAA to line out for Shelbourne and then later with Bohemians. He moved to the United States in 1926 and worked for Cartier Jewellers but also appeared for the New York Bohemians and other soccer teams such as “Dublin United”.

The fortunes of the New York Bohemians were mixed, they played in the highly competitive New York amateur leagues and there was plenty of interest from the media about the club. For a practice session ahead of a game against top local side Galicia F.C. over 1,000 fans turned up to see the two Bohemian practice XI’s put through their paces. However, if one were to summarise their success of the NY Bohs on the pitch one could best describe them as solidly mid-table. While they possessed in their ranks some stars who would even play professionally in the States there were many players of a lower standard.

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Incidentally, Galicia played Bohemians as a warm up for a match against a prominent touring side from Europe; Real Madrid! The New York Bohemians continued on until at least 1929 in the New York leagues and several of their players, such as Stynes had longer careers for other clubs in and around the Eastern coast of the United States.

Indeed Dinny Doyle, the former Shamrock Rovers player recalled bumping into actor, musician and former Bohs man Bob O’Brien in the following circumstances “When only a short time in America, Dinny was playing a game in Boston when he was amazed to hear as he himself put it ‘come on Bohs’ and at half-time out trotted Bob O‘Brien, the old Bohemian player.”

While relatively short-lived and only moderately successful the New York Bohemians experiment demonstrates that the draw of home and of club is such a strong influence that over 90 years ago, men who travelled 3,000 miles from home tried to rebuild Dalymount in the borough of Queens.


A version of this article featured in the Bohemian F.C. match programme for the game against Finn Harps on 15th February 2019.


A legal alien? – “Foreign” Footballers in early 20th Century Britain

“The Ministry of Labour states that professional foreign footballers are not to be allowed to play for English teams. This ruling has been promulgated in the view of the unemployment throughout the country.” – these were the words of a 1930 English newspaper report. A modern reader might be surprised to learn that not only did the Football Association not have a problem with this ruling by Labour Minister, Margaret Bondfield (Britain’s first ever female cabinet minister); they positively endorsed it. The Council of the F.A. stated they were “not in favour of granting permission to alien players to be brought into this country” and a year later in 1931, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the effective rule-makers of the game, went even further and wrote this point into law.

This august body made up of representatives of the four “Home Nation” associations as well as FIFA stated that “a professional player who is not a British born subject is not eligible to take part in any competition under the jurisdiction of the Association unless he possesses two years residential qualification within the jurisdiction of this Association”.

This approach was not unique to football. The UK had introduced immigration legislation as early as 1905, in what was known as the ‘Aliens Act’. This act was in part a response to immigration from the Russian Empire into the UK, specifically into areas around London’s East End. Much of this immigration was from Jewish communities fleeing the upheaval in Tsarist Russian that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. This political assassination triggered waves of anti-Semitic pogroms and saw a large number of Jewish people flee their homelands, escaping potential violence but also searching for new opportunities and a better standard of living. By 1901 the British census recorded 95,425 Russian and Polish Jews as being settled in Britain. Further pogroms followed in Russia in the early years of the 20th Century which in turn prompted further westward migration.

In response to this new pattern of migration, the Alien Act of 1905 was instituted after pressure from the likes of the British Brothers League (BBL), an anti-immigration group with links to some prominent Conservative MPs. They campaigned for restrictions on immigration with the slogan ‘England for the English’.  The BBL had launched itself with a 1,000-strong rally in London’s East End in May 1901 and by 1902, even the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang,  then still a Bishop in Stepney, London, accused immigrants of “swamping whole areas once populated by English people”.

Anti-Semitism was very visible, especially in parts of the East End, as the Russian and Polish Jews became a prominent immigrant community, but there were also many Germans, Romanians, Austrians, Dutch and Chinese immigrants arriving during the latter years of the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th Century.


Plaque at the Alexandra Palace

By 1930 when the FA and the department of Labour were effectively banning the transfer of foreign players, the Alien Act of 1905 had been superceded by the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 and the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919. The 1914 Act was brought in after the outbreak of World War I and obliged “foreign nationals to register with the police, enabled their deportation, and restricted where they could live“. This act was used to deal with those members of British Society deemed “enemy aliens” and in a somewhat grotesque twist of fate some 17,000 German, Austrian and other civilians were imprisoned during the course of the war in the grounds of the Alexandra Palace, the so-called “People’s Palace” managed under a Public Trust for the free use and recreation of the London public.

The 1919 Act extended these wartime conditions into peacetime and further restricted employment rights of foreign residents in Britain, barring them from certain jobs while targeting those viewed as criminals, the destitute and so-called ‘undesirables’. Under this legislation, British women lost their British citizenship upon marriage to a foreign citizen, even if the woman in question did not acquire her husband’s nationality. For children born outside Britain or its dominions, citizenship relied on descent through the legitimate male line only, and was limited to one generation. This provides some context to the actions of the FA and the IFAB. Rather than being seen as aberration from the norm, their position should be viewed as part of the wider establishment viewpoint.


A British Brothers’ League poster

The player who sparked these restrictive actions was Rudolf “Rudi” Hiden, the Austrian international goalkeeper. Hiden had starred for the Austrian national team in a 0-0 draw with England in May 1930, which likely piqued the interest of Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman. The reports of the game, played in front of some 55,000 spectators in Vienna, heaped praise on Hiden for his agility, reactions, his exceptional talent for long throw-outs, and even his good looks. The same papers did however, note that Hiden tended to use his feet too much and was unused to the British habit of barging the goalkeeper, which was considered a foul on the Continent, but not in Britain. He was also praised for his very British style of sportsmanship; upon leaving his goal to help an injured England player to the touchline for treatment.

However, despite Chapman’s interest and a fee of £2,500 being agreed with Hiden’s club Weiner AC, the transfer never went through. On three separate occasions, Hiden was turned back by immigration officials at the port of Dover after they consulted their counterparts in the Department of Labour, who determined that Hiden had no right to work to Britain. Hiden had been a baker by trade in his native Vienna, and apparently Arsenal had gone so far as to arrange a job for him as a chef in London while also being paid on the books at Arsenal. This, however, cut no ice with the immigration officials, and his move to Arsenal never materialised.

Hiden did however get his move abroad, winning a league and cup with French side Racing Club de Paris in the 30’s. He was also part of the Austrian side that trounced Scotland 5-0 in Vienna less than a year after the Arsenal debacle.

