Regular attendees to Dalymount Park may have noticed a new flag appearing around Block F. It features a bare chested man with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and bears the legend Ernie Crawford – He’s our friend, he hates Rovers. But who, you may ask was Ernie Crawford?
Born in Belfast in November 1891 Ernie was perhaps best known for his endeavours on the Rugby pitch. He starred for Malone in Belfast and later Lansdowne Rugby Club and won 30 caps for Ireland, fifteen of them as Captain between 1920 and 1927. After retirement he was heavily involved in administration as President of Lansdowne Rugby Club between 1939 and 1941 and President of the IRFU in the 1957/58 season as well as being an Irish team selector between 1943 and 1951 and again between 1955-1957. His obituary in the Irish Times listed him as one of the greatest rugby full-backs of all time, he was honoured for his contribution to sport by the French government and even featured on a Tongan stamp celebrating rugby icons.
He was also a successful football player who turned out for Cliftonville, for Bohemians and on a number of occasions for Athlone Town. He was even a passable cricket player. Ernie was a chartered accountant by trade and moved to Dublin to take up the role of accountant at the Rathmines Urban Council in 1919, and this facilitated his joining Bohemians. Despite his greater reputation as a rugby player, Ernie, as a footballer for Bohs, was still considered talented enough to be part of the initial national squad selected by the FAIFS (now the FAI) for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. In all, six Bohemians were selected (Bertie Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Christy Robinson, John Thomas & Johnny Murray were the others and were trained by Bohs’ Charlie Harris), but when the squad had to be cut to only 16 players Ernie was dropped, though he chose to accompany the squad to France as a reserve. The fact that he was born in Belfast may have led to him being cut due to the tension that existed with the FAIFS and the IFA over player selection. However, even as a travelling supporter, he caused some controversy. He was stopped by customs officials en route to Paris and had to explain the presence of a revolver in his possessions. Ernie’s reply was merely that he brought the gun for his “piece of mind”. Not that this was Ernie’s first experience with firearms.
Ernie had served and been injured during the First World War. That he could captain the Irish Rugby Team and be selected for the Olympics is even more impressive when you consider that during the Great War Ernie was shot in the wrist at Arras, France in 1917 causing him to be invalided from the Army and to lose the power in three of his fingers. He had enlisted in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons in October 1914 and was commissioned and later posted to the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), becoming a Lieutenant in August 1917. After his injury he finished his war service on the staff of the Ministry of Munitions. He was a recipient of both the British War medal and Victory Medal.
Ernie later returned to Belfast where he became City Treasurer in 1933. It was in Belfast in 1943 that Ernie encountered Bohs again, as he was chosen to present the Gypsies with the Condor Cup after their victory over Linfield in the annual challenge match.
One of the reasons that his memory has lasted nearly a century with the Bohemians faithful and why a group of us decided to get a flag made up bearing his image centres around a minor cup tie. Ernie, due to his Rugby and also his professional commitments tended to not be a regular starter for Bohemians, his appearances tended to be because of the injury or suspension of other players or as part of reduced strength sides in smaller cup competitions.
As we all know however, when it comes to games against Rovers there are no “smaller ties”. After one particularly tough cup game against Shamrock Rovers an angry Crawford removed his jersey challenged Rovers star forward Bob Fullam to a fight in the middle of the pitch. It’s this moment that the image on the flag imagines!
Fullam himself was no shrinking violet, as well as being an accomplished footballer who was capped twice by Ireland he supplemented his income as a docker in Dublin Port. He finished the 1922 FAI Cup final amid a mass brawl after Rovers were beaten by St. James Gate. The fighting only ceased when the brother of the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall reportedly confronted Fullam with a pistol.
Ernie himself seemed to have been one of those “larger than life” characters, quite aside from bringing a gun to the Olympics and bare-chested on-pitch scraps he also fell foul of Rugby referees one of whom complained about Crawford’s back-chat and claimed that such was the roughness of his play “that the definition of a “tackle” should be sent in black and white to him”. On another occassion an English rugby opponent remembers Crawford treating him and his wife to dinner and giving them a lift back in his car which didn’t happen to have any working headlights. Ernie in an attempt to beat traffic tried to get between a tram and the pavement without much success, badly denting the side of his car and scratching up the paintwork of the tram car. The angry tram driver jumped from the vehicle but on recognising that the other driver was non other than Irish rugby captain Ernie Crawford he let the car pass unhindered, taking off more paint as he went.
In 1932 he became the first man from Britain or Ireland to be awarded the silver medal of honour by the French ministry of sport and physical education for his contributions to the world of sport. Apart from sport he was obviously professionally successful, being City Treasurer of Belfast until his retirement in 1954, he was also trained as a barrister and took an interest in economics. He died in 1959 and was survived by his wife and three children.
Ernie Crawford, he’s our friend.
Useful resources on Ernie’s career include Paul Rouse’s History of Irish Sport, Tadhg Carey’s When we were Kings and David Needham’s Ireland’s first real World Cup and the Dictionary of Irish biography.