Co-written with Michael Kielty
Certain things are hard to ignore, just as a ringing phone demands to be answered, the revelation that Bohemian FC had a sister club playing in New York in the 1920’s was something that I couldn’t put to one side after reading about it. I discovered an article entitled “New York Bohemian FC, USA” in a copy of the “Football Sports Weekly” newspaper from 1927 when carrying out some other research and being honest, it raised more questions than answers; Who were these men? How did they end up in America? What happened to the club? Were they even any good?
The original article mentioned some basics. Where the team played; the New York Oval with a stated capacity of 60,000, it mentioned that through fundraising the team had raised $1,000 and also listed the various players who had joined the club and in some cases short notes about their earlier playing careers. Most were ex-Bohs men but clubs like Seaview, Bedigo and Glentoran also featured. But first, it is probably worth providing a little historical background.
Irish immigration to the United States in the 1920’s was no new phenomenon. It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. Between 1820 and 1860 alone, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. While emigration slowed down in the 1920’s there were still significant numbers travelling across the Atlantic, leaving an Ireland that was economically depressed and still in the early stages of rebuilding after the War of Independence and the division of the Civil War.
The Bohemian players did not travel as professional players to the States, although plenty of footballers from Ireland would do this, rather they were clerks, actors, labourers and tradesmen in search of a better life who happened to be talented amateur footballers who sought to recreate their beloved Dublin club in New York City. The correspondence back to Dublin makes this clear. Letters were sent to Bohs’ trainer Charlie Harris and were later published in the Evening Herald. These letters came from Billy Cahill and Godfrey O’Rourke, ex players for Bohemians in Dublin but if their names don’t seem familiar it shouldn’t be taken as much of a surprise. Cahill and O’Rourke were mostly players for Bohemian’s “B” side, plying their trade in the Leinster Senior League, still that didn’t stop Cahill from perhaps exaggerating his prowess, with one report in America noting that he was top scorer in Ireland 3 years in a row!
Their letters do give some insight into their motives and ambitions. They mention that the new club had approximately 80 members and wore the traditional red and black of Bohemians. They had grand plans to rename the Oval where they played as “Dalymount Park”, and arrange a visit to play in Dublin which never materialised. O’Rourke did mention that one crucial ingredient was missing from their Bohemian vista, that was the absence of “The Hut”, then, as now, a favoured watering hole of the Bohemian faithful. As this was the United States in the 1920’s the prohibition laws made getting post-match refreshments that bit more difficult.
There were some more senior Bohemians as part of this ex-pat group, such as goalkeeper Freddie Mason who had played first team football for Bohemians and had even featured against a touring South African national team in Dalymount, half back Ernie Gillespie also had first team experience for Bohemians and among the forwards was Joe Stynes who had scored 11 goals for the Dublin Bohemians in the 1925-26 season.
Stynes had come to soccer later in life, born in Newbridge, Co. Kildare he became well-known as a Gaelic Footballer, winning the 1923 All-Ireland final with Dublin. He was also an active participant in the War of Independence and the Civil War. After being captured by the Free State Army he was imprisoned in the Curragh Camp which is where he took up the Association game in the cramped confines of “Tintown” as the camp was known. While there he played with a teenage Jimmy Dunne who would later win a league title with Arsenal, become Ireland’s record goalscorer and also manage Bohemians. Such was his fondness for his new sport that Stynes defied bans from the GAA to line out for Shelbourne and then later with Bohemians. He moved to the United States in 1926 and worked for Cartier Jewellers but also appeared for the New York Bohemians and other soccer teams such as “Dublin United”.
The fortunes of the New York Bohemians were mixed, they played in the highly competitive New York amateur leagues and there was plenty of interest from the media about the club. For a practice session ahead of a game against top local side Galicia F.C. over 1,000 fans turned up to see the two Bohemian practice XI’s put through their paces. However, if one were to summarise their success of the NY Bohs on the pitch one could best describe them as solidly mid-table. While they possessed in their ranks some stars who would even play professionally in the States there were many players of a lower standard.
Incidentally, Galicia played Bohemians as a warm up for a match against a prominent touring side from Europe; Real Madrid! The New York Bohemians continued on until at least 1929 in the New York leagues and several of their players, such as Stynes had longer careers for other clubs in and around the Eastern coast of the United States.
Indeed Dinny Doyle, the former Shamrock Rovers player recalled bumping into actor, musician and former Bohs man Bob O’Brien in the following circumstances “When only a short time in America, Dinny was playing a game in Boston when he was amazed to hear as he himself put it ‘come on Bohs’ and at half-time out trotted Bob O‘Brien, the old Bohemian player.”
While relatively short-lived and only moderately successful the New York Bohemians experiment demonstrates that the draw of home and of club is such a strong influence that over 90 years ago, men who travelled 3,000 miles from home tried to rebuild Dalymount in the borough of Queens.
A version of this article featured in the Bohemian F.C. match programme for the game against Finn Harps on 15th February 2019.