Playing football with a battleship

In February 1937 Seán Lester, the noted Irish diplomat became Deputy Secretary of the League of Nations, a forerunner organisation to the modern-day United Nations. As a result of his promotion he left his role as High Commissioner in the Free City of Danzig (modern day Gdansk in Poland) and moved to the Swiss city of Geneva where the League’s headquarters were based.

His time living in Danzig had been fraught, he had witnessed first hand the rise of Nazi Germany and clearly understood the threat it could pose to the independent port city of Danzig and to wider Europe in general. When speaking about his biography of Lester, his son in law Douglas Gageby described him as “the first western diplomat to receive the full force of Hitler’s hatred” due to his opposition to the Nazi regime. Lester spent the remainder of his time before and during the War trying to stop the League of Nations falling under the the control of the Axis powers. The efforts of this brave Irishman seem to have gone virtually unnoticed by Irish football’s governing body (and many others) however, just months before the outbreak of War the Irish national team played the German national side (which now included players from post-Anschluss Austria) in Bremen and performed a Nazi salute prior to the game in an infamous moment in Irish sport.

Perhaps less well-known is another game that took place in Dublin just two months after Lester’s departure from Gdansk. It was a match between Bohemian F.C. and the crew of the German battleship, Schleswig-Holstein. This was this same battleship that in September 1939 sailed to Gdansk under the pretext of a diplomatic engagement before firing the first shots of the Second World War, attacking the city that Lester had known so well, as German marines over-ran the once Free port city.

This is a brief account of the visit of the Battleship Schleswig-Holstein (pictured above) to the port of Dun Laoghaire in April 1937 and the huge popular reception they received from the Irish people. Among the film-screenings, dinners, tours and parties that were undertaken to welcome the ship to Dublin there was even time for that game of football.

The battleship itself was launched in 1906 as an early part of Kaiser
Wilhelm II’s plan to develop and modernise the German navy and make the nation a  world naval power. By the time of the ships’ completion the German navy had already seen further technological development as they had begun the roll out of the German dreadnought class of even larger battleships. However the Schleswig-Holstein still saw action during World War I, taking part in the Battle of Jutland where it was damaged and had three of its men killed after being struck by a British shell.

After the First World War the Schleswig-Holstein was one of the ships that the German navy sought to retain under the terms of their disarmament agreements and when Hitler came to power and began to redevelop the German military machine the Holstein became a training vessel for the many new German cadets recruited for a growing Navy. As part of one of these training missions the ship went on a seven month voyage into the Caribbean and south Atlantic calling at ports in Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Bermuda among others. Their stop at Dun Laoghaire was their first stop-off back in Europe before their return to the naval base at Wilhelmshaven. On board were 31 officers and 785 petty officers and crew which included over 170 naval cadets.

The Schleswig-Holstein arrived into Dun Laoghaire on the 9th April 1937. Due to heavy fog the ship was two hours late in arriving but was still greeted by a 21 gun salute from an artillery battery near Dun Laoghaire’s East Pier. The battleship returned the salute by blazing its cannon in reply and soon after hoisted the Irish tricolour from its mast-head where it fluttered next to the German standard emblazoned with the Nazi swastika at its centre. Several hundred people were gathered at the harbour to see the ship berth, including a sizable contingent from the German legation in Ireland, there to welcome their fellow countrymen. Among them was Erich Schroetter, the head German diplomat in Ireland. Schroetter later fell foul of the influential Dublin-based, Nazi Adolf Mahr and would be replaced within months of the ship’s visit by Eduard Hempel. Mahr, as well as being the Director of the National Museum of Ireland was also head of the Nazi party in Ireland. He was represented on Dun Laoghaire pier that day by his Dutch wife Maria.

This welcoming party was only the first in a cavalcade of social engagements for the ship’s officers and crew. On the afternoon of their landing a deputation from the Schleswig-Holstein, along with members of the German legation visited with the Irish Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Michael Brennan and the Minister for Defence, Frank Aiken in Army Headquarters before stopping off at the Mansion House to drop in on the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne. The Lord Mayor would pay a return visit to see the German battleship in Dun Laoghaire before the end of their stay and even Taoiseach Eamon De Valera took time out on the Saturday after the battleship’s arrival to meet it’s Captain Günther Krause along with the aforementioned Erich Schroetter.

