Calling Captain McCue (Podcast)

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

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

Calling Captain McCue (Spotify link)

Calling Captain McCue (Soundcloud link)

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Oh the Cologne – a football weekend on the Rhine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recuperating on the train back from Essen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freebooting around the rock of Gibraltar

Co-written with Michael Kielty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Podcast: Football in Pre-Partition Ireland — Outside Write

We talk to Dublin-based football historian Gerard Farrell about how association football took off in Ireland before partition in 1921 into what are now known as the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Gerard runs the blog A Bohemian Sporting Life, and provides a fascinating insight into how soccer competed for attention against the other […]

via Podcast: Football in Pre-Partition Ireland — Outside Write

From Dalymount to New York

Co-written with Michael Kielty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joe Stynes in his Bohs days

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The American Bohemians

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

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

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The American Bohemians

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

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

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

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

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