The whistle of Langenus

In the summer of 2018 as the elated French champions cavorted and the Croatian players lay prone and disconsolate a group of men in fluorescent light-blue jerseys went to the podium to collect their medals, they were referee Néstor Pitana and his team of officials. This was surely the sporting pinnacle for Pitana, who had celebrated his 43rd birthday just a month before and had begun his career refereeing in the Argentine second tier back in 2006.

But Néstor Pitana is but the latest link in a chain that stretches back almost 90 years to John Langenus, the Belgian official who had refereed the chaotic first World Cup final in 1930, as well as games in the 1934 and ’38 tournaments and the 1928 Olympics. Such was Langenus’s international reputation that he was in high demand for club games outside of his native Belgium, and it is here that the Irish connection appears, because just three months before he refereed in the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928 and two years before the World Cup final, he was in Dalymount Park for the Free State Cup Final between Bohemians and Drumcondra.

Bohs won that Cup final 2-1 in front of a crowd of over 25,000 on St. Patrick’s Day, 1928 to secure a clean sweep of all four domestic competitions that season. Their goals came from Jimmy White and Billy Dennis which cancelled out John Keogh’s opener for Drums. Match reports record that the Bohs were deserved winners with Drumcondra offering little in attack after their opening goal. Of the referee’s role The Irish Times noted that “while feelings ran high at intervals, the referee, Mr. Langenus of Belgium, handled the game splendidly and that nothing unseemly occurred to mar the enjoyment of the huge crowd”.

Langenus was something of a Pierluigi Collina of his day, well-known, popular and well-respected throughout the sporting world as well as being visually arresting, as a tall figure with slicked back hair who took to the field in a shirt, tie, jacket and a pair of plus-fours. It was this reputation that led him to Dalymount Park in 1928. Then as now there were constant debates about the quality of referees and plenty of criticism was aimed at the men in the middle during the early years of the League of Ireland. This meant that for high profile games such as Cup finals the FAI had established the practice of bringing in referees from outside of Ireland.

Usually this meant an English referee, Ireland still looked to England as a bastion of the game and it made sense to use an English speaking referee. For example, in 1927  J.T. Howcroft from Bolton had taken charge of his second FAI Cup Final. A prominent English referee, Howcroft had also officiated the 1920 FA Cup final between Aston Villa and Huddersfield. However, John Langenus had two things in his favour, he was a fluent English-speaker and in addition to his native Flemish he also spoke French, German, Spanish and Italian. The second reason that it should not be such a surprise that he refereed the Cup Final was that a year earlier he had been in Lansdowne Road to referee the Ireland v Italy international which Italy had won 2-1 thanks to two goals from Juventus striker Federico Munerati.

At a banquet following that Ireland match held in the Hibernian Hotel on Dawson Street where John Langenus and his wife were guests, the Honourary Secretary of the Association John S. Murphy toasted Langenus and described him as “one of the best referees they had ever seen in Dublin”. This surely helped with his appointment to the following year’s Cup final.

The paths of the Irish national team and John Langenus would cross on several further occasions, he took charge of Irish matches against Spain, the Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland and finally against Czechoslovakia in 1938. Langenus himself had many happy memories of his trips to Dublin. He committed some of these to record in one of his memoirs Whistling through the world printed in 1942.

In his book he recalls witnessing the St. Patrick’s day parade on the morning of the FAI Cup Final,  as well as his chats with Lord Mayor of Dublin Alfie Byrne, and his visits to the main tourist attractions; Dublin Zoo, the Botanic Gardens and St. Michan’s Church where he saw the famous preserved bodies in the church crypt. But his main memories are of Irish social culture, and Irish drink! John Langenus took a particular interest in Irish whiskey and would go directly to the distilleries to buy 90 and 100 year old bottles that wouldn’t usually be found on general sale, these he would keep as special gifts for friends (and perhaps a couple for his own collection). He was lucky on one occasion that he managed to bluff his was through English customs checks with two bottles of vintage whiskey in his suitcase.

Similarly he remembered the good humour of the after-match banquets, once again his beloved Irish whiskey makes an appearance though he mentioned that the only way he could tell his Irish hosts were getting a little drunk was that they tended to sing more. In winning or losing he recalls the good mood of his hosts remained the same.

Not all of Langenus’s sporting engagements were to be as enjoyable. His most famous role, that of World Cup Final referee was as far from the relaxed surroundings of a Dublin banquet as was possible. As the great Brian Glanville wrote of Langenus during that final match in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario “The prospects of dealing with twenty-two players, each of whom was capable of disputing any and every decision, to say nothing of the nearly 100,000 spectators who, once they had paid their money, felt entitled to behave as they pleased, would have daunted men of lesser experience and courage than Langenus”.

Doubtless that Langenus was experienced and courageous but he was also pragmatic, he would no doubt have heard the chants and songs thousands of passionate Argentine fans as they streamed from their ferries across the River Plate and into the stadium hours before kick-off, he would have heard their Uruguayan counterparts fanatically chanting their own calls to arms, including the ominous “Victory or death!”. Who’s death exactly? In such cases often it’s the referee in the firing line and Langenus had sought assurances from the Montevideo police that a swift, armed escort, direct to their ship should be arranged right after the match for him and his team of officials should this be required.

Although the match was intense and undoubtedly passionate Langenus escaped the ire of either set of supporters, in fact he was involved in solving the biggest point of conflict even before kick-off. With both sides insisting that a football manufactured in their own country be used, Solomon-like, Langenus agreed that a ball from Argentina would be used in the first half and a ball from Uruguay in the second.

On that day, as Uruguay celebrated victory in the maiden World Cup, in front of their own home fans, John Langenus must have realised he had reached the apex of his refereeing career. He would return again to officiate in the next two World Cups, signing off his last World Cup match officiating the 3rd place play-off in 1938 which saw Brazil claim bronze, defeating Sweden 4-2.  While he continued to referee international games for another year the outbreak of World War Two effectively ended his career as an international referee though he continued to referee matches in the Belgian League throughout the War until finally the league was suspended for the 1944-45 season. By that stage Langenus was 53 years of age.

According to one source, as a teenager he had played youth football for AS Anversoise but was already a referee in the Belgian top flight since at least 1912, refereeing his first international match in 1923 aged just 31. Throughout his career he was a committed amateur. He worked as a public servant in his home city of Antwerp for his whole working life and was also an occasional sports journalist. While on international duty only his expenses were paid and he refused any fees to referee games though often in such instances medals, cut glass, watches or decorative cups were given as mementos. He also had the perk of  being able to bring back the likes of whiskey from Ireland or cigars from Spain. His positively Corinthian idealism is evident even just by looking at him with august bearing and almost formal attire.

His talent for writing was something that he put to good use in his retirement, writing a memoirs and two other football related books. He passed away in his native Belgium in 1952 aged 60.

With thanks to the people behind @WC1930blogger and @RefereeingBooks for their assistance.

Get your Crosses in

On a cold day in October 1980 a teenaged Grainne Cross, a versatile midfielder, was sent on as a substitute to try and break the deadlock in an international friendly against Belgium at Dalymount Park. With 15 minutes gone in the second half and the score still tied at 0-0 a ball was lofted into the box, Cross got onto the end of it and scored with a beautiful header but was crashing into by the onrushing Belgian goalkeeper. Both players were taken by ambulance to be treated for their injuries and it was only later that Grainne learned she had in fact scored the winning goal of the game. For, Grainne it was one of her, surprisingly, favourite memories from a sporting career that included a move to Italy, playing in Wembley and starting at scrum half for Ireland in a Rugby World Cup!

Grainne was born into a large, sports mad, Limerick family, her father had been a good rugby player and hurler, and her brothers all played rugby as well. However, Grainne and her sisters really excelled at football, Grainne, Tracy and Rose would all be capped by Ireland during their sporting careers.

Grainne began playing in her teens and her talent was quickly spotted, women’s football in the area was mostly focused around factory teams and Grainne appeared for De Beers in Shannon where her mother and sister worked, as well as lining out for other factory teams like Krupp’s and regularly guesting for other sides such as Green Park.

Grainne was talented, (she won her first cap as a 15 year old) and she grabbed the attention of American Colleges who were interested in offering sports scholarships but Grainne followed a different path. Inspired by the success of Anne O’Brien in Italy she contacted the Italian Federation stating her interest in playing in Italy. Amazingly, this paid dividends, what Grainne thought was going to be week-long trial with ASD Fiammamonza in the city Monza, near Milan, turned into a contract offer and chance to pit her wits against the likes of Anne O’Brien, Rose Reilly and Carolina Morace, all gracing the Italian game at the time.

Cross in action as a teenager during an international friendly against Belgium in Dalymount Park

Grainne recalls the professionalism she encountered in Italy, simple things like good playing surfaces, bigger stadiums with crowds of up to 10,000, and not having to wash her own kit. She also remembers the step up in quality as she faced the some of the best players in Europe. Ultimately homesickness ended her stay in Italy after a season, she had initially had to live with her coach and his family, and expecting only to be on a trial hadn’t had a chance to learn much Italian before she left for Monza.

Her career continued with Ireland and she got the chance to play in Wembley in 1988, where as part of the Football League Centenary celebrations she played against her English League counterparts and remembers bumping into the likes of Bryan Robson and Paul McGrath who were playing for Manchester United in the centenary celebrations that day. While Grainne continued to play football he work commitments, including spells working in England and the United States limited her availability for Ireland matches.

