Death in the Fifteen Acres

A hard tackle on a bare, wintry, public pitch and two players go down in a tangle of limbs. Both rising, angry words, then fists, are thrown – the referee intervenes and both players, one aged 17, the other 23, are sent from the pitch. Not the finest example of the beautiful game, but not exactly an uncommon occurence across the parks and playing fields of Ireland. It is what happens afterwards, the minute or two of frenzied violence that is unusual and shocking, moments of chaos that leave a young man dead and will see three amateur footballers stand trial in a Dublin court for murder. This is the story of the death of Samuel O’Brien.

The Fifteen Acres

The Fifteen acres of the Phoenix Park has a legitimate claim to be the footballing heart of the city. Located in the expanse between the Magazine Fort and the Hibernian Military School (now St. Mary’s Hospital) it occupies land that were once parade grounds and firing ranges of the British Army in Dublin. A short distance away at the North Circular Road gate-lodge the Bohemian Football club was founded in September 1890, those young founding members included members of the Hibernian Military School among their number. Bohs first pitches were at the nearby Polo Grounds, on the other side of Chesterfield Avenue.

In 1901 the Commissioner for the Board of Public Works agreed to lay out a number of playing pitches in the area of the Fifteen Acres. Out of the thirty-one available pitches twenty-nine were used for soccer. This meant that clubs with limited means or a pitch of their own had somewhere close to the city to play. Among those to host their early matches on the Phoenix Park pitches were St. Patrick’s Athletic from nearby Inchicore. The park pitches remain in almost constant use to this day, and their footballing significance has even made it into the public shorthand (perhaps unfairly) for poor or amateurish play, via the utterances of the likes of Eamon Dunphy declaring that “you wouldn’t see it in the Phoenix Park”.

Map held by the National Library of Ireland showing the layout of the park during the 1929 Centenary commemorations of Catholic emancipation.

This part of the park has also seen it’s share of violence. At the edge of the Fifteen acres close to Chesterfield Avenue and almost opposite to the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin) on a spot of ground now marked by a discreet commemorative cross, one of the most infamous murders in Irish history took place. In 1882 The Invincibles murdered of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke with a set of surgical knoves. Cavendish was the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, having arrived in Dublin just that day, while Burke was the Permanent Undersecretary, the most senior Irish civil servant.

During the 1916 Rising the Magazine Fort was targeted by the Irish Volunteers led by Paddy Daly. Hoping to sieze weapons and destroy British stocks of ammunition and explosives, the members of the Volunteers posed as a football team, passing a ball back and forth as a diversion, until they were close enough to rush the guards and secure the fort. One of the sentries of the fort suffered a bullet in the leg, while George Playfair Jnr. – son of the Commandant of the fort was killed by bullet wounds to the abdomen when he tried to raise the alarm. In more recent times the area just east of the fifteen acres near the Wellington monument was the site of one of the notorious GUBU murders carried out by Malcolm MacAthur when he bludgeoned to death a young nurse, Bridie Gargan, while she lay sunbathing on the grass on a summer afternoon in 1982.

The scene on matchday

Returning to the match in question – a Leinster Junior Alliance division four match between Glenmore and Middleton, two Dublin teams, playing in the Phoenix Park. Middleton held their club meetings at 35 North Great George’s Street in the north inner city but featured several players from the southside of the inner city. Glenmore (sometimes styled as Glenmore United) were from south of the Liffey and used 30 Charlemont Street as their address.

The game took place on the 7th December 1924, on pitch 28 of the Fifteen acres, an area that remains a focal point for amateur football in Dublin City. It was a fine, dry day for the time of year, though there was a strong breeze blowing in from the west.

Taken from Football Sports Weekly this plan from the 1920s shows the pitch layout of the Fifteen acres as the Glenmore and Middleton players would have known it.

The game itself seems to have been proceeding relatively without incident when according to referee James Rocliffe, with a quarter of an hour remaining, Samuel O’Brien of Middleton was going through with the ball when he was tripped by Patrick Lynam of Glenmore. The referee called a foul and O’Brien, obviously aggreived at the challenge got up in “a fighting attitude” and he and Lynam rushed at each other, trading blows. At this point Rocliffe separated the pair, sent off both players and prepared to restart the game.

However, his action in sending off both players hadn’t eased tensions. The pitches of the Fifteen acres not being served with individual pitch-side dressing rooms both players went behind one of the goals after being sent from the field. Here, tempers flared again with Lynam and O’Brien trading punches and other players rushing from the pitch to intervene, just as Rocliffe was trying to restart the game.

The fatal blow?

What happened next becomes a matter for debate, one which I will try to tease out and present for the reader based on the court testimonies of those present on the day. The version of the story changes with each retelling and with each narrator. What seems to be generally agreed on is that as Lynam and O’Brien set at each other again after their sending off, other players joined the fray, ultimately O’Brien was knocked to the ground and it seems it was then that he was kicked in the head, or possibly struck his head heavily off the ground as he was knocked over. This according to the medical examiner was likely the cause of his death, aged just 23.

In the aftermath the referee retreated to the relative safety of the nearby pavillion, while Thomas Ralfe, a teammate of O’Brien, seeing that his friend was badly injured rushed to the nearby Hibernian School, then in use by the National Army, and sought help. He returned with two army officers who gave O’Brien first aid as they waited for the Dublin Corporation ambulance to arrive to take the stricken footballer the short journey to Dr. Steeven’s hospital.

The approximate location in the Phoenix Park where Samuel O’Brien was assaulted. The buildings behind the tree-line are St. Mary’s Hospital, formerly the Hibernian School.

Samuel O’Brien, arriving at the hospital unconcious, was met by the house surgeon Dr. W.A. Murphy just after 3pm that day. Murphy described O’Brien as being in a state of “profound collapse” and growing steadily worse. Despite medical intervention Murphy would pronounce O’Brien dead later that day at 7:45pm. In the post-mortem report the cause of death was identified as “paralysis of the respiratory centre caused by the compression of the brain by haemorrhage”. To the untrained eye O’Brien appeared to show just minor, superficial injuries; bruising to the right eyelid and a couple of minor abrasions around the same eye. There were no other obvious injuries or bruising to suggest trauma to major organs. It was only upon the opening of his skull that the violence he had suffered was laid plain. The entire of Samuel O’Brien’s brain was covered in blood. The haemorrhage that had killed him caused by significant trauma to the head.


The following day, Monday, December 8th 1924 – Dr. Murphy had the opportunity to present his findings to an inquest held in Dr. Steevens’ Hospital chaired by City Coroner, Dr. Louis Byrne and a jury, to decide if the death of Samuel O’Brien should proceed to trial. When describing the injuries recieved by the deceased, Murphy stated that they could be caused by “a person being struck in the face and falling to the ground”.

Present at the inquest apart from Doctors Byrne and Murphy were a Mr. Clarke, representative of the Chief State Solicitors Department, Inspector Patrick Guinan of the Bridewell, Dublin Metropolitan Police and the three young men suspected of causing injury to Samuel O’Brien – they were Patrick Lynam, aged 17, a bookmakers clerk from St. Patrick’s Terrace off the North Strand, Michael Doyle, aged 18, at the time unemployed and living at 14 Richmond Cottages in Summerhill, and Thomas Lynam (no relation to Patrick), aged 17 from 2 Aberdeen Terrace, off the North Strand who worked in the printing business. At the inquest Patrick Lynam was at that stage the only one of the three with legal representation, in the form of a solicitor named Christopher Friery.

Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, site of the inquest

Also present at the inquest were a number of other witnesses including Samuel’s older brother William, the family member who had identified his brother’s body the previous day. He testified that Samuel had left in good health and spirits from the family home on Bride Street the previous day, which backed up the medical testimony which ruled out some underlying medical condition as being a possible cause for Samuel’s death. It was also at this point that Samuel’s profession was disclosed, he working for the Irish Independent’s distribution section. Indeed their sister paper, the Evening Herald carried extensive coverage of the inquest that evening on its front page.

Other witnesses at the inquest included a number of O’Brien’s Middleton teammates; Thomas Ralph (24) and Edward Maguire (20) who as well as being fellow players were also neighbours of O’Brien on Bride Street, and Edward O’Dwyer of Palmerston Place, Broadstone, the self-described “inside-right” of the team. The other key witness was James Rocliffe (30) of 18 Summerhill, the referee on the day of the match.

It was Rocliffe who next gave evidence after William O’Brien. He noted how he knew neither team nor the men involved personally, he had merely been tasked with refereeing the game by the Association. He detailed the foul on O’Brien by Lynam and their subsequent fight which resulted in both players being sent off. Rocliffe then testified that as he was restarting the match he noticed several player rush off the field in the direction of O’Brien and Lynam, at this point he stopped the game and went to the nearby pavillion. Rocliffe testified that there was only one spectator and his two linesmen at the game that day. Rocliffe did not see further blows struck by either man and had not seen anyone else apart from Patrick Lynam strike Samuel O’Brien as by this stage he had retreated to the safety of the pavillion. When asked if he had seen blows struck like this before he replied:

I often saw rows and blows struck by men fighting on the street. It did not very often occur at football matches.

James Rocliffe quoted in the Evening Herald – 9th December 1924

It was the subsequent testimony from O’Brien’s teammates that was to be most incriminating, Thomas Ralph swore that upon seeing players running towards O’Brien and Lynam he witnessed two opposition players knock O’Brien to the ground and kick him. These two players were identified by Ralph as Thomas Lynam and Michael Doyle, and Ralph would later describe the accused issuing two “unmerciful kicks” to O’Brien, which he would state “were meant” or deliberate though both Lynam and Doyle denied this. Edward Maguire and Edward O’Dwyer confirmed that that they witnessed Michael Doyle kick O’Brien which Doyle strenuously denied at points during the inquest, loudly interjecting to profess his innocence and deny that he kicked O’Brien.

Summing up, the coroner Louis Byrne was moved to say that there had been no pre-existing animosity between the teams or individual players, and he looked upon Samuel O’Brien’s death as,

a tragic result of the blood of these boys “getting up” in the excitement of the game. He would be slow to attach any guilt to any party there on the evidence. His only regret was that when these young men went out to play football that they had not a better spirit of sportsmanship

Freeman’s Journal – December 10th 1924

The inquest jury found that the death of Samuel O’Brien was the result of injuries sustained on the football field. The case was referred to the Dublin District Court where Patrick Lynam, Thomas Lynam and Michael Doyle were to be charged with murder.

The courts

The initial hearing took place later that day with Justice George Cussen presiding, all three were charged with murder and placed on remand for a week with a substantial bail set in each case. All three young men denied the charges with Thomas Lynam saying “I never laid a hand or foot on him”.

When the case reconvened the following week similar evidence to the inquest was presented, however this time all three of the defendants had legal representation and Justice Cussen referred the murder case to the Dublin Circuit Court.

Irish Times headline 10th December, 1924

The Circuit Court hearing took place in February of 1925 with Justice Charles Drumgoole presiding. The state prosecution was entrusted to William Carrigan.

A prominent barrister from Tipperary – Carrigan was later made chair of the Government’s Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment and Juvenile Prostitution Acts – the Carrigan Committee for short. Carrigan was entrusted with examining the “moral condition” of the country and he heard testimony that highlighted issues such as child abuse, prostitution and the suggestions of their root causes; overcrowded tenements shared by large numbers of men, women and children with little privacy or security. Little of this made it into Carrigan’s report, though it’s findings were still too much for the Government to consider publish – the report was shelved by the Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice James Geoghegan.

But in February 1925 this was all still ahead of William Carrigan, his priority the three young men on trial for the alleged murder of Samuel O’Brien. Carrigan begins by questioning the character and attitude of the accused, stating that

The attitude of at least one of the prisoners was far from showing any regret… Their demeanour towards the court showed very little respect. It did not redound to their credit that they should meet the case with such levity as had been observed.

Cork Examiner – 26th February 1925

What “attitude” or “demeanour” was presented or how they were disrespectful is not specified. Once again the key witnesses examined were Dr. Murphy, house surgeon of Dr. Steevens’ Hosptial, the referee James Rocliffe and Middleton team-mates Thomas Ralph and Edward Maguire. Ralph and Maguire both stated that O’Brien had been kicked when on the ground, that O’Brien had tried to rise but collapsed into unconsciousness from which he would never awaken. And significantly both agreed that Michael Doyle had kicked O’Brien, while Ralph said that Thomas Lynam had also kicked him.