The goalkeeping options available to Arsenal in 1930 present an instructive window into the views towards “foreign players” at the time. The 1930-31 season saw Arsenal frustrated in their attempts to sign Hiden, but they were successful in signing Dutchman Gerrit Keizer from Margate. Keizer had kept goal as an amateur with Ajax before moving to London where he worked as a greengrocer while playing on the weekends for Margate, where he was spotted by Arsenal’s scouts. Keizer was initially signed as a professional but after the issues with Hiden, the Ministry of Labour forced Keizer to continue as an amateur, first at Arsenal and later at Charlton Athletic and Queens Park Rangers.


Gerrit Keizer in 1946 (source  Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo )


Arsenal featured two other keepers around this time, one being Charlie Preedy, born in Neemuch, India in 1900 as the son of a British Army Artillery officer. Preedy spent the first seven years of his life in India before his family returned to England. Their final keeper was Bill Harper, a Scottish international who re-joined Arsenal in 1930, having spent the previous three years playing professionally in the United States.

The double standards were clear, Hiden was not allowed into the country and the fear was expressed that this would set a precedent for foreign players coming to Britain to take the jobs of British workers in the direct aftermath of the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression. Keizer was forced to play as an amateur and earn his living as a greengrocer. However those British players who chose to play abroad professionally as other professional leagues began to emerge (in the USA, in France and elsewhere) were free to travel and return home when it suited them.

The same went for coaches. Hiden’s international coach with Austria was Jimmy Hogan. During a hugely influential and peripatetic career, Hogan had coached club and national sides throughout Europe, from the Netherlands and Germany to Hungary and France.  This Lancashire-born son of Irish immigrants perhaps did more to spread the gospel of football around the continent of Europe than any other Englishman.

Hogan was not alone in this work as a footballing missionary, other English coaches were hugely influential in developing organised football throughout Europe and beyond, bringing through new generations of local coaches and players. Men like Fred Pentland in Spain, Ted Duckworth in Switzerland, Vic Buckingham in Spain, Greece and the Netherlands or William Garbutt in Italy. Britain helped give football to the world but some didn’t want the footballers of the world to come to the home of the game. The place that they had heard so much about from their illustrious teachers and viewed with such reverence.

Rudi Hiden of course was not the first foreign born footballer to try to play in Britain. There were a number of players born outside Britain who had managed to make appearances in League football. In the 1890’s there was Walter Bowman from Waterloo, Canada, who twice toured Britain as part of a North American selection and was signed by Accrington (then of the first division) in 1892 before later signing for Ardwick F.C., subsequently renamed Manchester City, where he played alongside the likes of Billy Meredith.

As an infant Max Seeburg was one of those thousands who made that journey west across Europe to London in the 1880’s. Born in Leipzig, Germany he made a solitary appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in 1908 before enjoying short spells with Burnley and Grimsby Town.

The early recruitment of foreign players was haphazard, and one couldn’t identify anything approaching modern scouting or indeed any sort of systematic approach to recruitment. A player like Bowman was selected because he’d impressed on a tour to Britain. It was a similar story that led to Liverpool signing three players from a touring South African side in 1924. One of those players, Gordon Hodgson, would score 233 league goals for Liverpool (including a still-standing club record 17 hat-tricks) during his 11 years at Anfield, before being signed by Aston Villa at the age of 32 for £3,000. Hodgson was a boiler-maker from the Transvaal who was the son of English immigrants and, despite arriving in the UK as a player for a South African national team, he would end up lining-out three times for his new homeland.

As with Rudi Hiden, players were also recruited after performing well in international matches or tournaments. Nils Middleboe impressed for Denmark against England in both the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, and became the first foreign international to ever play for Chelsea. He worked in a London bank for the entireity of his career at Chelsea.

By the time of the 1930 ruling, there had even been a couple of Egyptian players appearing in the Football League. Hassan Hegazi had played against British soldiers as a teenager in Egypt, and moved to London in 1911 to study engineering.  He joined non-league Dulwich Hamlet where he starred as a stylish and gifted forward, he made a single appearance for Fulham (when he scored) but decided his loyalties lay with the Hamlet in non-league football. Tewfik Abdullah had a longer league career in both England and Scotland after appearing for Egypt in the 1920 Olympics. He signed for Derby County and was referred to by one publication on it’s cover as “Derby’s Dusky Dribbler” before spending time north of the border at Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Second Division.

Either because of their status as amateurs, their parentage, or perhaps because their careers were not very high profile the players mentioned above managed to operate in British football prior to the Hiden ban.  The fact that Hiden was a high-profile international, and as an Austrian a wartime enemy just over ten years before, may have impacted on his application. However, his proposed transfer spurred the Home Office into action. Among their other targets were Aberdeen, Rangers and Hearts who were all contacted by the Home Office in 1930 about the presence in their ranks of a number of Canadians and Americans, the clubs were however able to point out in each case, that although the men involved had lived in North America they were born in Scotland and had at no point taken on any other citizenship.

A player who succeeded where Rudi Hiden had failed was Bert Trautmann. Like Hiden he was a goalkeeper and like Hiden he was a former wartime enemy of Britain. In Trautmann’s case literally so. Raised in Bremen, Germany, Trautmann was an exceptional athlete from his earliest days as well as being a fervently devoted member of the Hitler Youth from the age of 10. He was a paratrooper during the Second World War and served on the Eastern Front where he witnessed the mass murder of civilians by one of the infamous Einsatzgruppen death squads. After later being transferred to the Western Front he was captured shortly after the Normandy invasions.

Trautmann eventually ended up in a prison of war camp in Cheshire and was rated as a category “C”  prisoner which identified him as an ideologically committed Nazi rather than simply a soldier drafted into the German war machine against their will or despite their ideological beliefs. Trautmann gradually began a new life in England, slowly rejecting his earlier beliefs and surprisingly befriending an Jewish Army Sergeant, Hermann Bloch for who he acted as a driver, and eventually marrying an English woman named Margaret Friar. During this time he was also keeping goal as an amateur for St. Helen’s F.C., where he was spotted by a Manchester City scout and was signed by the club in 1949. As he’d been resident in Britain for more than two years and had been playing as an amateur this Iron Cross winning, Nazi paratrooper had managed to circumvent the restrictions on foreign players.


Bert Trautmann at Manchester City

Despite a protest from over 20,000 Manchester City supporters, Trautmann quickly won them, and the wider footballing public, over with a string of impressive displays. In 1956 he was named Footballer of the Year, the same year he played a famous role in City’s cup final victory when he continued playing for the final 15 minutes of the game with a broken neck after making a save from Birmingham’s Peter Murphy. In the space of a little over six years Trautmann had gone from a prisoner of war pariah into a hero and icon of the English game.

