Early football players of colour in the League of Ireland

As some readers may be aware I’ve had the opportunity to write a number of articles on the life and career of former Drumcondra footballer Ray Keogh. Indeed recently I was lucky enough to be asked by Dublin City Council libraries to give a talk on the subject, which I hope to have up here as a presentation and podcast shortly.

Ray’s life and career were filled with plenty of drama and highlights which would have been worth recording no matter his background, but the fact that initially I thought that Ray may have been the first person of colour to play in the League of Ireland meant that I felt that his story really needed to be recorded and told while he was still with us. Sadly Ray died in August 2019 but I was lucky enough to meet him before he passed away, I was also fortunate enough to speak with members of his family, former teammates and others who remembered him from his playing days.

In the course of this research I learned that although Ray was one of the first people of colour to play football in the League, he was not the very first. This short article will give a little bit of background on some of the other players who featured, albeit often fleetingly, in Irish football in the years before Ray made his debut. Ray played that first senior game for Shamrock Rovers in 1959 but there was at least one other player who appeared for a League club before then.

One such player who was brought to my attention by Bohemian FC historian Stephen Burke was Francis Archibong, who had a brief career with Bohs more than ten years before Ray made his debut for Rovers. Francis Archibong was born in Nigeria and came to Dublin in the late 1940s to study English in University College Dublin. During his spell studying in Dublin he lived on Coulson Avenue in Rathgar but found time to line out for the Bohemians on a number of occasions during the 1948-49 season.

In total Francis Archibong’s Bohs career amounted to four games; two for the Bohemian “B” team in the Leinster Senior League and two for the first team in the League of Ireland Shield, a competition played ahead of the commencement of the main league season. Bohs lost all four matches in these competitions:- to Shamrock Rovers “B”, Jacobs, Waterford and Sligo Rovers respectively, with Francis playing as centre-forward in these games but failing to find the net in any of the contests.

I’ve made the assumption that Archibong may also have lined out for UCD AFC who were not a league side at the time but I’ve yet to find any definite evidence of this. While there are newspaper reports of his Shield appearances for Bohemians against Waterford and Sligo which mention the novelty of a black African footballer appearing in the game, most reports are not particularly complimentary about his performances, or that of the Bohs side as a whole. The Munster Express was perhaps the most generous in their appraisal of Archibong’s performances who noted the warm welcome afforded to him by the Waterford crowd.

Archibong snippet

Munster Express 15th October 1948

While Francis’s Bohs career was short he did feature alongside players of note such as Brendan O’Kelly who would represent Ireland in football at the 1948 Olympics and Frank Morris. He also played against the likes of Ireland internationals Fred Kiernan and Sean Fallon who were lining out for Sligo. And if his football career didn’t perhaps live up to hopes then his professional life saw huge success.

He graduated with a degree in English from UCD in 1950, his thesis was entitled A history of the criticism of King Lear from Condell to Coleridge. Francis returning to Nigeria in October 1950 on board a plane packed with European missionaries, thereafter he devoted his career to educating young people in his home country. Francis Archibong ended up working for the Nigerian Ministry of Education and was involved in large scale literacy projects in the 1960s and even represented Nigeria at meetings of UNESCO.

Apart from Francis Archibong there were a number of subsequent people of colour with UCD connections who appeared in Irish football in the years after Francis’s brief sporting career.

UCD tended to be a Leinster Senior League side who also featured in the FAI Cup early

Pic of Obakpani

Francis Obiakpani

rounds, it would be 1979 before UCD AFC would be elected to the League of Ireland. UCD generally had a small number of foreign students at this time, including several from West Africa. A few years after Francis Archibong had graduated the UCD football team featured two Nigerian players in a Metropolitan Cup semi-final against Jacobs in 1956; they were Frank Obiakpani and Fidelis Ezemenari. They lost that game 3-1 with Ezemenari getting the consolation goal.

By that time Obiakpani was a medical student who had just graduated, he had been starring for the UCD side since 1953 and had helped the college to triumph in the Collingwood Cup.  While Ezemenari was studying Zoology. It was mentioned in one report that the two young men had known each other before their arrival in Ireland.

Among their teammates for UCD was a talented attacker named Brian Lenihan who won an amateur international cap for Ireland and who would later become Minister for Finance and run for office as President of Ireland, also on the side was Willie Browne, an accountancy student who would later win three caps for Ireland and captain Bohemian Football Club.

