Stanley Matthews at Drums – A Ballon D’Or winner at Drumcondra F.C.

Fagan’s pub of Drumcondra is well known to many sports fans in the city of Dublin; in business since 1907 its close proximity to both Croke Park and Tolka Park means that it is regularly frequented by supporters of the both Dubs, Shelbourne F.C. and their various opponents. The walls of the pub bear witness to this, with many photographs and pennants of various sports teams but one that caught my eye on a recent visit were a collection of match programmes from Tolka Park’s former residents Drumcondra F.C.

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Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra, a short walk from Tolka Park

Surrounded by advertisements for tobacco, bingo halls and pubs are the starting XI’s for both Drumcondra and their visitors Glentoran of Belfast. To the left of the line-ups is a nice little action photo of former Bohemians player Amby Fogarty who had joined Glentoran from the Dalymount club in 1955. A date for the game didn’t appear on the programme page but a little research showed it had taken place on Wednesday October 24th 1956.

A few of the names on that Drumcondra side were familiar to me by reputation, in goal was Alan Kelly Sr.  who became a legend at Preston North End and won almost 50 caps for Ireland. Also in the side was Christopher “Bunny” Fullam, another former Bohs player who also tasted success with Shelbourne, as well as other Drums legends like Tommy Rowe, later a league winner and manager with Dundalk.

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Drumcondra v Glentoran match programme inlay

One name I wasn’t sure of was the number 7, Matthews at outside right. A little more research revealed it to be none other than the wing wizard himself, Stanley Matthews. At the time of the game Matthews was 41 years old but was still an England international and had just enjoyed the best league season of his career, with Blackpool finishing as runners up to the Busby Babes of Manchester United. In fact less than two months after lining out for Drums Matthews would be named as the inaugural winner of the Ballon D’Or, defeating competition from Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa to be named as the best player in Europe.

While another Ballon D’Or winner, George Best would later play a handful of games for Cork Celtic in his peripatetic later career, this was seven years after he had won Europe’s greatest individual honour and was sadly just another interlude on the downward spiral or his stellar career. Similarly an ageing Bobby Charlton, recently released from coaching duties at Preston North End, played a handful of games for Waterford in 1976 some ten years after his Ballon D’Or’ win. Despite Matthews advanced years for a footballer he was still in the elongated prime of his career. He would win his second Football Writers Player of the Year award in 1963 and played his final top flight game for Stoke City in 1965 at the age of 50.

Matthews was obviously the main draw for the game and provided much of the entertainment, “beating players with ease” and delivering “delightful passes”. Drums ran out 3-2 winners against Glentoran with a hat-trick coming from Drums other winger on the night, Dermot Cross. Glentoran’s goals came from brothers Dara and Cyril Nolan, both former Drumcondra players, with Cyril’s coming from the penalty spot. One other player of note for Glentoran was their thrice beaten keeper Eamonn McMahon, he had kept goal for Armagh in the All – Ireland Footfall final against Kerry in 1953. His talent in the Gaelic code attracted the attention of Glasgow Celtic with whom he had a brief spell before returning to Ireland to play for Glentoran.

A league of Ireland side with a future European footballer of the year playing for them might seem a bit odd nowadays (even for a friendly) but the game against Glentoran was in fact the third time Matthews had lined out for Drumcondra, having appeared for them twice in the late 40s in a pair of benefit matches played in Dalymount Park.

The first was in 1946 when he played in a benefit match for Drums’ Scottish trainer Jock McCosh (surely the most Scottish name since Hamish MacBeth).  The second game came a year later when he appeared in a match for Drums’ player Paddy Daly.

This first game to feature Matthews (for Drums trainer Mr. McCosh) was appropriately against Scottish opposition in the form of Greenock Morton. Drums were on an upward swing having just won the FAI cup for the third time in their history. However Greenock (who would narrowly lose the Scottish Cup final in a replay to Rangers later that year) were far too strong for Drums, riding out comfortable 6-0 winners. Matthews had chartered a private plane to get him to Dublin for the game but had a limited impact. His performance started well and he linked up nicely with both Kit and Jimmy Lawlor while keeping the opposing fully busy with his crossing and dribbling skills. However, he had not fully recovered from a recent injury and his impact waned as the match progressed with reports on the match describing him as “not at his best”.

If Matthews wasn’t at his best in the ’46 game it didn’t have an impact on the interest in the next game where he featured. The report of the Daly benefit match from April 1947 described Dalymount as almost full (at a time when attendances were on occasion reported around the 40,000 mark) and described Matthews himself as “the outstanding and most attractive players of his generation”.

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Irish Times headline from the 1956 match against Glentoran

This match was between a Drumcondra XI and a Distillery selection and there were plenty of other well-known players in attendance apart from Matthews. These included such popular names as Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglinton of Everton, both Irish internationals. Con Martin of Leeds United was also due to line out in goal for Drums but had to pull out at late notice due to injury. The Drumcondra selection ran out 1-0 winners in a poor game in which the Distillery tactics were described as “crude”.  As far as his personal performance Matthews stood apart among the standard front five although he wasn’t supported sufficiently and didn’t manage to get on the ball as much as expected. He obviously did enough to impress the reporters present with his talent when he did get on the ball being described as “well above the ordinary” and he was praised for his “excellent ball control and accurate passing”.

While it might seem strange that one of the world’s most famous players lined out on three occasions for a now defunct League of Ireland side it was far from uncommon at the time, especially for someone like Matthews. Having begun his career in 1932, and despite its longevity he was well into his 40’s by the time the maximum wage was abolished in England. Ever aware of the precariousness of a footballer’s existence Matthews had in his early years lived off his win bonuses and saved his regular salary, he developed sideline business ventures including running a guesthouse, signing an early boot deal and of course appearing as a guest player for what could be lucrative match fees for the time. Based for much of his later life in Blackpool, (even after a playing return to Stoke City) it was only short journey to Dublin and Drumcondra F.C.

One of Matthews final Irish involvements came a year after his last match for Drums. He lined out in a World Cup qualifier for England against the Republic of Ireland in Wembley. The English ran out 5-1 winners, with Manchester United’s centre forward Tommy Taylor grabbing a hat-trick. Taylor was born the year that Matthews had made his debut for Stoke. This was to be the second last of his 54 caps, his final one coming a week later in a 4-1 against Denmark. This final match meant that he was the oldest player ever to represent England, and despite having played in 3 of the four qualifying games Matthews was not selected for the England squad that travelled to Sweden for the 1958 World Cup.

Having played in many a benefit match Matthews had a testimonial of his own in 1965 when he finally hung up his boots professionally. The opposition was a star-studded World XI taking on a “Stan’s XI” who lined out in red and white, the colours of his beloved Stoke. The World XI won out 6-4 and Matthews was carried off the pitch by two of his opponents on the night Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puskas. Among the opposition that night were Raymond Kopa and Alfredo di Stefano, the two mean who had beaten to win the first Ballon D’Or nine years before.

 

 

The mystery of Bohs captain William H. Otto

The 1923-24 season was to signal the first of Bohemian Football Club’s 11 League of Ireland title wins. That maiden title was captured in the penultimate game of the season, a 2-1 victory over St. James’s Gate in Dalymount. The goals that day came from English-born centre forward Dave Roberts and Dubliner Christy Robinson at inside-left. Between them they would score 32 of the Bohs’ 56 goals that season, with Roberts finishing as the League’s top marksman with 20. But while strikers tend to get the glory this maiden victory was of course a team effort. A number of those league winning Bohs players were selected for the Irish squad that travelled to the 1924 Olympics. Men like full-back Bertie Kerr, Paddy O’Kane, Jack McCarthy, Ned Brooks and Johnny Murray would win caps for Ireland and are still remembered for their contributions for the club. However, one man who was central to those achievements but leaves less of a trace is William H. Otto, the versatile Bohemians half-back, better known as Billy, who captained the team. This piece is as much an appeal for information as the summary of a career.