Despite occasional cases like that of Bert Trautmann, the effective ban on foreign players in England would remain in place until 1978, though Scotland took a more relaxed attitude in the 1960s, which saw a small influx of Scandanavian players immediately thereafter. The English football authorities were found to be in breach of the rule on free movement required by the European Community (EC), which Britain had joined in 1973. This EC ruling came only seven years after the UK had further amended it’s laws with the 1971 Immigration Act which meant that British Commonwealth citizens lost their automatic right to remain in the UK, and they now faced the same restrictions as those from other nations. Commonwealth citizens would in future only be allowed to remain in UK after they had lived and worked there for five years.

1978 became a watershed year for football transfers: Tottenham Hotspur signed Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, though the recently appointed PFA Chairman Gordon Taylor noted that this meant there “could already be two players out of a job at Tottenham.” Sheffield United brought in their own Argentinian in Alex Sabella, while Manchester City brought in Polish World Cup star Kazimierz Deyna.

This late 70s trickle of foreign players, however, did not turn into a flood. The rhetoric used by the likes of Gordon Taylor and PFA Secretary Cliff Lloyd was still very much language evocative of the 1930s and the Depression, and that every foreign player meant the loss of work for a British player. Lloyd warned that what started as a “trickle could finish in a deluge”, and that every “foreign player of standing in our league represents a denial to a UK player of a place in the first team”.

The FA, while complying with the European Community requirements, put in a number of qualifications: work permits would only be issued to “overseas players of established international reputation who have a distinctive contribution to make to the nation’s game”. It was, however, well into the Premier League era and the concurrent removal of player nationality restrictions in European competition before that large scale movement of international players to Britain would begin.

As Brexit approaches and certain ‘hard Brexiteers’ insist on a revocation of free movement that forms a core tenet of the European Union, there could be an opportunity to return to a type of footballing ‘Alien Act’. However, unlike the situation in the 1930s, it is unlikely that the FA, the leagues, or the clubs would welcome this. They could not so harmoniously support such regulations being imposed by government departments in the way their predecessors had. Despite almost 50 years of forced insularity, the English top-flight is now global in not only its players, but its fanbase, coaches, ownership and sources of revenue, probably more so than any other professional sporting league in the world.

It strikes me that some highly vocal advocates for a hard Brexit and the removal of free movement would feel more at home in 1930, sending a Austrian baker away at the port of Dover or insisting that a Dutch greengrocer living in London couldn’t earn money playing football. But Football has moved on from those times even if others haven’t. Britain helped bring football to the world, and looking at English football today you could say that football, in all its multifarious forms and wonderfully unusual manifestations has finally been allowed to come home.


This article first appeared in the Football Pink. The headline photo is from the mural that commemorates the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End.





The American Bohemians

I’ll be co-hosting a talk on a somewhat niche and under-explored part of my club’s history on Saturday 26th at 1pm in Dalymount Park, Phibsboro. It’s going to focus on the New York Bohemians Football Club as well as on the wider pattern of movement in both directions of Irish footballers and the United States of America.

You can confirm attendance through the event listing on the Bohemian F.C. Facebook page.  More details below.

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The American Bohemians

Long before Red Bull were founding branded football teams or Man City’s billionaire owners were creating sister clubs across the Atlantic and even before Pelé and the Cosmos, there was the New York Bohemians.

Come to the Members’ Bar in Dalymount Park on Saturday 26th January (1pm) to learn about who the New York Bohemians really were and what their lives were like.

This is a story of a motley crew of clerks, labourers and revolutionaries left the poverty and turbulence of Dublin in the 1920s for a better life and then tried to rebuild Dalymount in Queens.

The talk will be given by Bohemian supporters and football historians Michael Kielty and Gerard Farrell.

The talk is free but there will be a collection in support of the Bohemians foundation. Light refreshments will be provided.

Border points

While there has been a lot of talk of “hard borders” recently on a relatively small island like Ireland of just over 6 million people there has always been plenty of movement between north and south, for family, for trade and indeed for football. Ever since the the split from the IFA in 1921 and the subsequent political partition of the island a brisk two way traffic of footballers plying their trade North and South of the border has remained.

Of course Derry City exemplify this having been League of Ireland members since 1985, the “Candystripes” adopted their familiar red and white jerseys from Sheffield United, who wore the pattern and was introduced by their manager, the Donegal-born Billy Gillespie who was a legend in the Steel City after his playing exploits with the Blades.

Of course cross-border traffic isn’t limited to the border counties like Donegal and Derry, Billy Hamilton who had starred for Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup found himself as a player-manager in Limerick in the late 80’s. A similar role had been filled a few years previously by Tommy Jackson at Waterford. Jackson had won 35 caps for the North and represented the likes of Everton and Manchester United before he wound up on the south coast. He subbed himself on in the 1980 FAI Cup final to help Waterford beat St. Pat’s and lift the cup for the first time in over 40 years. Even the greatest of them all, the Belfast Boy, George Best popped up in the rebel county with a short cameo run of three games for Cork Celtic in the mid 1970’s.

In terms of record breakers one need only look at the name at the top of the League of Ireland’s all-time top scorers list, at the top with 235 strikes sits Derryman, Brendan Bradley. Despite having two spells at his home-town club at either end of his career Bradley scored the vast bulk of his record-breaking haul while on the books of Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers. Bradley topped the league’s scoring charts on four separate occasions but was not the only Northerner to finish the season as top scorer. Omagh’s Dan McCaffrey was top scorer as he helped Drumcondra to the title in the 1960-61 season, he hit  total of fifty goals in all competitions that year. In that same era the likes of Belfast’s Jimmy Hasty was banging them in for Dundalk despite having lost an arm in an industrial accident as a teenager.

At the other end of the pitch there have been plenty of successful Northern Irish net-minders who’ve plied their trade in the League of Ireland. Alan Mannus has recently returned to Shamrock Rovers for his second spell at the club, he’ll be hoping to replicate his achievements when Michael O’Neill (now managing today’s opposition) was in charge at the Hoops, when Mannus picked up two league winner medals. Two other curious goalkeeping cases involve former Northern Irish international Trevor Wood lining out for St. Patrick’s Athletic, Wood won a single cap for the North but had little connection there having been born on the island of Jersey and using lax regulations to declare for another UK country. The most famous goalkeeper in the history of Irish football is the great Pat Jennings. Born in Newry, Jennings holds the Northern Irish international appearance record with 119 caps, while he never played in the League of Ireland his son Pat junior has represented the Shamrock Rovers, Athlone Town and most recently St. Patrick’s Athletic. Pat junior was born in England when his father was lining out for Arsenal and was never capped by Northern Ireland.