The focus of the defence was on medical evidence, honing in on the limited visible, superficial damage to the face of Samuel O’Brien, they asked Dr. Murphy whether it was possible that a fall after being struck in a “fair fight” could have caused the trauma which led to his death, rather than a kick to the head. Something Dr. Murphy agreed was possible.

Patrick Lynam testified that after being sent off he went up to offer O’Brien an apology and “make friends”, which O’Brien refused with the words “We’ll settle it here” before adopting a fighting stance, Lynam claimed this was the cause of the renewed row on the touchline behind the goal.

Michael Doyle claimed in his defence that he had gone to Patrick Lynam’s aid, wanting to take Lynam’s place as he felt that the, smaller Lynam, was “not a match” for O’Brien. Doyle strenuously denied kicking O’Brien but did recall being hit twice about the head by Thomas Ralph, claiming this dazed him and left him unable to remember anything for several minutes.

Ralph for his part admitted to hitting Doyle but claimed that he only did so in an attempt to protect O’Brien after he had been kicked, it was Ralph who then ran to the Hibernian School and returned with two National Army officers who administered First Aid to the unconcious Samuel O’Brien. It appears upon the realisation that O’Brien was seriously hurt, with the attendance of the Army officers and the calling of the ambulance the riotous scenes quickly disappated. Thomas Lynam and Michael Doyle, perhaps suddenly realising the gravity of the situation even travelled in the ambulance with O’Brien and Ralph to the hospital.

Despite the earlier accusations made by William Carrigan about their demeanour the accused at both the circuit court trail and earlier had expressed their sorrow and commiserations on the death of Samuel O’Brien, and this was expressed by their Counsel in court. Carrigan, as prosecutor then decided to leave the case in the hand of the Judge rather than seek the verdict of a jury.


This turn of events was one welcomed by Justice Dromgoole, saying that he was glad a jury had been “spared the necessity of trying to come to a conclusion in the case”, his judgement was reported as follows in the Irish Times:

These young men had no intention of inflicting any serious injury on the unfortunate young man, O’Brien; but at the same time, it was a pity that these games were not played in a little more sportsmanlike manner. These young men, he thought, had learned a lesson that would make them sportsmen and make them “play the game”. No one wanted to brand these young men as criminals, and it was greatly in their favour that two of them accompanied the deceased in the ambulance to hospital.

The three accused were bound to keep the peace by the judge and were charged the sum of £20 each, they were then discharged as free men.

A melancholy epilogue

Whether the family of Samuel O’Brien felt that they were served justice is unrecorded. We know that on the one year anniversary of his death Samuel’s family placed a remembrance notice to “our dear son, Samuel O’Brien… killed while playing football in Phoenix Park”, in the December 7th issue of the Evening Herald, their full notice readwhich reads:

Evening Herald – 7th December, 1925

A second notice appears beneath that of grieving parents Bridget and Samuel Snr. It is also in memory of Samuel and signed off “by his ever-affectionate Ann”, little other information is mentioned to help identify this likely girlfriend of Samuel’s but it contains a touching snippet of verse from “The Heart Bowed Down” taken from Michael William Balfe’s “The Bohemian Girl”.

Memory is the only friend,

That grief can call its own.

The O’Brien family had already suffered their fair share of tragedy by the time of Samuel’s death. His young cousin, Paul Ludlow, who also lived in the same Bride Street tenement building as the O’Brien family had died in February of 1924 of the pulmonary infection aged just 17. He was obviously particularly close to Samuel and Bridget O’Brien who continued placing notices in newspapers mourning their nephew years after his death.

OSI historical Map showing the section of Bride Street where the O’Brien family lived as it appeared in the early 20th Century

Further tragedy struck the family in later years, when, just after 10 o’clock of the morning of the 1st June, 1941, their home in 46 Bride Street collapsed with many of the O’Brien family still in their top floor flat at the house. Samuel O’Brien senior, by then 72 years of age and pensioned off from his job with Guinnesses was killed in the collapse by falling masonary. His wife Bridget and daughters Georgina and Elizabeth were also injured, and of the three only Elizabeth was well enough to attend her father’s funeral three days later.

Also killed in the house collapse were Bridget Lynskey and her six month old son Noel. Bridget’s husband Francis had applied several times to the Corporation for a new home, and in a cruel twist of fate the Lynskey family had just received keys to a new Corporation house on Cooley Road in Crumlin and were due to move there in the coming days.

Image of Bride Street from the Irish Times the day following the collapse

The story of the tenement collapse on Bride Street is perhaps less well remembered than similar events which occured on Church Street in 1913 or on Bolton Street and Fenian Street in 1963. Perhaps because the Bride Street collapse happened just a day after the bombing of the North Strand by the Luftwaffe which may have overshadowed events and dominated popular memory. Indeed the bombing of the North Strand and the impact of the Nazi bombs was cited as one possible cause for the collapse of the more than 100 year old buildings on Bride Street. Neighbouring buildings at 45 and 47 Bride Street were torn down by Dublin Corporation with many of the displaced residents moved to recently developed houses in Crumlin. An inquest extended sympathy to the relatives of the deceased and agreed that vibrations from the North Strand bombing coupled with the age of the house were the likely causes of the collapse, they found the landlords, the Boland family, not to have been at fault. The site of the collapsed tenement is now occupied by the National Archives building.

Almost 17 years apart Samuel O’Brien, father and son met their end in violent and unexpected circumstances, and cruel chance. One wonders if the O’Brien family having suffered so much felt they had experienced justice for their losses.

Tim Carey’s excellent book “Dublin since 1922” mentions both the Carrigan report and the Bride Street tenement collapse and is well worth a read. Michael Kielty was helpful as always in finding out details relating to Glenmore and Middleton football clubs.

Who you calling scab? – Bohs, Shels and the 1913 lockout

I grew up always knowing never to cross a picket line. My father had been Chairman of a Trade Union, my mother had been a shop steward, they had both been involved in strikes during their working life, it was something I was instilled with from an early age and have always abided by. Which is why, when researching the history of Bohemian F.C. I was troubled by the accusations of scabbing levelled at players of the club during the momentous beginnings of the 1913 Lock-out. Despite this event occuring some 107 years ago the allegations still cast a small stain on the good name of the club and is invoked as an insult at regular enough intervals by supporters of rival teams, even to this day.

I did however, want to know more, who were the players involved? Could we speculate as to their circumstances? What happened to them afterwards? What had prompted Jim Larkin to call for action in a speech to the public during the early days of the lockout?

The more I researched these events, the harder it was to find definite answers to these questions, in fact, the more I researched the more confused things seemed to become. At this point it might be worth relating the story as conventionally told of the Bohs scabs accusations.

On Friday August 29th 1913, a day before Bohemians and Shelbourne were due to play a friendly match to inaugurate Shelbourne Park, James Larkin made a speech on Beresford Place to a crowd of almost 10,000 people, including many striking tram workers. Larkin had just learned that the proposed mass meeting scheduled for that Sunday (what would soon become known as one of Irish history’s many Bloody Sundays) had been banned by a Dublin Magistrate. Larkin burned the judge’s proclamation and in a lengthy speech, covering many topics he mentioned the upcoming football match with Bohs and Shels. Quoting Larkin the Evening Herald reported his words as follows;

Mr. Larkin said that Millar and Hastings of the Bohemians were scabs. “I want you” Mr. Larkin continued, “to assemble in O’Connell Street at twelve o’clock to-morrow, board the tram cars, go out as far as you can and pay no money. Then if they want to prosecute you give your name and address. Moral persuasion and pay no rents are our weapons”

There are other sources that report on this meeting and Larkin’s speeches, writing for the Come Here To Me blog, Donal Fallon shared the following extract from Arnold Wright’s first hand account of events in Disturbed Dublin ;

The opening scene, in what was to prove a prolonged and sanguinary drama, was enacted in the Ringsend district. In his speech on Friday night Mr. Larkin had referred to a football match which was to be played on Saturday on the Shelbourne Ground at Ringsend between two local clubs. ‘ There are ” scabs ” in one of the teams, and you will not be there except as pickets,’ he said, in language whose menacing character was understood by those who heard him. In obedience to the implied command, a large body of members of the Transport Workers’ Union gathered at the time announced for the match near the entrance to the grounds.

Arnold does not mention the players by name as the report in the Herald does and neither does it identify which team was accused of having scabs. After the meeting had ended there were clashes with those attending the rally and the Dublin Metropolitan Police which set an ominous tone for what was to unfold over the coming days.

Writing in his excellent and authoritative study of the Lock-out, Lock-out, Dublin 1913, Padraig Yeates writes the following, also citing the Irish Times,

The trouble began outside the new grounds of Shelbourne Football Club. About six thousand spectators had come to watch a match with Bohemians, the team that Larkin had accused of using ‘scabs’. A picket of about a hundred tramway men stood outside the gate and were jeered by some of the football crowd. The pickets retaliated in kind and were in joined by growing numbers of sympathetic locals. ‘The members of the Bohemian team, who pluckily drove to the scene of the match on outside cars through a hostile crowd of roughs were assailed with coarse epithets’, the Times reported.

The historian Neal Garnham in his history of football, Association Football and Society in Pre-partition Ireland, also mentions the match but sows the first real seeds of doubt as to the identity of the scabs and the teams they played for, he writes;

On 30 August 1913 the Irish Worker, the official newspaper of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union denounced two Dublin players – Jack Millar of the Bohemian club and Jack Lowry of Shelbourne – as scabs.

Here, for the first time we see mentioned the full names of the two supposed scabs, the Millar mentioned in the Herald report is revealed to be a Jack Millar while the other player is identified not as a Bohemians player, but as a Shelbourne one, Jack Lowry, there is no mention of a “Hastings”. Crucially Garnham also mentions a new source, the Irish Worker, the newspaper of the ITGWU, the Union that represented the tram workers, and a paper that Larkin had founded, edited and featured in regularly. Having read the relevant issues of the Irish Worker cover to cover (it’s Covid, what else would I be doing) I found the reference to Jack Lowry of Shelbourne in the edition of the 30th September and a mention of a Jack Millar in the edition on the 27th. Under the heading “Retail dept. O’Connell Street (scabs)” it includes among a list the name “Jack Millar, Phibsboro’ Bohemian AFC”.

Clipping for the Irish Worker on 30th August 1913 from a article entitled ‘scabs’ which identifies Jack Lowry of Shelbourne

It is important to note that Lowry is not mentioned as being a Shelbourne player, merely a “prominent member” while no further information is given on Millar other than the fact that he lives in Phibsboro. In-club trial matches were played by both Shelbourne and Bohemians a week before the game, and before any scabbing accusations – there is no mention of a Lowry nor Millar (or Hastings) among the forty-four players used by both clubs across these games, or in the final line-ups selected for the much anticipated game to inaugurate Shelbourne Park on Saturday August 30th 1913.

Shelbourne had become the first Dublin side to begin the practice of paying players, though the club was not full time and would have still featured amateur players and others who would have day jobs away from the football field. The new 1913-14 season had seen them invest heavily in cross-channel talent, signing defender Oscar Linkson from Manchester United, David Neave from Merthyr Town, Robert Carmichael from Clyde while Andrew Osbourne, a British soldier had signed up as their new centre forward. Osbourne was part of the 16th Queen’s Lancers who were then based in the Curragh.

Images from the game as published in the Irish Times

As Yeates noted in his account there was indeed trouble outside the ground, pickets were formed, and those on the pickets tried to force entry to the ground at one stage, and some even successfully gained entry and “hurled vile language” at the players. It was also claimed that incidents involving a crowd attacking trams was only brought to an end when “one of the passengers jumped from the tram, produced a revolver, and effectively dispersed the crowd.” as the Irish Times reported. A Sergeant Keane of the DMP spoke about crowds of perhaps 1,000 gathering in Ringsend who were “hostile to the club” in all reports in which Keane is interviewed the week following the riots there is no mention of Bohemians and the hostility is stated to be directed towards Shelbourne, or perhaps Keane not appreciating the nature of the game and just assumed this as they were the home team?