Finding Billy

Anyone who has ever trawled through Irish newspaper archives or through any number of online census returns or genealogy sites will appreciate the difficulty in trying to track down a relative from the distant past. Particularly if that relative has a rather common name and without having specifics to hand working out if that John O’Sullivan or that Mary Byrne is your ancestor can be a thankless task. It is for some of these reasons that researching someone with the surname Otto in 1920’s Ireland is that bit more intriguing. However detail on the life of Billy Otto of Bohemian Football Club initially proved illusive and some of his story remains untold.

What we do know is that Billy Otto was born around 1898, son of another W. H. Otto, most likely in Cape Town, South Africa. There is no mention of Billy on either the 1901 or 1911 census of Ireland. In fact the only Otto residing in Ireland is a Friedrick Otto, impressively a Professor of Literature, Geography, History, French, German. Friedrick was 33 in 1911 and was born in Hannover. Although he was married with children he was resident in Ranelagh by himself. This would seem to give us no connection to Billy and here the trail runs cold so we don’t really know for definite when he first came to Ireland.

Billy appears first as a sportsman for Bohemians in 1920, and featured regularly from 1921 as Bohemians competed in the first season of the newly formed Free State League. Billy usually played in a half-back (midfield) position in the team though did he feature in a number of other roles and proved an occasional goal-getter.

In April 1923 he features in the Bohemian XI that take on touring French side CAP Gallia in Dalymount, in what was the first visit by a continental side to Ireland since the split with the IFA. In late December 1923 Otto captained the Bohs side that travelled to Belfast to take on Linfield. Bohs won the game 4-2 in one of the first matches played against northern opposition since the split. He was then part of a selection under the Shelbourne banner (a composite side made up from several clubs) that took on members of the 1924 Olympic football team in a warm up game prior to their departure for Paris. Here he featured against his regular midfield teammates John Thomas and Johnny Murray. Other prominent games were to follow in 1924, rather appropriately for Billy Bohemians took on the South African national team as the debut game on their European Tour.  Billy once again captained Bohs as the South Africans ran out 4-2 winners. Tantalisingly the Pathé news cameras were at the ground that day and recorded some of the footage of the game and the teams posing before the match. As captain it is Billy we see receiving a piece of South African art from his opposite number. Tall, slim and dark-haired Billy would have been around 26 years of age when this footage was shot.

Billy was Bohemian captain for the 1923-24 season, a time of progress for the club as they were crowned League champions and Shield winners thatyear with the club also finishing as League runners-up the following year. He continued as a regular team member through to the first half of 1927 when he disappears from the match reports of the club. We know that during his time in Dublin he more than likely worked for the the revenue service as we know he lined out for them as a footballer in the Civil Service League around the same time that he was on the books of Bohemians. This wasn’t too unusual as a number of Billy’s other team-mates would have also been civil servants (i.e. Harry Willitts) at what was then still a strictly amateur club.

Billy sets sail

While Billy Otto might have been finishing up at Bohemians he was about to begin another chapter of his life. On the 24th November 1927 he boarded the steamship Bendigo (shown above) on the London docks bound for a new life in Cape Town, South Africa. Billy was by this stage 29 years of age and listed his residence as the Irish Free State, more specifically at 28 Hollybank Road in Drumcondra. On the ship’s passenger the stated country of his future residence was South Africa and his profession was recorded as bloodstock. There is a possible Bohemian connection here as one of Billy’s former teammates, Bertie Kerr was already by this stage and established bloodstock agent who would go on to purchase and sell four Aintree Grand National winners.

Billy and Bertie were known to be good friends outside of football. Is it possible that the Kerr family may have introduced Otto to the business? Perhaps, although there is strong evidence that there may have been a familial connection. Billy’s brother Johnny was a champion jockey in South Africa and later worked as a steward at the Jockey club.

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28 Hollybank Road as it appears today. In the 1920s it was home to Bohs captain Billy Otto

In his personal life it must have been during his time living in Drumcondra that Billy was to meet his future wife Christine. Born Christina Quigley in Dalkey on 8th December 1900 to a Policeman; Thomas, and a housewife, Maryanne, by the 1911 census Christine was living on St. Patrick’s Road in Drumcondra. She is not listed as a passenger on Billy’s 1927 voyage and they did not marry in Ireland. However, we know that they did indeed get married and had three sons, tying the knot in December 1929 in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Records show that she had travelled to South Africa via Mozambique aboard the SS Grantully Castle just one month earlier. Christine Otto (nee Quigley) did make return visits to Ireland later in her life. She came back to Dublin via Southampton for a visit in 1950, the stated destination for her visit was  to 25 Hollybank Road.

Billy departs

In March 1958 a small obituary in the Irish Times noted the passing on the 13th of that month of William H (Billy) Otto at his residence of Wingfield on the Algarkirk Road, Seapoint, Cape Town. “Beloved husband of Chriss (Quigley) late of Drumcondra, Dublin. Deeply mourned by his three sons and members of the Bohemian Football Club”. Billy’s passing occured within a week of the deaths of two other team-mates, Ned Brooks and Jack McCarthy, from that same championship winning team. Christine remained in South Africa though she is listed as returning again to Ireland in 1960, two years after Billy’s death. The address that she was to stay at for an intended 12 months was, on this occasion, in Foxrock, Dublin.

One other interesting item to note was that another obituary mentioned that Billy had served with the South African infantry during World War I, its reports stated that Billy returned to Ireland in 1920.

At present this is as much information as I can glean on the illusive Billy Otto. What remains a mystery is when he first arrived in Ireland, the details of his military career, and indeed some aspects of his later life. What is intriguing is that Billy may have been the first footballer born in Africa to lead a European side to a league title. Another first for Bohemians perhaps? As a former league winner and club captain I’d love to find out more about him. If you have any information on William H. Otto, or indeed on Christine Quigley or any of their three sons please get in touch.

With thanks to Simon O’Gorman and Stephen Burke for their assistance and input.

A 48 team World Cup -reasons to be supportive

The confirmation by FIFA that it is to restructure the World Cup to accommodate 48 teams has been met with a largely negative response, especially across Europe. The most prominent arguments being as follows; that a 48 team world cup is bloated and will diminish overall quality. That it will be impossible for a tournament this size to be held reasonably in any one country and in any case it’s simply part of a cynical exercise on the part of FIFA to rake in more money. There have been some arguments put forward as well that the proposed three team group stages will be unworkable and might need the introduction of penalty shoot-outs to avoid arranged draws like the infamous West Germany v Austria game at the 1982 World Cup.

The most prominent criticism seems to be simply that people don’t like change and the current 32 team format is widely popular. But how fair are the criticisms about the bloated nature of the tournament and the expected drop in overall quality? Does a 48 team tournament devalue it through a cheapening of the qualification process? That if it isn’t hard to get there is it really worth being there? First let’s look at qualifying history over time and what other options have been explored.

The first World Cup was an invitational tournament held in Uruguay, all the games took place in capital city Montevideo with 10 of the 18 overall matches taking place in the Estadio Centenario. While certainly handy for getting around this is obviously not something that anyone expects us to return to. The first post war World Cup in 1950 could have been Ireland’s first ever appearance after a number of withdrawals by other teams. Scotland had been one of the teams to withdraw as they had only finished second behind England in the Home Nations Championship (a defacto qualifying group), they had pledged to only attend if they won the tournament even though second guaranteed qualification. The FAI turned down the offer due to the expected cost of travelling to Brazil. The peculiar layout of the 1950 tournament meant that hosts Brazil only needed to draw against Uruguay to win the tournament as there was no straight knock-out format. If a three team group stage is being cited as one of the major drawbacks of an expanded tournament then it would still be considered superior to these previous formats. No one is suggesting that these previous formats and haphazard qualification routes would be preferable but those who site history and tradition tend to refer to the period in their own lifetimes.