The traffic hasn’t been one-way of course, Michael O’Connor recently scored the winner for Linfield in the derby game against Glentoran, he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Kurtis Byrne, Pat Fenlon and Davy Walsh in starring for the Windsor Park club. There are many others who’ve enjoyed success north of the border.

The continued prominence of players born in Northern Ireland in the League today can be seen today in the success of Dundalk. Would they be league champions without the abilities of their Derry triumvirate of Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney and Dean Jarvis? With all the talk of borders and division in the League of Ireland there will always be the common market of football.


This piece originally appeared in the Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland match programme November 2018


The O’Sullivan side – Part I

I’ve previously focused more in my genealogical inquiries on my father’s side of my family but there are plenty of stories and lore on my mother’s side as well. As outlined in earlier posts I do take great pleasure in a long Dublin heritage on my Dad’s side and there are plenty of Dub’s on my Mam’s side as well. This is just the first part of a longer series.

Family tree pic

Both my grandmother Carmel and grandfather Thomas were born in Dublin. Carmel was born in July of 1915 at number 5 Cowper Street near the North Circular Road. Thomas was born in March of that same year on St. Agnes Terrace in Crumlin. Thomas attended Belvedere College and upon leaving went to work in the New Ireland Assurance company as a 17 year old. Carmel attended St. Gabriel’s national school on Cowper Street and later worked in Pim’s department store on South Great George’s Street. The Pim family were Quaker business-people and their huge department store occupied the site that is now home to the Castle House office building, next to the George Nightclub. Carmel and Thomas were married on the 28th July 1941 in the Church of the Holy Family in Aughrim Street. At the time Nana was living around the corner at 24 Carnew Street while Thomas wasn’t too far away, north of the city this time, at 33 Swilly Road in Cabra.

Carnew Street

Carnew Street

Thomas’ parents were John and Ethel O’Sullivan. John was originally from Co. Cork, but we’ll come back him in a later post. Ethel was born Ethel Beahan in Ellen Villas, once a part of Emmet Road, in June of 1884. The family moved a number of times during her early life but stayed in the wider Inchicore/Kilmainham area. In the 1901 census the Beahan family were living at 10 Hawthorne Terrace (part of the Tyrconnell Road) before moving again to 3 St. Patrick’s Terrace, a terrace of fine red-brick, two-storey homes that survives to this day and is situated close to the Inchicore railway works. Ethel was resident in St. Patrick’s Terrace with her family at the time that she married John O’Sullivan in the Catholic Chapel of Goldenbridge in September of 1907.

The Beahan family home on St. Patrick’s Terrace, and their focus on the Kilmainham/Inchicore area was not by chance, Ethel’s father Thomas was employed in the Inchicore works as a clerk for the Great Southern Railways. Thomas had married Mary Meehan in October 1883. Mary Meehan (now Beahan) was a near neighbour of Thomas’s being only from down the road in Goldenbridge.

One thing that jumped out upon carrying out a little bit more research on Thomas Beahan was that unlike his wife, or his nine children who were all born in Dublin, Thomas the railway clerk was born in India. As a result it has been much harder to find information about Thomas’ early life but we know from his marriage cert that his father’s name was James and his profession was listed as a clerk.

What we know about James Beahan is that before he was a clerk he was a soldier in the British army, and it was while he was serving in India that that Thomas was born around 1857 though later documents such as the census of 1901 suggest the later date of 1859. We know from the British Army worldwide index of 1861 that James was stationed in Meerut, India which is about 70 kilometers northeast of New Dehli as part of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, a cavalry regiment.

By the time of Thomas’ birth in around 1857 James Beahan had already been in the British army for almost ten years.  Born in 1830 in the small village of Ballon, Co. Carlow he had joined the army as a 19 year old in 1849. This was still in the midst of the Great Famine and as James had listed his original profession as a Labourer, most likely a farm labourer, a stint in the Army would have offered decent pay and a chance for adventure as well as an escape from the horrors of the domestic situation in Ireland at the time. He joined up in Dublin and was initially he was part of the 6th Dragoon Guards, a cavalry regiment. In 1857 James was promoted to the rank of Corporal and in early 1861 he transferred regiments to join the 8th Hussars another cavalry regiment. By 1864 he had been promoted again to Sergeant and he remained at that rank and with the same regiment until he left the army in October of 1873.

James’s military records also provide us with some level of personal descriptive information, for instance we know he was 5′ 9″ in height with grey eyes and light brown hair. His commanding officer General John Charles Hope Gibsone stated that his character was “very good” and noted his attainment of good conduct stripes and a good conduct medal. In total he was in the British army for just over 24 years and served for 8 and half of those years abroad.

The 8 and a half years of service abroad consisted of a posting to the Crimean War with the 6th Dragoon Guards for a period of 11 months before spending almost 8 years serving in India. To try and put everything into the context of the geopolitical situation would take thousands of words but to summarise very briefly, the Crimean War began in late 1853 between an alliance that included Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire against the forces of Tsarist Russia. The War became famous, or perhaps better described as infamous, for it’s violence, the suffering of it’s soldiers and the foolish decisions of it’s generals. It also became associated in the popular imagination with a number if key events and figures. Florence Nightingale became a national hero in Britain for her commitment in nursing wounded soldiers, Leo Tolstoy was a soldier on the Russian side and his experiences directly impacted his literary works. Alfred Tennyson wrote his famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade which commemorated the braveness or the British rank and file cavalry as well as the foolishness and incompetence of their leadership that became features of the war. The charge of the light brigade was an action that was part of the larger Battle of Balaclava, itself part of the wider Siege of the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The 8th Hussars were one of the cavalry regiments involved in the charge of the light brigade but James Beahan had yet to join that regiment.

However James was present during the Siege of Sevastopol with the 6th Dragoon Guards after they were transferred there in 1854. They would have had to endure horrific winter storms where many men and cavalry horses died of starvation and disease. Indeed starvation and disease killed far more men than the Russian guns. The Siege of the great port city continued all the way through to September 1855 with the final assault on the city being made by a force of around 60,000 men, the British forces were originally repulsed by the Russians but the French forces under the command of General MacMahon (a French descendant of an Irish lord who fled to France after the Williamite Wars of the late 17th Century) managed to break through, ultimately forcing the Russians to abandon Sevastopol.