But who were the players subjected to this “vile language”? While I have introduced some of Shels new signings, English and Scottish professionals among them, there were of course no professionals in the Bohemians team as the club was at that point still strictly amateur. Could one of the Bohs players have been the Millar mentioned by Larkin, but merely called out under a mistaken name, could there still have been a scab?

The starting XIs for both Bohemians and Shelbourne as reported in the Freeman’s Journal on 30th August 1913

After much research I believe I have identified all the Bohemians players listed and their occupations, this is based on earlier research on players who served during World War I as well as reviews of the players listed at Bohemians in 1913 from their team line-ups. I have given them a quick biographical outline below:

Goalkeeper: J. Cooke – an interesting one to begin with as this is an alias, Cooke was the name of the Bohemian trainer, George Cooke, usually the trainer’s name would be used as a cover as Bohs players did on occasion miss work duties to play a match. Could this be the Millar that was mentioned by Larkin under an assumed name? This would be highly unlikely. Bohs two main goalkeepers at the time were Jack Hehir and Fred Chestnutt-Chesney. Hehir, who had won an international cap in 1910 and was club captain for 1913 and well established at Bohs, he worked as a Civil Service clerk in the estates office and later in 1915 was transferred to London to work in the War Office.

Fred Chestnutt-Chesney was a Trinity College student studying Divinity. He later became a Church of Ireland Reverend in Belfast and then London. Chestnutt-Chesney had also commanded a company at the battle of Passchendaele and reached the rank of Major. In 1920 when working in the parish of Ballymacarrett in East Belfast he helped organise volunteer groups to try and stop rioting and protect Catholic residents during the riots after the shooting of RIC Inspector Oswald Swanzy.

Full back: William George McConnell was a commercial traveller in the drapery trade at the time. He and his family established the McConnell’s advertising agency in 1916 which continued to trade up until 2010. McConnell won six international caps for Ireland and was an important part of the squad that won the Home Nations championship of 1914. McConnell also found significant success as an amateur golfer being successful enough to triumph in the 1925 and 1929 West of Ireland Amateur Championships.

Full back: Joseph Irons worked on the staff at the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin) and was a member of the Army reserve and on the outbreak of the First World War was called up. He didn’t go far initially, being was on guard duty at the Viceregal Lodge during Easter 1916 though he later served time in the Dardanelles campaign. He was also a useful cricket player.

Half back: Jocelyn Rowe was born in Kingston upon Thames in 1886, he had briefly played for Manchester United. He was a professional soldier and was a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion, East Surreys Regiment and was wounded in action during World War I.

Half back: Alfred J. Smith, born in Ireland, Smith was a professional soldier (rank of Sergeant Major) in the Army Service Corps and was wounded in action during World War I. He had been capped at amateur level by Ireland in a 3-2 win over England in 1912. He scored in that match along with his Bohs teammates Johnny McDonnell and Ted Seymour.

Inside right: Bartholomew “Battie” Brennan, was a railway clerk for the Great Southern & Western Railway. This means that Brennan is the only player with any connection to the transport industry. However, the Great Southern was a completely separate company to the Dublin United Tramway Company (DUTC) whose drivers and conductors were on strike. William Martin Murphy the owner of the DUTC used his own former drivers and office staff to fill the roles of the striking workers. Brennan’s name also bears no similarity to the names Millar or Hastings and is unlikely to be confused with them. Brennan was a high profile member of the Bohs squad, he had been a regular for the club since 1910 and had scored against Wales in a 3-2 win for Ireland in 1912. He later set up his own company, Dublin Wholesale Newsagency, who imported and sold newspapers, they were based on Abbey Street.

John Bartholomew “Battie” Brennan

Outside right: Thomas William Gerald Johnson, only 20 at the time of the match was a medical student from Rathmines. He was another fine sporting all-rounder with a talent for both cricket and golf. During the First World War Johnson became a Lieutenant in the 5th Connaught Rangers and later brought his professional talents to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Gallipoli. He received numerous citations for bravery, for example at the Battle of Lone Pine during the Gallipoli campaign the Battalion history notes “Second-Lieutenant T.W.G. Johnson behaved with great gallantry in holding an advanced trench during one of the counter-attacks. Twice he bound up men’s wounds under heavy fire, thereby saving their lives”. After the War he worked as a GP in both Ireland and England.

Centre forward: Fred Morrow was born in Belfast but grew up in Sandymout, Dublin, one of the youngest men on the pitch at only 17. He was still at school and would later play for Shels while also briefly working as a clerk before joining the British Army (Royal Field Artillery) in 1915. Corporal Fred Morrow died of his wounds in France in October 1917 aged 21.

Inside left: Johnny “Dodger” West was 24 at the time of the match, he’d been playing for Bohemians since at least 1909. West was born in England, but grew up in Glasnevin, Dublin, his father was a Cork man who worked in the Ordnance survey and John followed in his father’s footsteps in this regard. In the 1911 Census his job is listed as an Ordnance Survey Temporary Civil Assistant Computer. In the early 1920s, owing to his fine baritone voice he pursued a singing career and would tour England and Italy while also featuring on the stage of major Dublin venues like the Theatre Royal.

A clipping of West from the Freeman’s Journal in January 1920

Outside left: Harry Willits was born in Middlesborough, England in 1889 but moved to Dublin in 1908 to take up a Civil Service post and quickly joined Bohemians, staying involved with the club as a player and administrator for decades. Willits initially worked in the Post Office stores before eventually moving to work in the Registry of Deeds where he stayed until retirement. For further reading on Willits see here.

As is demonstrated there is no Millar and no Hastings in the Bohs first team, nor one in the wider squad either that played in the earlier trial game ahead of the season opening friendly match. There are no Millars or Millers or Hastings in the Bohs “B” team which played in the Leinster Senior League system that I could find either. Nor are there any Millar/Millers or Hastings listed in any senior management or committee role at the time with the club. Digging deeper and going back to the previous seasons the only mentions I could find are of two players (perhaps brothers) with the surname Millar occasionally playing for Bohemian “C” and “D” teams, though neither ever progressed higher than that level and are not recorded in any match report that I could find for the 1913-14 season even at “C” , “D” and “E” team level.

Each of the players who played that fateful day in Shelbourne Park was in another form of employment, mainly as clerks and civil servants with a couple of soldiers and students thrown in. None were in any role or profession that could lead them to being accused of scabbing during the tram strike.

Further mysteries then? Well, one more tantalising lead appears in the 20th September 1913 edition of the Irish Worker, some three weeks after the Bohs match, under the heading “Shelbourne Football Grounds”, this short article seems to be an attempt to explain, apologise or simply win back fans to Shelbourne games. No players are mentioned by name although the “engagement of players who were blacklegging” is mentioned. It further states that an “understanding has been arrived at, and we may state that Shelbourne Football Club were in no way to blame for what occurred.” No detail is given on what “understanding” was reached while the line stating that the club were in no way to blame is vague and unspecific.

Did this mean that Shels are denying that there were scabs on their team? This seems unlikely as they acknowledge that players were engaged “who were blacklegging” ? It perhaps seems more likely to be a move to show that the club was unaware of any players blacklegging/scabbing and to excuse themselves of any blame? The message is not signed off on behalf of any club director or member so its specific origin is unclear, though it ends with the rousing call to arms – “Comrades, assemble at all matches.”

Taken from the 20th September 1913 edition of the Irish Worker

The exact truth of what happened may never be known. Larkin and the ITGWU were, by the end of August 1913, already in a fierce battle with William Martin Murphy, and soon other major employers, the courts and the media, much of it controlled by Murphy himself. The pages of Murphy’s newspapers revelled in reports which painted pictures of full trams heading to the RDS for events around this time, staffed by scab labour and patronised by an apathetic Dublin populace. The Irish Worker fought back denouncing Murphy and anyone viewed to be in league with him, or sympathetic to him. Many of those who are accused of scabbing are not only named in his paper but given small pen-pics, with nicknames and personality traits being described in cutting detail.

All we know of the Jack Lowry that is mentioned is that he was a “member” of Shelbourne, and of Millar that he lived in Phibsboro, there is little biographical detail to work with. It should be noted that the Irish Worker did get things wrong, there are also retractions in the paper with individuals or businesses called out in the pages of the Worker that are later found to be fair employers or to have been unjustly labelled as scabs. Could this be the case here?

Was the mention of the football players as scabs perhaps part of a protest tactic by Larkin? Consider that he had just heard that a court proclamation had been issued preventing him from holding a meeting and he knew the following day that a major sport event, well-serviced by trams would be taking place. The opening of Shelbourne Park had been well publicised and thousands were expected. Was this Larkin seeing a clever way of creating a scene, of challenging the employers’ cabal by focusing on a large public event for maximum publicity. Did he create the scab footballers? Or perhaps exaggerate a claim or hearsay? Or were there people who were scabs associated with Bohemians and Shelbourne, perhaps not as first team players but prominent in some other way, members, former players, other well-known supporters?

We may never know but I would be interested to hear from any reader who has more information on this historic match and the tumultuous scenes that surrounded it. Despite these remaining uncertainties I hope I have done justice to the names of the eleven Bohemians who took the field over a hundred years ago, they may have been many things but scabs they were not.

My thanks to the following for their assistance in researching this piece, Donal Fallon, Ruaidhrí Croke, Stephen Burke and Aidan Geraghty. The work of Padraig Yeates has also been of significant benefit.

The life and career of Jimmy Dunne

The football highlights don’t do justice to the man but let’s recount them anyway. One of only three players in the history of the English top-flight to score 30+ league goals across three consecutive seasons, the most recent is Alan Shearer. The record for the longest scoring streak in English league football; scoring in 12 consecutive games, a league Champion with Arsenal, a League of Ireland and FAI Cup winner, national team record goal-scorer for 28 years. Not a bad football CV – it belongs to Jimmy Dunne.

But there is so much more to Dunne than a 90-year-old scoring records. He was born on Cambridge Street in Ringsend in 1905 the son of Thomas and Catherine Dunne. Thomas was a bottle blower in the nearby glass bottle works. The Dunne family’s life was far from easy, of the eight children born to Catherine only four survived, with Jimmy being the youngest.

A further blow to the family occurred with the death of Thomas from tuberculosis when Jimmy was just two years of age. To make ends meet the newly widowed Catherine took in lodgers to their small, two-room tenement home, while Jimmy’s older brother Michael was working at the glass bottle works by the age of 14. Local stories record that Jimmy himself got a job for a local bakery as a delivery boy, bringing fresh bread, and occasionally secret IRA communications, on his bicycle around the city.

As a teenager his Republican sympathies continued, and along with his brother Christy he took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, eventually being interned in both Portlaoise and the Tintown camp in the Curragh after being arrested during the “Bridges Job” of August 1922 when anti-Treaty forces sabotaged various roads and bridges throughout Dublin. The association game proved popular in the internment camps and playing with rag-balls in tight confines no doubt honed Dunne’s touch and control. Upon his release in 1923 he played briefly for junior club Parkview before he joined Shamrock Rovers and made his debut for Rovers “B” against Pioneers in the Leinster Senior League in December of that year. While he was a Shield winner with Rovers an extended run in the first team was limited by the dominance and scoring prowess of Billy “Juicy” Farrell at centre forward.

Frustrated at the lack of opportunities Jimmy joined New Brighton (on Merseyside not to be confused with Brighton on the South Coast) in the old English Third Division North for the 1925-26 season.

His time on Merseyside was brief however, he made an impressive start to his career, scoring on his debut against Rochdale and registering six goals in eight league games as well as scoring in the cup, this quickly brought him to the attention of Sheffield United’s secretary John Nicholson who signed him for a fee reported between £750 – £800. Apparently this swift turnaround for Dunne, who had gone from Leinster Senior League to the top of the English football pyramid in less than year, was completely unexpected and the modest Dunne had to be persuaded that his future lay in the First Division.

A young Jimmy Dunne after signing for Sheffield United – 1926

As before with “Juicy” Farrell the path to first team football was initially blocked, this time in the form of Harry Johnson. Dunne spent much of the next three seasons in the reserves, making only occasional appearances and at one stage was on the verge of being transfer listed. However, the 1929-30 season would be his breakthrough year, scoring 36 in 39 league games to keep Sheffield United clear of relegation by the old method of goal ratio. Dunne’s amazing run continued with the 1930-31 season being his best ever 41 goals in 41 league games (a record for an Irish player in the English top-flight) and 50 in all competitions. The following seasons brought more goals, significant improvements in United’s league positions and interest from other clubs, especially from Arsenal and their legendary manager Herbert Chapman.