Regarding the 3-team groups and the introduction of automatic penalty shoot-outs for draws was something that did exist previously in leagues like the NASL and the early years of the MLS. While certainly a break with tradition they would reduce the amount of dead-rubber games and reduce the risk of a repeat of West Germany v Austria ’82 or dare I say a Republic of Ireland v Netherlands 1990 game.

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1950 World Cup poster featuring the flags of competing nations.

The first World Cup of my lifetime was in 1982. This was the first World Cup to use the 24 team format that would remain in place until 1998. At the time of qualifying for Spain ’82 there were 109 members of FIFA competing for those 24 places. For a number of reasons, not least the collapse of the Soviet Union into its individual constituent nations in the early 1990’s by 1998 the number of FIFA members had risen to 174, an increase of almost 60%. At present FIFA has 211 member associations, meaning it now has more members than even the United Nations.

Understandably as membership has grown so have the numbers of teams participating in qualifying and the World Cup proper. This poses the question as to what is the purpose of the World Cup? I’d propose two answers.

First, To determine which national team is the best in the world. Second to provide a genuine opportunity for the most global of team sports to be represented at one competition and to raise the levels of quality and competitiveness around the world.

The World Cup has only ever been won by teams from either Europe or South America, they have well established and highly competitive football leagues and advanced infrastructure, however few pundits would suggest that the World Cup should be open only to teams from these Confederations. A weighting is applied so that 13 teams qualified from UEFA and 6 (including Brazil as hosts) qualified from CONMEBOL for the last World Cup. We can see this as an attempt to genuinely have the best teams while also being representative enough by including sufficient teams from other confederations to truly be a World Cup. Within FIFA of course this is also tied to networks of power. While qualification may be weighted to feature the strongest teams the votes of all associations are equal, something that many, though not all FIFA Presidents have appreciated. Access to the World Cup and the prestige and wealth on offer have swung elections in the past, as was the case in 1974 when the incumbent FIFA President, the Englishman Stanley Rous lost to João Havelange. The Brazilian Havelange had toured over 80 nations during his campaign, occasionally accompanied by Pelé, and promised greater access to an expanded World Cup. At the time African teams had only one place available at the 16 team tournament, Asian and Oceania teams had to compete for a single place. In purely sporting terms the the performances of nations from outside of Europe and South America at the 74 World Cup had been poor to say the least. Zaire had lost all three games, including one match 9-0 to Yugoslavia, Haiti likewise had lost all three games including a 7-0 hammering to Poland, only Australia managed to gain a single point, a scoreless draw with Chile.

On the basis of their performances at the tournament there seemed little argument that the representation of teams from Africa, Asia, North America etc. should be expanded, however Havelange saw that football could grow in each continent by allowing a realistic opportunity for teams outside of Europe and South America to get elite level competitive experience against the world’s best. His promises of an expanded World Cup were understandably well received, especially in Africa. For decades many of Africa’s best players ended up representing European teams, many players from Algeria representing France, stars from Angola and Mozambique representing Portugal. By the 1970’s with most African nations newly independent from colonial rule there was a feeling that African football gave a sense of pride to a nation on a world stage, in FIFA throughout the 1960s these newly independent African nations began to seek membership of FIFA. By 1974 the CAF was the second largest confederation in terms of members, and crucially votes.

Havelange by expanding the world cup to 24 teams in 1982 and bringing in massive new commercial sponsorship to supplement the expansion of the tournament was delivering for whole continents who rarely had the chance to sit at football’s top table. While many, many corruption allegations would later emerge about Havelange he came offering change compared to a man like the eurocentric Stanley Rous who, for example, had strongly opposed any bans on South Africa competing in international football due to their refusal to integrate their football teams and the brutal system of apartheid much to the opposition of other African FAs.

By the end of the 1982 World Cup Africa’s two qualified nations had impressed, the quality a significant improvement on the showing of Zaire in 1974. Cameroon went home unbeaten, after three draws they were unlucky not to make it out of a tough group with goals scored was all that separated them from eventual champions Italy. As previously mentioned only the infamous West Germany v Austria match, where each side knew a 1-0 win for the Germans would see both nations through, prevented the Algerians from advancing.

As with African teams from the 1980s onward it has to be acknowledged that an expanded World Cup can give smaller nations or those from confederations beyond Europe and South America a chance to develop and improve in competitive environments, the best teams will still qualify and the dominant nations will likely continue to win for the foreseeable future but an expanded World Cup will be truly global and be more representative of a larger and growing FIFA membership. To paraphrase Charles Stewart Parnell no man should have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation. FIFA’s remit in theory is to grow the game of football globally, in expanding the World Cup and allowing more nations experience high-level competitive football they are simply following this course, by not expanding the tournament in line with an expanding membership would they not be fixing the boundaries a little too tightly?

The tournament itself will still take the same amount of time to complete and the winners will still play seven games in total. The elite clubs of the world will therefore not really be any more affected than they are now by the change in terms of duration or fatigue though they may loose more players to international tournaments as more nations now qualify. However more tournament places could eliminate a certain number of play-offs thus reducing the overall amount of qualification games.

It seems that a tri-nation bid for the 2026 World Cup from Mexico, USA and Canada is already among the hosting favourites, they certainly would have the facilities to host 48 teams. But considering the expanded size there is no reason why say a single nation like England not host such a tournament. The Premier League boasts 20 modern stadia that could be suitable, add in Wembley and other grounds from outside the top flight (St. James Park, Villa Park etc.) and this could certainly meet the criteria without much additional investment in stadium infrastructure. If not, then the re-emergence of joint-bidding for the tournament means that the expanded competition could still be accommodated while  two or more  nations share the burden of hosting the games. The World Cup in Japan/South Korea were successful from a fan point of view and led to fewer “white elephant” stadiums than subsequent single-host World Cups that took place in South Africa or Brazil.

Finally, the other great complaint is that this is a cynical exercise from FIFA to curry favour and increase revenue. Well of course it is. Few would be naive enough to believe an expanded World Cup is purely for some idealised “good of the game”. Due to the deluge of scandals in recent years it is hard to view FIFA as anything other than a corrupt plutocracy, but the greatest test of its new leadership will be if the expected increased windfall of a bigger tournament finds its way back to the associations and into funding for new facilities, coaches and youth tournaments and not siphoned off into the back pockets of dodgy administrators.

 

Building football at the halfway house – The story of Vincent O’Connell

Debate is raging at present as to whether the current Dundalk F.C. team are the greatest that has ever been produced in the history of the League of Ireland. There is plenty to recommend this Dundalk crop for that accolade; they’ve won three consecutive league titles, they won a double in 2015 and most notably they have had (by Irish standards) significant success in European competition. In terms of overall trophies Dundalk are second only to Shamrock Rovers in the medals table, having won 12 league titles and 10 FAI Cups. In this regard I’m sad to say that in recent seasons Dundalk have overtaken my own dear Bohemian F.C. in terms of League titles won despite Bohs having been 13 years longer in existence than even the earliest incarnation the Louth team.