During their brief stay the crew were not left short for entertainment. While members of the Dublin public were allowed to take tours around the battleship the German sailors quickly became a common sight in both Dun Laoghaire and Dublin City Centre. During the week of their visit they were invited to the Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire for a special showing of a German film production of the popular opera The Gipsy Princess. Afterwards there was a screening of an Irish tourism short, painfully entitled Top of the Morning. They visited Portobello Barracks (now Cathal Brugha Barracks) where they were introduced to the Irish Army’s own German officer, Friedrich Wilhelm “Fritz” Brase. “Fritz” was the head of music for the Irish Defence Forces and had also briefly been Chairman of the Nazi party in Ireland until advised to step down by his Irish military superiors, at which point he was replaced by Mahr.

Apart from their musical engagements there were excursions arranged for crew members to Dublin’s most prominent tourist attractions, many would still be on most tourists’ itinerary today, namely, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and the Guinness brewery.

Other excursions meant travelling slightly further from the city which allowed Adolf Mahr to indulge his passion for ancient Irish history. He lectured the visiting Germans on monastic Ireland at Glendalough and also provided guided tours to Newgrange and the historic ruins of Monasterboice. Several of the ship’s compliment even climbed the 168 steps up the column of that British naval hero Horatio Nelson to get a better view of O’Connell Street from the top of the pillar.

Somehow among this myriad of social engagements, tours, parties and public concerts by the ship’s band, a selection of the crew also got to squeeze in a football match against Bohemian F.C. in Dalymount Park. There was a good sized crowd in the ground for a Tuesday afternoon as Bohs fielded a fairly strong side against the visiting Germans. Some 120 of the German officers and sailors attended the game among thousands more local spectators. When one considers that contemporary reports stated that over 10,000 locals visited the battleship at berth in Dun Laoghaire it is no exaggeration to say that perhaps more than 20,000 Dubliners must have been to see the German’s either aboard ship or at another event such as the football match during the six days of their visit.

Despite the fact that Bohemians had a league fixture against Shamrock Rovers the following day they named a competitive side including some veterans and “B” team players. Among the starting XI were Irish internationals like Harry Cannon (who was a Captain in the Irish Army and who would work through “The Emergency”), Kevin O’Flanagan and Fred Horlacher (himself the Irish-born son of German immigrants).  Despite the pedigree of the Bohs side the German XI put on a good display and only lost by the odd goal in three. Their goal was scored by their midfielder Bischaf while a Barry Hooper goal and a header from Kevin O’Flanagan had given Bohs the victory. The match had been refereed by Johnny McMahon, a former Bohemian player and a member of An Garda Siochána.

After the game the Germans put on a display of “field ball” which by photographs and reports seems like an 11-a-side version of Olympic handball played with a full sized football. It was reported to be a sport favoured by the German armed forces as a way of keeping fit and developing muscle mass.

German sailors photo
Image and caption from The Irish Times

The teams on the day were as follows: Bohemian F.C. – Capt. Harry Cannon, Kevin Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Barry Hooper, Ivor Hooper, Fred Horlacher, Kevin O’Flanagan, Billy Dennis, Paddy Ennis, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Joe Mullen

Schleswig-Holstein XI: Haas, Gobel, Grosser, Bischaf, Lux, Kaiser, Nowack, Hinneberg, Brix, Gronert, Bucker

Four of that side (Kerr, Barry Hooper, O’Flanagan and Horlacher) would play against Rovers the following day and, perhaps not unexpectedly given the circumstances, lost 3-0.

The Germans left for their home port of Wilhemshaven on the Thursday after the game. Large crowds gathered to see off the German battleship from port and  “Deutschland uber alles” was played followed by the Irish national anthem, which were both greeted by cheers from the quayside. The previous afternoon Captain Krause had entertained several guests at a farewell lunch aboard ship. Along with members of the German legation in Ireland were Free State Government Ministers, Frank Aiken and Seán Murphy. The coverage of the battleship’s visit was overwhelmingly positive. Captain Krause praised the hospitality of the Irish and he and his crew seem to have been viewed as minor celebrities during their week in Dublin.

Captain Krause upon returning to Germany was replaced in command of the Schleswig Holstein by Captain Gustav Kleikamp, and Krause was soon rising up the naval command chain. Krause had always seem blessed with his timing, he had been a U-boat commander during the First World War and had twice been awarded the Iron Cross. During his period in command of the submarine UB-41 in 1917 he had sunk eight enemy ships but less than a month after his transfer the submarine was sunk by a mine with the loss of all hands. The Captain who had so charmed the Dublin public would end the Second World War as a Vice Admiral in the Kriegsmarine and survived the War unscathed, living to the grand old age of 93. He was well departed from the Schleswig-Holstein by the time its crew had to scuttle it in the waters of the Baltic sea in 1945 in order to stop it from falling into the hands of the advancing Soviet Armies.