Back in 1953 Obiakpani had faced off for UCD against a friend who was playing for UCC, listed as A. Ezenwa who was described as a talented centre-half who had played football with Obiakpani back in Nigeria, he was also a useful athlete away from the football pitch, excelling in the Long Jump. While in Cork he was studying Science. That UCC side were captained by Tommy Healy who was a star player for League of Ireland side Cork Athletic. Writer Cian Manning has written previously for Póg mo Goal about Francis/Frank Obiakpani and what happened to him after his graduation, he has suggested that Obiakpani may have been killed during the Biafran War in 1967.

I would love to know more about these players, while they did not feature at League of Ireland level they were playing at a high standard and alongside present and future League of Ireland stars. However, the information I’ve been able to find still leaves unanswered questions, even down to simple details like the first name of players like Ezenwa.

If you know more I’d love to hear from you.

The Lost Clubs – Reds United

The thing about close relationships is that after years of being together one partner builds up an intimate knowledge of the other, while this is usually beneficial, bringing closeness and trust it also means that you know how to push each others buttons, sometimes even going for the nuclear option in the heat of the moment. While these rash impulses can pass their impact can sometimes be felt for years. As in personal relationships so it was with Shelbourne and the football authorities in Dublin.

In 1921 the disregard shown to Shelbourne by the IFA in the scheduling of a cup match replay for Belfast rather than in Dublin as custom dictated was the final straw for the Leinster Football Association which split with the IFA and formed what we now know as the FAI. In this case the Dublin footballing authorities rallied behind Shelbourne and their sense of injustice at the treatment by the Belfast based IFA.

Shelbourne were trendsetters in the Irish game, they were one of the first clubs outside of Belfast to pay players professionally, they were the first Dublin side to win the Irish Cup, and after the split they backed the fledgling FAI and took part in the first season of the Free State League and contested the debut final of the FAI Cup. However by the 1930’s relations had soured. Shelbourne were accused of poaching players in early 1934 and were fined, Shels denied the charge and ignored the fine. Things continued to escalate and in March 1934 Shels went nuclear. They wrote to the FAI (the FAI of the Free State as it was then) and informed them that they were leaving and had applied to rejoin the IFA.

Shels further refused to fulfill their fixtures in the League of Ireland Shield competition, the FAI responded by fining the club £500 for failure to play the matches. The situation reached a head in June of 1934 when at a special meeting of the FAI Council, Shelbourne were suspended from football for 12 months and the members of the Shelbourne committee were “suspended from ever taking any part in the management of any club
or affiliated body in football, under the jurisdiction of the Football
Association of the Irish Free State”.

The departure of Shels & the emergence of Reds United

With Shelbourne removed from football for at least a year (they had been blocked from joining the IFA though whether that was ever really Shels intention is doubtful) and their place in the league was awarded to Waterford, returning to the league after a gap of a couple of seasons. However, in the Leinster Senior League another club appeared, they drew their support from the same Ringsend district as Shelbourne, the featured a number of former Shelbourne players and also like Shels, they wore red. They were Reds United.

Such was the prominence of the club that some 14,000 turned up at Shelbourne Park for one of their early games, to see Reds United of the Leinster Senior League take on Bohemians in the first round of the FAI Cup in January 1935. While the side was still quite raw they surprised many by securing a 3-3 draw and a replay against the far more seasoned Bohemians.

Although still a junior club the Reds featured a core of players with league experience and had a sizeable following as demonstrated by the crowd attending the Bohs cup game. Among those players who lined out for the club was John Joe Flood who was a Ringsend local. Flood was most associated as a talented forward for the successful Shamrock Rovers teams of the 1920’s but had also featured for Leeds United, Crystal Palace and Shelbourne. He had also been capped five time by Ireland scoring four goals which included a hat-trick on his debut against Belgium. By the time he was lining out for Reds United Flood was already in his mid-30’s but he continued to be a threat at inside forward. Indeed even later in his career while coaching TEK United John Joe made a brief comeback as a player at the age of 51!

Joining John Joe Flood on the team was his younger brother Patrick, who played in goal, as well as former Shamrock Rovers player Tommy “Nettler” Doyle who was the younger brother of Dinny Doyle, an Irish international who ended up playing for much of his career in the United States. Incidentally all of the Doyle family (as far back as Tommy’s grandfather) had the nickname “Nettler” apparently deriving from the fact that if you gave one of them a hard tackle you would get a stinging “Nettler” of a challenge in return. Doyle had also played for Shamrock Rovers and had done well at centre forward for them after the departure of the prolific Paddy Moore to Aberdeen. He mainly featured as a forward during his time at Reds United as well.

