Bohs in Europe

The following is a condensed version of the talk given in the Jackie Jameson bar on December 7th 2019

After a gap of eight years the 2020 season will see Bohemian FC return to European competition, given the club’s name and its history it could be argued that this is merely a return to its rightful position as for more than a century the Bohemian Football Club has looked beyond the borders of Ireland for challenge and opposition.

Bohemian internationalism really dates back to the development of Dalymount Park as the club’s permanent home. This base allowed them to invite the cream of British talent to Dublin to try their luck against the Bohemians, in those early years Preston North End, Aston Villa, Celtic and Sheffield United were among the early visitors. In 1908 Bohemians played Queens Park in Glasgow on New Year’s Day in an annual fixture which was the world’s most prestigious amateur club match usually contested by English side Corinthians. With them being unavailable to travel Bohemians were asked in their place and contested the game in front of over 20,000 spectators in Hampden Park.

After the split from the IFA the footballing landscape for clubs based in the new Free State was very different, the emerging FAI sought membership to FIFA and clubs like Bohemians also began to look to the Continent. In 1923 the first Continental side to play in Ireland since the split from the IFA arrived to take on Bohemians and an FAI XI, they were Gallia Club of Paris who played out a draw with Bohs.

From further afield came the South African national team, embarking on a tour of Britain and Ireland, the first opponents on this tour were Bohs in Dalymount Park and the unusual situation arose as two South African captains faced off against each other. Because the captain of Bohs for that 1924 season was Billy Otto, born on Robben Island he had left South Africa as a teenager to fight in WWI before ending up working in Dublin as a civil servant. A talented and versatile footballer he captained Bohemians to the League title before moving back to South Africa with his Irish wife in 1927.

By 1929 Bohemians were embarking on their first European tour themselves, competing in the Aciéries D’Angleur – an annual invitational tournament held around Liege in Belgium. Bohs played four games in all including friendlies, winning every one and emerging victorious in a tournament which also featured Union Saint Gilloise, Standard Liege and RFC Tilleur. During this visit to Belgium the club also performed diplomatic functions on behalf of the Irish State such as flying the tricolor (at the first game the club had been mistakenly introduced under a Union Jack) and laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

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Further continental success would follow three years later in the 1932 Tournois de Pentecôte held in Paris in the Stade Buffalo ahead of the first full professional season of the French League. Bohemians triumphed again by beating Cercle Athlétique de Paris (aka CA Paris/Gallia who we encountered earlier) and Club Français and winning the tournament and securing a second European trophy in three years. These were no mean achievements as both sides featured a number of French internationals who had competed in the 1930 World Cup and who had scored a stunning victory over England only a year earlier.

A year after the trip to France Dalymount Park welcomed the first ever South American touring side to visit Britain or Ireland. This was the combined selection from Peru and Chile – the “Combinado del Pacifico” who also visited Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Italy and Spain

There was significant interest and media attention paid to the game, official reception by the Lord Mayor of Dublin etc. Success of Uruguay in recent Olympic games and at the 1930 World Cup had sparked interest in South American football and despite the talent within the squad, including several future Copa America champions Bohs were able to hold out for a more than credible 1-1 with the touring side.

Bohs didn’t even taste defeat on European soil until April 1st 1934 when they were made to look the fools, losing the opening match of another European tournament against Dutch side Go Ahead in Amsterdam. The tournament also featured Cercle Bruges and Ajax. While the Gypsies bounced back and defeated Cercle Bruges 4-1 and secured a draw against ADO Den Haag there was sadly to be no match against that emerging force of Dutch football, Ajax.

While it would be the 1970-71 before Bohs would enter an official UEFA competition let nobody tell you that we don’t have a long history in Europe.

This piece first appeared in the Bohemian FC v Fehérvár match programme in August 2020.

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