However Bohemian F.C. as one of the earliest founded and most prominent clubs certainly played a role in the growth of football in Dundalk. For example it was a former Bohs player, Steve Wright who led Dundalk to their first league title way back in the 1930s. The

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Steve Wright – source Dundalkfcwhoswho.com

focus of this article is another former Bohs player was one of the a number of men instrumental in helping to organise the sport of association football in that town and with helping to found one of the first proper leagues there. That this is the case shouldn’t be too surprising, in research for this piece I came across a Sunday Independent article from 1956 which declared of Dundalk that “Soccer stopped at the half-way house” as Dundalk occupied the geographic midpoint between the early footballing hot-beds of Belfast and Dublin, it seems only reasonable that Dublin would have some baring on the games development. As well as its location there were plenty of other reasons for football to take root in the town, the presence of a British Army barracks staffed with many active young men, many of whom would already have been familiar with the game, and the growth of the railway industry, specifically what became the works side of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) from which the present Dundalk F.C. developed. One of the biggest games in early Dundalk football history was the arrival of the Bohemian F.C. side to take on a local Dundalk AFC side in the Leinster Senior Cup on St. Stephen’s Day 1895. Bohs emerged as the victors from a 3-1 scoreline, however the Dundalk side had competed well and the significant crowd despite the particularly cold winter weather had shown that there certainly was an audience for the sport in the Louth town.

One of the Bohs men who had an influence in shaping the football landscape of Co. Louth was Vincent J. O’Connell. A local lad, Vincent was born in Dundalk around 1882 or 1883 as fourth son of Henry O’Connell a grocer, of Dundalk, and his wife, Mary. Vincent was a good student and pursued a career as an architect which was what brought him to Dublin to study with the Hague & McNamara firm who were based on Dawson Street. He had been involved with various scratch teams in Dundalk around the turn of the 20th Century and also featured with a side named Dundalk Rovers F.C. who competed occasionally in the Leinster Senior Cup. Vincent would have been roughly 20 by the time he moved to Dublin to study with Hague & McNamara and continued to pursue his interest in the sport by joining Bohemian F.C. in 1902. There is mention of him lining out as a half-back for Bohs in a December 1903 match against the Dublin University club from Trinity College. The Bohs starting XI was described as “not at full strength” and they suffered a heavy 6-1 defeat. O’Connell remained a Bohemians member until 1907 by which stage he had returned to Dundalk and had set up his own architectural firm on Earl Street in the town.

Like many Bohemians of this area his talents weren’t limited just to football and he was also a well know cycling enthusiast. In the business world Vincent prospered and in 1909 he was appointed to the position of engineer at Newry Port, he even branched out by opening a new office in Newry by 1911. As an architect he designed the stores along the Albert Basin not too far away from the Showgrounds where Newry City AFC currently play. Despite these increasing work commitments his

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Vincent J. O’Connell in 1909

interest in football maintained and he was recorded as the Vice Captain of the St. Nicholas football team for the 1910-11. St. Nicholas had been training at the Dundalk polo grounds and had competed in local leagues and in the Leinster Junior Cup for a number of years by this stage and by 1910 were a well enough established side on the local football scene.

Vincent continued this involvement with local football when he served on the board of the of the Dundalk and District league in the tumultuous year of season of 1920/21. The War of Independence was raging in Louth and in the sporting boardrooms the Leinster Football Association had formally decided to cede from the IFA. At the AGM of the Dundalk and District league the member clubs were encouraged to align their loyalties to the Leinster association, Vincent was at this stage the Dundalk and District League vice-president. Perhaps most surprising to note was that the league that season consisted of six teams, three of which were representatives sides drawn from British Army regiments in and around the town.

By 1926 the Dundalk GNR (Great Northern Railway) club had become a League of Ireland member and in 1930 they renamed to became the Dundalk F.C. we know today. In the 1932-33 season they had become the first provincial side to take the title out of Dublin but they had done so at great financial cost to the club. Led by former Bohemians player Steve Wright as their trainer/manager Dundalk had taken advantage of the fact that the FAI were not recognising player registrations of clubs in Britain or Northern Ireland meaning that players could freely move to Ireland without Irish clubs having to buy out these registrations. Effectively free transfers.  Dundalk brought in a number of British pros, men like forward Jimmy Bullock who had lined out for Manchester United before moving across the Irish Sea or the veteran former Celtic star Joe Cassidy. These signings, won through the charm of Steve Wright and the bankbook of Dundalk F.C. coupled with the beginnings of a generation of young local players such as Joey Donnelly had begun to bring success; a Cup final appearance in 1930/31 with a league title following in 1932/33. However a number of factors such as the professional wages to these new players, the unpopular entertainment tax levied on football matches by the Irish government, a loss of revenue due to the cancellation of previously popular cross-border matches with Northern clubs and the continuing effects of the Great Depression meant that money was extremely tight and there was some chance that the club might go under.

By the time all this was taking place Vincent O’Connell was busy operating his main business premises out of 15 Earl Street in Dundalk, one of his most recent projects had been the design of the new chapel for St. Mary’s College in 1933, a school that had been central in popularising the game of football in the town. Vincent had maintained his own interest in football long after his playing days were done. In January of 1934 he joined a fundraising committee to keep Dundalk F.C.at their time of need and going and he personally was one of the largest donors donating a guinea, a similar sum to that donated by Dundalk board members like Bob Prole and, my own great-uncle, Peadar Halpin. Through their fundraising efforts sufficient finances were raised to keep the club afloat.

Vincent maintained his interest in football and many other sports for the rest of his life, the 1956 article quoted above described him as the “prominent Dundalk architect whose enthusiasm for all forms of sport has left him with an invaluable store of memories.”  Less than a year after that interview Vincent passed away in July 1957, he was survived by his wife and three children. While he had remained active as an architect into the 1950s where he was joined by his son Daniel (trading as V.J. O’Connell & Son), over the course of his more than 50 year career he worked on projects as diverse as monasteries, to hospitals to cinemas. However at his passing the various obituaries tended to spend as much time discussing his many sporting successes, especially his time at Bohemians and his early role in helping to develop the sport in his native Dundalk.

 

 

 

Before they were famous: Bayern Munich

One of Pep Guardiola’s last acts as manager of Bayern Munich was to lift the DFB Pokal trophy, it had already been announced that he was on his way to England and Manchester City but the delight on Guardiola’s face showed that he hadn’t checked out just yet. He was enjoying the occasion; he was, after all, a serial winner relishing his last trophy as manager of one of world’s biggest clubs. The league title had been wrapped up nearly two weeks earlier when the Bayern players raised the famous “salad bowl” trophy. This made it Guardiola’s second double of his Bayern tenure and marked a record breaking fourth consecutive Bundesliga title. Despite this unprecedented success there were some who felt the club should have won more; for some, only reaching three consecutive Champions League semi-finals meant they had fallen short. Under previous coach Jupp Heynckes they had enjoyed even greater success winning a treble of League, Cup and the European Cup.

Such is the dominance of the very elite clubs in various European Leagues it can feel that the league winners have been as good as decided before we even reach September. Perhaps this season will bring some surprises but in Italy, Juventus are heavy favourites to once again retain their title. Likewise, Paris Saint Germain in France and Bayern Munich in Germany. However, while Bayern’s dominance might seem preordained it was not always thus.

Formed in 1900 Bayern had enjoyed “early” successes, winning a couple of regional titles in the 1920’s before winning the last National title (1931-32) before the German sport system was taken over by the Third Reich. This maiden title for the club was contested in a knock-out format between the top two sides from each of the regional leagues and at the time, football in Germany was still technically an amateur sport. It would be over 35 years before the Bavarians would win another league title.

When the first Bundesliga season began in the late summer of 1963 Bayern Munich were not even among its member clubs. A decision had been made the year earlier to do away with regional leagues and to institute a proper, professional, national league and the winners of the Oberliga Sud (Bayern’s regional league), were their city neighbours TSV 1860 München. Although Bayern finished third that year which should have been enough to qualify them for the new national Bundesliga, the German FA did not want two teams from the same city represented so 1860 progressed at their neighbours’ expense.