Also signed for Reds were Maurice Cummins and Paddy Lennon two prominent half-backs who both had lined out Cork F.C.  Cummins was also talented at lawn-bowling in his native Cork, he would later sign for St. James’s Gate and was part of their side that lifted the FAI Cup in the 1937-38 season. While there was a strong contingent of players from the greater Ringsend area the signing of Cummins and Lennon shows that the club were looking beyond the local, indeed two players were brought over from the Scottish Leagues.

Along with a winger named Wright who was signed from Alloa Athletic the Reds signed Willie Ouchterlonie who had enjoyed successful spells at Dundee United and Raith Rovers. Prior to joining the Reds he had been signed by Portadown F.C. but his spell up north didn’t last long before his unwieldy surname was troubling the Dublin press. He hit an impressive 20 goals for the Reds in his only season there, finishing as the club’s top scorer and third overall in the league behind Cork’s prolific Jimmy Turnbull (with a record breaking 37 league goals) and Ray Rogers of Brideville on 23.

By the time Reds United were signing up players from Scotland they had already triumphed in their debut season in the Leinster Senior League, as a result they and Brideville were accepted into the League of Ireland for the 1935-36 season. This might have been different had Shelbourne been successful in their application to have their suspension lifted. A motion was put before the FAI Council in June of 1935 to try and resolve the dispute between the club and the Association but this was defeated. As a result it was to be another season in the wilderness for Shels but a chance for Reds United to mix with the best.

1935-36 was to be Reds United sole season as a League club although this short spell wasn’t down to a lack of success on the field, on the contrary the Reds finished fourth in a twelve team league and ahead of the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and Waterford. This must have come as a surprise to Rovers who had the new club as a tenant at Glenmalure Park in Milltown and who featured a couple of their erstwhile players. The lease for Shelbourne Park was held by the still-banned Shelbourne so there was no chance to replicate the bumper crowd that had seen the cup game against Bohemians there the year before.  One other compromise was that for games against Rovers rather than play in Milltown these matches were moved to Dalymount Park instead. This saw a strange sort of Ringsend local derby being played out in Phibsboro on the north side of the city.

The Reds opening their league campaign with an impressive 2-0 victory over Cork with goals from Tommy Doyle and Ouchterlonie. There were several other highs to their singular league season, they did the double over their Ringsend rivals Shamrock Rovers as well as securing good wins over the likes of Drumcondra, Brideville and two wins, including a 5-0 demolition job, over Bray Unknowns. Several of their players shone during the season, along with the goals of Doyle, Oucherlonie and the veteran Flood there was talk that their Cork-born midfielder Cummins was in line for a national team call-up against the Netherlands due to his stand-out performances at left half-back.

The departure of Reds United and a Shelbourne return

Despite this impressive debut season there was to be no follow up. In June 1936 after the season had finished the league met to discuss the possible amalgamation of Reds United and Shelbourne. This didn’t seem to lead anywhere. Just a few weeks later Reds United resigned from the league, they had been unable to secure a stadium for the coming season after attempts to agree a lease on the Harold’s Cross stadium fell through.

With Reds United gone there were applications from Shelbourne and from Fearons F.C. (based in the Dublin suburb of Kimmage) for election to the league. Shels had been playing in the AUL during Reds United’s league season and in July 1936 a motion for re-admittance put forward by Shamrock Rovers was accepted unanimously at the FAI Council meeting. Similarly those Shelbourne committee members banned by the FAI were accepted back into the fold.  These representations from Shamrock Rovers were important to helping Shelbourne in successfully re-applying for a place in the league for the coming season while the unlucky Fearons club were told that their day had not yet come and that they should continue their good work with a view to being elected at a future date.

While Reds United were gone from the league they did continue life as a non-league side, they played out of Ballyfermot for a time and help develop the early careers of several prominent players. The club still had strong links with Shelbourne and the wider Ringsend area, even in the late 40’s club meetings of Reds United were taking place in the Shelbourne Sports Club off Pearse Street. A club born out of a falling out between Shelbourne and the FAI may only have experienced one league season but they continued developing footballers long after the original dispute was put to bed.



The Hungarian Revolution?