Sheffield United rebuffed an initial approach of £10,000 as they wanted a record £12,000 for Dunne, however Chapman played the waiting game, and with the 1933-34 season underway United found themselves in financial trouble. Chapman boarded an early train and had Dunne signed up for a reduced fee of just over £8,000. Dunne went right into the team and helped Arsenal to the League title, though the manager who signed him, died suddenly in January 1934. Soon after Ted Drake arrived from Southampton, and it would be the goals of Drake, not Dunne that would propel the Gunners to the title again the following season. Drake’s excellent form effectively ended Dunne’s Arsenal career, and belatedly Jimmy Dunne would end up as Drake’s replacement by signing for a struggling Southampton for the 1936-37 season. He would be the club’s top scorer that season and helped them avoid relegation to the third tier.

Dunne, from the numerous reports and descriptions of him as a player, and the very limited footage of him in action, appears as a complete centre forward, he had a good touch and ball control, no doubt honed as a teenager during times of confinement, he was strong and robust, quick off the mark and could shoot with power with either foot. He was versatile enough to drop deeper and play in the more creative role as an inside forward, however, all sources describe his greatest asset as his heading ability. Despite his height being listed as 5’10” the blonde head of Dunne struck fear into defences across Europe. He once scored a hat-trick of headers in a game for Sheffield United against Portsmouth and the innovative coach Jimmy Hogan (himself the son of Irish immigrants) chose Dunne as the player to demonstrate the skill of heading in an instructional coaching film that he made in the 1930s. In an interesting article with Dunne in the Sunday Pictorial while at Arsenal he even mentions having watched the famously skillful and scheming Austrian centre-forward Matthias Sindelar play, nothing the effectiveness of his “withdrawn striker” or “false 9” role as we would know it today. This demonstated Dunne’s keen eye for positioning and tactical possibilities.

While Dunne could have stayed an extra season at The Dell he chose to return home to Dublin and Shamrock Rovers as a player-coach. Though now into his 30s Dunne’s passion was undimmed and helped Rovers to back to back league titles as well as victory in the 1940 FAI Cup. Despite his advancing years these would be his most productive days in the Green of Ireland, in fact, Dunne won 14 of the 15 caps awarded to him by FAI after the age of 30. While Sheffield United released Dunne for seven IFA games during his time with them they would not release him for any FAI squads, this was mainly due to the fact that IFA matches coincided with the English national team game while FAI games had to work to other schedules that made English club reluctant to release players. Despite this Dunne amassed 15 caps and scored a record 13 goals which stood until broken by Noel Cantwell in 1967.


One incident of note was that Dunne was released to the IFA by Sheffield United for a game against Scotland in Ibrox. The goalkeeper Tom Farquharson, born in Dublin, withdrew from the squad and wrote to the IFA stating that he only recognised the FAI as the representative Association for Ireland. Dublin-born Harry Duggan followed suit and there was some expectation that Dunne, another Dubliner would do likewise. Without any guidance from the FAI about whether he should play or not Dunne travelled to Scotland.  However, Dunne received a letter, sent to Ibrox from Belfast which called him a “traitor to his country” and threatened him with death for playing for an IFA selection. Dunne started the game and duly scored in a 3-1 defeat to the Scots.

If fixtures had been different or UEFA dictats that today require clubs to release players for internationals had existed magine what he could have achieved had he worn the jersey for Ireland in his goalscoring prime with Sheffield United? Perhaps he could have made the difference in qualifying for the 1934 World Cup? Dunne continued playing into the 1940s, although the War had put an end to his international career. His final game for Ireland being a controversial match against Germany in Bremen in May 1939. Dunne was injured in the game but returned to the pitch and had a huge influence as Ireland drew 1-1.

His playing career finished in slightly acrimonious fashion, when aged 37 he was pressured into not playing in a FAI Cup semi-final by the owners of Shamrock Rovers. Dunne, hung up his boots and left the club to take the reins as coach across the city at Bohemians in 1942. Dunne would improve the fortunes of the Gypsies and led them to victory in the Inter-City Cup in 1945, before eventually rifts were healed with Shamrock Rovers and he returned to them as coach in 1947. Dunne was now a full-time coach with Rovers and gave up his job with boiler manufacturers Babcock and Wilcox.

The Irish football world was plunged into mourning in November 1949 when Jimmy Dunne passed away suddenly. His day had been a usual one, and he even spent time watching the Swedish national team train in Dublin ahead of their match with Ireland. Dunne was keen to talk football with their English coach George Raynor before he passed away suddenly after returning to his home on the Tritonville Road and suffered a heart attack.

It is no exaggeration to say that his footballing legacy endured, whether at Rovers in the form of the likes of Paddy Coad who succeeded him, or with his own family with his sons Jimmy Jnr. and Tommy becoming footballers, as well as his nephews, another Tommy Dunne and Christy Doyle.

While almost always referenced as being quiet, mild-mannered, and gentlemanly in demeanour Dunne in his playing style was robust and fearless. It is worth remembering he had been part of a revolutionary movement in his youth, he was the man who roared “Remember Aughrim, Remember 1916!” to psyche up his teammates before that match in Bremen against Nazi Germany in 1939 and who left his beloved Rovers because of interference from the Cunningham family, he even defied death threats to play for the IFA selection against Scotland in 1931, he was certainly a man who knew his own mind and could stand up for himself. He should also be remembered as one of the greatest strikers this island has ever produced.

The cover of a match programme from a Jimmy Dunne memorial game in 1952 featuring the two teams that Dunne had coached (courtesy Ruairí Devlin)

Shutting the open door – when the League of Ireland tried to poach Britain’s best

Jock Dodds was a larger than life character, a man known to swan around Depression era Sheffield in an open-top Cadillac, wearing a silk scarf and fedora hat, a man who ran greyhounds (and casinos) among an impressive number of side-projects, he was also one of the most powerful, dashing and effective centre-forwards of his era, though his prime years were robbed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Dodds’ extrovert personality and determination to make a buck often brought him into conflict with the powers that be, one such occassion led to him spending a short but significant spell in Dublin, and in the process changing the sporting relationship between Ireland, Britain and FIFA.

Ephraim “Jock” Dodds (pictured above) was born in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1915, his father died when he was just two years of age and he moved with his mother to Durham, England when she remarried in 1927. Jock, the name he was known by for the rest of his long life was a particularly unoriginal nickname due to he Scottish birth and upbringing.

As a teenager he was signed up by Huddersfield Town but it wasn’t until he joined Second Division Sheffield United in 1934 that he enjoyed an extended run as a first team player. United had just been relegated from the top flight and had lost their top scorer, Irish international Jimmy Dunne, to league winners Arsenal the previous season, Dodds, not yet 20 had big boots to fill but he enjoyed an impressive debut season for the Blades, scoring 19 goals in 30 matches. His good form and scoring touch for United continued over the following four seasons, to the point that in March 1939, Blackpool, then in the top flight, spent £10,000 to bring Dodds out to the coast. The fact that this represented the second-highest fee ever paid for a player in British football, (just behind the £14,000 price that Arsenal had paid Wolves for Welsh international Bryn Jones), shows just how highly rated Dodds was at the time.

Dodds was an immediate success at Blackpool, scoring 13 goals in his opening 15 games, but on the 3rd September 1939, just days before Dodds’ 24th birthday, Britain declared War on Germany after the latter’s invasion of Poland. League football was immediately suspended. During the War Dodds was employed by the RAF as a drill sergeant and physical training instructor in the Blackpool area, spending most of his time working from a repurposed Pontin’s holiday camp. Dodds continued playing for Blackpool during the Wartime Leagues and also featured eight times for Scotland in Wartime internationals, including scoring a hat-trick in front of over 90,000 fans in a 5-4 victory over England

The 1946-47 season represented a return to the traditional English football calendar after the Wartime suspensions and Blackpool and Dodds were gettting ready for a return to the top-flight. Almost 31 years of age at the beginning of the season Dodds had starred for Blackpool and Scotland during the War and was surely hopeful of continuing his career with the resumption of League football. However, Dodds was quickly at loggerheads with the Blackpool hierarchy who only offered him £8 a week if he was dropped to the second team but the maximum wage of £10 if he played for the first team. Other reports suggest he was offered even less than the maximum wage. Dodds felt slighted, as a star of the Blackpool side during the War years, that regularly played to home crowds of 30,000 he thought he was worth more and refused to sign. He was placed on the transfer list at the stated price of £8,000.

With Dodds transfer listed, it was reported that Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were among the clubs interest in signing him. At this point it is worth giving some further explanation of player registration and transfer arrangements at the time. Jock Dodds was out of contract with Blackpool. In today’s game this would make him a free agent an allow him to sign for the club of his choosing. However, this was not the case in 1946 when clubs held far greater sway, and as Blackpool were the club who held the player’s registration Dodds could not move to another club without their cooperation in transferring this registration to the new club. This meant that Dodds was on the so-called “retained list” , a player out of contract but with the club keeping their registration as they viewed the player as being worth a transfer fee. This system was recognised throughout Britain and Northern Ireland, but importantly not in the Irish Free State.

This arrangement had usually benefitted clubs in Britain and Northern Ireland where players on the “retained list” of League of Ireland clubs were signed up without a transfer fee changing hands. In several cases clubs in Northern Ireland signed players from the League of Ireland for nothing but sold them on to English or Scottish side for a sizeable profit after short periods. The process could of course also work in reverse, League of Ireland clubs could sign players of sigificance for nothing from British clubs. This policy was popularly known as “The Open door” and was something that League of Ireland clubs exploited especially in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne in particular were keen to sign up well known players from British clubs retained lists in these immediate post war years. Rovers had experienced a disappointing 1945-46 season, finishing 4th in the league and losing the FAI Cup final to Drumcondra, several of their star players had also departed, Davy Cochrane and Jimmy McAlinden – both capped by the IFA, returned to England on the resumption of post-War football, rejoining Leeds United and Portsmouth respectively, and the Cunningham family sought to recruit some big-name players who would generate an increase in crowd numbers and have Rovers back in contention for honours.

Rovers’ historian Robert Goggins notes in his history of the club that Hoops players would have been earning in or around £2 a week at this time, but the Cunninghams were prepared to go far beyond this level to attract prominent players from the other side of the Irish Sea. First of all they signed Tommy Breen, Manchester United’s Irish international goalkeeper through the “open door” system. Not to be outdone, rivals Shelbourne signed Manchester United’s other goalkeeper, Norman Tapken as well as former Liverpool and Chelsea forward Alf Hanson who finished as Shels top scorer that season.

Alf Hanson during his time at Liverpool (source

Rovers then turned their attention to Jock Dodds who was reportedly offered £20 a week and a signing on fee of £750. Huge money at the time but considering Blackpool were looking for a transfer fee of £8,000 still something of a bargain. Despite the objections of the Blackpool Chairman, Colonel William Parkinson there was no stopping Dodds who remarked,

Whatever happens I shall fly to Dublin a week from now, I intend to see it all through to the end.

The Blackpool chairman complained that the movement of footballers to Ireland was an “absurd traffic” and expressed concern that he and other clubs could continue losing out on significant transfer fees if the situation continued.

While Parkinson was understandably concerned about losing one of his best players who he valued at £8,000, for nothing it was a bit rich hearing this coming from a senior figure in British football. The “open door” of course swung both ways, and the wealthier clubs in Britain and indeed Northern Ireland exploited it readily when it suited them to sign players without paying a transfer fee, from clubs in the League of Ireland. The Shamrock Rovers chairman Joe Cunningham was quick to point this out when pressed on the issue. The Irish Independent’s football columnist W.P. Murphy went further and listed several players who had been signed from League of Ireland clubs by sides in England or Northern Ireland without a fee being paid, the most recent case cited was that of Eddie Gannon. Rated as one of the best half-backs in the league, the 25 year old Gannon had been signed for nothing by Notts County from Shelbourne earlier in 1946.