In her late 20s as Rugby became more accessible to women Grainne began playing for Old Crescent helping the club to considerable successes, so much so, that she was selected as part of the squad that represented Ireland at the 1998 Rugby World Cup, starting as a scrum half against the Netherlands before an injury limited her participation in the tournament. She’s even been known to dabble occasionally in the GAA codes, a real sporting all-rounder.

To this day Grainne remains an enthusiastic supporter of both football and rugby and is hopeful for the future of the Irish national team.

With thanks to Grainne Cross for taking the time for this interview which first featured in the Irish international match programmes.

The Dawning of the cup

Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock debuted on the Abbey Theatre stage in 1924 with the focus of the drama set in the city of Dublin after the outbreak of the Civil War just a couple of years earlier in 1922. The “Paycock” of the title, the feckless Captain Jack Doyle, became identified by the malapropism which he exclaimed repeatedly through the play, “the whole world is in a terrible state o’ chassis”. And indeed it was. If we take it that Captain Jack meant by “chassis” that the world was in a state of chaos and change then certainly his final drunken quip was accurate. Maybe he’d been at the first ever Free State cup final a few months earlier?

By the dawn of 1922 the truce in bloody War of Independence was’t yet six months old, the Anglo-Irish Treaty had only been signed in December of 1921 which allowed for the creation of a 26 county Free State by the end of 1922. But before that would happen 1922 would also witness the beginnings of the Irish Civil War. A state of chassis indeed.

In the middle of this chaos the Football Association of Ireland had been formed after a split from the Belfast-based IFA and a brand new league and cup competition were begun before the Irish Free State had even officially come into being. While that first season can be viewed as a success from a footballing perspective, it was not to be without incident or drama. Befittingly, it was the cup final that witnessed some of the most dramatic scenes.

The first season of the league had kicked off in September 1921, it only featured eight teams in total and all of them were from Dublin. Of those eight only two are still involved in League of Ireland football today, Shelbourne and Bohemians. The cup however, was slightly more diverse, featuring the likes of Athlone Town, who would join the league the following season, as well as West Ham. The West Ham from Belfast that is.

West Ham were a team in the Falls and District League in Belfast. When the split from the IFA occurred these clubs chose to affiliate with the FAI and in West Ham’s case their new cup competition. This wasn’t to be the only occasion that something like this happened, the following season the cup winners were Alton United, previously a junior club in Belfast they shocked Shelbourne in the final with a 1-0 win. The relative success of junior clubs from Belfast was likely to have drawn some condescending looks from the IFA in relation to the standard of football south of the border. But it should be noted that at the time due to the political turmoil in Belfast one the foremost clubs on the island; Belfast Celtic had withdrawn from the league and many of their players were active for sides in the FAI affiliated Falls and District league.

This would change when by the end of 1923 the FAI was admitted to FIFA. One of the conditions of acceptance being that only clubs from the 26-county Free State could be members of the Association. This meant an end to the involvement of northern clubs until Derry City joined the league in 1985. West Ham were not to have much of a cup run. Their highlight was holding Shelbourne to a scoreless draw before they were knocked out in a replay.

While the West Ham versus Shelbourne game may have been tight there were a few hammerings in the early rounds of the cup. In the opening round Dublin United beat their league rivals Frankfort 8-1. While Dublin United would drift out of football over the following few years Frankfort, from the Raheny area of Dublin are still active locally, playing their matches in St. Anne’s Park.

Despite their convincing win in the opening round Dublin United were dumped out in the following tie by Shamrock Rovers, then a Leinster Senior League side. Rovers had already had a long cup campaign before the met Dublin United. Not being a league club they had to negotiate a number of qualifying rounds which had their own fair share of drama. A comfortable win over UCD was followed by a trip to Tipp to take on Tipperary Wanderers. Despite the recent prominence of Shane Long we don’t often think of Tipperary as a soccer stronghold but the local side were good enough to beat Rovers 1-0. The men from Ringsend however, made a formal protest because of the poor quality of the pitch that they were forced to play on. A ruling was made that the match had to be replayed and this time Rovers emerged victorious.

Further victories followed over St. James’s Gates “B” side and Shelbourne United (a club who also had their origins in Ringsend but not to be confused with Shelbourne F.C.) which meant that Rovers were through to the first round proper of the cup against Free State league side Olympia. A 3-1 win there and the 5-1 hammering of Dublin United saw them drawn in the semi-finals against Bohemians.

Bohs being the more well established side went into the games as favourites. They enjoyed home advantage as both semi-finals were to be played in Dalymount Park, they’d finished a close second to St. James’s Gate in the inaugural league season and they’d demolished Athlone Town 7-1 in the previous round. But it was Rovers who emerged victorious thanks to a lone strike by John Joe Flood. The result was somewhat of a shock, accounts at the time describe Bohs enjoying the better of the play but failing to take their chances, ultimately the more direct, physical approach taken by Rovers paid dividends.

The scorer of the winning goal, John Joe Flood was one of the team’s early stars. A Ringsend local, he was the son of John Flood, a bottle blower at the nearby glass bottle works. He had previously played for Shelbourne but was very much a Shamrock Rovers man. He even spent some of his youth living on Shamrock Terrace, the road that gave Rovers their name. In all he had four spells at the club, while also trying his luck on two occasions in England, a short spell with Leeds United and later sojourn at Crystal Palace.

He was known as tough and pacey inside forward and was occasionally referred to by the nickname “Slasher” which makes him sound like a fairly formidable opponent. In Rovers’ colours he’d end up collecting four League of Ireland medals and six cup winners medals and later became part of the famous “Four F’s” forward line along with Billy “Juicy” Farrell, Jack “Kruger” Fagan and Bob Fullam. He would also be capped five times by Ireland, scoring four goals, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 victory over Belgium.

Victory over Bohs had secured Rovers’ place in the final, due to take place on St. Patrick’s Day 1922 but they would have to wait a while before the identity of their opponents was confirmed. The other semi-final had gone to a replay, St. James’s Gate versus Shelbourne had finished scoreless in their first meeting and there was a gap of more than two weeks before the game was replayed. The victors on that day were St. James’s Gate and they were confirmed as the side to face Rovers in the final on St. Patrick’s Day.

St. James’s Gate at the time were based around grounds in Dolphin’s Barn that were rented by the Guinness brewery which gave them their name.  Guinness were known for the paternalistic attitude they took towards their workers and a job at the brewery offered a level of security and benefits that were not often found in other workplaces around Dublin. The James’s Gate players were nominally amateurs, five players from the team would be part of the amateur squad that competed for Ireland in the football tournament at the 1924 Olympics, but even by the time of the Cup final there were a quota of non-Guinness players allowed play for the team.

Some of those who weren’t Guinness employees included Ernie MacKay, the son of a Scottish soldier, Ernie worked for at the GPO for decades while also remaining involved with James’s Gate as a player and administrator well into the 1940’s. His team-mate at inside-left was Charlie Dowdall who had worked for Guinness briefly but spent most of his career working at the Inchicore railway works. Still they would have had access to the superior sporting facilities of the Guinness workers, pitches, gymnasiums and medical experts. Such was the prestige of the club at the time that many star players who did work at the brewery were excused from more taxing work to make sure they were fit and healthy for upcoming matches.

This approach had brought impressive results. In the 1919-20 season St. James’s Gate had won the Leinster Senior Cup, the Leinster Senior League, the Metropolitan Cup and the Irish Intermediate Cup. By the time the cup final rolled around on St. Patrick’s Day 1922 the Gate had already become the inaugural Free State league champions and Leinster Senior Cup winners, an FAI Cup win would seal a treble.

The Gate were favourites, despite the fact that they were technically viewed as an amateur “works” team whereas Rovers (still a Leinster Senior League side) were paying players between 20-30 shillings a game. The Gate possessed the league’s top scorer, Jack Kelly in their ranks, and while Rovers had a certain reputation for toughness and aggression (especially men like Bob Fullam, Dinny Doyle and William “Sacky” Glen) St. James’s were no push-overs in this regard.

Their midfield half-back line of Frank Heaney, Ernie MacKay and Bob Carter were tough, tall, physically imposing men. Heaney, a veteran at this stage, had won amateur caps for the IFA, while MacKay, Dowdall and the versatile Paddy “Dirty” Duncan would also all represent Ireland at the 1924 Olympics. They were certainly a side with pedigree.

What was described as a “fine holiday crowd” numbering up to 15,000 were in attendance in Dalymount Park that St. Patrick’s Day for the final. Despite the fact that the Gate midfield was physically bigger the Rovers half-backs were dominant in the opening half, but their forward-line, though “aggressive” missed a succession of chances and five minutes before the break Jack Kelly rose highest to power home a header from a Johnny Gargan corner kick to give St. James’s Gate a half-time lead.

Ten minutes into the second half Rovers restored parity, Paddy Coleman, the Gate keeper failing to clear a ball from an in-swinging corner meant an easy finish for the Rovers winger Charlie Campbell. Rovers rallied and had some good chances before the end of the game but their earlier slack finishing persisted and they failed to make their pressure count. The Irish Times used the standard parlance (then, as now) referring to the match as a “typical cup tie”, it was hard fought, but they complained that much of the play was “crude”.  A replay was set of the 8th of April and there was even greater drama to come.