This couldn’t save the ship from its ultimate ignominious fate however. Once a flagship of the German Navy, the Schleswig-Holstein that so impressed the crowds who had gathered to see her in Dun Laoghaire was raised by the Soviet Navy in 1946 and spent the next two decades off the coast of Estonia being used for Soviet target practice. What became of the eleven sailors who played a match in Dalymount, or their colleagues who climbed Nelson’s pillar to gain a bird’s eye view of Dublin we don’t yet know.

During their Dublin visit criticism of the sailors or of the violently repressive Nazi regime and military that they represented was non-existent in the press reports of the major papers. This is interesting to note as on the same pages that gave over considerable column inches to photos and articles about the German sailors there were also articles detailing the escalating tensions between Nazi Germany and other nations including the United States and the Vatican. The Irish people could not realistically claim complete ignorance of such matters. But such issues do not seem to have bothered the general public who flocked to see what by naval standards was already an old and somewhat obsolete battleship, or the newspapers (particularly The Irish Times and Irish Press) who lavished coverage on the German visitors.

Perhaps the only nod to any controversy or discomfort surrounding the emergence of the Nazi state was when one columnist in The Irish Times noted that whatever-

“views the citizens of Saorstát Eireann may have upon the political philosophy of contemporary Germany – and we do not think that there is much doubt on that score- they demonstrated in the clearest possible way that politics are not permitted to interfere with the cordial – even enthusiastic – reception of our German guests.”

The only other qualm that seems to be expressed in relation to the German visit was that O’Connell Street was a trifle too dirty and that the visiting sailors may have been unimpressed with the levels of litter in Dublin City Centre.

By the close of August 1939, just two years after her Dublin visit, the Schleswig-Holstein sailed to Danzig under the pretext of a courtesy visit, but this one was very unlike the one she had enjoyed at Dun Laoghaire. On September 1st at 4.45am she began to shell the Polish garrison at Westerplatte with its 15cm cannon from near point-blank range as the shock troops hidden in her hold spilled forth to attack the Polish garrison.  World War II had begun.

As often is the case, thanks again must go to Bohemian F.C. historian Stephen Burke for his assistance in identification of several players involved for Bohs on the day of the match. For more on Adolf Mahr it’s worth checking out Gerry Mullins’ biography of him entitled “Dublin Nazi Number 1”.


The Lost Clubs – St. James’s Gate

A city can often be known simply by an architectural or geographic feature but it’s not often that a city is known for its smell. However, on certain days, depending on how the wind is blowing there is an aroma that is quintessentially Dublin as the rich, sweet smell of roasting hops wafts down the Liffey in testament to the presence of Europe’s largest brewery, St. James’s Gate. The Gate is home to Guinness, the product, for better or worse, that is most associated with Ireland.

The brewery is situated on an early monastic site and those monks used the fresh water resources of the district for their own brewing, perhaps as far back as the 13th Century. The name of the brewery references it’s history as a site for pilgrim voyages back as far as medieval times when devout Dubliners would set off in pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to venerate the relics of St. James. When the Guinness family signed the famous 9,000 year lease on the brewery site in the 18th Century they quickly grew from being just one of a number of breweries in the city to becoming one of the country’s largest industries. In the years after independence the economy of Dublin was often derogatorily referred to as one of “beer and biscuits” as Guinness and Jacobs were among the dominant large manufacturers in an economically deprived city.

Unsurprisingly both of these large employers followed a trend common with many large manufacturers in Britain and formed sporting and social clubs for their staff. Guinness had long had a reputation as a “good employer” and offered a rare example a decent,  well-paid and steady work in a city where such employment was a scarce commodity. The Guinness family had generally demonstrated a strong paternalism towards their staff as well as to the wider city in terms of the construction of public baths, social housing and the donation of St. Stephen’s Green park as a gift to the city. Such paternalism and munificence motivated the establishment of the St. James’s Gate Football Club in 1902.

A fair share of the credit for these developments must rest with Dr. John Lumsden, chief medical officer with Guinness at this time and a tireless campaigner who made countless improvements to the lives and health of Guinness workers and their families. Born in Drogheda, the son of a Scottish banker, Lumsden was a man of many passions and talents. As a medical doctor as well as his work with Guinness he was a physician at Mercer’s Hospital, he was a hugely active member of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, tending to the injured on all sides during the 1916 Rising, and can also lay claim to involvement in the foundation of the Irish Red Cross and what would eventually become the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.