Notts County FC 1946-47 – Gannon is in the middle row, sixth from the left

Gannon would make over 100 appearances for County and become a regular for Ireland before being signed by Sheffield Wednesday for £15,000 (a massive fee at the time) less than three years later. Shelbourne would be right to have been aggreived as this would have been a record transfer fee for an Irish player yet the Dublin club saw none of it. As mentioned, clubs in Northern Ireland also did well from these arrangements, in those immediate post war years players of the calibre of Thomas “Bud” Aherne (Limerick to Belfast Celtic) Con Martin (Drumcondra to Glentoran) Robin Lawlor (Drumcondra to Belfast Celtic) and Noel Kelly (Shamrock Rovers to Glentoran) all moved north of the border without fees being paid, in many cases these players later moved on to clubs in England for significant sums.

On the pitch the signing of Dodds by Shamrock Rovers had the desired impact, on September 8th 1946 he scored twice on his debut, a 2-2 draw with Drumcondra in a City Cup game. He also paid back part of his sizeable wages and signing on fee, Milltown was packed for the match, the crowd was estimated at 20,000 and many of them there to catch a glimpse of the dashing Dodds. Rovers lost their next City Cup game against Shelbourne 2-1 which effectively ended their challenge for that trophy, although Dodds was once again on the scoresheet and proved a star attraction; Shelbourne Park had recorded its highest gate receipts in fifteen years, totalling £718.

There were reports that Rovers were looking to add to their star names with new cross-channel signings to further boost their gates and improve on some indifferent performances. Among the names mentioned were Stanley Matthew, who was in dispute with his club Stoke at the time, as well as Peter Doherty, one of the great inside-forwards of his era and someone that Rovers tried to sign on more than one occasion, he had fallen out with the directors of Derby County after they objected to his taking over the running of a hotel. Neither deal would materialise in the end but the move of Dodds to Rovers, and to a lesser extent the signings made by Shelbourne were a significant point of controversy. It brought the issue of the maximum wage (then capped at £10 per week) into the pages of the press, with columnists asking if it were not reasonable for a top player, whose presence alone could add thousands to attendance figures and hundreds of pounds to ticket takings, to be paid a higher amount? The Reveille newspaper was moved to write the following on the Dodds transfer;

Unless some satisfactory agreement is reached before very long on the question of a player’s wage, I forsee one of two one or two other prominent stars crossing to Eire

Dodds time with Rovers was to be relatively short-lived, Blackpool had complained to the FA about the situation, and the FA in turn complained to FIFA, an organisation that they had just re-joined after one of their periodic absences. The Britsh press reported that Dodds had even approached the Blackpool Chairman, William Parkinson in late October stating that he had made an “unwise move” and wished to return to England. In all Dodds would only play in five games for Rovers scoring four goals over the course of just over six weeks. This included two games in the City Cup and three in the League of Ireland Shield. Dodds would ultimately join Everton at the beginning of November 1946, having signed off for Rovers with another goal against Drumcondra just days earlier. The agreed fee would be £7,750 between Everton and Blackpool although the Irish Independent reported that some payment was made to Rovers by Everton as they recognised the contract Dodds had with them, and that this was crucial to Everton getting in ahead of Sheffield Wednesday in the bidding war.

This idea that Rovers would have received some financial compensation is slightly surprising, along with Dodds desire to return to England, the FAI had also apparently received a letter from FIFA seeking a resolution to the “open door” system. Before the month was out a conference was arranged in Glasgow to regularise transfer arrangements, delegates from the League of Ireland and representatives of the Scottish and English Leagues were present and on the 27th November Jim Brennan, secretary of the League of Ireland was in a position to telegram Dublin to advise that “full and harmonious agreement was reached for the mutual recognition of retained and transfer lists” – the open door had finally closed. The following month the Irish Football League met and agreed that they would also abide by the Glasgow agreement which ceased the practice of the major Belfast clubs signing players from south of the border without fees being paid.

Dodds would go on to have a productive couple of seasons for Everton before moving on again, this time to Lincoln City for a fee of £6,000 in 1948. He continued to find the back of the net for the Imps before finally hanging up his boots in 1950, aged 35. He did however, have one more brush with officialdom over the breaking of contracts and transfers abroad. In 1949, a Colombian football association called DIMAYOR had broken away from FIFA following a dispute with an amateur football association, as a result this association was banned by FIFA but an independent Colombian league offering huges salaries to entice the best players from abroad was formed. Nicknamed “El Dorado” due to the wealth on offer, the league’s clubs signed the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano from River Plate but were also keen on British professionals and ended up enticing top players like Manchester United’s Charlie Mitten and Stoke City’s Neil Franklin to Bogotá. Jock Dodds was also in the mix, acting as a recruiter and go-between for the Colombian league, and getting a cut for himself of course. Dodds ended up being banned by the Football Association in July 1950 for bringing the game into disrepute for his role in the “Bogotá bandits” affair, but was later cleared.

As for the League of Ireland, well it was a qualified victory, Hanson, Tapken et al would leave Shelbourne after a successful season and return to England. Tommy Breen left Shamrock Rovers, moving to Glentoran for a fee of £600, though this was paid to Manchester United, the club that held his registration. The fears of the British press, that big money contracts could entice the cream of their footballing talent across the Irish sea without a transfer fee never materialised, nor where they likely to. Astute businesspeople like Joe and Mary Jane Cunningham at Shamrock Rovers saw the benefit of offering big money to the likes of Dodds to come to Milltown. For the £900 or so they invested in his signing on fee and wages they probably made as much back in increases to gate receipts generated by his presence in the team and seem to have made at least some money out of the Everton transfer. Such signings and wages were not sustainable overall and can be seen as part of an ongoing pattern of League of Ireland sides signing up big name players (usually coming towards the end of their careers) on short term contracts to boost crowd numbers and generate interest and media coverage for the club. The likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks and even Uwe Seeler would appear in the League of Ireland for a handful of games in the decades to come, and usually ended up putting extra bums on seats, at least in the short term.

More positively it put the League of Ireland on an equal footing with the Irish, Scottish and English leagues, no more could the best talent in the league be snapped up for absolutely nothing (though plenty of British clubs still try), transfer fees had to be paid and over the intervening decades this proved crucial in keeping many League of Ireland clubs afloat. Another benefit of the Glasgow conference was that the Scottish and English leagues agreed to start playing inter-league games against the League of Ireland. Previously these games had mostly been restricted to matches against the Irish or Welsh leagues, but now the best the English and Scottish Leagues had to offer would begin coming to Dublin while the League of Ireland selections would journey to Celtic Park, Goodison, Maine Road and Ibrox among others. These games were highly prestigious and importantly the large crowds they attracted to Dalymount were significant revenue generators.

For so long League of Ireland fans have become used to a certain condescening attitude towards their clubs from their British counterparts, especially in relation to transfer fees for players, many of whom have gone on to have excellent careers. Everton fans still sing about getting Seamus Coleman from Sligo Rovers for “60 grand” as just one example. With this in mind it is interesting to look back at post-war stories in the British media where sports columnnists and football club officials fretted about the spending power of rogue Irish clubs enticing away the best of British talent.

Don’t you remember? They called me Al

Quiz question – no phones, no Google – who is the oldest player ever to feature in a UEFA club competition?

Think about it… Champions League, oldest player… must be a keeper, Dino Zoff maybe? Someone from the Cup Winners Cup back in the day, lying about their age maybe?

Well the answer gets a little complicated, the records for the Champions League/European Cup show several players in their 40’s who featured in preliminary qualifying rounds, including Pasquale D’Orsi and former Roma midfielder Damiano Tommasi who both featured for teams from San Marino at 47 and 44 years old respectively. Sandwiched in between them is Northern Irish goalkeeper Mickey Keenan who lined out for Portadown FC against Belarus side Belshina Bobruisk back in 2002 aged 46.

In all these instances these players were on the losing side of a qualifying round game, however another Irishman played in UEFA competition proper, at the age of 43 years and 261 days, breaking a record held by Italian World Cup winner Dino Zoff. That man was Al Finucane and he set this milestone when he lined out against Bordeaux in the first round of the Cup Winners Cup in September 1986.

This was no mean Bordeaux side, they were in the middle of one of their most successful periods under the stewardship of future World Cup winning manager Aimé Jacquet. That same season they would win the French league and cup double to add to their French cup triumph from the previous year. Their squad included the likes of classy midfielder Jean Tigana and fellow French internationals René Girard, Patrick Battiston and the unfortunately named goalkeeper Dominique Dropsy. There was an international element to their line-ups as well with Croation twins Zoran and Zlatko Vujovic who were both Yugoslavia internationals at the time, they even had a German international, striker Uwe Reinders. A stern challenge for a Waterford side who were only in the Cup Winners Cup as losing finalists after Shamrock Rovers had won the league and cup double the previous season.

Not that Waterford were without international experience themselves. Al Finucane had won 11 Irish caps, granted the most recent of those had come some 15 years earlier, but there were also Noel Synott and Tony Macken, both veterans aged 35 and 36 respectively who had previously been capped by Ireland. There was a dash of youth in the Waterford side with a teenage Paul Cashin in midfield making a name for himself by nutmegging Jean Tigana during the home leg of the tie.

Finucane also had plenty of experience in European competition in addition to his international caps, during his long League of Ireland career which stretched back to his Limerick debut in 1960, Al had featured against the likes of Torino, CSKA Sofia, IFK Göteborg, Southampton, Dinamo Tbilisi and even scored a goal against Hibernians of Malta at the age of 37 as he helped Waterford through to the second round of the 1980-81 Cup Winners Cup.

Michael Alphonsus Finucane was born in Limerick in 1943 and by the age of 17 had made his League of Ireland debut for his local club against Shamrock Rovers in 1960. He would go on to make a record 634 appearances in the league across 27 seasons and win three FAI Cups. He began his career as an attacking, left footed midfielder but would spend most of his career as a classy, ball-playing defender.

He had the rare honour of captaining Ireland while still a League of Ireland player in a game against Austria in 1971. He also represented the League of Ireland XI on 16 occasions. He came from a family with a strong association with football, including with his uncle John Neilan who had played full back from Limerick in the 1950’s.

Finucane had two spells with both Limerick and Waterford before winding down his league career with another Limerick side, Newcastlewest during their short tenure in the League of Ireland first division. He was 45 when he finally left League of Ireland football, though he didn’t hang up his boots, he continued playing football regularly and also indulged his passion for golf.

But returning to that record breaking game with Bordeaux, as with many European nights for League of Ireland sides it was a story of bravery and determination before eventually succumbing to overwhelming odds. A competitive first leg tie in Kilcohan Park in Waterford saw Bordeaux take a two goal lead thanks to French internationals René Girard and Philippe Vercruysse before veteran defender Noel Synott got Waterford back in the game with a late goal. The away leg in front of a relatively small Bordeaux crowd of around 10,000 finished 4-0 to the French side but that tells only half the story. Waterford, and in particular young goalkeeper David Flavin, put on a fine display and striker Bernard Lacombe missed a number of chances, it was only in the 79th minute that Bordeaux broke the deadlock. A tiring Waterford defence, once breached, could stem the tide no longer. three more goals followed in last ten minutes.

That defeat remains the last time a Waterford side have competed in Europe. Finucane still holds that record more than 30 years later. At more than 43 and up against a top French side packed with internationals Waterford manager Alfie Hale, (a former team-mate of Finucane) kept faith with the veteran star, saying simply, “if he wasn’t playing well, he wouldn’t be in the side”. While Irish players don’t hold too many European records Al Finucane’s achievement as part of a remarkable career is one that League of Ireland fans can take pride in.

Bohs in Europe

The following is a condensed version of the talk given in the Jackie Jameson bar on December 7th 2019

After a gap of eight years the 2020 season will see Bohemian FC return to European competition, given the club’s name and its history it could be argued that this is merely a return to its rightful position as for more than a century the Bohemian Football Club has looked beyond the borders of Ireland for challenge and opposition.

Bohemian internationalism really dates back to the development of Dalymount Park as the club’s permanent home. This base allowed them to invite the cream of British talent to Dublin to try their luck against the Bohemians, in those early years Preston North End, Aston Villa, Celtic and Sheffield United were among the early visitors. In 1908 Bohemians played Queens Park in Glasgow on New Year’s Day in an annual fixture which was the world’s most prestigious amateur club match usually contested by English side Corinthians. With them being unavailable to travel Bohemians were asked in their place and contested the game in front of over 20,000 spectators in Hampden Park.