The defeat at Sevastopol was the beginning of the end for the Russian forces who sought to make peace in March 1856. We know that James’s regiment the 6th Dragoon Guards were involved in the Crimean War and from his records we know that he received the Crimean Medal and that as well as serving at Sevastopol he was also stationed in Turkey for a period during the War.

James’s regiment was sent to India in 1857 as part of the British response to the India Mutiny which began in the city of Meerut in May of that year. There were many causes of the uprising which began among the Indian troops within the armed forces of the East India Company, but one of the main flash-points was around the use of grease manufactured from animal fats on the bullet casings of the ammunition provided to the Indian troops. Islam precludes the consumption of pigs while Hinduism precludes the consumption of beef, the bullet casings, which had to be bitten to get them to fit properly in the rifles were reported to be covered in the grease from the fat of both animals. Many Indian soldiers saw this as grave mark of disrespect to their respective religions.

The Indian Mutiny was hugely violent and led to the death of over 800,000 people by some estimates when events such as famine and disease caused by the violence are taken into consideration. The British response to the Mutiny was extremely ruthless, especially in retribution for the incidents such as the killing of civilians by the Indian mutineers during the Siege of Cawnpore. There are even descriptions of British troops tying captured Indian troops to the mouth of cannon before blowing them to pieces as a form of execution. The legacy of the Mutiny was that the British Crown took over the running of India as a colony, rather than as an area to be administered by the British East India Company. Violence wasn’t constrained just to combatants and the whole episode was marked by the deaths of many thousands of civilians.

James Beahan’s regiment saw little action during the India Mutiny but he pops up again in 1871 and then again in the year of his discharge (1873), as he plays a small role as a witness in one of the most infamous and controversial court cases of the 19th Century, a court case dubbed the Tichborne Affair by the press. The case centred around a man who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy and family fortune, who disappeared and was presumed dead, only to return some twenty years later after a supposed shipwreck and a long interlude living in the Australian bush. Sir Roger Tichborne had been an officer in the 6th Dragoon Guards at the same time that James was serving. They had been stationed together in barracks in Tipperary.


Roger Tichborne

Many doubted the identity of the claimant. It was assumed the real Roger Tichborne had perished when the ship he had been travelling on had capsized off the coast of South America in 1854, however, others, including Lady Tichborne were convinced that the man who arrived from Australia in 1866 was indeed her long, lost son. Lady Tichborne died in 1868 and the supposed Sir Roger outraged many of her descendants by claiming the position of chief mourner at her funeral.

A civil case began in 1871 (effectively to decide if the claimant was indeed Sir Roger) but fell apart soon after, with the claimant being gaoled in Newgate prison for perjury. A criminal case began in 1873. James testified in both these cases and was one of a number of witnesses who claimed that the claimant was indeed the Sir Roger Tichborne that they had known from years before in Ireland.


Arthur Orton

All evidence seems to suggest that the claimant was in fact a man named Arthur Orton and that he had no connection to the Tichborne family, George Bernard Shaw, writing much later, highlighted a paradox whereby the Claimant was perceived simultaneously as a legitimate baronet and as a working-class man denied his legal rights by the elite. Whatever his true identity he had managed to convince James Beahan, his supposed mother, and the general public of his legitimacy as the heir to the Tichborne estates and titles. Arthur Orton (or was it really Roger Tichborne?) died in 1898, he was still infamous enough that 5,000 people attended his funeral. Such was the lasting impact of the case that a film on the subject was made in 1998 entitled The Tichborne Claimant featuring the likes of Stephen Fry and John Geilgud, though no actor is mentioned as playing the role of James Beahan.

James Beahan died two years later in 1900 at the age of 70 surrounded by his family in Dublin.



It could happen to a Bishop – John Curtis in faith and football

A Bohemian history of the 20th Century: An examination as to whether it is possible to write about the key events of the last century through reference only to those people who played for Bohemian Football Club of Dublin. A difficult task but the more I read and research, perhaps not an impossible one. Thus far there are Bohemian connections to the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War in Irish history, and in a wider context there were the global conflicts of World War I and II which I have mentioned in previous posts. But how about Chinese missionaries and the rise of the Maoist interpretation of Communism? Well to tell that story we have to go back to Dublin in 1880.

John Curtis was born in 1880, as the eldest son of Thomas Hewson Curtis and Margaret Curtis. Thomas was a clerk and later a manager in the corn exchange near to Christchurch Cathedral but as a youngster John lived with his family on Montpellier Hill its steep incline rising to the North Circular Road gate of the Phoenix Park where Bohemian F.C. would be founded in 1890 by a group of men only a few years senior to young John. By that time the growing Curtis family had moved the short distance to Blackhall Street, residing in a house next to the Law Society buildings at Blackhall Place which were then occupied by the King’s Hospital school. Eventually the family moved to Hollybrook Road in Clontarf as Thomas’ career continued to progress. The young John was educated not in King’s Hospital but at Benson’s Grammar School in Rathmines which was founded by Rev. Charles William Benson on the lower Rathmines Road, the school also educated the likes of George Russell (AE) and members of the Bewley family.  John then graduated to study in Trinity College Dublin.

It was around this time that a teenage John Curtis first made an appearance for Bohemians. He appears in the first team in the 1897-98 season. He played most of his games for the club at inside-left, and in that first season his partner at outside-left was none other than Oliver St. John Gogarty. The pair starred together as Bohemians won the 1897-98 Leinster Senior Cup final, defeating Shelbourne 3-1 while also progressing to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.

The following season showed a similar pattern, another Leinster Senior Cup win and another lost Irish Cup semi-final (this time to Linfield) for the Bohs and John Curtis. Though not yet 20 Curtis was already a star player, in the 18 games he played that season he scored an astonishing 21 goals. Bohemians wouldn’t join the Irish league until the 1902-03 season so Cup competitions such as the Leinster Senior Cup and the Irish Cup, as well as the Leinster Senior League, would have taken precedent at the time and Bohemians were clearly the strongest side outside of Ulster at that juncture.

The 1899-1900 season saw further progress in the Irish Cup, this time Bohs got all the way to the final. John Curtis was instrumental in getting them there, scoring a vital equalising goal in the semi-final against Belfast Celtic before Herbert Pratt scored the winner in a match played in the Jones Road sports ground, now better known as Croke Park. John lined out against Cliftonville in the final in Grosvenor Park in Belfast in front of 5,500 spectators. Alas it didn’t turn out to be a first cup win for Bohemians.