As the medical officer he visited over 1,700 homes of Guinness workers to assess the quality of their accommodation, he set up cookery classes to ensure families of employees knew how to cook nutritious meals, he successfully lobbied to have public baths included in the Iveagh Trust housing developments and he also clearly saw the benefit of sports and exercise to the Guinness workforce. He also had a keen personal interest in sport and helped establish one of Dublin’s first golf clubs.

The St. James’s Gate football club was just one of several works teams that emerged in Ireland around this period, others such as Dundalk, Linfield, or Jacob’s had similar beginnings in other industries (railways, linen and biscuits respectively), but the Gate also had something in common with a continental European model of a wider multi-sports club. As well as playing football the Guinness employees pursued athletics and cycling and later tennis, cricket and rugby. They had access to gymnasiums and swimming baths, and eventually had their own designated sports complex at the Iveagh grounds. All of which gave them an advantage over many other clubs.

Dr. Lumsden who was instrumental in the creation of St. James’s Gate F.C. in 1902 also played an important role in finding the club a permanent home. In their first decades they played their home matches in Inchicore and later in Dolphin’s Barn but by 1928 Lumsden and the club members had secured the purchase and development of the Iveagh Sports Grounds in Crumlin. These were bought, developed and donated to the Guinness Athletic Union by their patron Edmund Guinness, the 1st Earl of Iveagh after whom the grounds are named.

Those early decades were the most successful for the football club, in the 1919-20 season the Gate won both the Leinster Senior Cup and also the Irish Intermediate Cup against Dunmurray. Recreation F.C. Given this success it was no surprise that St. James’s Gate were one of the of the sides who formed the inaugural season of the Free State League of Ireland after the split from the IFA in 1921.

That debut league season was an all-Dublin affair and featured only eight teams in total. While Shelbourne and Bohemians may have been the bigger names, having previously been Irish Cup winners and regular competitors in the earlier, Irish League it was to be a season dominated by the men from the Gate. Not only did they win the title but they added the FAI Cup and Leinster Senior Cup for good measure.

It was a turbulent time in Irish society,, the Gate’s FAI Cup final win against Shamrock Rovers took place just months before the outbreak of the Civil War and the game was marred by a pitch invasion from irate Rovers fans and a standoff in the Dalymount dressing rooms between the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall and Shamrock Rovers’ Bob Fullam. This was only ended when Dowdall’s brother John pulling a gun and Fullam and Co. sensibly backed off.

Several of that successful James’s Gate side would go on to represent Ireland at the Paris Olympics in 1924, among them Charlie Dowdall and team-mates like Ernie McKay and Paddy “Dirty” Duncan. It was Duncan who would get the first goal in an international competition for the Irish Free State, grabbing the only score in a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria in the sparsely populated Stade Olympique de Colombes.

Ultimately there would be five St. James’s Gate players in that Olympic squad. The Olympics at the time was an amateur competition in keeping with a certain Corinthian spirit of the time. The James’s Gate players were nominally amateurs but even by the time of the Cup final they were not necessarily all Guinness employees. There was a quota of a maximum four non-Guinness players allowed play for the club.

Among those not employed by Guinness included Ernie McKay, the son of a Scottish soldier, Ernie worked for at the GPO for decades while also remaining involved with James’s Gate as a player and administrator well into the 1940’s. His team-mate at inside-left, Charlie Dowdall who had worked for Guinness briefly but spent most of his career working at the Inchicore railway works.

The Olympics of 1924 wasn’t the only time that James’s Gate players would pull on the green of Ireland either. Joe O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s most prominent inter-war internationals and team captain on numerous occasions finished his league and international career while a Gate player. Alf Rigby, a centre-forward who twice finished top scorer in the League of Ireland won his three international caps while a St. James’s Gate player though he failed to find the net.

One player who didn’t have that problem was Paddy Bradshaw. Top scorer in the 1939-40 season as St. James’s Gate clinched their second ever league title Bradshaw had a somewhat unusual route to football stardom. A dock worker for much of his life he played at Leinster Senior League level until he was 26 before making an immediate impact upon signing for the Gate in 1938. He would win five international caps, scoring four goals. His first came only 20 seconds into his debut game against Switzerland in a match that ended as a 4-0 victory for Ireland. He grabbed a second in that game as well as scoring against both Hungary and Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought a premature end to his brief but successful international career.

That short era of the late 1930’s was a period of triumph for the Gate as they won not only the title in 1939-40 but also the FAI Cup in the 1937-38 season, defeating Dundalk 2-1 in front of a crowd of 30,000 in Dalymount Park. A penalty scored by Irish international Peadar Gaskins proving to be the decisive goal.