The crowd wasn’t quite as sizable for the replayed game, perhaps due to the fact that the Irish Rugby team were playing France that same day in Lansdowne Road and enjoying a rare will over Les Blues. The 10,000 or so who were there in Dalymount Park were in full voice, and the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall later described the atmosphere as “electric”, and remembered the “intense fanaticism between the supporters” before ominously noting that “those were the troubled days, and there were a few guns lying around in supporters’ pockets, though it all ended happily”. As we’ll see later at least one supporters’ gun didn’t end up staying in his pocket!

As the game kicked off with Rovers captain Bob Fullam winning the toss and deciding to play into the wind in the opening half, this didn’t seem to hamper Rovers who had the better of the play and created most of the chances, however, as in the previous game, they couldn’t make possession and territorial advantage count. Rovers errant finishing would cost them as a minute before the interval Johnny Gargan nicked the ball from Joe “Buller” Byrne (later a groundsman at Milltown) and squared for Jack Kelly who beat Bill Nagle in the Rovers goal with a fierce, low strike. Despite Rovers continuing to have the better of the play in the second half it would remain the only goal of the game as Paddy Coleman put in a display described as “miraculous” between the sticks for the James’s Gate.

The final whistle was met with a pitch invasion from some of the Rovers support who headed straight for the James’s Gate players. They were soon joined by several of the Rovers players. Two tough teams had obviously gotten under each others skin and Dowdall and Fullam in particular had been having something of a running battle throughout the match.

As the St. James’s Gate players made for the dressing rooms at pace they were chased from the pitch by the invading fans and three Rovers players. Bob Fullam, allegedly joined by Dinny Doyle and John Joe Flood, pursued the Gate players inside where Fullam advanced on the object of his ire, Charlie Dowdall. It all seemed set to kick-off when Jack Dowdall, Charlie’s younger brother and an IRA volunteer stepped forward and produced a pistol. Fullam and his Rovers teammates were outnumbered, and now out-gunned and they sensibly beat a retreat from the changing rooms. Fullam, along with Doyle and Flood ended up receiving  bans from the FAI for their part in the disturbances.

Dowdall brother cartoon

Fullam wouldn’t be banned for long and ended up scoring 27 times in the league for Rovers the following year. Most with his howitzer-like left foot. While his first cup final may have ended is defeat he would retire from the game with four winners medals to his credit, to go with the four league titles he’d collected. So central did he become to Rovers success that the popular refrain among their support whenever the team were lacking inspiration on the pitch was “Give it to Bob”, a phrase that entered widespread use through Dublin in the subsequent decades.

Fullam also has an important footnote in Irish international football history. After the 1924 Olympics few international matches were forthcoming and the FAI had to wait until 1926 to secure a full international fixture, in this case a game against Italy in Turin with a return game in Dublin also agreed. Fullam and Frank Brady of Fordsons were the only players to play in both of those early games. The Italians ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in Turin but performed better in Lansdowne Road the following year with Ireland taking the lead through a powerful strike from none other than Bob Fullam. It was counted as the first goal in International football for a FAI national team. Indeed he nearly grabbed a second shortly after from a free-kick, the power of which meant that Mario Zanelli, the Italian full-back was stretchered off after he blocked the fierce shot with his head. Despite the performance that was to be Fullam’s last cap for Ireland, he was by then into his 30’s and Rovers were to be the main focus of his footballing exploits.

That inaugural season of Free State football belonged to St. James’s Gate who finished with three trophies, while Paddy Duncan, Charlie Dowdall and Ernie MacKay would all go on to represent the nascent international team in the following years. Despite the chaos of the cup final replay over 25,000 spectators had paid in to watch the two games, bringing in gate receipts of over £1,000 which were crucial to the FAI’s finances in those early days.

Less than a week after the replay anti-treaty IRA volunteers, led by Rory O’Connor occupied the Four Courts in Dublin city. Tensions mounted and in the early hours of June 28th the Free State army began shelling the Four Courts from their positions south of the Liffey. The Civil War had begun, the nation was convulsed by almost a year of violence that would leave thousands dead. By the time a cessation to the violence arrived in May 1923, amid the turmoil, lawlessness and death somehow an entire football league season and cup competition had been played out. Circumstances that seem so utterly bizarre and unreal today. Shamrock Rovers, newly elected to the Free State league had won it at their first attempt. With Bob Fullam, returned from his ban, as top scorer. In the cup Alton United enjoyed their brief moment in the sun by winning the cup, a Belfast side triumphing in the Free State blue ribbon competition. A tragic, dramatic, scarcely believable, terrible state o’ chassis indeed.

From Jarrow to Carter and McGrory – In a Time of Hunger

By Fergus Dowd

As the dark clouds hovered above, they carried the coffin passed the shrubbery towards the church door as inside the old mixed with the young. It was Friday September 20th, 2003, and the town of Jarrow was saying a ‘farewell’ to Cornelius Whalen the last of the Jarrow Marchers, aged 93.

Whalen was one of two hundred men to walk from the town’s cobbled streets to London in October 1936 to lobby those in Westminster for work – at the time of industrial decline and poverty there was eighty percent unemployment in the town. Palmer’s shipyard was established in 1851 and was the biggest employer in the area, it built its first carrier within one year of opening and within five years it had turned its attentions to the lucrative market of warships. The founder of the shipyard Sir Charles Palmer, a Liberal Democrat MP from 1874 to 1885, had little interest in the conditions which his workers’ lived in.

Local MP Ellen Wilkinson who marched with Whalen and his comrades quotes a local scribe from the time: “There is a prevailing blackness about the neighbourhood. The houses are black, the ships are black, the sky is black, and if you go there for an hour or two, reader, you will be black”. Following the Great Depression, the National Unemployed Workers Movement began organising what the British Press coined ‘Hunger Marches’ across Britain, the 25-day Jarrow Crusade would arrive in London a week before the Sixth Hunger March. On the 4th of November 1936 Ellen Wilkinson presented the Jarrow petition to the House of Commons, it had been carried in an oak box with gold lettering, signed by 11,000 locals.
As a brief discussion followed in parliament about the Crusade, the marchers returned by train to a hero’s welcome in the Northeast; sadly, it would take the savagery of war to refuel employment in the town.

That September 1936 as Con Whalen was practicing walking along the hills of Northumberland the locals were bemoaning admission prices for a Sunderland v Celtic match at Roker Park; dubbed ‘The Unofficial Championship of Britain’. ‘Supporters from both districts will find it an expensive afternoon’s entertainment, with nothing being at stake.’ A fan wrote in his letter to the local press editor.
Horatio ‘Raich’ Stratton Carter at the tender age of twenty-three had led his hometown club Sunderland to the Championship title that April of 1936, midlanders Derby County finished runners up eight points in arrears.

A confident inside forward is how his fellow English teammate Stanley Matthews saw him: “Bewilderingly clever, constructive, lethal in front of goal, yet unselfish.” Like many from Jarrow, Carter would also join the war effort in 1939 becoming a pilot in the RAF stationed in Loughborough. Carter was considered a terrific competitor in school and presented with a gold watch, on leaving, for outstanding performances in football and cricket. George Medley a local scout had promised Carter a trial with Leicester City on reaching age seventeen, following a game with Sunderland a trial was arranged.

On a heavy pitch a couple of days after Christmas Day 1931, Carter was deemed too small for professional football by then Leicester manager Willie Orr; Orr had led Celtic to a league and cup double in 1906/07.
Carter was offered amateur terms initially by Sunderland and would become an electrician earning 45p a week; he would eventually go part time earning £3 a week training two nights a week with the Wearsiders.

Within five years the one they said was ‘too small’ would be joint top scorer for Sunderland that championship winning season and carry the trophy around Roker Park.
A few months after the Celtic match Carter would receive a benefit cheque of £650 for five years of service at Sunderland, despite a long career at the club and leading the club to the FA Cup in 1937, he would never receive another benefit.

By 1953 in the twilight of his career Carter found himself in southern Ireland lining out for Cork Athletic; it was said he was paid £50 per match plus £20 expenses, this enabled him to fly from Hull to the Emerald Isle for matches. Carter had become manager of Hull City but a rift with Chairman Harold Needler led to his departure in January of that year, he left football to run a sweet shop. However, within one month Cork Athletic Secretary Donie Forde and director Dan Fitzgibbon had performed a miracle tempting Carter to Leeside.

Raich Carter signing for Cork

It proved an inspirational signing, after making his league debut versus Waterford, Carter and Cork would face Drumcondra. The Dublin club would make an objection regarding Raich’s residency in Éire, he had landed only two weeks previously, his match fee was earned as he scored the victorious goal at Tolka Park. Raich Carter would go on to win an FAI Cup winners medal with Athletic that season and play for a League of Ireland XI versus an England league select.

Glasgow Celtic arrived in Sunderland in the autumn of 1936 after winning the Scottish Championship a few months earlier, Aberdeen and Rangers finished tied for second place five points a drift.
In that winnig team was the ‘human torpedo’ Jimmy McGrory who was coming towards the end of his career, by December 1937 he would take the hot seat at Kilmarnock. McGrory was born in Garngad in North Glasgow a place commonly known as ‘Little Ireland’ given the ethnic idenities of many of the habitants. The atmosphere in the area was corroded with incessant smoke and fumes from the Tharsis Sulphur & Copper Works and the Milburn Chemical Works; in 1904 as wee Jimmy was taking his first breath on this earth the Provan Gas works was opened by Glasgow Corporation. It did nothing to improve the environment and only added to the breathing problems and illness for those in Garngad.