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TSV 1860 München had been founded as a sports club, not as their name suggests in 1860, but as a gymnastics club in 1848. Due to a political decree during tumultuous times they were disbanded but officially reformed in 1860 with their football division beginning a year before Bayern in 1899. The club enjoyed great popularity in their debut season in the Bundesliga, averaging a respectable average attendance of 34,000 at the Grünwalder Stadion which they shared with Bayern. In fact, they had been Bayern’s landlords there from 1925 until the Second World War when the stadium was bombed and badly damaged in 1944. During the debut Bundesliga season, they would win the German Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt and went on to contest the following year’s Cup Winner’s Cup final, losing 2-0 to West Ham.

Far from being one of Europe’s leading clubs Bayern at this stage were not even the biggest club in their city. They were eventually promoted to the top flight for the 1965-66 season and managed to win the German Cup that year while finishing a very respectable 3rd place in a league that was eventually won by their city rivals 1860. That Cup win was Bayern’s first major trophy in almost a decade. In the final they defeated Meidericher SV by 4 goals to 2, the fourth was scored by one of the club’s precocious young talents, a twenty-year-old by the name of Franz Beckenbauer.

Beckenbauer was not the only young star making waves for this upwardly mobile Bayern team. The club’s shrewd President Wilhelm Neudecker, a wealthy construction magnate had begun investing in the side to turn them from a regional yo-yo club into one that could deliver success. In 1963 the Croatian Zlatko “Čik” Čajkovski, who had starred as a player for Partizan Belgrade and Yugoslavia in the 40’s and 50’s, was brought in to coach the then second tier side. This represented something of a coup as Čajkovski had coached FC Köln to the title in 1962 yet here he was taking a step down to coach a side that hadn’t yet made the Bundesliga. But Bayern had some exceptional young talent coming through; Beckenbauer had joined as a youth in 1959 having stormed out of the youth ranks of 1860 after a row broke out during the final of an under-14’s tournament. A teenage keeper named Sepp Maier had made his debut the year before Cajkovski’s arrival and then in 1964 President Neudecker presented his new coach with his latest young prospect, an 18-year-old called Gerd Muller. To begin with Cajkovski was unimpressed, dismissing the somewhat tubby 5’9” striker with the following statement to his club President: “I’m not putting that little elephant in among my string of thoroughbreds”. The little elephant, however, knew where the goal was.

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During the late 60’s and into the early 70’s Bayern either developed or signed from lower the leagues players of the calibre of Beckenbauer, Muller, Maier, Paul Breitner, Franz Roth, Uli Hoeneß and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck. Not only would all of these players win multiple leagues, cups and European Cups but they would also help the West Germans defeat the great Dutch team in the World Cup final of 1974. They had hardly cost Bayern a penny in transfer fees.

After the success of their debut Bundesliga season Bayern had the added distraction of a first European campaign to deal with due to participation in the Cup Winners Cup. They managed to out-do the previous efforts of their neighbours 1860 by going on and winning the competition defeating Rangers in a tight final after extra time. The winner came in the 109th minute from 21-year-old midfielder Franz Roth who would develop a habit of getting crucial goals in major finals.

By the end of the 60’s Bayern were truly in the ascendancy, there were coaching changes with Cajkovski departing for Hannover and being replaced by Branko Zebec, his former Partizan and Yugoslavia teammate. Zebec had coached Dinamo Zagreb to victory in the Inter City Fairs Cup in 1966-67 and introduced a more structured defensive approach with Bayern. During Cajkovski’s last season in charge the club had scored an impressive 68 goals in 34 games but had conceded the worryingly high number of 58. In Zebec’s first season they scored 61 (30 coming from Muller) but conceded a miserly 31. They finished eight points clear of Alemannia Aachen to comfortably win the league title. They followed this up with a 2-1 Cup win over Schalke (two more goals from Muller) to win the first double in Bundesliga history. Zebec also made Beckenbauer captain that season and the young midfielder began experimenting with his distinctive sweeper type role with which he would become synonymous.

A three in a row run of league titles at the beginning of the 70s showed how this young group was maturing, they added to their ranks bringing in a young, attacking full-back named Paul Breitner, and in attack Uli Hoeneß, who would help shape the club on and off the pitch for the next five decades. But Europe was a learning curve for the young side. In the 1972-73 season, they were well beaten 5-2 on aggregate by eventual winners Ajax at the Quarter final stage. The following year they were almost eliminated in the first round by Swedish champions Åtvidaberg before narrowly beating East German champions Dynamo Dresden in the next stage. They met Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in Brussels in the final, which was forced to a replay after a nervy 1-1 draw. In the replay, however, Bayern showed a devastating competitive edge, hounding the Spaniards in possession, counter-attacking at pace with a frightening directness, with Muller and Hoeneß scoring two each.

Back at home in the Bundesliga, Bayern’s great rivals of the 1970s, Borussia Mönchengladbach, were the dominant team as Bayern struggled domestically, the demands of Europe taking their toll. In 74-75 when Bayern defeated Leeds in a controversy filled final the Bavarians finished a disappointing 10th. But midfielder Rainer Zobel described how, despite struggling to beat average Bundesliga sides, Bayern could raise their game in Europe. Leeds fans still feel aggrieved when the final of 1975 is mentioned, often highlighting the stunning Peter Lorimer strike that was disallowed as evidence of their bad luck. What is seldom mentioned is that Bayern lost two players to injury caused by rough tackles from Leeds players, defender Björn Andersson after two minutes and Uli Hoeneß just before half-time. Watching the footage back, an aging Leeds side had no answer to the stylish build-up to Roth’s goal in the 71st minute or when, ten minutes later, Müller got goal-side of his marker and scored at the near post from six yards out.

 

Having defeated first the champions of Spain and then the champions of England in their consecutive finals, Bayern then faced St. Etienne, the champions of France, and one of the finest sides in the history of the French League. Hampden Park was the venue in 1976, but there was to be no repeat of the 1960 final goal-fest. St. Etienne were unlucky with Bethanay hitting the cross-bar and Santini hitting the famous “square posts” of the Hampden goals. Bayern however, while not dominant, displayed the sort of mental toughness and doggedness that have become synonymous with German teams. Muller had a goal ruled out for offside, before Beckenbauer squared for Roth to score in his second consecutive final.

The bulk of these successes were won by a core group of players who had come through the club ranks as youngsters, however the club were not averse to splashing the cash when necessary; Jupp Kapellmann was brought in for a German transfer record from FC Köln in 1973, the same year the club snapped up Swedish international Conny Torstensson after he impressed against Bayern in the early rounds of the European Cup. Parallels with a modern Bayern can be seen with a locally developed core of players (Lahm, Thomas Muller, Alaba, and even a returning Mats Hummels) complemented by the best talent bought in from Germany and further afield.

Nowadays, Bayern are based in the ultra-modern Allianz arena which was initially shared and co-owed with neighbours 1860. However, in 2006 Bayern’s one-time landlords were forced to sell their share of the stadium rights to deal with their financial problems. While construction magnate Wilhelm Neudecker is long gone the Bayern boardroom is now filled with former players and blue-chip commercial partners; alongside Executive board members like Karl Heinz Rumminigge sit Triple A corporate representatives from Adidas, Audi and Allianz which helps explain the club’s rude financial health. The massive financial clout of Bayern and their ability to cherry-pick the best of their opponent’s players has meant that it is sometimes hard to envision a Bundesliga that was not the domain of the Bavarians, but thanks to strong support from an ambitious club president, excellent scouting networks, improvements in coaching and a once in a lifetime group of players Bayern went from the Second Division to European powerhouse within the course of a decade.