While players like Bradshaw were coming to the fore in this era perhaps the most famous player to play for the club also got to make his fleeting impression as a Gate player around this time. Despite a first team career at the Iveagh Grounds that last just a matter of months St. James’s Gate have every right to be incredibly proud of the achievements of Johnny Carey. The young Dubliner debuted for the Gate aged just 17 in the 1936-37 season and quickly began to turn heads. He was spotted playing for the Gate in a match against Bohemians by Billy Behan, a one time Manchester United goalkeeper who now acted as a scout for the club in Dublin. With him at that game was Louis Rocca, United’s chief scout who had come to run the rule over Bohs’ forward Benny Gaughran. Rocca was disappointed to learn that Gaughran had already agreed to join Celtic but Behan convinced him that the teenage Carey was worth a closer look.

Ultimately Carey was signed by United for a fee of £250, a reported record for a League of Ireland footballer. By the age of 18 he was starting at inside-left for Manchester United and helping them win promotion from the Second Division.  When he left United 16 years later he had captained them to victory in both the FA Cup and a League title while  becoming the first Irish player to be named Football Writers Player of the Year. He’d also won 29 caps for Ireland and captained a European XI in a challenge match against a combined Great Britain side.

Despite recruiting top quality players in the late 30’s and enjoying success in both the league and cup within a couple of years of these triumphs St. James’s Gate would be bottom of the league. That misfortune came to pass in the 1943-44 season and the club were not re-elected to the league for the following season; their spot being taken by another Dublin club, Brideville who had moved between the Leinster Senior League and the League of Ireland on a number of occasions. This, however, wasn’t quite the last experience the Gate had at League of Ireland level.

Forty-six years after failing to be re-elected St. James’s Gate returned to the League of Ireland, rejoining as a First Division side in 1990. During their second spell in the League they never finished higher than 5th in the First Division and even finished bottom on two occasions. The club withdrew from the League before the beginning of the 1996-97 season with their place (albeit briefly) being allotted to St. Francis.

St. James’s Gate continue to this day as a football club, playing in the Leinster Senior League, perhaps one of their most famous recent players was Irish international Katie Taylor who achieved greater international fame in the boxing ring rather than on the football field.

In 2017 St. James’s Gate F.C. celebrated their 115th anniversary, that same year the sale of the Iveagh Sports Grounds to Trinity College Dublin was agreed. As a result the grounds will now be home to the various sports teams associated with the College though it is likely that the Gate will continue to play there for future seasons. As  Guinness advertisements regularly note, they are only a short time into the 9,000 year lease on the St. James’s Gate brewery site, you’d hope that the famous football club had plans for similar longevity.

This article originally featured for the SSE Airtricity League website

The lost clubs – Drumcondra F.C.

DrumsAs a young lad the sporting geography of the city was always fairly fixed and familiar to me. You saw Bohs and maybe the odd Cup final at Dalymount. You saw Ireland in Lansdowne Road, the Dubs in the freezing expanse of Parnell Park in the league, and if things were going well, in Croke Park in the sun. Morton Stadium in Santry was an annual pilgrimage for the National Athletics championships and as for Tolka Park, well that was Shels’ home, and to the unquestioning mind of a child it was always thus.

But of course it wasn’t always so. Shelbourne were once of Ringsend and took their name from the Shelbourne Road next to the pub where they were founded. While they had spent seasons playing at Tolka in the past they only took over the lease of the ground in 1989. Tolka had originally been the home of Drumcondra F.C. a team that developed rapidly, whose success burned intensely, and who formed arguably one of Irish football’s most storied rivalries at the peak of the league’s popularity. And then almost as quick as their ascent, they disappeared from League of Ireland football.

The area around Drumcondra has always been fertile ground for sporting endeavour. As Dublin city grew beyond the traditional inner city district in the 19th Century the local and wider city population were also availing of greater freedom from the stresses of their work-life. Changes to the working week meant people finally had some proper leisure time, they had access to a growing rail network meaning that they could travel the country more easily. All this lead to the creation of many different local and national clubs and organisations, not surprisingly many focused around sporting activities.

In 1864 Alderman Maurice Butterly leased 21 acres near Jones Road, Drumcondra which for the next couple of decades would be known as the City and Suburban Sports Grounds and which could be hired out by a variety of sports clubs. In the early 1890’s these grounds were briefly the home of Bohemian F.C. they also were a venue for GAA matches. In fact the GAA liked the area so much that by 1907 they’d bought the lands and renamed them after their organisation’s patron Archbishop Thomas Croke.