In 1921 then Celtic manager Willie Maley signed James Edward McGrory as an inside right from junior side St. Roch it would take him two years to make his debut against Third Lanark in January 1923; he had been loaned to Clydebank intially. Jimmy would be top scorer for the hoops twelve seasons in a row, and the season of 1935/36 would see him top of the European charts after netting fifty times; he was also European top scorer nearly a decade earlier scoring forty-nine times. In 1928 the Arsenal of North London offered £10,000 to make him the highest paid player in Britain. A true Celt Jimmy refused to leave Parkhead; the Celtic board hoping his departure would boost the clubs accounts were furious at his decision. So, much so they secretly paid him less wages than his fellow teammates for the rest of his career. Jimmy to the delight of the Sunderland defence was omitted from the Celtic team that Autumnal day. After notching up 472 goals in 445 league & cup appearances McGrory would retire a year after the Jarrow Crusade. Like Carter he would go on to be a manager leading to Celtic to a 7-1 victory over Rangers, a British record in a domestic cup final – ‘Hampden in the Sun’ they call it!!

Jimmy McGrory in later life

On September 16th, 1936, seventeen thousand paid in at Roker Park to watch Sunderland take on Glasgow Celtic, that same day in a sign of things to come Antonio de Oliveria Salazar’s right-wing dictatorship in Portugal unveiled the Portugeuse Legion a paramiltary state organisation setup to ‘defend the spiritual heritage of Portugal”. In goal for Sunderland that day was Johnny Mapson, he replaced Jimmy Thorpe. Thorpe was netminder for Sunderland from 1930 to 1936, on his one hundred and twenty third appearance against Chelsea in February 1936 he was kicked in the head and chest but played on.
After arriving back home Thorpe collapsed and four days later in hospital, he took his last breath.

His widow was presented with his 1935/36 championship medal and the FA rules changed stopping players kicking the ball out of goalkeepers’ arms. Mapson would concede only one goal, on the hour mark to Malky MacDonald who like McGrory had started life at St. Roch’s.

Raich Carter had opened the scoring for the Black Cats on the twentieth minute and referee Harry Nattrass who had officiated the FA Cup final of 1936 drew the afternoon’s proceedings to an end.
As the Jarrow marchers arrived in the Yorkshire town of Wakefield a month later on the 14th of October, Nattrass was refereeing at Hampden Park as the Nazi emblem flew alongside the St. Andrew’s Cross.
The teams would meet again a fortnight later at Parkhead, the green and white would win out three to two this time, thirteen thousand would witness McGrory netting twice.

Today in England there are no hunger marches, although you will find foodbanks at most league grounds on a Saturday; In Sunderland Raich Carter is eulogised in written word and art, while the name McGrory rolls off the tongue easily around Parkhead.
In Jarrow there is a statue dedicated to those who walked to London and if you care to have a pint in one of the locals, an Old Cornelius should be ordered in honour of a great man.

In the ring at Dalymount

Boxing is Ireland’s most successful Olympic Sport and Dublin has produced fighters of international renown and witnessed world title fights but the city has also had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the sport, happy to cheer on successes but often young fighters had to venture beyond our city for recognition. For more than sixty years Dalymount Park was an important venue for both amateur and professional bouts attracting big name fighters while also giving a platform for up-and-coming Irish boxers.

Dalymount Park was staging boxing matches since at least 1920 when the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) hosted an All-Ireland boxing competition there. Tickets ranged in cost from 2 shillings up to 5 shillings for ringside seats. The tournament was a great success though the closing bouts were hampered somewhat by an unseasonal July downpour which made it difficult for fighters to keep their balance on the slippery canvas.

Contests continued to be held in Dalymount through the 1920s as Bohemian Football Club made gradual improvements to the stadium. In 1928 an Irish Amateur boxing team faced off against their Danish counterparts in an international exhibition tournament ahead of the Olympics. By 1932 after some further improvements to Dalymount by renowned architect Archibald Leitch, the stadium was to hold one of its biggest ever fights, an exhibition match by the “Ambling Alp”, Primo Carnera. The giant Italian heavyweight was one of the biggest names in Boxing and was just a year away from becoming heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Jack Sharkey in Madison Square Garden in 1933.
Carnera was the headline name on a bill that included various weight divisions and fighters from all over Britain and Ireland. The 6’6”, 20 stone Carnera fought exhibition bouts against English heavyweights Bert Ikin and Cyril Woods and entertained a crowd reported to be almost 20,000. The Irish Independent called him as “light as a bantam” on his feet, and the rest of the Irish media were similarly impressed with Carnera’s boxing skills and amiable personality. Carnera, it was explained was learning his English from “the talkies” and had enjoyed the trip to Ireland apart from the crossing of the Irish Sea, berths aboard ship were not suited to a man of his size and he had found it very difficult to get to sleep. Carnera would ultimately lose his title to Max Baer in 1934, this fight features prominently in the Jim Braddock biopic The Cinderella Man which starred Russell Crowe.

Primo Carnera

The 1930s was a busy decade for boxing in Dalymount, there were more of the amateur international contests against the likes of England and Italy’s finest fighters while more big-name professionals were brought there to fight after the success of Carnera’s visit. Boxing Hall-of-famer Freddie Miller fought the Welsh Champion Stan Jehu in Dalymount in 1935. Miller was the National Boxing Association (NBA) World featherweight titleholder at the time and had embarked on an extensive tour of Europe defending his title against all-comers. Three thousand spectators, including Government minister Frank Aiken and American Ambassador Alvin Owsley, watched Miller stop Jehu after four rounds. The same year Dalymount hosted Irish professional title fights which saw George Kelly become Irish lightweight title holder and Mossy Condon win the welterweight title.

Freddie Miller

The Irish Press writing about the bouts in Dalymount praised promoter Gerald Egan for his excellent promotional work and for arranging attractive bouts and headliners, declaring that “Professional boxing, dead as the proverbial doornail for so many years in Dublin, is sitting up and taking nourishment again – and this time it’s the right kind of nourishment”.

George Kelly, a Dubliner who had competed in the 1928 Olympics as an amateur, became a star attraction for the Dublin boxing public. Seven thousand people paid to see his title defence against Eddie Dunne in Dalymount, and there were scenes approaching pandemonium as Eddie Dunne, born in Skerries but raised in New York and fighting only his second fight outside of the United States, floored Kelly in the sixth round. The crowd yelled that Dunne had felled Kelly with a low blow as the defending champion squirmed in agony on the canvas. The crowd stormed the ring and it took the intervention of An Garda Siochána before the final fight of the bill could proceed.

The outbreak of the Second World War created obvious difficulties in arranging international fights or bringing over top class professional boxers to Dublin. It also meant that it was more difficult for an impressive set of young fighters found it more difficult to hone their skills against elite level opponents. Despite this there were a number of high-profile matches. Chris “Con” Cole became the Irish heavyweight champion in Dalymount Park in 1942 when he defeated Jim Cully, flooring him seven times during the course of the fight. “Tiny” Cully was one of the tallest fighters in boxing history, conservatively measured at 7’2” he would enjoy a short, and ultimately unsuccessful boxing career, enjoying some popularity in his couple of fights in the United States after appearing three times in Dalymount. Cully also seems to have enjoyed some popularity as a wrestler after he hung up his gloves. There is some great footage of the Dalymount fight here.

The following year would see one of the biggest fights in Dalymount history, but also one of its most disappointing. Cole was the opponent for the return of the “Gorgeous Gael” – Jack Doyle, almost four years after his last fight in London against Eddie Phillips. Doyle was a larger-than-life character, standing 6’5” he was a boxer, singer, actor, racehorse owner (he had a disagreement with former Bohs captain, and bloodstock agent Bert Kerr over a horse which ended up in a court case) and socialite. Doyle claimed that in terms of boxing he was the next Jack Dempsey and in signing he was the next John McCormack, he married the movie star Movita Casagrande in Westland Row church in Dublin in 1939 and stopped traffic in the city as the locals craned their necks to see a man who had packed out theatres with his singing and brought 90,000 to White City for his fight with Jack Petersen.

Jack Doyle

Sadly, by the time his fight in Dalymount rolled around Doyle was a shadow of himself. He was descending into alcoholism and had become a caricature of himself, reportedly heavily indulging in liberal amounts of brandy before previous bouts. For his fight with Cole he had “Cyclone” Billy Warren as his cornerman, a veteran black, American (or possible Australian) boxer, Warren had claimed to have fought Jack Johnson in his prime. Whatever the truth of this Warren had ended up in Dublin in 1909 and had later become Irish heavyweight champion. But all of his experience couldn’t help Jack Doyle. His fight against Cole was over within a round, Doyle managed only two and half minutes of “boxing” which he mostly spent clinging to the ropes as Cole pummelled him. The referee stepped in to stop the fight as it seemed that Doyle was unable to defend himself. What many Dubliners (and the media) had hyped up to be the “fight of the century” was finished and almost 20,000 disappointed fight fans left Dalymount in shock.