After the split from the IFA the footballing landscape for clubs based in the new Free State was very different, the emerging FAI sought membership to FIFA and clubs like Bohemians also began to look to the Continent. In 1923 the first Continental side to play in Ireland since the split from the IFA arrived to take on Bohemians and an FAI XI, they were Gallia Club of Paris who played out a draw with Bohs.

From further afield came the South African national team, embarking on a tour of Britain and Ireland, the first opponents on this tour were Bohs in Dalymount Park and the unusual situation arose as two South African captains faced off against each other. Because the captain of Bohs for that 1924 season was Billy Otto, born on Robben Island he had left South Africa as a teenager to fight in WWI before ending up working in Dublin as a civil servant. A talented and versatile footballer he captained Bohemians to the League title before moving back to South Africa with his Irish wife in 1927.

By 1929 Bohemians were embarking on their first European tour themselves, competing in the Aciéries D’Angleur – an annual invitational tournament held around Liege in Belgium. Bohs played four games in all including friendlies, winning every one and emerging victorious in a tournament which also featured Union Saint Gilloise, Standard Liege and RFC Tilleur. During this visit to Belgium the club also performed diplomatic functions on behalf of the Irish State such as flying the tricolor (at the first game the club had been mistakenly introduced under a Union Jack) and laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.


Further continental success would follow three years later in the 1932 Tournois de Pentecôte held in Paris in the Stade Buffalo ahead of the first full professional season of the French League. Bohemians triumphed again by beating Cercle Athlétique de Paris (aka CA Paris/Gallia who we encountered earlier) and Club Français and winning the tournament and securing a second European trophy in three years. These were no mean achievements as both sides featured a number of French internationals who had competed in the 1930 World Cup and who had scored a stunning victory over England only a year earlier.

A year after the trip to France Dalymount Park welcomed the first ever South American touring side to visit Britain or Ireland. This was the combined selection from Peru and Chile – the “Combinado del Pacifico” who also visited Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Italy and Spain

There was significant interest and media attention paid to the game, official reception by the Lord Mayor of Dublin etc. Success of Uruguay in recent Olympic games and at the 1930 World Cup had sparked interest in South American football and despite the talent within the squad, including several future Copa America champions Bohs were able to hold out for a more than credible 1-1 with the touring side.

Bohs didn’t even taste defeat on European soil until April 1st 1934 when they were made to look the fools, losing the opening match of another European tournament against Dutch side Go Ahead in Amsterdam. The tournament also featured Cercle Bruges and Ajax. While the Gypsies bounced back and defeated Cercle Bruges 4-1 and secured a draw against ADO Den Haag there was sadly to be no match against that emerging force of Dutch football, Ajax.

While it would be the 1970-71 before Bohs would enter an official UEFA competition let nobody tell you that we don’t have a long history in Europe.

This piece first appeared in the Bohemian FC v Fehérvár match programme in August 2020.

Wonder, death and rebirth – Austria Vienna in the 1930s

A simple photograph of four teammates, stars for club and country, in their homeland they are viewed as part of a footballing golden age, central to the rise of one of the strongest national teams in Europe. For their club they regularly challenged for trophies and beat the best that Europe had to offer. The photo shows the men in the jersey of the Austrian national team rather than their club FK Austria Vienna. It is taken around the early to mid-1930s with the players wearing thick white jerseys with lace-up collars, their hair slicked and brushed back in the style of the time. They look confident, at ease, a hint of a smile plays on more than one of their faces. By the end of that decade two of those men would be dead, one under mysterious circumstances that still provokes discussion to this day, and the other two? One would have to flee the newly arrived forces of Nazi Germany and escape the country with his Jewish wife, partly as a result of the actions of the man standing next to him; a committed fascist who helped overthrow the management of Austria Vienna. This is an attempt to tell the story of these four men – Matthias Sindelar, Karl Gall, Hans Mock and Walter Nausch and that of the club Austria Vienna, in their journey from triumph to tragedy in the 1930s.

In 1936 an Austrian side dubbed, the Wunderteam beat England 2-1 in Vienna. It was only the second time ever that the English had been beaten by Continental opposition after a defeat to Spain some seven years earlier. This was a special side, one born out of a vibrant and developing footballing culture. The Austrians were among the most progressive footballing nations in Continental Europe. Their league centred around the capital city of Vienna was the first on the Continent to go professional in 1924 and only a few years later the visionary Austrian coach and administrator Hugo Meisl helped create the Mitropa Cup or Central European Cup. This was one of the first international club tournaments and it began in 1927 and featured two top professional teams from Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and later teams from Italy, Switzerland and Romania would enter as the tournament expanded.

By the 1930s the Austrians were a major force in European football, in 1931 they trounced Scotland 5-0 in Vienna, that result was sandwiched between a 0-0 draw with England (also in Vienna in 1930) before an unlucky 4-3 defeat to them in Stamford Bridge in 1932. And it wasn’t just the hapless Scots who the Austrians were racking up the goals against. Right after that win against Scotland the Austrians put six past the German national team in Berlin and five in the return fixture in Vienna. The following months would see them put eight past Switzerland in Basel and another eight past Hungary in Vienna. In 1932 and 1933 there were wins over Italy, Sweden, France and Belgium (twice) and the Netherlands as the Austrians geared up for the 1934 World Cup.

In qualification Austria had been drawn in a group with Hungary and Bulgaria but only had to play a single game, dispatching the Bulgarians with ease 6-1. Bulgaria had also suffered two defeats against Hungary and withdrew from qualifying which guaranteed Austria a spot in the World Cup in Italy after just a single game.

The 1934 tournament ran on a simple knock-out cup format without any group stages. Austria were drawn in the first round against France. Now, the Austrians had comfortably beaten the French 4-0 just a year earlier but faced a different proposition in the opening game of the World Cup. The French looked to curb the influence of the Austrians, centre-forward, talisman and playmaker Matthias Sindelar by man-marking him with their half-back Georges Verriest. Though Sindelar opened the scoring in the Stadio Benito Mussolini in Turin, it was a much tighter game and Austria only prevailed 3-2 after the French had taken the game into extra-time.

Austria defeated neighbours Hungary in the quarter finals by a margin of 2-1 in a bad-tempered game and were drawn against hosts Italy in the semi-finals. The hosts won the match 1-0 thanks to a controversial first-half goal in the San Siro. For the 3rd place play-off the Austrians made numerous changes, which included dropping Sindelar and having to wear a borrowed set of blue Napoli jerseys as their white and black kit clashed with their opponents Germany. Despite high-scoring wins over the Germans in the previous years it was the Austrians’ larger neighbours who would prevail. Austria seemed cocky with full-back Karl Sesta (sometimes written as Szestak) taunting German attacker Edmund Conen by sitting on the ball when Conen tried to dispossess him. On the second occasion he did this Conen managed to dispossess him and scored a vital goal. Sesta did make some amends in the second half by scoring himself but it was not enough, the Germans had won 3-2.

Of the squad that went to Italy for the World Cup three players were on the books of FK Austria Vienna; forward Rudolf Viertl, the young, skilful attacker Josef “Pepi” Stroh, and the teams star, Matthias Sindelar, while directly after the World Cup they were joined by Karl Sesta who moved from Wiener AC.

Two years later when that famous win against England rolled around the contingent of FK Austria Vienna players had risen; Sindelar started against England at centre-forward, with Viertl at outside left, young Stroh played at inside-right while the team was captained by Walter Nausch another Austria Vienna player. Two more players from the club featured, Johann (Hans) Mock at centre-half and Karl Sesta at right-back while it was Viertl that opened the scoring in the 2-1 win for the Austrians.

The high concentration of players from Austria Vienna was not to be unexpected, the club were enjoying one of their most successful periods, winning the Austrian Cup in the 1934-35 and 1935-36 seasons and would finish runners-up in the league in 1936-37. During the 30s they also won two Mitropa Cups in 1933 and again in 1936 with final wins over Inter Milan (then styled as Ambrosiana after St. Ambrose of Milan, the Italian fascists deemed their original name too “international”) and Sparta Prague respectively. They had a genuine claim to be one of the strongest club sides on central Europe. While the second leg of the 1933 final has gone down in history as one of the finest ever performances by Mattias Sindelar – with Austria Vienna trailing 2-1 from the first leg he scored a hat-trick of spectacular quality to win the match 3-1 and secure the trophy would return with him to Vienna.

However, one cannot write about the FK Austria Vienna team of this era and ignore what came next. 1936 had seen them win both the Austrian Cup and Mitropa Cup and supply numerous players to the Austrian National team, but less than two years later there would not be an Austrian national team, and there very nearly was not an Austria Vienna at all. The Anschluss, the effective annexation of Austria into a greater Germany ruled by Adolf Hitler took place in March 1938. This was an especially dangerous time for Austria Vienna as they were viewed as a “Jewish club” and featured many members of the city’s large Jewish community among their players, board and fans. The club’s first president, Erwin Müller was Jewish, as was their president at the time of the Anschluss, Emanuel “Michl” Schwarz.

The club faced huge upheaval after March 1938, they were initially suspended for not being under “Ayrian management” until a former amateur player, and leading member of the local SA (Sturmabteilung, commonly known as the Brownshirts), Hermann Haldenwang was installed as the new head of the club. He arrived at the club in full SA uniform, accompanied by first team player Hans Mock, who was similarly attired. Haldenwang wanted to change the club’s name to SC Ostmark as the use of the name Austria was considered too nationalistic. Jewish players and officials were no longer allowed at the club, and the clubs stadium was taken over by the German army for training purposes.

By the summer Haldenwang had been transferred and the club were unique in being able to return to the use of their former name. By this stage most of their board and many of their players had fled. Emanuel Schwarz initially hoped that he would be protected by virtue of his “mixed marriage” to a non-Jewish woman and he stayed in Vienna and waited for a visa for the United States. Ultimately, he was forced to divorce to try and protect his wife and son. When his visa failed to materialise, he decided to flee, first to Bologna, which he managed through his contact Giovanni Mauro within the Italian FA. And then with the support of FIFA President Jules Rimet, he obtained an entry permit for France in 1939, where he was forced into hiding after the German invasion. In 1945 at the War’s end he was reinstated as Chairman with the club recognising him as their only legitimate leader stating that the role remained his despite his absence.

Hans Mock who had effectively helped to oust Schwarz, had been an Austrian international, however with no Austria in existence to compete at the 1938 World Cup he was representing a newly enlarged Germany at the competition. He had been a member of the SA even when the organisation was illegal in an independent Austria, he surely was happy to get the chance to represent the Reich. He even got the opportunity to captain Germany in their opening game at World Cup against Switzerland. The match finished a 1-1 draw and Mock was dropped for the replay which the Swiss won, eliminating Germany in the first round. Mock would continue at Austria Vienna until 1942, playing his last game for them at the age of 36. Mock survived the War and after dabbling in coaching ran a wine bar in Vienna until his death in 1982 aged 76.

Hans Mock Germany v Switzerland 1938

Hans Mock captains Germany v Switzerland at the 1938 World Cup photo

While Mock may appear an obvious villain of the piece, selling out teammates and club members he must have known would have to be removed from the club and likely flee the country, the decisions made by other Austria Vienna players less obviously sympathetic to the new regime bare further scrutiny. One result of the Anschluss was that all sport was to return to being notionally amateur, thus at a stroke the entire professional playing staff of Austria Vienna was out of a job. While some had trades to fall back on others sought to leave the club for other professional leagues, notably the French league, while still others tried their hands at new business ventures.

By the time of the Anschluss Austria’s star footballer Sindelar was already 35 and increasingly injuries were taking their toll on him, by 1938 he was featuring less-regularly for Austria Vienna and when he did play he was pushed out to the right wing and not afforded as central an attacking role. He decided to follow a route well-trodden for footballers coming to the end of their careers and go into the hospitality business, running his own café, the Annahof Coffee House in the district of Favouriten, somewhere the Sindelar knew well in his local neighbourhood. Most reports note that Sindelar got a café at an attractive price as it was owned by a man named Leopold Drill, because Drill was Jewish he was no longer permitted to own a business and was forced to sell. Sindelar, an ageing footballer coming to the end of a career for which he could no longer legally be paid was the clear beneficiary of this transaction.