This post originally appeared on the Football Pink

Celtic connections

They came across the narrow channel from the Antrim coast in the north-east of Ireland to the island of Iona in a wicker currach leaving behind conflict and bringing their religion to the neighbouring land. It was the year 563AD and their leader was Columba, a man now venerated as a Saint whose patronages include the lands of Ireland and Scotland and with him he rather appropriately brought twelve followers.

He certainly wasn’t the first Irish man to make this crossing. The Dál Riata kingdom of north Antrim had been expanding into western Scotland since the early 5th Century, even before that in the 3rd Century the Picts who lived north of Hadrian’s Wall had sought help from their Irish neighbours in their campaigns against Roman imperial might. Back then the Romans had referred to the tribes of northern Britain as the Caledonians, they called their Irish allies the Scotti.

In time Iona, where Columba landed became a great centre of learning and religious devotion and a prestigious Abbey was founded there. From Iona, the Picts were gradually converted to Christianity as were the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria. In the centuries to come the name of the Scotti would become the name of the Gaelic speaking land north of the River Forth; Scotland – the land of the Gaels. Iona remained a focal point for centuries, it was a burial place for Scottish Kings who traced their power and authority back to the sacred island.

Iona monastery
The medieval Abbey church on Iona

But if the Irish gave Scotland its very name and the beginnings of the Christian faith then the Scots can lay some claim to giving Ireland football. In 1878, so the story goes, John McAlery, a Belfast businessman was on his honeymoon in Scotland and went to watch a game of Association Football. The views of Mrs. McAlery on this matter are not recorded. Greatly enamoured with the game the sporty Mr. McAlery arranged for an exhibition game to take place later that year in the Ulster Cricket Grounds in Belfast between Scottish sides Queens Park and Caledonians with Queen’s Park running out 3-2 winners.

A year later he formed Cliftonville Association Football Club in his home city and they advertised for new players as a club playing under the “Scottish Association Rules”. By the end of 1880 McAlery, along with  representatives from six other clubs had formed the Irish Football Association (IFA). Cliftonville F.C. exist to this day, while the IFA remains the 4th oldest Football Association in the world. While football had existed in Ireland before John McAlery it was he who set about putting in place a proper organisation and structure around the game. Had John taken his honeymoon somewhere other than Scotland then the history of football in Ireland may have been very different.

The game had grown quickly in the north east of Ireland and began in time to gain popularity in Dublin as well with the formation of clubs like Bohemian F.C. (1890) and Shelbourne F.C. (1895). A league was duly formed as well as cup competitions. But despite the good works of John McAlery and other early pioneers of the game Ireland’s early record in international competition makes for some harrowing reading. The international highlight in the early years was a 1-1 draw with Wales in 1883 sandwiched between a 7-0 loss to England and a 5-0 loss to Scotland. It would be 1914 before the Irish would win the annual Home Nations Championship outright, defeating Wales and England before facing Scotland knowing that if they avoided defeat they would triumph. Despite the match being held in Belfast Scotland remained the favourites, the Irish papers noting especially that the Scots were the more physically imposing side. However, in a torrential downpour a weakened Irish side managed to secure a draw and with it their first outright victory in the Home Nations Championship. They hadn’t beaten the Scots but they had won the day.

It was to be the last victory as a united Ireland though, not long after the end of the First World War the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was formed as a breakaway association from the IFA.. The FAI eventually secured recognition from FIFA and, grudgingly, from the Home Nations as the Association representing the 26 counties that would become the Republic of Ireland. What they could not secure however was favour from the Home Nations who refused all fixture invitations from the nascent organisation. Eventually over two decades later England agreed to a friendly in 1946, Wales waited until 1960 before playing the Republic. Scotland refused all invitations and only played the Republic when drawn against them in a qualifier in 1961. Despite their breakaway from the IFA the FAI remained in awe of the Home Nations and valued games against them more than any other, they fervently craved not only the money that these games would bring but also some sense of acceptance from their neighbours. Naturally this made the cold shoulder that they received all the more painful.

This desperation for acceptance can be encapsulated in a single game. In 1939 Ireland were due to play the Hungarians, who had been runners up to Italy in the 1938 World Cup and had played against Ireland twice before in the recent past. On both occasions the matches took place in Dalymount Park in Dublin. However on this occasion the match took place in the smaller Mardyke grounds of University College Cork and home to League of Ireland side Cork F.C.

So why were the World Cup runners up being asked to play in a University sports ground rather than at the larger capacity Dalymount? Well because there was a bigger game taking place in Dalymount just two days earlier on St. Patrick’s Day 1939, when the League of Ireland representative side were taking on their Scottish league counterparts.

Even a game against a Scottish League XI was viewed as a huge mark of acceptance from their Scottish peers. While the game in the Mardyke would attract 18,000 spectators, a respectable return, over 35,000 would pack into Dalymount Park to see the stars of the Scottish League. At the time commentators were moved to describe the match against the Scottish League as “the most attractive and far reaching fixture that had been secured and staged by the South since they set out to fend for themselves” before adding that “for 20 years various and futile efforts have been made to gain recognition and equal status with the big countries at home. Equality is admitted by the visit of the Scottish League”. For the FAI a game against any Scottish team was a game against giants.

Giants, funnily enough, feature prominently in Celtic mythology. Fionn MacCumhaill is arguably Ireland’s most famous character from myth, famed for his size and for his prodigious strength. He is credited with having created the Isle of Mann by scooping out the land of Loch Neagh and hurling it into the Irish Sea. However even a man of this power was no match for the Scottish giant Benandonner. In myth Fionn learns that Benandonner is coming for him in combat from Scotland and Fionn does the only sensible thing, he runs to his wife for help. Benandonner is so huge that Fionn fears that even he won’t stand a chance in a fight so he does what any man would do, he has his wife dress him up as a giant baby and put him sleeping in a cradle in front of his fire. When Benandonner arrives demanding to know where Fionn is, Fionn’s wife Oona tells him that he is out but will be back shortly. She introduces the “baby” as her and Fionn’s infant son. Seeing the size of the baby and not wanting to meet the enormous child’s father Benandonner flees back to Scotland, on his way he destroys the bridge that links Scotland and Ireland behind him. Folklore tells that Antrim’s Giant’s Causway was a left as the remnants of this destroyed bridge.

For the FAI the Scots remained giants. Like Benandonner they could not be beaten by force but only by cunning. In 1963 a 1-0  victory by Ireland over Scotland in a friendly was greeted with elation by the Irish football public as one of its greatest ever  despite the narrow nature of the win.

While the awe in which the Scottish national team were held has faded significantly over the intervening decades the affection and devotion to one of her clubs remains as strong as ever. Writing as a Dubliner it sometimes seems impossible to avoid the prevalence of Celtic jerseys in my home city. In many ways this is understandable, while the island of Ireland might be grateful to John McAlery for bringing Scottish footballers to Ireland, the Irish in turn had a significant impact in creating the footballing landscape of Scotland. Beginning with the foundation of Hibernian F.C. in 1875 and continuing with the foundation of clubs like Dundee Harp, Dundee United and Celtic the Irish immigrant community and their descendants helped to create some of the most significant football clubs in Scotland.

This came about largely because of a period of mass migration of Irish people to Scotland from the 1820’s onward. Scotland’s industrial towns provided jobs, while Irish counties like Down, Antrim, Sligo and Donegal provided willing seasonable labour for Scottish factories, shipyards and farmers and this mass influx across the Irish Sea gathered apace after the Potato Famine began to grip Ireland in 1845. The parentage rule as introduced by FIFA has meant that the Irish national team have continually benefited from this immigrant connection even at the recent Euros two members of the Irish squad were Scottish born players; Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy.