At the beginning of the 1950’s the Hungarian international side were the great ascendant football team of the era, it was a period that would deliver them an Olympic Gold medal in 1952 and see them become runners-up in the 1954 World Cup in somewhat controversial circumstances as the German nation team pulled off on of the all-time sporting shocks.

Hungary’s international exploits was at somewhat of a remove from the League of Ireland where a Englishman, Welshman or Scotsman was usually as exotic as things got in terms of playing personnel, however the huge political changes that took place in post- War Hungary ended up having an unexpected, tangential impact on the League of Ireland as within ten years or each other two men, apparently Hungarian internationals, were lining up for League of Ireland clubs like Limerick City, Sligo Rovers and Drumcondra.

The first of these two was Siegfried Dobrowitsch who arrived in Ireland in 1949 via France after leaving his Hungarian homeland in 1947. Siegfried or “Dobro” and many of his Irish team-mates nicknamed him had left Hungary as the Hungarian Communist party were growing in power, becoming the dominant party in the short-lived Second Hungarian Republic before, in 1949, declaring Hungary a single party Communist state; the People’s Republic of Hungary.

Dobrowitsch claimed that he had heard about Sligo Rovers as part of a recruitment advertisement for new players brought to his attention by his French wife, not that far fetched when you consider only ten years earlier the club had persuaded an ageing “Dixie” Dean to sign up for a short stint in the north west. In fact the Sligo Champion newspaper went as far to lead with the headline announcing his signing with “First Dean, Now Dobrowitsch”.

Dobro image 2

Siegfried Dobrowitsch

In various reports it was stated that Dobrowitsch had been capped either five, or six times by the Hungarian national team and there was much comment about this being something of a coup for Sligo Rovers who were anxious to get him into their starting XI. However, Siegfried’s first game was delayed several times as Rovers had to seek international clearance for him to make his debut, there seemed to have been long, drawn-out correspondence with the French Football Association as Dobrowitsch had  most recently been plying his trade for Strasbourg.

More information on Siegfried’s early life has come to light through the research of his daughter Alda Cornish, who recently visited Ireland and met with representatives of Sligo Rovers. In a piece in the Sligo Weekender where she filled in some scant details of her father’s early years, noting that “he was born in a part of what was Hungary and we understand he lost both of his parents by the age of seven. He was put in a Jesuit Boys Home, but it was a very cruel place where he grew up. The next thing I could find was he was playing football and working as an electrician. He ended up in France around 1947 and played with Strasbourg, where he met his first wife.”

Newspaper reports at the time state that Dobrowitsch was born in a part of Yugoslavia that had come under Hungarian control and that his multi-lingual French wife acted as his interpreter. In an interview published in February 1949 in the Irish Independent, presumably with his wife acting as translator Siegfried got to explain something of his personal story. Born around 1920 he claimed to have won six international caps for Hungary between 1938 and 1942, after which point he was drafted into the Hungarian army to fight for the Axis powers during the Second World War.

After his army discharge in 1946 he returned to his farm before it was seized by the government the following year, fleeing across the country he was assisted in crossing into Austria and from there into France, where he met his wife and eventually relocated to Dublin, commuting to Sligo with the club’s other Dublin-based players and using Dalymount Park as a personal training ground. He was even in the stands at Dalymount, awaiting his international clearance when Sligo met Bohemians in early March 1949, going so far to sign a match programme for a star-struck fan, obviously impressed by the presence of a supposed Hungarian international. (You can see his signature in the header image of this article).

His international clearance eventually arrived and on March 27th, over a month after his signing was initially publicised Siegfried Dobrowitsch made his debut for Sligo Rovers in a 1-1 draw with Limerick in the Showgrounds. While the reports describe a tight game where Dobrowitsch, the starting centre-forward had to survive on scraps, he did manage to score Sligo’s only goal of the game, a well dispatched, powerful penalty kick early in the second half.

Despite a good start there was misfortune only a couple of weeks later when Dobrowitsch was involved in a car crash on his way from Dublin to a match in Sligo. Travelling up for a match against a Sligo local league selection, Dobrowitsch, along with goalkeeper Fred Kiernan and winger Stephen Leavey crashed into another vehicle. While luckily nobody was seriously injured Siegfried did suffer a dislocated shoulder and missed a number of games as a result.

Perhaps as a result of his injury, work commitments in Dublin, or merely through inconsistent form Dobrowitch’s stay in Sligo was relatively short-lived, by November of 1949 he had been released by Sligo despite boasting a relatively successful strike rate and had been signed by Drumcondra in Dublin.