Sindelar was not alone in this, his teammate Karl Sesta similarly bought a Jewish owned bakery and it took until 1953 for the bakery’s rightful owner, Josef Brand to get the business returned to him. While Sesta survived the War and continued playing until 1946, earning a living from the bakery throughout, Sindelar did not get to benefit from ownership of the café for long. One night after drinking with friends in January 1939 Sindelar left to go to the apartment of his girlfriend Camilla Castagnola, it was the last time he was seen alive. Friends worried about Sindelar the next day broke down the door to Castagnola’s apartment to find her unconscious on the bed with Sindelar already dead beside her. Castagnola would later die in hospital and both deaths were judged to have been as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Despite this judgement theories abounded that Sindelar had been killed by the Nazis, with various reasons put forward to justify this suspicion: Sinderlar’s supposed Social Democratic leanings (despite his calling for Austrians to ratify the Anschluss in a referendum), his refusal to play for a Greater Germany side, supposed Jewish heritage either in Sindelar’s family or in that of Castagnola. Even today many still point to these theories and as a result for many, Sindelar has been cast as a symbol of resistance to Nazi rule. While his personal life and legacy remain complex his role at the heart of one of the greatest players in Austrian history remains more safely uncontested.

The death of Sindelar’s teammate Karl Gall was more brutally straightforward, the skillful winger had 11 international caps to his name. He had spent three years playing in France for Mulhouse until the outbreak of War had prompted his return to Austria Vienna in 1939. By 1942 he was still playing at the age of 37 when he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht in 1942 and sent to the Eastern front. On February 27th 1943, in the harshness of the Russian winter a landmine tore apart one of the most elegant players ever to represent Austria Vienna.

He was not the only member of Austria Vienna to die violently during the War years. Josef Adelbrecht, like Gall, died on the Eastern Front, while a young player named Franz Riegler died in an air-raid on Vienna. Robert Lang, an early player, then later coach and board member of the club fled after the Anschluss, first to Switzerland and later to Yugoslavia, rightly fearing for his safety as a Viennese Jew. He continued coaching, but after Belgrade fell to the Nazis in 1941 he was imprisoned and murdered.

The final member of our foursome was Walter Nausch. A talented, cerebral midfielder, Nausch was a born leader, he had been a captain of Austria Vienna and key to many of their successes. While Nausch was not Jewish his wife was, and he was “advised” that he should seek a divorce. Rather than do so Nausch and his wife fled across the border to neutral Switzerland where he began his coaching career. After the War Nausch was able to return to Vienna and in 1948 he became national team coach of Austria. In 1954, some twenty years after being part of the Wunderteam that reached the semi-finals Nausch was able to lead the Austrians to another World Cup semi-final, while they lost heavily against eventual winners West Germany they would do slightly better than Italy 1934 by beating the Uruguayans 3-1 in the third place play-off. It remains Austria’s best-ever World Cup performance.

With special thanks to Clemens Zavarsky for his assistance. A version of this article appeared in issue 3 of View Magazine.

Bohemians v Austria Vienna


The life of O’Reilly

It all began in a two room house that no longer stands, on a street that no longer exists. In the summer of 1911, Joseph O’Reilly, a man who go on to be one of the greatest Irish footballers of his era was born at number 4, Willet’s Place. And, like the street where he was born, O’Reilly tends to be forgotten by history.

While Willet’s Place was just one of the many lanes and courts that snaked through Dublin’s impoverished north inner city, a place that many perhaps willingly forgot, Joe is someone who should be more familiar, especially to Irish football supporters. He was the first Irish player to win twenty international caps, a total that would have been significantly higher had the outbreak of World War Two not intervened. O’Reilly’s appearance record wouldn’t be broken until Johnny Carey won his 21st cap in 1949.

He was also a star of the domestic game, winning both a League and an FAI Cup with St. James’s Gate and represented the League of Ireland XI on many occasions. However, despite being a cultured half-back with a rocket of a shot, enjoying club success and scoring on his international debut in a win against the Netherlands, O’Reilly’s name provoked little response when typed into a search bar – a two line wikipedia entry being scant reward for an impressive career.

One reason that Joe O’Reilly is not a more prominent name in the history of Irish football could be down to the man himself. I spoke with Joe’s son Bob about his father and he stressed how little his father courted the limelight, describing him as a quiet and very humble man. Indeed the few articles and interviews that one can find on Joe O’Reilly see him focus praise and attention on his erstwhile teammates and rivals rather than on himself.

Map of Willet's Place

Ordnance survey map showing Willet’s Place (top centre right) c.1913 the Gloucester Diamond is shown bottom left.

Off the Diamond

To redress the balance I’ve tried to piece together a descriptive timeline of Joe’s life and career. In doing so let’s return to that two bedroom house in Willet’s Place, a back lane off what we know today as Sean McDermott Street. On May 27th 1911 a son is born to Michael and Mary O’Reilly, they christen him Joseph. This is an area that will become synonymous with Dublin football and footballers, Graham Burke, Jack Byrne and Wes Hoolahan are some of the more recent residents from the area who have worn the green, while the Gloucester Diamond became famous across the city for its 7-a-side matches that often featured the cream of Dublin’s footballing talent.


The Gloucester Diamond and its famous 7 a side concrete pitch – photo from local historian Terry Fagan

However, the O’Reilly family would not remain in the area long, they moved to another hotbed of Dublin football; Ringsend on the southern banks of the Liffey. Michael was a soldier in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at the time of Joe’s birth and he was predominantly based out of Beggar’s Bush barracks, a short distance from the Ringsend/Irishtown area. The cramped house on Willet’s Place was the family home of mother Mary and shared with her parents Joseph and Mary-Anne Cooling. By 1916, when Joe’s younger brother Peter was born the family were living in one of the newly constructed houses in Stella Gardens, Ringsend. Named after Stella O’Neill, the daughter of local Nationalist Councillor Charles O’Neill these would have been an improvment on Willet’s Place and would have been highly sought after.

The family remained in the Ringsend area although the moved addresses at various times, being listed as living on the likes of South Lotts Road and on Gerald Street. Joe was the third child in a growing family that eventually would welcome seven children, four boys and three girls. Ringsend is of course an area synonymous with soccer, being the original home to both Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne as well as one of Dublin’s oldest football clubs, Liffey Wanderers. The district has supplied the Irish national team with literally dozens of international players over the years and should count O’Reilly among its number, although he didn’t make the list when the Sunday Tribune set out to map all of Ringsend’s footballers back in 1994 (see below).

Football map of Ringsend

Sunday Tribune 1994 map of Ringsend’s footballers

The Ringsend Cycle

While born on the northside of the Liffey, and later to spend much of his life living in the then rural village of Saggart, south county Dublin it would be Ringsend that would provide formative influences on young Joe O’Reilly. Ringsend was home to Jimmy Dunne, who O’Reilly played with on numerous occasions for the national team, a man that he would continue to tell tales about years after he had hung up his boots. Ringsend was also home to Bob Fullam, one of the bona fide stars of Irish football in the 1920s, when terraces used to echo to the chants of “Give it to Bob”, in the hope that his rocket like left foot would create something spectacular. We’ll come on to Fullam later in our story but let’s begin with Dunne.

Jimmy Dunne was born in 1905, six years senior to Joe O’Reilly and packed a lot into those early years. While still a teenager he was interned by the Free State forces in the “Tintown” camp in the Curragh due to his involvement with the anti-treaty IRA, his older brother Christopher was also involved. By that stage Dunne was already something of a footballing prodigy and fellow footballer, and internee Joe Stynes remembered playing matches with Dunne in the cramped confines of the camp. According to O’Reilly’s son Bob, the Republican exploits of Jimmy Dunne extended back even further. During the War of Independence he remembered his father saying that Jimmy Dunne (then no more than 15 or 16) was a delivery boy for a local baker, and would use this job as a way to bring IRA messages across the city on his bicycle, hidden inside a loaf of bread.

An additional layer is added to this when we turn to the life and career of Joe’s father Michael. As mentioned above Michael O’Reilly was a soldier with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. More than that he was a career soldier, having joined aged 18 and risen to the rank of Sergeant-Major and becoming and physical education instructor for the troops. He was a veteran of the Second Boer War and had an unblemished service record. Well – unblemished apart from one incident which caused him to be “severely reprimanded”. This reprimand related to a “disregard of battalion orders” when his battalion was based in Beggar’s Bush barracks in Dublin on the 24th of April, 1916. The day the Easter Rising began.

Reprimand sheet for MOR

Reprimand issued to Michael O’Reilly on the outbreak of the Easter Rising

The specifics of this incident remain unclear but it worth noting that Michael O’Reilly was not a callow recruit, he was a 29 year old Sergeant with over ten years service and battle experience. According to family history Michael gradually became disillusioned with life in the Army and even began training IRA volunteers during the War of Independence after leaving the British Army in early 1920. We do know that he would go on to join the newly created Free State army and would be based in the Curragh camp during the War of Independence, perhaps he even watched his son’s future teammate Jimmy Dunne play a match in the Tintown prisoner camp?

Debuts and defeats

Joe O’Reilly would follow his father into the Army as a young man and was a member of the Army No. 1 band as a clarinet player. While in the army he also lined out for an unofficial Army football team, Bush Rangers (the Association game wasn’t recognised as an official army sport at the time) and it was clear that football was his first love. Aged just 18, Joe O’Reilly made his debut in the League of Ireland, helping Brideville to a win over Dundalk in October 1929. Joe started at the inside right position and scored in the win over Dundalk. Of his debut the newspaper Sport recorded –

“O’Reilly the newcomer, lacks training but he was responsible for many clever touches and a fine goal. He should be persevered with.”

And persevere they did. By the end of that seasons the teenage O’Reilly was a regular for Brideville as they finished fifth in the League of Ireland and was lining out in a Cup final  against Shamrock Rovers who were embarking on a famous Cup dynasty. O’Reilly remembered being somewhat overawed by the occasion. He was not yet 19 and here he was starting in front of almost 20,000 in Dalymount Park, facing off against Irish internationals. He recalled years later that he must have looked somewhat of a nervous wreck as Rovers’ star Bob Fullam, a fellow Ringsend man, had a quiet word saying “I know you’re nervous, just do your best”. A small gesture but one which stuck with Joe.

The match didn’t go so well for Brideville though, ending in dramatic and controversial circumstances. With the game entering the 90th minute and the score level at 0-0 it looked like a lucrative replay might be on the cards. Rovers had a late attack and a hopefully ball was lofted into the box. David “Babby” Byrne, the Rovers striker got in between Brideville’s Charlie Reid and goalkeeper Charlie O’Callaghan and leaping with all of his 5’5″ frame guided the ball into the goal with an outstretched arm. 56 years before the dimunitive Diego Maradona did it, the FAI Cup had its own Hand of God moment.

The game’s colourful, English referee Captain Albert Prince-Cox saw no infraction and blew for the final whistle shortly afterwards. Joe had been denied the Cup in his debut season in cruel circumstances. By the end of that season Joe had moved further back on the pitch and instead of playing outside right he had moved into the half back line and his favoured role.

Despite the disappointment of losing the 1930 final further success on the pitch was not far off. In May 1932, just weeks before his 21st birthday Joe O’Reilly made his debut in Amsterdam against the Netherlands. Things got even better when just twenty minutes in O’Reilly scored the game’s opening goal with a rasping, curling shot from the edge of the box, in the second half Paddy Moore, the man who had replaced Bob Fullam as the talismanic figure at Shamrock Rovers scored a second to give Ireland a comfortable 2-0 victory in front of a crowd estimated at 30,000.

That first game for Ireland was an important one in Joe’s career as directly afterwards he, Paddy Moore and Shamrock Rovers’ winger Jimmy Daly, who had also featured against the Netherlands were signed for Aberdeen manager Paddy Travers for the combined fee of just under £1,000. The British transfer record at the time was £10,900 paid by Arsenal for Bolton Wanderers David Jack back in 1928, so to get three internationals for under a grand can count as a canny bit of business by the former Celtic player Travers. Joe became a full-time pro and was paid the princely sum of £6 a week for his efforts.