As Drumcondra developed eastwards as a bustling suburb it should be no surprise that this sporting development continued as you crossed the river Tolka. By 1924 a group of enthusiastic locals including Tom Johnston, Christy Purcell, George Ollis, Paddy Dunne, Tom Cribben and Andy Quinn had founded Drumcondra F.C. and the club were quick to make progress. Even in their early years as a Leinster Senior League side Drums attracted prominent players, including former Bohemians stars Johnny Murray and Joe Grace. In 1926, despite still plying his trade for a lower league side Grace won his only Irish international cap against Italy in Turin. He remains to this day the only Leinster Senior League player to be capped by Ireland.

A year later, while still playing at Leinster Senior League level Drums began lifting serious silverware. They were winners of the inagural Intermediate Cup, then referred to as the Qualifying Cup as it qualified them for the 1st round proper of the FAI Cup. There followed wins over Jacob’s and Bohemians which saw the Drums through to the final where they faced Brideville. A 1-1 draw in the first game forced a replay, held in Shelbourne Park and an extra time winner from Johnny Murray secured the first of five FAI Cup wins for Drumcondra.

Drums got another cup final the following year, losing 2-1 to Bohemians before finally being accepted as a League of Ireland side a year later and shortly afterwards they moved away from their amateur ethos to paying players. It was later into the 1940’s before Drums began to emerge as a real force in the League of Ireland. These sides were built around a core of some exceptional footballers like Kit Lawlor, Benny “Rosie” Henderson and the young and ever versatile Con Martin. The final years of the decade also the emergence of their prolific centre forward Dessie Glynn. By the end of the 40’s Drumcondra had won two more FAI Cups (1942-43 and 1945-46) as well as their first two league titles (1947-48 and 1948-49).

It was perhaps this success that attracted new owners to the club. Father and son William and Walter Hunter had run the club up until the early 1950’s but they were soon to be replaced by another father and son team, that of Sam and Roy Prole. A younger son Robert Prole also became a club director while still a schoolboy and would later feature as a player for the club.

The Proles had a long involvement with Dundalk F.C. having made their money through the Great Northern Railway which had its works and a main station in Dundalk. In progressive moves they improved Tolka Park, levelling the pitch, adding roofs to stands, introducing pitch-side advertising boards and in 1953 Tolka became the first stadium to introduce floodlights when Drums played an exhibition game against St. Mirren in March of that year. The Proles also placed a major focus on developing young players and among the early managers that they appointed was Billy Behan. He was Manchester United’s eyes in Ireland, helping discover a plethora of great young talents from Liam Whelan to Paul McGrath. Perhaps the words of George Orwell may have stuck in the minds of Drumds fans of the time, If There Is Hope It Lies In The Proles. 

With Tolka Park now being developed into one of the better club grounds in the League there was plenty of drama on the pitch to keep supporters entertained. The 1950’s and into the early 1960’s in some ways signified a high watermark in the popularity of the League of Ireland. In an often grey and economically deprived Ireland the game offered a cheap and enjoyable spectacle and a stylish Drumcondra side were at the forefront. To this day recollections of their decade long rivalry with Shamrock Rovers has a misty-eyed effect on Irish football fans of a certain vintage and it’s not hard to understand why.

With little access to the English game apart from occasional touring sides and newsreel footage the League of Ireland was amplified in its sporting significance. It helped that there was a strict wage cap in England up to 1963 so many talented Irish players had less financial incentive to cross the Irish sea. Drums managed to develop and keep many of their talented players for longer than many League of Ireland sides could do today. During the 50’s they could call on Irish International Alan Kelly Senior in goal, “Bunny” Fullam in defence and an array of other young talents like Ray Keogh, Jimmy Morrissey, Stan Pownall and Tommy Rowe while club legend Kit Lawlor would return after a spell in England with Doncaster Rovers.

In just over ten years Drums picked up another two titles (1957-58 and 1960-61 while finishing runners up on a  number of occasions) and two more FAI Cups and by this stage European competition had begun. Here again Drums were quick in making progress. In only their third season in Europe (1962-63) they became the first League of Ireland side to win a tie over two legs when they defeated an Odense city XI  6-5 in the Inter-city Fairs Cup. Jimmy Morrissey and Billy Dixon were prominent among the goals which secured Drums a tie with Bayern Munich.

Bayern weren’t yet established as the behemoths of European football that they are today but they were still an impressive side, many of whom would go on to win titles and cups with the Baverians. Drums lost 6-0 in the first leg in snowy Munich, German international Willi Giesemann as well as Bayern’s 3rd highest scorer of all time, Rainer Ohlhauser among those getting on the score-sheet. Drumcondra did manage to save some face in the return leg when the beat Bayern in Tolka Park 1-0 thanks to another goal from Billy Dixon.