Jack Doyle bill at Dalymount

It is perhaps testament to the appeal of Doyle that even after his defeat to Cole thousands returned to Dalymount only two months later when Doyle once again topped the bill, this time they witness three rounds of boxing with Doyle emerging victorious over Cork heavyweight Butcher Howell. It was to be Doyle’s last professional fight, though he would later appear as a wrestler in Tolka Park. Doyle later ended up broke, holding down work as a nightclub bouncer. His wife Movita, tired of his womanising and violent abuse, left him, she later married Marlon Brando. Jack Doyle, arguably the most famous Irishman in the world at one stage died in 1978.

While Doyle’s career might have come to an end in Dalymount others were only approaching their zenith. The Dublin sporting public became enthralled by the developing sporting rivalry between John “Spike” McCormack and Jimmy Ingle. Both fighters were familiar to each other from the amateur ranks. Ingle had gone on to win gold at the European Amateur Championships which were held in Dublin in 1939 while Spike had enlisted in the British Army early in the War. After being invalided out Spike and Ingle both went pro in 1942, with Spike making his Dalymount debut a year later. In 1944 both fighters would meet in Dalymount Park for their first bout as professionals and would renew a long-standing sporting rivalry from their amateur days. Spike would win that fiercely contested bout on points but the great spectacle created a demand to see the pair in action again.

Spike McCormack v Jimmy Ingle advertisement

As Ciarán Murray notes, the “men would fight each other a further four times in the space of three years, twice for the Irish middleweight title. Spike would win both of these fights, before fighting to a draw in a bout in Dalymount in June 1945, and Spike losing to Ingle in May 1947 in Tolka Park”. That drawn fight in June of 1945 would etch itself into the city’s sporting memory. Writing almost forty-five years later the Bohemian F.C. board member and club historian Phil Howlin would recall;
“there was a 15 round, middleweight contest between two really good fighters from Dublin, John (Spike) McCormack and Jimmy Ingle. 15 rounds of one of the fiercest fights we had ever to witness, they virtually threw everything short of the kitchen sink at each other. It ended in a draw to the rapturous applause of a big crowd. Faith had been restored in Professional Boxing in a big way.”

Spike McCormack, as well as being a boxer, British Army commando and Dock labourer also worked for Des Kelly carpets for many years. He and Ingle remained good friends outside the ring. The Ingle name would become synonymous with boxing, a younger brother, John Ingle also fought in Dalymount on the same bill as his brother in 1945. He later became Irish lightweight champion. Perhaps the most famous Ingle was Brendan, another younger brother in a family of sixteen children. While he boxed as a middleweight in the 1960s and 70s he became much better known as the man who trained four world champions including Prince Naseem Hamed.

With the end of the Second World War there was also an opportunity to bring in more fighters from outside of Ireland – in 1946 Jimmy Ingle fought French boxer Robert Charron while on the same bill the light heavyweight Pat O’Connor defeated Ben Valentine, a fighter from Fiji who would later spend time as a bodyguard for screen idol Mae West during her tour of Britain.

The biggest draw in those post war years was undoubtedly the arrival of Lee Savold – the “Battling Bartender” of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1949. Savold was already a household name for any boxing fan, and a year later he would defeat Bruce Woodcock in White City to claim the European Boxing Union’s version of the World Heavyweight title. His final fights in 1951 and 1952 were to be less successful, losing to the great Joe Louis before bowing out against a 28 year old from Brockton, Massachusetts named Rocky Marciano.

During his exhibition fight in Dalymount, Savold took on Irish heavyweight champion Gerry McDermott for four rounds as well as two rounds with Canadian champ Don Mogard. Newspaper reports describe how Savold “toyed with them like a good-natured bear”. Though the crowds were there to see an exhibition by Savold the fight of the night was lightweight contest between Paddy Dowdall and the Canadian, Jewish fighter Solly Cantor which ended in a draw.

Lee Savold

The days of world-famous names gracing Dalymount became less frequent in subsequent years but there were still occasional big draws for the fistic arts. Perhaps the most famous was in 1981 when Charlie Nash defended his European lightweight boxing title at the Phibsborough venue. Nash was from Derry and had represented Ireland at the 1972 Olympics but was knocked out of the competition in a quarterfinal by the eventual winner, Jan Szczpanski of Poland. That he had fought at all is testament to his character as the Games came just months after his brother Willie, was shot dead and his father, Alex, was shot and wounded during the Bloody Sunday massacre. The horrible task of identifying his 19-year old brother’s body fell to Charlie. As he later told the Derry Journal; “Had there been no Olympic Games that year, I would’ve probably ended up in the IRA.”

He had hoped that the successful defence of his European title in Dalymount against Giuseppe Gibilisco might propel him to another shot at the World lightweight title, but it was not to be, Gibilisco made Nash endure six punishing rounds before the brave Derryman was knocked out. Such was the concern for Nash’s health that he recalled “I had to be rushed by ambulance to hospital. I can remember the sirens blasting as it sped through the streets of Dublin. They had to examine me and I had a concussion. I was expected to beat Gibilisco but he was a strong featherweight. It was outdoors in Dalymount Park and it was a cold, cold night for me.”

Charlie Nash at Free Derry corner

While Charlie Nash might have been coming towards the end of his career another young fighter made his professional debut on the undercard that night, 20-year-old Barry McGuigan defeated Selvin Bell by TKO in two rounds, little did we know the heights that his career would reach.

It’s important to remember that while Dalymount is synonymous with football that for many years a variety of sports were played there, everything from tennis, to croquet, Rugby league to skittle bowling, and a significant part of that history is caught up with boxing. It has been some time since a fight of note has been hosted at the ground. Roddy Collins was apparently involved in trying to secure Dalymount as a venue for a proposed fight between his brother Stephen and Roy Jones Jnr. and an honorable mention should go to Dave Scully and all who raised money back in 2013 for Bohemians during the Dalymount Fight Night. Perhaps with a redeveloped stadium Dalymount may once again witness the exponents of the sweet science do battle.

Do you remember the first time?

The 17th of September marks another landmark moment in the history of Bohemian Football Club, and indeed the League of Ireland as a whole. On that date one hundred years ago the League of Ireland kicked off, and Bohemians played our first League of Ireland fixture against the YMCA. While Bohemians (along with Shelbourne) had been among the very few clubs from outside of Ulster to compete in the Irish League, there had been a significant gap between 1915 to 1920 when football was regionalised due to the War. In June of 1921, the Leinster Football Association, after several disagreements with the IFA, including over venues for Irish Cup matches, formally decided to split from the IFA and later that year they would form the FAI.

It is a testament to how swiftly things were changing that a new League and Cup were arranged so by September, though all of the eight teams in that initial season were Dublin based, most having formed part of the Leinster Senior League prior to the split from the IFA. Alongside recognisable names like Bohemians and Shelbourne, were St. James’s Gate, Dublin United, Jacobs, Frankfort, Olympia and YMCA.

The fixtures on that opening day were Bohemians v YMCA; Shelbourne v Frankfort; and St James’s Gate v Dublin United. The other fixture due to take place had been between Olympia and Jacobs in Donnybrook but this match was postponed at relatively short notice.

The Bohs v YMCA game was the first to kick off, in what was described as a “poorly filled” Dalymount, those who did turn out though witness a masterclass from Bohemians. The Bohemians XI for that first league game was as follows – George Wilson, Tom Parslow, Albert Kelly, Mike Stafford, Tom O’Sullivan, Billy Otto, James Marken, Edward Pollock, Frank Haine, Harry Willitts, Johnny Murray. An eclectic bunch, Parslow was an Irish hockey international, Willitts was a WWI veteran who was originally from Middlesborough, while Billy Otto had been born in the Leper Colony on Robben Island off the coast of South Africa.

It was Haine (a former IFA amateur international) who opened the scoring in the first half after some sustained Bohemian pressure, as a result becoming the first goal-scorer in League of Ireland history. YMCA then gave away two penalties in quick succession for a foul on Pollock and later a handball. Marken duly dispatched both to give Bohs a 3-0 lead. Johnny Murray and Harry Willitts rounded out the scoring to give Bohemians a 5-0 win on the season’s opening day.

Bohs would ultimately finish that season in second place, two points behind inaugural St. James’s Gate who would go on to do the double by beating Shamrock Rovers (then a Leinster Senior League side) in a replayed FAI Cup final. As for YMCA, they finished bottom in what was their only season in the League of Ireland.

First published in the Bohemian FC v Maynooth Town match programme.

The 1908 Irish Cup run

“Cup tie fever! Who is it who has not been affected with it at some period of another? It is an epidemic which always occurs in a virulent form about the same time each year… Its principle characteristics are a blind, unfaltering belief in the capacity of one’s own team to win “The Cup”… I am afraid the supporters of the Bohemian Club are in no way immune from the ravages of this disease”

These words were written by Dudley Hussey, a founder member of Bohemian Football Club in one of the first histories of the club. Though this history was written some 110 years ago the words remain true to this day, indeed his references to epidemics and disease carry an additional significance!

By the time of writing Hussey had seen a club he helped found prosper from humble beginnings in the Phoenix Park to residents of Dalymount and become serial Leinster Senior Cup champions. However, the prize that the most desired was the Irish Cup.

Bohs had been members of the Irish League since the 1902-03 season, the first Dublin club to join, and also regularly competed in the Irish Cup, becoming the first Dublin side to make the final in 1894-95. However, that cup final was to be a bitter disappointment with Bohs incurring a record 10-1 defeat to Linfield. Bohs would reach the final twice more in subsequent years, a narrow, controversial defeat to Cliftonville 2-1 in 1900 and a 3-1 defeat to Distillery in Dalymount Park in 1903. In 1906 Shelbourne became the first Dublin side to lift the trophy, defeating Belfast Celtic 2-0 in the final in Dalymount Park, surely the Cup couldn’t elude Bohs for much longer?