To the Granite City and back to the Gate

Things started well in the granite city for Joe, he was a first team regular for much of the season, alongside his international teammate Moore. While Jimmy Daly made a mere four appearances before returning to Shamrock Rovers, Joe would make 26 appearances in all competitions that first season, while Moore started off spectacularly, scoring 27 goals in 29 league games (including a double hat-trick against Falkirk) to help Aberdeen to 6th place in the League in the 1932-33 season.

However, the following season would be less successful for both men, while Moore still scored a respectable 18 goals in 32 appearances his strike rate had decreased and he eventually ended up going AWOL after returning to Ireland for a match against Hungary in December 1934, blaming injury and a miscommunication with Aberdeen. It seems that Moore’s problematic relationship with alcohol was impacting his performances, to the point that manager Paddy Travers had effectively chaperoned him back to Dublin for an international match against Belgium. Whatever Travers did seemed to work as Paddy Moore would score all four goals in a 4-4 draw in that game.

Joe’s issues were more prosaic, he felt alone and deeply homesick in Aberdeen which affected his form, he also faced stiff competition for a starting berth from club captain Bob Fraser who often played in the same position at right-half. While he would technically remain on the Aberdeen books by the beginning of 1935 Joe O’Reilly had returned to Dublin and Brideville.

After a year with Brideville he relocated the short distance to the Iveagh Grounds to sign for St. James’s Gate and it would be with the Gate that Joe would enjoy his greatest success domestically. While his first season with the Guinness team was not hugely successful the 1936-37 showed significant promise. For one thing the side featured a versatile teenager by the name of Johnny Carey who would be spotted by Manchester United and go on to captain them to League and FA Cup success during his 17-year stint with the club. While Joe and Johnny would only spend a few months together in the Gate first team they would don the green of Ireland together on many occasions.

The season would also bring around another FAI Cup final for Joe O’Reilly, more mature now, with international experience under his belt, surely this would be different to that teenage cup final defeat against a heavily fancied Rovers side? Alas for Joe this wasn’t to be the case, it was Waterford who triumphed in the final 2-1, bringing the cup to the banks of the Suir for the first time thanks to goals from makeshift centre-forward Eugene Noonan (more accustomed to playing at right back) and Tim O’Keeffe, with the Gate’s Billy Merry scoring a consolation goal late on.

Two lost cup finals by the age of 25 – perhaps Joe thought he was cursed never to lift the trophy? But a year is a long time in football and 12 months later St. James’s Gate were back in the final again, and this time they would emerge triumphant, defeating Dundalk 2-1. Goals from Dickie Comerford and a second half peno from Irish international Peadar Gaskins sealing the win. Incidentally the consolation goal for Dundalk was scored by Alf Rigby, who had been a part of the St. James’s Gate side who lost the cup a year earlier, being on two different losing cup final teams, two years in a row is not a distinction that any player would enjoy.

That cup win in 1938 would mark itself out as an emerging high point in Joe’s career, not only had he won the cup, he had been the victorious captain, leading the Gate to their first win in 16 years. “A marvellous day and one I still treasure” recalled Joe in an Irish Independent interview decades later.

Gate cup winning team.jfif

Joe standing behind the cup he had lifted in 1938 as team captain. (Credit Ger Sexton)

At international level Joe’s career was entering its prime. When he had made his debut in 1932 international opposition was difficult for the Irish team to find, near neighbours in Britain were refusing to play the national team in friendly matches for example. 1934 saw the first qualifying matches for the World Cup, Ireland were drawn in a group with the Netherlands and Belgium with Joe playing in both games.

The Belgium match entered the annals of Irish football history as one of the all time great international matches held in Dublin (and would perhaps set a national precedent for celebrating draws!) when Ireland drew 4-4. with Joe’s clubmate Paddy Moore scoring all four goals. The game against the Netherlands would be a disappointment however, despite taking the lead a late onslaught by the Dutch saw them run out 5-2 victors.

For the remaining five years Joe was pretty much an ever-present in the Irish team, playing a then record 17 consecutive international matches. He would score a second international goal in a 3-3 draw with Hungary in Budapest. Jimmy Dunne, also in record breaking form grabbed the other two.

Budapest medal

A commemorative medal awarded to Joe after playing against Hungary in Budapest.

Joe also featured in both 1938 World Cup qualifying matches (home and away against Norway) however after a 3-2 defeat in Oslo a 3-3 draw in Dalymount wasn’t enough to get the side to France for the third installment of the tournament. Ultimately Joe’s international record read – played 20, won 8, lost 5, drew 7. This included some stand out victories over the likes of France, Switzerland, Poland and Germany.

The Germans

Two matches against Germany formed some of the clearest memories of Joe’s football career, which he discussed with both the Sunday World and Irish Independent many years later. The first of these matches took place in 1936 in Dalymount.


Infamous match programme from the 1936 game against Germany as presented for sale at Whyte’s auctioneers.

It was in this game that the German team, and over 400 German dignitaries gave the Nazi salute at Dalymount Park. Given the lens of history it is understandable that these events have tended to overshadow the team performance but it was something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Irish side ran out 5-2 winners with Oldham’s Tom Davis scoring a brace on his debut, and Paddy Moore, slower, less mobile, but still perhaps the most skillful player on the pitch pulling the strings from the unusual position for him of inside left and creating three of the five goals.

This was something of an Indian Summer in Moore’s career (a strange thing to say about a man aged just 26), he was back at Rovers and was instrumental in helping the Hoops win the 1936 FAI Cup and he lit up Dalymount that day against Germany. It was his second last cap for Ireland, followed by an unispiring display in a 3-2 defeat to Hungary two months later. Injury and Moore’s well- documented problems with alcohol had, not for the last time, derailed a hugely promising football career. He finished his Ireland career with nine caps and seven goals.

Joe O’Reilly knew Paddy Moore well, from their time in Aberdeen, their outings together on the Irish national team and from facing him in the League of Ireland. When interviewed in the 1980s by journalist Seán Ryan, he said this of Moore;

He was a wonderful footballer, a wonderful personality. The George Best of his time… He was a very cute player. If, in a match, things weren’t going his way, he could produce the snap of genius to turn the match around – and he was always in the right spot. I had a good understanding with him.

Of that 5-2 win O’Reilly remembered it as the highlight of his playing career, telling Robert Reid in the Sunday World many year later;

The highlight for me was our 5-2 win against the Germans in 1936. Their ultra-nationalism acted as an incentive for us… what they weren’t going to do to us… and we beat them 5-2!

The second game against the Germans was even more controversial and took place three years later in May 1939, it would be the last international match played by the German national team before the outbreak of the Second World War. Similarly it would be the Irish team’s last international match until 1946. Of the eleven Irish players who took to the pitch in Bremen in 1939, only two, Johnny Carey and Kevin O’Flanagan would play for Ireland again.

The match was also a personal landmark for Joe O’Reilly as he became the first player to win 20 caps under the stewardship of the FAI. I’ve written previously on the details of that game in Bremen, the views of the FAI, and more widely about Ireland’s sporting relationship with Germany at this time.  It was Joe’s recollections that however, provided one of the quotes that has endured, and it wasn’t even a direct quote from Joe, but rather his memories of Jimmy Dunne.

Dunne, who had never lost his socialist, Republican ideals, gave the Nazi salute under duress. As Joe recalled:

As we stood there with our right arm outstretched, Jimmy kept saying to me ‘Remember Aughrim. Remember 1916.’ By the time the anthem finished, I wasn’t quite sure who was more agitated the Germans or us.

As well as an interest in politics Dunne obviously seemed to have some interest in Irish history. O’Reilly recalls ahead of a game against Norway the usually laconic Dunne riled up his Irish teammates with references to Brian Boru’s victory over the Norse at the Battle of Clontarf. However, Dunne’s attitude in Germany stood in contrast with the official view of the FAI was recorded in the words of Association Secretary Joe Wickham. who said, “In Bremen our flags were flown though, of course, well outnumbered by the Swastika. We also, as a compliment, gave the German salute to their Anthem, standing to attention for our own. We were informed this would be much appreciated by their public which it undoubtedly was.” That the Irish athem was even played was in part down to Joe. On learning that the German band didn’t have the right sheet music Joe was able to write the notation to Amhrán na bhFiann from memory, thanks to his days in the Irish Army band.

Reflecting on his last cap more than 50 years later Joe felt the benefit of hindsight, appreciating things he perhaps didn’t as a sportsman in his 20s. He told Robert Reid;

But war was in the air. You could see it all around you, although you didn’t fully appreciate the extent of what was about to happen. How could anyone have known?

The anti-semetic feeling was already evident. But it was difficult to fathom what was really going on.

I remember the German soldiers. The shouts of “Heil Hitler” and the way we reciprocated their gesture. It was done in pure innocence. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I remember the young faces. I still remember them and wonder whatever happened to most of those young people, Germans, Jews, all the nationalities…

This match would be the last that Joseph O’Reilly played for his country, his international career ended, a week before his 28th birthday and three months before the Schleswig-Holstein battleship fired the first shots of World War Two.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Above are the panels on an international cap awarded by the FAI reprepsenting games that Joe O’Reilly played for Ireland in 1938 and 1939.


While Joe’s international career had come to a premature end his club career continued unabated. Unlike many European leagues the League of Ireland continued in as close to a normal capacity as was possible, during the years of the Second World War.

The 1939-40 season was to be one of great success for Joe as he captained St. James’s Gate to the league title. The men from the brewery finishing six points clear of nearest rivals Shamrock Rovers, while the Gate’s Paddy Bradshaw (who had scored in the 1-1 draw against Germany in Bremen) would end as the league’s top scorer with 29 goals.

Joe continued with the Gate until the 1943-44 season when the club disappointingly finished bottom of the league and failed to gain re-election, the club announcing that they were to revert to an amateur status thereafter. This wasn’t quite the end of Joe’s top flight career, as the club that replaced St. James’s Gate was his former side Brideville, returning to the League of Ireland after one of their periodic absences. Joe, now in his mid 30s signed on for one more season with the men from the Liberties before eventually hanging up his boots.

By this stage Joe had relocated to Saggart in south county Dublin and was working with Swiftbrook paper mills, a well established business who made official paper for the likes of the Irish Government, and according to historian Mervyn Ennis, James Connolly used the paper milled in Saggart for the publication of the Socialist Magazine, and when it came time to print it, the 1916 Proclamation. By this stage Joe had met and married his wife Helen and together they would eventually have six children; Geraldine, Helen, Maureen, Patricia, Bob and Brian.

Joe and Peter

Joe and Peter O’Reilly

Sport remained an interest throughout the family, from Joe’s father Michael, the physical education army man who later trained Kildare’s footballers for All-Ireland success in 1928, while his brother Peter who won an All-Ireland with Dublin in 1942. Even his son Bob made the Dublin GAA team league panel in the early 80s as well as playing soccer on the books of Shelbourne.

By all accounts a quite and humble man who preferred to amplify the achievements of others, Joe did gain some wider recognition later in life, being a recipient in 1991 of an Opel Hall of Fame award alongside Paddy Coad and Dundalk’s Joey Donnelly.


Opel crystal

The Opel hall of fame award presented to Joe in 1991.

Joe passed away in October 1992 just a year after the receipt of this award. While he surprisingly remains little remembered in many Irish football circles he was one of the most talented and technically astute players for Ireland and an early international record breaker.


A special thank you to Bob O’Reilly for sharing memories of his father as well as many of the photos that feature in this article.

Bohemians in America (Podcast)

A podcast recorded with sports researcher Michael Kielty – a lively discussing which covers early patterns of emigration by Irish footballers, the emergence of  the New York Bohemians in the 1920s, as well as the stories of unique characters like Billy Synott and Joe Stynes.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ray Keogh – a pioneer in Irish football (Podcast)

Recordings of my talk on the life and career of Ray Keogh from January 2020. This talk took place in Drumcondra Library and I would like to thank Conor Curran and Emma Kelly for their assistance in organising everything on the night.

Also discussed are topics like the demise of Drumcondra FC as a league club, as well as the career of other players of colour in the League of Ireland and the Irish League. Also heard at the end of the talk is Ray’s former Drumcondra teammate Alf Girvin who shares some of his memories of Ray and Drums.

Some photos included below are provided by Ray’s family as well as some images from the evening of the talk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.