The Drums had something of a habit of facing German sides, in their five seasons in European football they faced three other German sides as well as facing Atlético Madrid in that famous sides first ever appearance in European football. While never again progressing beyond the opening rounds as they had done against Odense there were other credible individual results such as a 1-0 home win against East German champions Vorwärts Berlin.

There would be one final, major trophy for Drums, a league title in the 1964-65 season but it was to be somewhat of a twilight victory. Within five years they would be bottom of the league and a couple of years after that, Drums as we would know them, were gone. After back to back last place finishes Sam Prole agreed to sell up, in a strange turn of events, Drums, a professional side were taken over and replaced by the amateur Home Farm side. A hybrid team name of Home Farm-Drumcondra lost its Drumcondra suffix after a single season and after 45 years of league football Drumcondra F.C. were gone.

It had been an eventful existence, five league titles and five FAI Cups had the Drums name etched against them. There were famous European nights under lights and the club had always tended to punch above their weight, whether as a Leinster Senior League side lifting the cup, or in their famous rivalry of the 50’s and 60’s with Rovers that lit up the league, or even going to toe to toe with some European heavyweights.

A Leinster Senior League club under the name Drumcondra F.C. reformed about ten years ago, wearing the traditional yellow and blue. They’re even based across the street facing their former home at Tolka Park. The memory of the glories of the Drums still lives on, preserved in the name Drumcondra F.C. that adorn a modest the clubhouse on Richmond Road, back where it all began. Up the Drums! 


This piece first appeared on the SSE Airtricity League website and can be found here.


Rovers of the sea

A great distance separates the Pacific coast of South America with the more modest expanse of Dublin Bay yet it connects the lives, and the deaths of two former football teammates who died within months of each other more than 100 years ago.

I came across the premature demise of these two Shamrock Rovers players while doing some research on an upcoming piece focusing on the development of the great rivalry between Bohemian F.C. and Shamrock Rovers I started looking at the earliest recorded meeting between the two sides over 100 years ago in January 1915. As often happens with such investigations I got sidetracked down a different path and onto a tragic tangent of the lives and deaths of James Sims and William Skinner in 1914-15.

William was born in 1880 and grew up in Thomas Street in Ringsend, a street which has since disappeared and which is now roughly occupied by the Ringsend Library. He was son to Laurence, a Dublin born labourer and Lizzie a housewife originally from Co. Wexford. Lizzie gave birth to 14 children during her lifetime but sadly just six of them would survive beyond childhood.

William was listed as a labourer in the 1901 census but just two years later when he was getting married to Catherine (Kate) McDonnell, who also grew up on Thomas Street, he listed his profession as a “sailor on a Man of War”. William had obviously joined the Royal Navy by this stage. When we next encounter William it is in the 1911 Census and he is back in civilian life working as a Hailing Man in Dublin Port and had moved just north of the River Liffey to Russell Avenue in East Wall. He had also become a father to two children; Laurence, born in 1907 and Mary born in 1909. By 1913 the family had moved once more this time to St. Joseph’s Square in Clontarf. This perhaps shows improving fortunes for the family, moving from a smaller, single-storey cottage, to a two storey, terrace in Clontarf.

1914 would be a year of significant change both globally and locally. July saw the outbreak of the First World War. More locally Shamrock Rovers reformed at a meeting in Sam Beatty’s barber shop in Bridge Street, Ringsend, some eight years after they had folded and withdrawn from the Leinster Senior and Junior League due to difficulties securing both a home ground and sufficient player numbers.

In 1914 William and his younger brother James would be listed as Rovers players, William was described as “a very useful forward” while James was mentioned as “a reliable forward with an accurate and speedy shot”. However 1914 would also see William return to the Royal Navy. He immediately re-enlisted once war was declared.

William’s war was not going to be a long one, at 34 at the time of enlistment and with his previous experience in mind he was already somewhat of a veteran.  He was posted aboard the HMS Good Hope. In August 1914 the Good Hope was ordered to reinforce the 4th Cruiser Squadron and became the flagship of Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock. In  October the British learned from intercepted radio messages that the Germans planned to attack shipping on the trade routes along the west coast of South America.  Cradock’s small squadron was sent to prevent this from happening. On the 1st November 1914 the German Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron, identified the light cruiser HMS Glasgow, (part of the British Squadron under Cradock) at the Chilean port of Coronel and pursued the ship in order to engage it. The ensuing encounter was one of the first major naval battles of the War and became known as the Battle of Coronel.