Bohs had made it to the cup final once before in 1895 when they were hammered 10-1  by Linfield, but the 1900 final was to be a much closer affair with Bohs being defeated 2-1 with George Sheehan getting the goal for the Dublin side. The newspaper reports described a tight game with Bohs deemed to have been highly unlucky to lose, indeed many observers thought that Cliftonville’s second goal was a clear offside. Matters weren’t helped by four Bohemian players picking up knocks during the course of the match.

On a personal note for John Curtis it seemed that just a week prior to the Irish Cup final  he might be honored with an international cap. A first ever international game was to be staged in Dublin’s Lansdowne Road and Andrew Gara, the Roscommon born, Preston North End forward was earmarked for a spot in the Irish attack, however just days before the game Gara was injured and the Irish Independent reported that his place was to be awarded to John Curtis. This didn’t come to pass however, the sole Dubliner in the line-up was John’s team-mate George Sheehan who was given the honour of captaining Ireland in a 2-0 defeat to England. The closest John would come to an international cap would be representing Leinster in an inter-provincial game that season against an Ulster selection.

While John Curtis would continue to line out for Bohemians his appearances were reduced in number over the coming years, he had sporting commitments with Trinity College as well, representing them in as a footballer in the Irish Cup while also enjoying games of Rugby.

Bohs with Sloan Crozier

John Curtis is the big bloke with the moustache and his arms folded in the back row.


He features in a team photo from the 1902 Leinster Senior Cup winning photo but lined out for the club less frequently, he did appear in a couple of prestigious friendly matches in the early years of the century however, when Bohemians were keen to invite the cream of British football to their new home in Dalymount Park. John played against Celtic in 1901 and against Bolton Wanderers the following year.

By 1903 John had finished his studies in Trinity College and was ordained as a Reverend, his first parish being that of Leeson Park in Ballsbridge. By this stage his two younger brothers Edward (Ned) and Harry were both playing for Bohemians, though with less distinction than their older brother.

While his footballing life might have been coming to somewhat of an early close the even more remarkable parts of John Curtis’ story were only beginning. After only three years in his Dublin parish John Curtis was setting sail for missionary work in China and embarking on a whole new chapter in his life.

John was bound for the Chinese province of Fujian on the southwest coast of the country. The first Protestant missionaries had only begun working in China in 1807 and among the early missionaries was another Irishman, William Armstrong Russell who arrived in China in the 1840’s. Despite these earlier arrivals John’s journey was still very much a leap into the unknown and certainly a long way from leafy south- Dublin parish work.

John arrived in Fujian in 1906 and later, while working there met fellow missionary Eda Stanely Bryan-Brown, she had been born the daughter of a clergyman in Australia, and in 1914 they were married. In 1916, – perhaps out of a sense of duty? – John returned to Europe in the midst of War, this meant separation from his wife and his missionary work. Curtis joined the British Army Chaplains and shared the dangers of the combat troops in trenches and on battlefields. He spent time in Greece and also would have ministered to members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during his service. As one journalist who knew him well observed of his character “one cannot picture him holding back from that cataclysm”. Indeed despite his obvious religious devotion most descriptions of John Curtis focus strongly on his energy and fearlessness, whether on the sports ground, or the battlefield or in his missionary work.

Luckily John survived the War and in 1919 received the Victory medal, however he swiftly returned to his work in China. Since arriving in China in 1906 John had witnessed crowning of the child emperor Puyi in 1908 as well as his forced abdication, the end of Imperial rule, and the founding of the Republic of China just a few years later. His post-war return witnessed further upheaval. In 1927 John and his missionaries would no doubt have been aware of the first major engagements of the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (or KMT, the major political party of the Republic) and the Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party. There was a major battle for control of the city Nanchang in the neighbouring province of Jiangxi which ultimately saw the Communist forces flee in defeat, many of their surviving troops marched hundreds of miles to take refuge in Fujian, the province where John and his family were living.

By this stage John and Eda had become parents to a son, John Guy Curtis in 1919, Arthur Bryan Curtis in 1924 and followed by a sister, Joan. It was a restless time to have a new family but there was further change for John as in 1929 he became Bishop of Zhejiang, replacing his fellow Dubliner Herbert Moloney. This meant that John and Eda moved to the beautiful city of Hangzhou, referred to by some at the time as the “Venice of the east” due to its location on the Grand Canal of China and sections of the Yangtze river delta. By this stage Eda had brought the children to England in 1927 to live with one of her brothers though both parents visited every year up until the outbreak of the Second World War. In their young lives the children had witnessed a great deal of violence. Joan recalled as a four year old hearing “soldier and their cannon” from the Missionary school. On another occasion in 1922 Eda and her two young children were obliged to undertake a long journey up river, during the course of which her oldest son John  by then only three years old at the time developed laryngeal diphtheria. When it looked like he might succumb to his illness she was forced to perform a tracheotomy, her only instruments being a pen-knife and some hair-pins. It was perhaps not surprising that the calm of rural England would seem a better place for the children to grow up.

Drama and upheaval followed the Curtis family to this new setting of Hangzhou  and as Christmas 1937 approached so too did the forces of Imperial Japan. The Second Sino-Japanese war had broken out that summer and on Christmas day 90,000 Japanese troops entered Hangzhou after fierce fighting. A week earlier the Japanese had advised all foreign consuls to evacuate any of their citizens from the area due to the danger of the fighting, in all there were only 31 foreigners in Hangzhou in 1937 and John Curtis was the only Irishman.

Journalist and Church of Ireland priest, Patrick Comerford notes that “living conditions deteriorated in the city, Curtis constantly visited the hospitals, medical camps and refugees, his overcoat pockets bulging with bottles of milk for the children. On what he called his ‘milk rounds,’ he also shepherded large numbers of frightened women and children to the safety of the refugee camps.”

He continued to administer to his Church’s followers throughout his vast diocese despite the restrictions caused by the Japanese invasion, and the subsequent outbreak of World War II.  By September 1942 more than nine months after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour many missionaries were called in for questioning. John Curtis was arrested in November and taken to the Haipong Road Camp in Shanghai and then held in Stanley Internment Camp, Hong Kong. Comerford writes that on one occasion, “the Japanese threatened to shoot him if he continued to criticise their treatment of his fellow prisoners, but it was said that in internment he was a great asset to the morale of the camp.”