As an amateur side Bohs were often at a disadvantage against the big Belfast clubs who could afford professional players or who could give their stars cushy sinecures with companies connected with the side. Bohemians often travelled north with many of their best players unavailable due to work commitments and league form was patchy at this time. However, they believed that when they could field their strongest XI they were more than a match for any team in Ireland. The 1907-08 cup campaign would prove just that.

As a member of the Irish League; Bohs were exempt from the first round of the cup and were drawn to face Glentoran in the Oval in the second round. Leading 2-1 with minutes remaining in Belfast, the Glens were awarded a late penalty to secure a replay in Dalymount. A week later Bohs made no mistake, running out easy 4-1 winners with Dick Hooper scoring a hat-trick.

The next round pitted Bohs against league champions Linfield in Windsor Park, again a lead was squandered, Bohs being pegged back from 2-0 in driving rain and sleet to be held for a 2-2 draw after another penalty award, and so to another Dublin replay. In a close and hard-fought match in Dalymount Bohs won out 2-1 and were through to the semi-finals of the Cup.

Lying in wait were Belfast Celtic, and once again Bohemians were drawn away, necessitating another trip north to Belfast. In a thrilling game Bohs were 2-0 down inside the first half after giving away yet another penalty, however, an amazing feat of dribbling by Dinny Hannon where he ran the length of the pitch to score, followed by a second half penalty by Willie Hooper secured a replay in Shelbourne Park. The Belfast Celtic performance was far below their standard of the previous week and Bohs ran out easy 2-0 winners. The final was set – for the first time ever two Dublin clubs, Bohemians and Shelbourne would fight it out for the Cup.

On the 21st of March 1908 the first final took place in Dalymount. First final? Because of course even the final would go to a replay after 1-1 draw. Bohemians goalkeeper Jack Hehir was the hero of this match, producing the “most brilliant display of goalkeeping ever seen in Dublin” by saving two penalties over the course of the game.

The following Saturday was to be the 8th and final match of Bohs epic Cup quest. This was a talented side Shelbourne side, among their starting XI were the likes of Billy Lacey and their captain Val Harris both of whom would be lining out for Everton as they finished runners up in the English first division the following season. Bohs were not to be overawed however, and tore into Shels from the outset, Hehir was once again impressive in goals but it was the Hooper brothers who ran riot, Dick Hooper scoring after only eight minutes before grabbing a second on the half hour while just before the interval Jack Slemin played in Willie Hooper to put Bohs 3-0 up.

Shels rallied in the second half, putting in some rough tackles and as a result several Shelbourne players were cautioned, once such tackle forced Bohs captain Jimmy Balfe from the pitch for treatment and while Bohs were reduced to 10 men John Owens scored a consolation goal for Shelbourne. But it was to be Balfe’s day, returning to the pitch after treatment it was he who would life the Cup for Bohemians and fulfil what could only have been a distant dream of Hussey and the other founders when the met in the Phoenix Park in 1890.

Bohemians Cup Final XI:

Jack Hehir, Jimmy Balfe, P.J. Thunder, William Bastow, Tom Healy, Mick McIlhenney, William Hooper, Dinny Hannon, Dick Hooper, Harold Sloan, Jack Slemin

Originally published in the Bohemian FC match programme in 2021.

From Brezhnev to Aleinikov – A Season of Seasons

Guest post by Fergus Dowd

At 11:00 am on November 11th, 1982, news anchor Igor Krilliov looked into the camera and announced the death of Leonid Brezhnev with tears in his eyes. The fifth leader of the Soviet Union had passed away the day before; the delayed announcement was seen as an ongoing power struggle to see who the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would be.

Seven hundred and twelve kilometres from Moscow in the city of Minsk, Sergei Aleinikov sat watching Krilliov’s words in disbelief. Russia had annexed the city on the banks of the Svislac in 1793 because of the Second Partition of Poland; factional differences in the country had led to civil war with the surrounding powers of Prussia and Austria also taking Polish lands. By 1939 close to half a million people lived in Minsk; that was all to change on the 24th of June 1941 with the Minsk Blitz during World War II. As three waves of Luftwaffe bombers, forty-seven aircrafts each leveled the city of Minsk, a poorly organised Soviet anti-aircraft defence watched on as the water supply was destroyed. This led to most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure being destroyed and local dwellers evacuating. More than forty years later, as the death of Brezhnev kick-started the demise of modern Soviet communism and five days of mourning were announced, Sergei Aleinikov put his dreams of Dynamo Minsk conquering the World of football in the Soviet Union on hold.

The ‘Dinamo’ Society, founded in April 1923, was the brainchild of Bolshevik revolutionist Felix Dzerzhinsky known as ‘Iron Felix,’ under the sponsorship of the State Political Directorate (GPU) and the Soviet political police group of the NKVP. Football and the society would arrive in Minsk in 1927 with the formation of ‘Dinamo Minsk.’ Felix, who was head of the first Soviet secret police organisation, would never see the fruits of his labour in the city as he collapsed and died during a debate at a Central Commission session a year earlier.

On the 18th of June 1927, Dinamo Minsk played their first game against Dinamo Smolensk; after the Russian revolution of 1917, which ended the Romanov dynasty and centuries of Russian Imperial rule, Smolensk became part of the Belarussian SSR. Minsk ran out 2-1 winners on the day. The club played in the official Belarussian SSR league; in their debut season, the team from the Belarussian capital would become champions. In winning the league, Minsk had dethroned FC Belshina Bobruisk, who had won the unofficial league the previous year; the city to the East of Belarus was a battlefield for waring factions of Poles and Russians during the October revolution of 1917. The ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,’ which stands in Warsaw, commemorates those who perished in the Battle of Bobruisk.

Through their league victory, Minsk qualified for the ‘Season’s Cup,’ which took place between the Republic’s league champions and cup winners, Belarus’ answer to England’s charity shield. In 1936 the first foreign team would play on Belarussian soil as Dinamo would face off against the Spanish National team dubbed the ‘Fascists versus the Fighters’ – Spain would run out 6-1 victors at the Minsk Tractor venue. It would take Dinamo Minsk a decade to break into the ‘All Union’ Soviet pyramid of football representing the Belarussian League in 1937 in the ‘Team of Masters.’ Minsk would face off against the powerhouses of Dynamo and Spartak Moscow, the latter including the great Leonid Rumyantsev, who had been a joint top scorer in the Russian league that season.

Rumyantsev would be one of the Soviet’s greatest pre-war strikers, winning the local league three times while coming close to winning the USSR championship twice winning two bronze medals. Minsk would lose out to Dinamo Tbilisi, led by Hungarian coach Jules Limbeck, who led Galatasaray to the Istanbul League in season 1930/31. The dreams of the Belarussian champions were ruined by Boris Paichadze, the Georgian goal machine who scored 111 goals in 195 appearances for the club. Although he would guest in Romania during the second world war and become known as the ‘Caruso of Football,’ his genius was seen in line with the great Italian tenor. It would take Dinamo Minsk a further three years to get to the top table of Russian football again. That year of 1940, as Europe was destined for unrest, Dinamo Moscow would conquer all; that great team included Sergei Aleksandrovich Solovyov, a dual footballer and ice hockey player. Moscow would tour the UK after the war playing Chelsea in their first game on British soil at Stamford Bridge; 75,000 would watch the first football match after the war as touts sold 10shilling tickets for £4.


World War Two would mean football was put to one side as Minsk started to put together a great side, including Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Sevidov, who would manage the club in the 1960s Latvian Eriks Raisters who had come to the club after winning three local championships. Raisters, like so many, would perish on the front line during the second world war dying on May 25th, 1942. Dinamo Minsk’s rise in Belarussian football had seen them promoted to the Soviet Top League. However, the war meant they only played seven games before football was cancelled.

Minsk after being bombed in World War 2

Following World War II, the city’s destruction meant the new Dinamo Stadium was constructed. It included a specially created box in the centre of the stadium for the head of the KGB, Lawrence Fomich Tsavana, who decided which government members could attend games and the bonuses for players. For the first five seasons, the team finished in the bottom three of the league; by 1950, the club was relegated to the second tier of Soviet football but would bounce back immediately. By 1954 Dinamo had become Spartak and finished third in the Soviet top tier, the team receiving bronze medals; in the side was the great Russian goalkeeper Aleksey Khomich.

Khomich had starred for Dinamo Moscow on their tour of Britain, his outstanding bravery in goal giving him the nickname of ‘the Tiger’; he had joined Minsk in 1953. The netminder would mentor the great Lev Yashin and become a sports photographer after retirement working with the first sports newspaper in the USSR, Sovetsy Sport. By 1960 the club became Belarus Minsk cementing their place as the top team in Belarus. It was short-lived Minsk would find themselves in Subgroup 2 of the Soviet top league finishing sixth but would face elimination in round two as the league continued to grow. Under the guidance of Sevidov, who had played in the Team of Masters in 1940, the club who by then had reverted to ‘Dinamo’ finished third in the league and won the cup in 1965. One of Sevidov’s key players was number seven Leonard Adamov, a diminutive burly fair-haired winger who was nicknamed the ‘little napoleon’ he moved with grace across the pitches of the USSR. Adamov would be awarded a Diploma from the Supreme Council of Belarus for his work and dedication to sports development. He would become Dinamo Minsk’s assistant coach between 1974 and 1977, but his life would end in tragedy. Adamov would commit suicide jumping out of the window of his 8th-floor apartment in Lenninsky Prospekt in the centre of Minsk on November 9th, 1977.