Domestically clubs like Hibs and Celtic would emerge from these immigrant communities, often forming a charitable focal point at the centre of new Irish communities. While Hibs still prominently wear green and white and their current logo includes an Irish harp as a nod to their foundation (though it was removed from the crest for a period after the 1950s) they seem to be less defined by an Irish identity. Celtic however are for many the Irish club. This does have the tendency to cause some confusion for those fans of clubs actually based in Ireland.

Celtic’s Irish credentials are indeed impeccable. Founded in 1888 by Andrew Kerins an Irish Marist brother from Co. Sligo, (better known as Brother Walfrid), the club was created to support the poverty stricken Irish community in Glasgow. When Celtic Park was being opened in 1892 it was the Irish Nationalist and Land reform agitator Michael Davitt who laid the first sod,  the turf brought over from the “auld sod”, Co. Donegal. Davitt would be made an honorary patron of Celtic,  a position he also enjoyed in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) who in 1905 would issue a ban on any member either participating in or even watching ‘foreign’ games.

“Foreign Games” meant anything that could be construed to be English, or indeed Scottish and as such obviously included Association Football which may have put the ageing Davitt in an awkward situation. The club have also had many prominent Irish players and managers associated with them throughout their long history; men such as Neil Lennon, Seán Fallon, Martin O’Neill and Packie Bonner, while even the likes of Roy and Robbie Keane have had brief Celtic cameos during their careers. In terms of ownership Irish businessman Dermot Desmond is the club’s largest individual shareholder. The early successes of Celtic helped prove that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery as in 1891 a group of Belfast sports enthusiasts from the Falls Road area formed Belfast Celtic F.C. Their early Chairman James Keenan noting that they chose their name “after our Glasgow friends, and that our aim should be to imitate them in their style of play, win the Irish Cup, and follow their example, especially in the cause of Charity.”

While all of this provides a strong basis for the popularity of the club in Ireland the other major aspect is of course that Celtic have been successful, from being the first British winners of the European Cup in 1967 to their 47 Scottish League titles theirs is a level of dominance, at least at domestic level, that is rarely seen. While as recently as the 2002-03 season Celtic reached the final of the UEFA Cup the fortunes of the club and the Scottish League in general have struggled recently when it has come to progress at European level. Despite this, support remains strong for the club in Ireland and their presence ubiquitous. Celtic flags and banners fly from Dublin city pubs while a musical treatment of Celtic’s history plays at present in one of the city’s most prominent theatres. In the commemorations to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising the imagery of Celtic has been invoked as somewhat apocryphally one can purchase a “replica” Celtic jersey emblazoned with the name “Connolly” where once a Magners cider logo appeared. A reference to the Scottish born labour activist James Connolly who was among the leaders of the Rising; son of Irish immigrants he was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh and was a passionate Hibernian fan.

Celtic collage
“Celtic the Musical” in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, an Irish tricolour next to a Celtic Flag at a restaurant in Temple Bar, a “replica” Celtic jersey featuring the name of executed 1916 leader James Connolly.

The stories of Fionn and Benandonner, the competing giants of Ireland and Scotland remain prominent stories in Irish folklore however they enjoyed a new lease of life in the 18th Century when Scottish poet James Macpherson compiled and re-framed the ancient myths into a book of poetry. The publication of his work was a literary sensation at the time but also caused debate and controversy as Irish historians felt their literature and history were being appropriated. The truth is that as we’ve seen with the historic patterns of movement and the shared culture between the two islands; from 6th Century monks to the Ulster plantations and the Famine migrations of the mid 19th Century, the two nations share far more similarities than some political groups and indeed football fans would care to admit. It was from Scotland that the original Irish football organisers took their inspiration but even by that stage the Irish in Scotland were already creating clubs that would help to dominate the Scottish football landscape. In a confused and confusing identity relationship it becomes hard to separate the interwoven strands of our social and sporting DNA. Where the Irish ends and the Scottish begins.

This article originally appeared in the Football Pink issue 14, they’re a great publication and well worth a subscription.

 

Bohemians and brothers in arms – The Robinsons

The great Bohemians team of the 1927-28 season is one that has rightly gone down in the annals as one of the finest sides in Irish football history; simply put they won everything there was to win, the League, the FAI cup, the Shield and the Leinster Senior Cup. An achievement all the more impressive when you remember that Bohs were strictly amateur at the time. Such was the confidence and camaraderie in the team that season that Jeremiah “Sam” Robinson, the tall, well-built and versatile half-back or full back, said that the Bohs players of that season never doubted that they would win any game, the only question was by how much. Sam was joined in that successful team by his older brother Christy, smaller and lighter than Sam, he was a tricky, skilful inside-left whose 12 goals had been crucial when Bohs won the league in 1923-24. He also holds the honour of scoring Bohemians first ever goal in the FAI Cup when he netted the first in a 7-1 win over Athlone Town in 1922.

For these achievements alone the brothers are significant and worthy of discussion, however by the time the Robinson brothers had joined Bohemians, as still young men, they had already led an extraordinary life. Both brothers had been active in the IRA in Dublin and Sam had even become a member of the Active Service Unit and later joined Michael Collins’ infamous “Squad ”.

Both brothers played in the Cup Final of 1928 when Bohemians defeated Drumcondra 2-1, although it was touch and go for Sam. Incidentally the reason Sam was known as Sam, and not by his given name Jeremiah was because of the fondness as a boy for using “Zam-buk” soaps and ointments for his legs, something he may have needed in getting ready for the Cup final. During some dressing room hijinks celebrating yet another victory Sam had his leg badly scalded by a bucket of hot water. The damage was so bad that it looked like he would miss the game until the intervention of Bohemians own Dr. Willie Hooper who bound up Sam’s leg (like a turkey cock as he later remarked) and tended to him regularly as they prepared for the final. The squad were worried that the Sam might not make the game but he was declared fit enough to play. Bohs won the match in front of 25,000 at Dalymount, Billy Dennis and Jimmy White getting the goals.

Bohemians have a long tradition of brothers playing in the same team. The aforementioned Willie Hooper and his brother Richard both captained Bohs in the early 1900’s while Sam and Christy had the distinction of becoming the first brothers to play for Ireland after the FAI had split with the Belfast-based IFA. Christy was part of the Irish Olympic squad that went to Paris in 1924 and defeated Bulgaria before being knocked out by the Netherlands in the next round. In all, six Bohemians were selected (Bertie Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Ernie Crawford, John Thomas & Johnny Murray were the others and were trained by Bohs’ Charlie Harris) The Irish team also played two friendlies after being knocked out of the tournament, Christy played and scored for Ireland in the game against Estonia as Ireland won 3-1 and would also represent the League of Ireland XI in their first ever representative fixture against the Welsh League that same year. Sam won two senior caps, in 1928 and 1931 with a victory over Belgium and with a draw against Spain respectively.

Sam would eventually move on and play professionally for a period, he joined Dolphin F.C. based in the Dolphin’s Barn area of the city in 1930 and won his second Irish cap while there, he was also part of their team which contested the 1932 FAI Cup final, losing out to Shamrock Rovers in a tight game while also guesting on a number of occasions for Belfast Celtic.

Christy and “Sam” were born in the Dublin’s north inner city on East Arran Street in 1902 and 1904 respectively, their home was close to the markets where their mother Lizzie worked as a fish dealer. Lizzie’s earnings had to support the family; the two boys and daughter Mary, when their father Charles died in 1905.