The Curtis’s would remain in prison of war camps for the remainder of the War, it was in such a camp that they would learn of the death of their oldest son John, in January 1943. John, whose life Eda had saved as a toddler, was only 23 when he died in a flying accident while on service as an RAF pilot. When finally released from the camp at the end of the war both John and Eda were in their 60’s and had suffered cruelly during their captivity. Eda had continued her medical work, helping other prisoners inside the  camp and her thoughts were about returning to Hangzhou to continue her work at the mission hospital, which they managed to do with support from the Red Cross. After the war more missionaries did come out to China from Ireland and Britain however their work was made increasingly difficult under the rule of Chairman Mao Zedong. Eventually in 1950 John and Eda left China for the last time and returned to England.

John became a vicar in the small village of Wilden, north east of Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire before he eventually retired to Leamington in 1957 at the age of 77. Although struggling with arthritis it was noted that he remained in good spirits when in conversation with his old friends, and he kept in contact with his many old acquaintances and was eager for news from Dublin, indeed he had continued to visit Dublin regularly even while working in China. John was highly thought of as a  missionary and often during his returns to Dublin he was asked to speak about his work and travels. And despite the passing of time his reputation as one of the best Irish footballers of his generation lived on for decades as well.

John passed away suddenly in 1962 and Eda died just 18 months later. They had truly lived full, dramatic and difficult lives. Their daughter Joan got married and ended living in Sligo while their surviving son Arthur Bryan Curtis, who had studied at Oxford and also served in World War II ended up emigrating to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to become a school headmaster.

The sporting connection begun with John Curtis all those years ago for Bohemians continued with his son. John had been a handy Rugby player in his Trinity days and Arthur Bryan also excelled with the oval ball, playing for Oxford University and London Irish. In 1950 he won three Irish international caps as a flanker. Arthur’s son David also represented Ireland at Rugby, winning 13 caps and appearing as a centre during the 1991 Rugby World Cup, David was also a useful cricket player and represented Oxford University in that sport. Continuing a family tradition David’s sons Angus and Graham are currently playing Rugby with Ulster and Angus has already been capped for Ireland  at under-20 level.

But however exceptional the sporting careers of the younger Curtis men might be it cannot match the drama of their ancestor, the famous Bohemian John Curtis, or his wife the fearless Doctor, Eda Stanley Curtis.


Many thanks to Stephen Burke for providing information on John Curtis’s playing career. Also for more on Irish missionaries in China check out Patrick Comerford’s blog.

The tail-gunner at full-back

Bohs during the War years

At the outbreak of the Second World War League football ceased in Britain almost immediately, the 1939-40 League season was only three games old when it was suspended and a full league season wouldn’t be completed until the end of the 1946-47 season. This robbed many talented players of the peak years of their careers. However, in neutral Ireland football continued as usual, or as usual as possible in the midst of a bloody and truly global conflict. There may have been food and petrol rationing but the early and mid-40’s gave the League of Ireland one of it’s most dominant ever sides, Cork United, who won the league five times between 1940 and 1946.

For Bohemian F.C. the 40’s weren’t to be their most successful era, victory in the League of Ireland Shield in 1939 and an Inter-city cup win in 1945 were pretty much all that the era provided in terms of silverware but as always the club was developing players who would rise to prominence elsewhere. While I’ve written previously about the likes of the famous O’Flanagan brothers perhaps a less well known story is of Paddy Ratcliffe, a talented full-back for Bohemians who enjoyed a good career in the English League, but by even having a career at all he had cheated death and defied the odds.

From the printers to Dalymount

Patrick Christopher Ratcliffe, better known simply as Paddy Ratcliffe was born in Dublin on New Years Eve 1919. Paddy was the son of Bernard and Bridget Ratcliffe. Bernard was a postman but he had also served in the British Army, joining at the age of 18 in 1904 and serving in the Royal Artillery. He later rejoined to serve during World War I.

Patrick first appears on the footballing radar as a player for Hely’s F.C. which was likely the works team of Hely’s stationers and printers of Dame Street. Hely’s were a large and prominent business in Dublin at the time and as well as selling stationery they also had a line in sporting goods, so you could buy a tennis racquet or fishing rod along with your pens and ink. Hely’s is also mentioned in Ulysses as a former place of employment for Leopold Bloom.

Paddy Ratcliffe is mentioned as having left Hely’s F.C. to sign for Bohemians in August 1939, he made his first team debut the following month in a 2-1 win over Jacob’s in the Leinster Senior Cup. The League season began in November of 1939 and Paddy was an ever-present as Bohs playing all 22 games at left-back games as Bohs finished eighth that year. He was also part of the Bohemians side that defeated Sligo Rovers to win the league of Ireland Shield for 1939-40. The following season saw significant improvement in the league with Bohemians finishing third, Paddy played 25 games across all competitions but only 10 in the league, the reason for this fall in appearance numbers had nothing to do with a loss of form however, because in 1941 Paddy Radcliffe joined the RAF to fight in the Second World War. Newspaper reports announced in April 1941 that Paddy had played his last game for Bohemians, and like his father before him he was off into the violent theatre of global conflict.

Paddy the POW

Paddy joined the RAF and became the tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber, Paddy’s role as a tail-gunner saw him sit in an exposed turret at the very rear of the plane, operating four heavy machine guns which would play a crucial role in the defence of these heavy bomber planes. It was also an incredibly dangerous job, the tail-gunner was a particularly vulnerable target to lighter, more maneuverable, fighter plans, there were risks of frostbite from flying at such high altitude often with open panels, and the small, cramped rear turret could be awkward to escape from in the event of an emergency.


A tail-gun turret from a Lancaster bomber (source wikipedia)

Not everyone came home from the Lancaster bombing raids over Germany,  for example the Lancaster was the main bomber used in the famed Dambusters attacks of Operation Chastise in May 1943. Of the 19 Lancaster bombers deployed eight were shot down over Germany. A similar fate befell Flight Sergeant Paddy Ratcliffe during one of those bomber missions when his plane was shot down over Germany. Paddy was lucky to survive as he had two Nazi bullets in his leg but he was destined to see out the War as a POW in Stalag 357 in North-western Germany. In these particular POW camps over 30,000 prisoners (the vast majority of them Soviet prisoners) died over the course of the War.

Irish newspaper reports from September 1943 even went so far as to express remorse at his death as it must likely have been assumed that Paddy and his crew had perished over Germany.  We don’t know if even his family knew he had survived. But thankfully Paddy did survive the war and after hostilities had ceased he was straight back into the Bohemians team for the 1945-46 season. While playing usually in the position of left-back he also lined out as both an inside left and scored his only goals for Bohemians in a Shield game from that position.