More than five years after the death of Adamov, Sergei Aleinikov and his Dinamo Minsk teammates were on the cusp of greatness; two days before Brezhnev’s death, Minsk had been held at home to FC Pakhtakor Tashkent of Uzbekistan in round 34 of the Vysshaya Liga. It had all started in the sunshine with a home 3-2 victory against the Georgians of FC Torpedo Kutaisi. Now all roads would lead to Moscow with two away games against Dinamo Moscow and Spartak, powerhouses of Russian football. On November 15th Leonid Brezhnev’s coffin was borne upon a gun carriage led into the heart of Red Square; he was buried in front of the Kremlin Wall with a state funeral, the pomp, and ceremony not seen since the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Two workmen wearing red armbands lowered Mr. Brezhnev’s coffin into the grave at 12:45 p.m. while across the country in thirty-six cities for five minutes, everything stopped; from Leningrad to Minsk, everything was silent in the factories and on the farms in remembrance.

Brezhnev’s coffin

The following day, Dinamo Minsk headed for the capital to play Dinamo Moscow in their penultimate game, coached by Eduard Malofeyev, part of the cup-winning team of 1965, and won a bronze medal in 1963 with the club.
Malofeyev was a doctor of football, a man who brought swashbuckling attacking football to the city of Minsk in what he called ‘sincere football.’ He had played in the World Cup in England in 1966, announcing himself to the World with a brace against North Korea at Ayresome Park, Middlesboro, in the USSR’s first game. Malofeyev’s team talks were legendary; they could last up to three hours. No player was spared; he made the team of Aleynikov, Gotsmanov, Prokopenko, Vasilevskiy, and netminder Vergeyenko feel ten feet tall. The day after Brezhnev was laid to rest in their penultimate game, Malofeyev’s Minsk routed Moscow 7-0; that season Igor Gurinovich and Georgi Kondratyev netted twenty-three times between them.Kondratyev would manage Minsk in a caretaker capacity in the early noughties and the Belarus national team between 2011 and 2014.

The convincing victory meant a win against Spartak Moscow would see Dinamo Minsk crowned champions. Spartak was still reeling from the ‘Luzhniki disaster’ where sixty-six people had died during a stampede at the Grand Sports Arena at the Central Lenin Stadium in a UEFA Cup tie against HFC Haarlem of the Netherlands. The disaster occurred on Oct 20th, nearly a month before the game with Minsk, as fans converged on Stairway One in the East Stand of the ground with minutes remaining in the European tie. As snow filled the night sky all around Moscow, fans headed for the exit closest to the local Metro Station, only for tragedy to occur leading to the USSR’s worst-ever sporting disaster.

On November 19th, as the final round of games were played out, Dinamo Kyiv was on the coat-tails of Malofeyev’s men. A draw would mean a play-off against the team from the Ukraine, and a loss would see Kyiv crowned champions if they beat Ararat Yerevan. Valeriy Lobanovsky led Kyiv, a polar opposite of Malofeyev; he introduced computer technology turning football into a science; the modern-day stats men would be proud. In his pre-match speech, Malofeyev talked about monkeys and lions and how the lions might eat the monkeys to death, or one monkey might sacrifice himself for the team. In essence, what Malofeyev meant was that team would have to sacrifice themselves for victory. The speech did not exactly have the immediate effect as Spartak opened the scoring after seventeen minutes. Still, a brace by Ivan Gurinovich before halftime saw Dinamo Minsk go into the break 2-1 up.
In the second half, the Belarussians started like a house on fire goals from Petr Vasilevsky and Aleinikov; after twelve minutes of the second half, saw Minsk coasting 4-1. Two goals, though, by the home team meant the last few minutes felt like an eternity, but at 8:47 on the night of Nov 19th, 1982, ‘Dinamo Minsk were champions’. The team would return to a heroes welcome with thousands welcoming them off the train from Moscow; Malofeyev would go on to manage the USSR national team heping his nation qualify for Mexico 1986, but fired before the championships started.

For Sergei Aleinikov, he would play in the European Cup of 1983/84 with Minsk reaching the quarterfinals, narrowly losing to Dinamo Bucharest two to one on aggregate; Liverpool would defeat Roma in the final that year.
Aleinikov was known for his stamina, tactical nous, and passing ability. A centre-half in the Alan Hansen mould, he would eventually leave eastern Europe for Turin and the black and white of Juventus. In 2003 Sergei was voted the most outstanding Belarussian footballer in the last fifty years. The walls of communism have come tumbling down.
Belarus is now an independent state, but in Minsk, they still talk about 1982, and the team that toppled all in the old USSR.

The playoff that never was

The 1940-41 title race was a nail biting affair that went almost down to the wire with two great teams, Cork United and Waterford battling it out for supremacy. While the majority of the rest of Europe was engulfed in the violence and destruction of the Second World War the League of Ireland continued as usual, or as usual as possible under the circumstances. In fact, the War had the effect of improving the standard of player in the League of Ireland as many Irish players returned home from Britain where league football had been effectively postponed until the cessation of hostilities.

Cork United, had only been in existence for a season by that stage, formed immediately after the dissolution of the original Cork City, they were an ambitious club who were about to begin a period of league dominance. They were a full-time outfit from the outset and they made a statement of intent by bringing back to Ireland players who had had experience in England, such as Irish international Owen Madden, Jack O’Reilly signed from Norwich, while the goalkeeper berth was taken up by Jim “Fox” Foley, an Irish international who had played for Celtic and Plymouth Argyle. The following year they went further and signed Bill Hayes, a top international full-back who had been plying his trade with top-flight Huddersfield Town in England.

Cork had also recruited wisely from the local area for that 1940-41 season, signing a teenage striker from Dunmanway called Sean McCarthy who despite his tender years would chip in with 14 goals in the debut campaign of what was destined to become a prolific goal-scoring career.

Waterford were no slouches either, although they had struggled both financially and on the pitch in the previous two seasons they still retained a core of veterans who had helped win them the cup in 1937 and finish runners up in the 1937-38 season. Among them were Tim O’Keeffe, an Irish international left winger with a ferocious shot that earned him the nickname “Cannonball” who had just returned after a spell in Scotland, and Walter “Walty” Walsh at left half. Also among their number was a 20 year old local lad who played at inside forward named Paddy Coad who was already making a name for himself as one of the most skillful players in the league. John Johnston, a Derry-born centre forward, was also signed from Limerick to help lead the Waterford attack. Johnston and O’Keeffe would finish the league as joint top scorers that year with 17 goals apiece.

Waterford 37

Waterford in 1937

Cork had a slow start to the season but as the league approached Christmas they went on a ten-match unbeaten run which was only ended by their title rivals Waterford. Over 8,000 fans packed into the Mardyke to see this Munster derby and it was the men in blue of Waterford who emerged triumphant. In fact in both league games played that season Waterford came out on top, winning 2-1 and 4-0 over Cork.

Of the two sides it was Waterford who were the more attacking, by the end of the 22 match series of league games Waterford had scored 62 goals compared to Cork’s 50, though the Leesiders had a somewhat better defensive record. Goal difference between the two sides was ultimately +4 in Waterford’s favour but it would be more than 50 years before the League of Ireland employed goal difference to separate teams so a league playoff was decided as the fairest way to split the two teams.

By the time this match rolled around Cork United had already defeated Waterford 3-1 after a thrilling and fiery replay in the FAI Cup final at Dalymount, Sean McCarthy, the youngest man on the pitch opened the scoring and although Johnstone equalised, a Jack O’Reilly brace brought the cup to Cork. They now had their sights set on making history as the first club from outside of the capital to win a cup and league double.

The teams were due to meet again some weeks later on May 11th in Cork’s ground, the Mardyke, for a test match to decide the outright championship winners after both sides finished level. Sensationally, that play-off never took place as seven Waterford players, who were offered bonuses of £5 for a win and half that amount for a draw, demanded the draw bonus be paid even if they lost. Waterford’s directors rejected the demand and suspended all seven, including three Cork-born stars, Tim O’Keeffe, Thomas “Tawser” Myers, and goalkeeper Denis “Tol Ol” Daly. The Cork United directors, fearing the loss of an estimated £1,000 gate, intervened and offered to pay the bonuses, but Waterford, on a point of principle, refused the offer and subsequently withdrew from football. The seven players were then banned from league football for the following season.

With Waterford unable to field a team Cork United were awarded the League title, although despite winning both the league and the cup the loss of the expected bumper gate for the playoff game meant that they finished the season incurring a small financial loss. Despite this minor setback that victory set in train a period of dominance for Cork United which saw them win four of the next five league titles and another FAI Cup. For Waterford however things were very different.