Sam Rob5
From left to right Christy, Lizzy and Sam Robinson

In 1916 as youngsters of 15 and 12 they presumably have witnessed first-hand the fighting around the Four Courts just yards from their home and the family would likely have known some of the victims of the infamous North King Street massacre when British Army soldiers shot dead unarmed men and boys. Whatever the reason we know that by 1919 Sam, then aged only 15 had joined the IRA, he was a friend of Vinny Byrne who would also form part of the “Squad” and it was Byrne who brought him along to be inducted. At the time Sam lied about his age and claimed to be 17. The family story was that Michael Collins, on seeing young Sam told the boy that he wasn’t running a nursery and he should go home, however Sam insisted that he wished to join and both Byrne and Paddy Daly (one of Collins’ senior officers) vouched for the young man, it was to begin a long association between Sam and the armed forces.

Christy, also joined the IRA and though he didn’t become as deeply involved as his younger brother he still took part in a number of notable actions, the most prominent probably being the raid on a British Army party at Monks bakery on Church Street in September 1920. This was the operation in which Kevin Barry was captured. Christy Robinson was one of the section commanders within H company of the Dublin brigade of the IRA during the raid when they encountered a much larger British army force than expected. Kevin Barry found that his new-fangled automatic was jamming and hid under a lorry hoping to escape the attentions of the British forces. After heavy gunfire which left three British soldiers dead, H company withdrew but were unaware that Kevin was still hidden under the lorry on the side of the street. The unfortunate teenager was spotted by the British forces, arrested, and later became the first Republican prisoner to be executed since the Easter Rising over four years earlier.

Kevin Barry had attended the prestigious Belvedere secondary school and had been a promising rugby player. He had graduated and was studying medicine, in fact he intended to go sit an exam only hours after the raid on Monk’s bakery and was not a full time soldier. Most of the members of the Dublin Brigade were men who took part in operations when they could but had to hold down jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Christy Robinson fell into this category. The IRA however saw the need for a full time force of both soldiers and intelligence staff. This led to the creation of the Active Service Unit (ASU); full time soldiers who were expected to make themselves available as operations required them, they were paid a good wage for the time. Sam Robinson would eventually join this select group of full time soldiers; a role he would continue after Independence.

The Robinson family had been victims during this period of bloodshed, two of the brothers’ cousins met violent ends just weeks apart in 1920. William Robinson, a former British soldier and a goalkeeper for the Jacobs football team was shot dead on Capel Street, just yards from his home in October 1920 by men identifying themselves as “Republican Police”. Another cousin, also named William, but better known as Perry Robinson was one of the youngest victims of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Croke Park. Aged just 11 years old Perry was shot in the shoulder and chest as he was perched in a tree watching Dublin take on Tipperary. The trainer of the Dublin side that day was none other than Bohs’ own Charlie Harris who would accompany Christy Robinson to the Paris Olympics just four years later.

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The Dublin Football team on Bloody Sunday- Bohemians trainer Charlie Harris is at the back row, far right.

The Robinson family history tells that Sam was out that morning that would be remembered for all time as “Bloody Sunday”, in the company of his friend Vinny Byrne. Their destination on that fateful day was 28 Upper Mount Street, their targets British Lieutenants Aimes and Bennett. This was a late change to the plans due to a recent piece of intelligence received by one of Collins’ intelligence officers, Charlie Dalton who was also at the time also a member of Bohemians. Byrne and fellow Squad member Tom Ennis led the party. Although not named in these accounts Sam always claimed that he was out with Byrne and his group that day when Aimes and Bennett were shot dead in their beds, Byrne’s own witness statement mentioned that there were a party of about ten men involved and that the operation did not go as smoothly as hoped. The sound of shooting aroused the attention of other British military personnel in the area and the men keeping an eye on the entrance to Mount Street came under fire. Most of the party fled to the river and rather than risk crossing any of the city bridges back to the north side where they could be intercepted they crossed by a ferry and disappeared into the maze of streets and safe-houses of the north inner city.

Not long after the events of Bloody Sunday Sam became a full time member of the “Squad” when it was reinforced in May of 1921, within weeks they would be pressed into service in one of the largest operations ever undertaken, the attack on the Custom House, one of the centres of British administration, local Government and home to a huge amount of records.

Sam Robinson Custom House
Sam being arrested at the Custom House, he is fourth from the right with his hands on his head.

 

This was going to be a huge job and a symbolic attack at one of the nerve-centres of British rule in Ireland, up to 120 men of the 2nd Dublin Brigade along with members of the Squad and the Active Service Unit took part.  They were poorly equipped, armed only with revolvers and a limited supply of ammunition, they did however have plenty of petrol and bales of cloth which was used to burn the records and ultimately the building itself which burned for five days straight. The raiding party soon drew the attention of a brigade of Auxiliaries. Unable to stay in the burning building, surrounded by the British forces and very quickly running out of ammunition the Republican forces knew they were in serious difficulty. Most of the men surrendered but some made a run for it, a few escaped, but others like Sean Doyle were killed as they tried to get away. Among the more than 70 IRA men captured was Sam Robinson, although he was not to be in captivity long. Within two months a truce had been called and the Treaty negotiations had begun and Sam was released by Christmas of 1921.

Upon his release Sam became part of the new Free State Army, by the 1922 Army census he was listed as a Lieutenant and he was heavily involved during the Civil War, seeing action in areas of some of the heaviest fighting around Cork, Kerry and later Sligo. He was in the Imperial Hotel in Cork City along with other serving officers to have breakfast with Michael Collins the day he was shot. Despite Collins’ initial scepticism about this teenager that had lied about his age to join the IRA he had trusted and promoted Sam. In turn Sam, like many other officers became a great admirer and loyal follower of the “Big Man” and was devastated to learn of his death at Béal na Bláth. In another freak Bohemians connection, the man who tended to Collins as he died was General Emmet Dalton, a former Bohemian F.C. player and later President of the Club.

Sam remained in the Army throughout the horrific violence of the Civil War but left, somewhat disillusioned, in 1924. There was concern among members of the Free State army about plans to significantly decrease the size of the army in peacetime and there was also a feeling among some soldiers that ex-British army officers were being favoured for advancement within the Free State forces. Such was the seriousness of this issue that Charlie Dalton (the ex-Bohs player we encountered above, and brother of Emmet Dalton) and General Liam Tobin were accused of attempting an Army Mutiny due to their opposition to the proposed demobilisation.

Sam Rob army pic
Sam in his Irish Army uniform

The army’s loss was Bohemians gain however and the civilian Sam Robinson joined his brother at the club and helped build towards the eventual dominance of the 1927-28 season. It was not to be Sam’s last involvement with the Army however, upon the declaration of the national state of Emergency during World War II Sam re-enlisted and was made a Captain of C Company of the 14th Battalion, his years of experience no-doubt appreciated by younger troops. He stayed in the Army until the end of the War before returned to the trade he had developed as a plasterer. In fact he started his own plastering company, Robinson & Son near Church Street in Dublin. Things went well for Sam’s business for a while and he was a generous man always making sure that old Army or footballing colleagues were helped out with a job if they fell on hard times. Among those employed at one stage by Sam was his former Bohs team-mate John Thomas. However, in 1957 perhaps because of his generosity, Robinson & Son went out of business, Sam’s auditor incidentally at the time was a young man by the name of Charles J Haughey! While this was a setback Sam used it as an opportunity to travel, his trade took him to Canada, Malta, Britain and even Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before he returned to Ireland. Fate would have it that one of his final jobs as a plasterer was on the Phibsboro shopping centre, overlooking the pitch at Dalymount that had been so familiar to him.

Sam’s connection with Bohemians continued long after his playing days ended. His nephew Charlie Byrne began his career for Bohemians in the 1940’s while Sam remained a club member until the day he died in 1985.

Member card2
The Bohemian membership card of Jeremiah “Sam” Robinson

 

 

With special thanks to Eamon Robinson and Frank Robinson for their assistance and sharing their family research and photos.