A Lancaster Bomber ( source wikipedia)

A return to football

Ratcliffe’s performances in the early part of the season were impressive enough to secure a move across the water to Notts County as they prepared for a return to post war football. Notts County’s manager was Major Frank Buckley who had known Ratcliffe’s first manager at Bohemians, George Lax. Like Ratcliffe, Lax had also joined the RAF during the War. Perhaps it was on the recommendation of George Lax that Ratcliffe was signed? Paddy may also have come to their attention from playing wartime matches as there are reports of him lining out for the likes of Rochdale during 1942.

Either way, his spell with Notts County was short, by the time the first full, post-war league season was underway in 1946-47 Paddy had signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He joined Wolves as part of a deal that also brought forward Jesse Pye to Moulineux for a combined fee of £10,000. Pye would enjoy great success at Wolves scoring 90 times for them, including a brace in the FA Cup final which brought the cup to the black country. He was even capped for England in the famous Goodison Park game when they were defeated 2-0 by Ireland. Paddy, however, would only make two appearances in the English top flight before moving to Plymouth for the 1947-48 season.

This meant that Paddy had to drop down to Division Two to ensure more first team football. He made his Plymouth debut on the opening day of the season in August 1947 against Newcastle in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 in St. James’s Park. Paddy’s first two seasons were ones of mixed fortunes, he played only 25 league games in his first two years, and while he got a better run of games in the 1949-50 season (playing 21 games) Plymouth finished second bottom of the Second Division and were relegated to Division Three South.

Success and a first taste of the Big Apple

Despite the relegation the following seasons were some of Paddy’s best, he became the undisputed first choice as a right-back and began to contribute goals as well, becoming a regular penalty taker for the side. In the 1951-52 season Plymouth Argyle finished as Champions in Division Three South and kept clear of relegation when back in the Second Division. In fact Plymouth came fourth in the second tier in 1952-53 with Paddy as a regular. This remains Plymouth’s best ever league finish.

In the 1953-54 season there were greater challenges for Plymouth, they finished in 19th place in Division Two, only three points clear of relegation but they did take part in an ambitious end of season tour to eight cities across the the USA. Paddy boarded the Ile de France at Southampton on the 27th April 1954 and set sail for New York. The Plymouth Argyle tour would see them face local sides like Simpkins of St. Louis, the Chicago Falcons and various “All-Star” teams, as well as randomly playing two games against Borussia Dortmund in Chicago and then Los Angeles. The games against Dortmund were the only games which Plymouth lost on their tour where they racked up easy wins including a 16-2 trouncing of a supposed “All-Star” team in Denver. The tour ran through to the beginning of June when the Argyle signed off their visit with a 1-0 win over a New York All-Stars team in Astoria, Queens.

A short quote from “Irish soccer player” Paddy Ratcliffe appeared in the Big Spring Daily Herald of West Texas in June of 1954 where he asked what his impressions were of the United States. A somewhat wide-eyed Paddy described his experiences as follows: “Every city I’ve seen is like London at rush hour. Life here is a bit too strenuous for me. You Americans don’t take holidays. You don’t relax and lounge around. But you seem to have more fun. At home we’re in bed by 11. That’s when you people are going out”.  An interesting first impression as we’ll later see.

The 1954-55 season was another tough one for Plymouth. They escaped the drop by a single place. The 1955-56 season was to be Paddy’s last in English football, he had been a regular up until this point but by the start of the season he was 35 years old and new manager Jack Rowley (a superstar as a player in his time with Manchester United) preferred others in the full-back berths. Paddy would only make 8 appearances that season as Plymouth were again relegated from Division Two. In all he had made 246 appearances and scored 10 goals for the Pilgrims.

Despite spending most of his career playing at a decent standard Paddy was never selected for Ireland, this is especially surprising given his versatility in either full back position. There were some suggestions that he should be called up aired in the newspapers, in the Dublin Evening Mail in 1953 and from “Socaro” the football correspondent in the Evening Press.  The Irish selectors had the chance to watch Paddy in the flesh when he lined out one final time for Bohemians in May 1952. He was playing in a memorial match for the Jimmy Dunne, the legendary Irish striker who died suddenly in 1949. Dunne had played and coached Shamrock Rovers but had also been Paddy’s coach during his last spell with Bohs in 1945.  A Rovers XI played a Bohs XI in Dalymount just before a national squad was picked for the upcoming game against Spain but Paddy never got a call up. Guesting for that Bohs XI were the likes of Tom “Bud” Aherne and goalkeeper Jimmy O’Neill who did feature in the heavy 6-0 defeat to Spain just two weeks later.

In America

While he may never have gotten that cap for Ireland and his career in England had come to an end with Plymouth this wasn’t the final act in Paddy’s footballing career. The tour of the United States had obviously made a big enough impact on Paddy and he decided to up sticks and move to the United States with his young family. Paddy had married a Dublin woman named Olive Privett in 1946 and they set off for a new life in Los Angeles in 1957. They moved to the Lawndale area of Los Angeles with their four children (two girls and two boys) and Paddy began a career in the printing business, becoming print foreman of Palos Verdes newspapers and occasionally penning articles in its pages about the beautiful game. Paddy also continued playing for a Los Angeles Danish side well after his 40’s birthday, only hanging up his boots in 1962. He was also involved in coaching young American talent in football of the association variety. He even took time to catch up with former professional colleagues when they visited the United States, entertaining his old adversary Stanley Matthews when he was on a tour of America.


Paddy going for a header on the soccer pitches of Los Angeles

Despite being somewhat of an evangelist for soccer in the States, Paddy’s son Paul shone as a varsity American football player, lining out as a quarter back for his high school. When quizzed about the American variant of the sport, Paddy described it as “a daffy game –  they call it football but a specialist comes on to kick it maybe ten times in a 60 minute game. How can they call it football?”

Paddy passed away in October 1986 at the age of 66 and was buried in Los Angeles. He had begun his career with Bohs before the War, lived a perilous existence as a rear-gunner on an Allied Bomber, survived the deprivations as a prisoner-of-war in Nazi Germany and returned to have a successful footballing career in Britain, despite having a pair of German bullets in his left leg. Even after his playing career had ended he began a new life and trade in the United States believing it presented the best opportunities for his young family but never forgetting where he came from or the sport he loved.


Once more, thanks to Stephen Burke for his assistance on Paddy’s early life and Bohs career, and for more on Paddy’s career at Plymouth check out the excellent Vital Argyle website. Featured image is from the profile of Paddy in the Greensonscreen website.