Things started relatively well for Siegfried at Drums, scoring twice on his debut against Shelbourne in a Shield game which Drumcondra won 4-1. Despite this initial success only a year later Seigfried had dropped out of senior football and was lining out for Larkhill in the AUL.

When interviewed many years later Dobrowitsch’s former teammate Pa Daly recalled playing alongside him. While he was referred to as “Dobro” when in Sligo the Drumcondra players had instead dubbed him “drop-a-stritch”, and in Daly’s opinion Dobrowitsch had never been a Hungarian international as they had been led to believe. While he praised Siegfreid for his dedication to training, recalling the exasperated Drums groundsman Peter Penrose calling in Dobrowitsch from training with the words “come on in or the pubs will be closed!” he was of the opinion that his claims to have been a Hungarian international were exaggerated.  Any research in relation to the matches that Siegfried Dobrowitsch claimed to have played in for Hungary show no similar names on the historic teamsheets. Ultimately Siegfried would leave Ireland around 1956 bound for Zimbabwe where he spent much of the remainder of his life before he passed away in 1994.

While the story of Seigfried Dobrowitsch may seem unusual he was just the first supposed Hungarian international footballer to play in the League of Ireland in the 1950s. The second was Laszlo Lipot who enjoyed a brief spell at Limerick after arriving in Ireland as a refugee around the time that Seigfried Dobrowitsch was leaving Ireland.  Lipot, who lined out at right half for a short time with Limerick in 1956-57 had ended up as one of a small group of refugees taken in by Ireland after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was crushed by the state authorities with the backing of the Soviet Union.

What had begun as a series of protests in Budapest in October 1956, mostly from students, journalists and writers seeking reform of the system of government, and a move away from the influence of Moscow quickly turned violent,  the Hungarian government sought military support from the Soviet Union which was speedily dispatched. The revolutionaries stood little chance against the might of the Soviet military. The newly installed Hungarian government quickly carried out mass-arrests numbering in the tens of thousands, it was estimated that upwards of 200,000 refugees fled Hungary in the aftermath of the failed revolution and among their number was Laszlo Lipot.

Of the thousands who fled Hungary more than 300 refugees found themselves in the far from glamourous surroundings of the Knockalisheen army camp just outside of Limerick City on the far side of the Clare border. While the refugees were broadly welcomed by the local people life in the army camp was tough and there was even a threatened hunger strike by some of the refugees at the conditions they endured.

Laszlo Lipot is first mentioned in December of 1956, less than two months after the Hungarian Uprising had been suppressed. In the December 8th edition of the Limerick Leader there is a cryptic reference to Lipot under the pseudonym “Janos” who is described as a Hungarian international right back who had only recently represented the national team against Czechoslovakia and had been an international teammate of no less a luminary than Ferenc Puskás. It states that “Janos” has been training with Limerick and had impressed the team management and was hopeful of making his first team debut in the near future. He did make his debut shortly afterwards, in a game against Shelbourne, which ended in a heavy 6-1 defeat, though match reports say that Lipot/Janos was one of the better Limerick players on the pitch. He was unable to add to this single start as his playing registration still lay with the Hungarian FA.

Newspaper reports named his club as “Tata” which according to Hungarian football expert Gergely Marosi was a reference to Hungarian club Tatai Vörös Meteor SK who have since merged into umbrella club Tatai AC. This would mean however, that he certainly was never an international as his club would have been in the third tier at the time. The closest he would have ever come to this standard was playing for his county in inter-region exhibition matches so the talk of an “international” seems to be another tall tale.

Back in Limerick it would be August 1957 before he would get to play another game for the Shannonsiders when the issues with his playing registration were finally resolved, and he was able to line out for Limerick under his own name of Lazslo Lipot. His Limerick career was shortlived however as by the end of the summer of 1957 most of the few hundred Hungarians who had been living in the Knockalisheen camp had left the country, many left to start new lives in Canada and the United States while Laszlo and his wife took the shorter journey to England in September of 1957. His Limerick playing career had amounted to a single league game against Shelbourne in the 1956-57 season and a handful of Shield games in August and September of 1957.

What exactly became of Laszlo after he left Ireland is something that I’ve been unable to find out, there is a death notice for a Laszlo Lipot in the town of Caerphilly in South Wales from 2004. This Laszlo had been born in 1931 and would be the correct age, perhaps he was the same man who once graced the Markets Field?