Paddy Coad

Waterford withdrew from the league for the following season and would not return to League of Ireland football until the beginning of the 1945-46 season. When they returned their squad was mostly made up of local players and they brought in former Irish international Charlie Turner as a player coach for a spell. The stars from 1941 were long departed, Paddy Coad (pictured left as a cup winner for Shamrock Rovers), although suspended from league games, signed for Shamrock Rovers and played only in cup matches in his first season at Milltown. He would go on to become a legendary figure as a player and coach for Rovers. Poor Tim O’Keeffe who had helped win the club the cup in 1937 was less fortunate, he signed for Cork United for a brief spell after his suspension but died from cancer in 1943 at the age of just 33.

In the longer term it was Waterford who would prevail, despite their great success Cork United went bust and left the league in 1948 and were duly replaced by Cork Athletic. Waterford endured a fallow time in the 40’s and 50’s but became a dominant force in the League of Ireland in the 60’s and early 70’s winning six league titles and never having to make do with playoffs in any of their victories.

Something inside so strong – from Tull to Wright

By Fergus Dowd

Theirs is a land of hope and glory,Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers,And mine is the peace we knew
Between the wars… ‘
Billy Bragg


On the road outside stands the Cross of Sacrifice in front of the arched entrance of the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, inside the rows of graves run for miles. Surnames etched on headstones from across the globe, men, some boys, who yearned for adventure but only found the travesty of war. On entering, you encounter the Arras Memorial panels and panels of names, thirty-four thousand seven hundred and eighty-five to be exact, souls who perished in no man’s land.
The memorial represents the names of those who died in the area between the spring of 1916 and the 7th of August 1918, with no known grave.

Inscribed on one of the panels is the name William Tull a Second Lieutenant of the Middlesex Regiment who had hung up his football boots to join the war effort. Part of a ‘Footballers Battallion’ which drew professional players from across different clubs, he fought on the Alpine Front between November 1917 and March 1918.

Tull arrived after the Battle of Caporetto, where the Austro-Hungarians and their German allies had fired chlorine-arsenic agent and diphosgene, forcing the Italian army into retreat. After leading 26 men on a night raid against an enemy position crossing the River Piave under heavy fire, the men under his command all returned unharmed. Tull was cited for his ‘Coolness and Gallantry’ by Major-General Sydney Lawford, whose son Peter was a Rat Pack member with Frank Sinatra. Tull had returned to the conflict after suffering ‘shell shock’ and became the first British-born black army officer and the first black man to lead white British troops into battle.

A man of firsts on the 1st of September 1909, Walter Tull became the first outfield, black, professional footballer when he wore the white of Tottenham Hotspur at Roker Park. It was Spurs first ever match in the topflight they would lose 3-1, but Tull would become a forefather for black footballers who followed in his footsteps. He had signed from Clapton F.C. as a robust and mobile inside forward and impressed enough to be taken on Tottenham’s 1909 tour of Argentina and Uruguay. The tour was the brainchild of Sir Fredrick Wall of the Football Association, it would see Everton and Spurs making a fourteen-thousand-mile trip. Wall would refuse war-time financial compensation to Anglo-Irish coach Jimmy Hogan for training MTK Budapest while interned as an enemy alien during World War I.

It was a nine-week adventure for Tull and his teammates involving three weeks of travel and twenty days of playing matches in South America; the two teams had successfully toured Astro-Hungary in 1905. Wall felt this tour would help promote the English game further afield. The Tottenham squad missed the boat on the Southampton quays, and a tugboat allowed them to catch it up in the Solent area; by the 6th of June 1909, Tull was lining out in Buenos Aires.
In an exhibition match watched on by ten thousand in the city, including the Argentine President José Figueroa Alcorta, Spurs and Everton drew 2-2.

A month earlier, on May Day, local workers had campaigned for human rights ‘Semana Roja’ as mass protests were called for against the backdrop of government-backed limitation of democratic liberties and repressive laws and regulations. As the workers began to march in the local square Plaza Lorea, the police opened fire, killing ten and injuring seventy. The tour yielded a profit of £300, which would promote football in the Argentine; Tull would enhance his reputation in South America as the local scribes wrote about the strength and skill of the inside forward of negro colour.

Following the loss to Sunderland, Tottenham faced champions Manchester United in their first-ever home game in the first division. Tull earned his side a penalty in a 2-2 draw – outside left George Wall scoring one of United’s goals his brother Tom would also perish like Tull in the Great War. On the 18th of September 1909, at Valley Parade, Tull became only the second black man to score a goal in the first division. The ground had been redeveloped by the renowned football architect Archibald Leitch following Bradford’s promotion.

However, across the land and the terraces of England, Tull would face weekly racism; it reached ahead at an away game at Bristol when the newspapers reported the barrage of hateful language and taunts the young man received upon his every touch. This affected Walter’s performances, and eventually, he would be dropped and ended up in the reserves in his first season playing sixteen games for Spurs second string.

Tull need not have worried the great innovator Herbert Chapman had his eye on the youngster, the man who would transform the red and white side of North London, introducing the world to Alex James and Cliff Bastin.
Chapman was then at Northampton Town. He was due to retire from football himself a Spurs player to become a mining engineer, but after teammate Walter Bull decided to turn down the advances of the cobblers to remain at White Hart Lane, Chapman stepped into the hot seat.

In 1901/02, Northampton was elected to the Southern League’s first division, joining Tottenham Hotspur and neighbours Kettering; for the first three seasons, the club finished mid-table. The team performances slumped, and by 1906/07 they had finished bottom of the league remaining in the league due to no automatic relegation.
Chapman arrived in the summer of 1907, and the club were crowned champions in 1908, the season before they had finished 8th, and Tottenham, who finished 7th, were elected to the old Football second division.

A rejuvenated Tull with Chapman’s unique management style found the net nine times that season from just twelve games played; this included a quartet in the thrashing of Bristol City 5-0. He would line out 110 times for Northampton before joining the war effort; his final game against Southampton ended in a 2-1 victory on the 18th of April 1914.

Walter Tull was born in the port town of Folkestone in 1888; and nearly a century earlier in nearby Portsmouth, two thousand black prisoners arrived on ships from the Caribbean most were imprisoned at Portchester Castle.
Tull’s father Daniel had landed in the UK from Barbados in 1876, making his way across the seas as a ship’s carpenter, under the sole direction of his master assisting in all-hands work required on the vessel. From a young age, Walter’s life was marked with tragedy. Aged seven, his mother died of breast cancer, two years later, his father passed away from heart disease. Walter and his siblings found themselves orphans, and eventually, an orphanage in Bethnal Green accepted the brothers.

On the 21st of March 1918 in Arras at 4:40 am, the German Spring offensive began six thousand six hundred guns fired 3.5 million explosive shells over five hours on British positions. In the firing line, that day was Walter Tull among the two hundred and fifty thousand casualties suffered by the combined British and French forces. Tull took his last breath in ‘No Man’s Land’ Private Tom Billingham, who had starred in nets for Leicester Fosse before the war, tried unsuccessfully to drag his body back to the trenches.

In 1984 three quarters of a century after Tull had toured South America, John Barnes, one of the most gifted wingers ever to grace the English game, found himself in Brazil. It was the 10th of June forty-three minutes had passed in the friendly game between England and Brazil fifty-sixty thousand one hundred and twenty-six souls were in the Maracana when Barnes chested the ball on the left-wing. Moving inside, he ghosted past Brazil’s right full-back, Leandro. He moved with menace into the opposition’s penalty box, swerving beyond the advances of Mozer and Ricardo Gomes before leaving keeper Roberto Costa sprawling and nonchantly slotting the ball into an empty net.

John Barnes v Brazil

It was pure genius, for some though one of England’s greatest goals did not exist as miners fought the Iron Lady back home; the National Front had infiltrated the terraces of England. A few days after his ‘Barnstorming’ performance, a reference from the headlines on the back pages, Barnes and England headed for Montevideo and a game against Uruguay.’ On the journey, Barnes was confronted by the National Front group, being told, ‘England only won 1-0 as a N****s goal doesn’t count’ – Barnes had also set up the second goal for Portsmouth’s Mark Hateley, a header from a pinpoint cross from the Watford winger. Throughout the 1980s, Barnes, like all black footballers, would find himself being racially targeted at most football grounds in England; one-touch would be greeted with boos and monkey chants. Barnes would famously back flick a banana skin off the pitch at Goodison Park in 1988.

One man learning his trade in that period was Ian Wright reared on the Merritt Road in Southeast London. He, like Tull, would be a forward and one of Arsenal’s greatest – one hundred and eighty-five goals in just two hundred and eighty-eighth appearances the darling of the Northbank. The current Match of the Day pundit found himself dealing with daily abuse from his stepdad when the very programme came on the TV; Wright would be forced to stand in front of the wall and turn away from the TV so he could not watch the game he loved. A peek at the pictures coming from the TV by young Ian would mean being screamed at to remain in position.

Chris Hughton in action for Ireland

In May 2020, Wright was racially abused online by a youth from Ireland. In the local courts, the crime went unpunished; a first offence and coming from a decent family were the order of the day. You wonder about the mentality of some in a country which across the continent were referred to ‘as the blacks of Europe’ and a nation who faced signs ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ upon setting foot in Britain. The first black footballer to represent the Republic of Ireland also came from Tottenham Hotspur in full-back Chris Hughton who made his debut in 1979 at Dalymount Park versus the USA.

As football gets ready for another European Championships tournament and modern-day black footballers, continue the fight against racism, not far from where Tull made his debut in the Northeast England line out.
We have come a long way from the days of Walter Tull, but as the boos reverberate around the Riverside Stadium as those England players take the knee, have we?