The industrial revolution as experienced in the heartlands of Lancashire; in its mill and mining towns had for the most part bypassed Ireland apart from the area around Belfast in the north west. In Belfast the linen industry had thrived, shipbuilding was king and whiskey distillers prospered. It is not much of a surprise that in these growing towns, full of young men, now with a small amount of disposable income and a half day on a Saturday should see the early growth of football in Ireland and Britain. As football professionalised it was Lancashire clubs like Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers who were early pacesetters in the 1880’s. In Ireland in the 1880’s it was clubs around industrial Belfast the led the way, including the likes of Linfield formed in 1886 by workers at the Ulster Spinning Company’s Linfield Mill.
In a city where regular employment could be in pretty perilous supply, a steady, decent paying job in Dublin in the early decades of the 20th Century was a very valuable commodity. The city did not have the same industrial base as its northern neighbour and the city regularly suffered from high rates of unemployment and an over-reliance on unsteady casual labour such as unreliable work around Dublin Port.
Dublin was an administrative centre and from the late 19th century onward had a growing number of white collar workers, many operating in the civil service and the legal profession. What large scale industry did exist was often derisively referred to as a “beer and biscuits” economy based around the St. James’s Gate brewery and the Jacob’s biscuit factory. Such were the connections between the two firms that many female relatives of Guinness employees were found employment in Jacob’s.
I’ve written elsewhere about the football team that the brewery produced but this piece focuses on the Biscuitmen of Jacob’s Football Club. The Jacob’s factory began life in 1851 in Waterford before setting up base at Peter’s Row off Bishop Street (now occupied by part of the DIT campus) in Dublin soon afterwards. It was initially run by brothers William and Robert Jacob who were later joined in 1864 by William Frederick Bewley of Bewley’s Cafe who invested into the firm. The Bewley’s and the Jacob’s were just a number of prominent Quaker families who had established successful business in the city around this time.
When at its zenith Jacob’s had thousands of Irish men and women working at its factory in Dublin, and many more in it’s UK factories and warehouses. A workforce of this size meant that the company enjoyed many outlets for its workers, including social clubs, swimming pools and of course, football.
Such outlets were important as the life of a factory worker was a tough one, Jim Larkin himself described the conditions for the biscuit makers as ‘sending them from this earth 20 years before their time’. Indeed the factory workers went on strike on several occasions such as in 1909 (led by Rosie Hackett) and again in 1913 in support of the Lock-out workers. The factory was occupied by the rebels during the 1916 Rising under the command of Thomas MacDonagh and John MacBride, both of whom were executed in the weeks afterwards. Jacob’s also lost many men to the front during the First World War with 388 workers from the factory enlisting between 1914 and 1918, of this number 26 were killed and many more were wounded.
However, despite the upheaval of this time period this was when Jacob’s started to reach greater prominence as a football team. During and immediately after the First World War Jacob’s F.C. were playing in the Leinster Senior League. In the 1916-17 season they were runners-up in the IFA Junior Cup and just four years later they were part of the first Free State League season following the split from the Belfast-based IFA.
The club played their fixtures on the company sports grounds at Rutland Avenue in Crumlin and one of their local rivals, Olympia, were also part of that inaugural Free State League season. Olympia were based nearby, in the area around the Coombe and in the season before the formation of the Free State league they had had something of a run-in with Jacob’s in a Leinster Senior Cup game played in April 1920.
It is worth remembering that this game took place in the midst of the Irish War of Independence and apparently during the game the Olympia team, who included active IRA volunteers, taunted the Jacob’s team for the presence in their ranks of the number of former British soldiers.
The Jacob’s players invaded the opposing team’s dressing room at the end of the game and just weeks later the Leinster Football Association issued bans to three players involved in the fracas. A six month ban was issued to Jacob’s defender Stephen Boyne while his brother Edward got a three month ban. Olympia forward Michael Chadwick was also banned for six months. When not banging in goals for Olympia Chadwick was also the Vice – commander of the 6th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA. In later life he would also campaign politically for Seán MacBride, son of John MacBride who had been part of the unit that had occupied the Jacob’s factory in 1916.
The Jacob’s team from that era were often known as the Red necks which was not due to a rural origin, but more down to the fact that many of the men literally had red necks from carrying heavy bags of biscuit flour over their shoulders. During the early years of the League of Ireland several Jacob’s players reached positions of prominence through football. Striker Patrick Smith was the second highest scorer in the inaugural league season and just a few years later Jacob’s were to have three players appearing for the League of Ireland XI that took on the Welsh League in the first even inter-league game since the split with the IFA. Representing the League for Jacob’s was Frank Collins in goal, Stephen Boyne in defence and Hugh James Harvey among the forward line. The League drew that 1924 encounter 3-3.
Stephen Boyne we already met above after he had stormed the Olympia dressing room. Frank Collins had returned to Jacob’s after a short sojourn in Scotland with Celtic, he won two caps for the Free State international team in two of their earliest internationals as well as being picked by the Northern selectors in 1922 and keeping goal for Northern Ireland on a single occasion.
As for Hugh James Harvey, he was better known as Jimmy Harvey and was born in Dublin in 1897. He had been a physical instructor in the British Army during World War I and had played for Shelbourne on his return to Dublin, featuring in the 1923 FAI Cup final where Shels had surprisingly lost to Belfast side Alton United, Harvey had the unlucky distiction of being the first player to ever miss a penalty in a FAI Cup final in that game. Harvey was useful in several positions across the forward line but found a new lease of life after his sporting career. During his time as a Jacob’s player records list him as a labourer. However, his father (also Hugh) was a “Variety artist” and the younger Hugh, decided to follow his father into show businesses. He excelled as a comedian as part of a comedy troupe known as the “Happy Gang” who performed in many theatres around Dublin and was also an accomplished singer, dancer and actor.
Jacob’s best league finish would be in the 1923-34 season when they came a respectable third but three consecutive last place finishes saw them fail to be re-elected to the league at the end of the 1931-32 season.
Despite dropping out of the league the Jacob’s team continued on as a football club at Leinster Senior League level, winning that league on four occasions from the early 1950’s to the late 1960’s. In the 1949-50 season the club also won the Intermediate Cup beating St. Patrick’s Athletic in the final just a year before Pat’s moved up a level and joined the League of Ireland. They also made regular trips to England to play matches in Aintree, against a team from the Liverpool Jacob’s factory.
The team continued in existence well into the 1960’s, though the factory’s move away from the city centre and out to Tallaght in the 1970’s probably meant a certain disconnection from their traditional area around the south inner city and Crumlin. There were occasional surprise results against sides in the FAI Cup but the glory days of the team were certainly in the early years of the League when the works teams of the city had such a huge presence in the early Free State League.
First published on the SSE Airtricity League website