The cases of Seigfried Dobrowitsch and Laszlo Lipot are striking in their similarity, both were refugees from the post-War turmoil that engulfed Hungary, in Dobrowitsch’s case as an orphaned former soldier he claimed to have fled after the loss of his farm to the new emerging Communist rulers in the late 1940’s, for Laszlo it was the violent events of the 1956 Uprising that led him to leave his homeland. Whether he had been directly involved and feared reprisal or simply wanted to escape a harsher regime after the direct military intervention of the Soviet Union that spurred him to leave we simply don’t know.

We do know however, that both men had some talent for football, and in the days before Youtube highlights videos and professional scouting software both men were able to embellish their playing careers, adding international caps that almost certainly never existed to their playing CVs. While neither player had the longest or most successful League of Ireland career they are examples of a subgroup rarely mentioned in Irish football or indeed, Irish society, namely political and economic migrants who came to Ireland to make a better life. While we might think this is a recent phenomenon the stories of Siegfried and Laszlo shows that is dates back decades. It also shows that we perhaps haven’t learned from the mistakes of the past, while several of Laszlo’s fellow refugees in Knockalisheen did remain in Ireland and built new lives the majority left after less than a year in Ireland, often after protests and threatened hunger strikes about the poor quality of their accommodation. Today Knockalisheen is used as a Direct Provision Centre.

With both men there are many unanswered questions about their lives and careers, especially back in their native Hungary, if any readers have any further information I’d hope they would get in touch so that I can better separate the truth for the stories told about them.

Programme image provided by Stephen Burke. If you enjoyed this article you may also find this piece on the life, career and tragic death of Hungarian international Sandor Szucs of interest.



Groundhopping – FC St. Pauli

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I think most of the time they tend to be things we think we should do than things we really want to do. But I usually aim to visit one new place that I’ve never been to before within the follow twelve months, it’s something I know I want to do, and it is usually fairly achieveable.

It is also a good opportunity to catch a game or two, I wrote early in the summer about my trip to Essen and Cologne and I managed to squeeze in a trip to Hamburg just before the New Year, joined once again by Brendan, my German, football-obsessive mate.

With the German season having just finished for its winter break there wasn’t a chance to catch a game though I did want to visit the Millerntor, the stadium of FC St. Pauli, a club that may not boast an extensive trophy cabinet but one that has an international reputation as a “Kult” club and for situating progressivism at the forefront not only of its image but its day to day existence. Their stands bear slogans like “Kein Fussball den Faschisten” (No football for Fascists) and “Kein Mensch ist illegal” (No one is illegal). Their “skull and crossbones” logo has also become ubiqutious and can be spotted in the most unlikely of places. According to our guide, despite the relative size of the club St. Pauli are often in the top three or four clubs in Germany in terms of their revenue from merchandise.

St. Pauli is a quarter within the city of Hamburg, it sits close to the port on the river Elbe as well as the famous Reeperbahn home to the city’s red-light district and once home to The Beatles who performed in many of the clubs in the area. The ground is also situated right next to an enourmous, former Nazi bunker, now being turned into a luxury hotel.

The stadium is modest by some standards, the club can’t build beyond a capacity of 30,000 and they have avoided some of the soulless bowl type conventions with our tour guide noting with pride that they preferred the “English style” of four individual stands, close to the pitch. Three of the stands also feature a mix of seating and terracing with only one stand being an all-seater though they do also host a number of quite luxurious, customised corporate boxes.

Anyway here are some pics and I’d like to get back and try and catch a game here before the season ends and maybe do a double header with an Altona 93 game in the Regionalliga. And while it seems far fetched it still feels that it might be possible for League of Ireland clubs to steal a few more ideas from a club like St. Pauli and adapt them for an Irish context. Well here’s hoping.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

The origins of the myth

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

Floodlight Arsenal cover

Cover the match programme featuring the newly installed floodlights.

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

The Highbury dilemma

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

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


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

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



Highbury in 2006

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

The story of the lights

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


From the Dublin Evening Mail in 1961

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

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



The Arsenal Game

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

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

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

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

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

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


Three fates of the German League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen's Green plaque three fates

Bronze commemorative plaque at the Three Fates monument

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


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

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

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

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


1956 cover

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

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

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

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

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

1954 lineups

Starting teams fromt the 1954 game

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

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

1956 team

Starting line-ups from the 1956 fixture

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

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

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

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

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

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


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