The German squadron of armoured cruisers, SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg engaged Cradock’s squadron with the Good Hope as the flagship after its pursuit of the HMS Glasgow. The Scharnhorst hit the Good Hope with one of its early salvos causing severe damage. Cradock’s ship was at a disadvantage to the Germans in terms of the range of their guns so his only hope to to charge at the German squadron to get them in range by charging down their flagship. The Germans concentrated their fire on the Good Hope and close to 8pm that night, with much of the ship aflame their forward ammunition magazine exploded. The force of the blast severed the ship in two and sank in the darkness. The Good Hope (along with the HMS Monmouth) was sunk with all hands in the chill waters of the ironically named Pacific Ocean. It was the first defeat the British Royal Navy had suffered in combat in more than a hundred years. A total of 919 officers and enlisted men lost their lives including Able Seaman William Skinner from Ringsend.

A year later William’s younger brother James joined the Army Service Corps as a driver. He had been certified as a “Chauffeur” by the Irish Automobile Club and saw action in Egypt and Greece, ended up contracting Malaria, surviving, and being sent to London to work as a driver at the munitions docks at Woolwich before being eventually discharged in 1919.

The HMS Good Hope (source wikipedia)

Much closer to home is the story is that of James Sims, highlighted in the photo above. Born in 1892 in Ringsend, James became a star midfielder with Rovers after their re-emergence in 1914. He was the centre-half in the side that had defeated Derry Swifts 1-0 in the final of the Irish Junior Cup in April of 1915. Sims was not part of that first Rovers side that took on Bohemians in the first of those great derby games (Bohs won 3-1 by the way) in January 1915, but he appeared regularly in team line-ups from February of that year onward.

In August of 1915 Shamrock Rovers at a meeting of the Leinster Senior League Shamrock Rovers were elected to the top division, unlike the situation in 1906 the revived Rovers were better equipped this time to fulfill their fixtures. They played a warm-up match against neighbours Shelbourne on August 28th, James Sims started that game at centre half. Their first Senior League fixture was a game against Strandville on September 18th followed by a League match against Bohemians the week after. Just eight days before the League kicked off James Sims was dead.

Like many men in Ringsend at the time, given it’s close proximity to the city docks James “Sailor” Sims made his living as a hobbler and occasional fisherman. Hobblers were groups of intrepid, entrepreneurial sailors who set off in groups of between 3 and 6 men in lightweight skiffs or hobbling boats. The purpose of these boats was twofold, to lead cargo vessels into Dublin Port and to be the boat that unloaded the incoming vessels onto the quays.

“Hobbling” was a very competitive business, the small, lightweight boats could be out for hours or even days in attempts to get a ship coming into port. When a ship was spotted it was a rush between the different hobbling boats to get to it first and agree a price with the ship for their services. Hobbling was also dangerous work, as well as the usual dangers of being at sea, the small lightweight boats were trying to load large cargo at sea from winches and cranes, a mistake could mean a severed limb or a capsized boat.

At five in the morning on the 10th of September 1915 James Sims was in a hobble boat with John Lawless (who owner the boat) and John Lynch about 2 and a half miles beyond Poolbeg Lighthouse when they spotted a steamer coming into port. It was the Huanchaco, named after a Peruvian town, which plied a route from the west coast of South America, including the port of Coronel. It would like have traveled much the same route as William Skinner’s final journey many times.

The exact details of what happened next to James Sims and his friends is not completely clear. It seems that the 390-foot Huanchaco, either refused their hobble, or were in discussions about a fee when the small skiff got caught in the backwash of the far larger ship. The result was that the smaller vessel got dragged behind the Huanchaco and into its huge propeller. The reports are thankfully more restrained that much modern reportage but the smaller boat was cut in two, Lynch and Lawless were able to jump into the sea and then scramble back onto what was left of their craft before being rescued by a Michael Tallon in one of the pilot boats and brought to the safety of Dun Laoghaire harbour. James Sims however,was struck by the propeller and killed outright. He met his gruesome end at just 23 years old.

Shamrock Rovers were due to play Orwell F.C. the following day but the game was called off as a mark of respect. At a specially convened meeting Shamrock Rovers issued a notice of condolence with the Sims family and there was a large, well-attended funeral for James in the Ringsend area.

Just two days after James had been killed the Huanchaco was involved in another accident leaving Dublin Port. The Huanchaco under the command of Captain Pierce crashed into the Irish Steam Packet company steamer the Lady Martin badly damaging its starboard bow. Two incidents in the space of three days seems to suggest either extreme bad luck or shows just how dangerous shipping could by at the time even away from the heat of battle.

In 1934 the practice of “hobbling” was finally prohibited although the modernisation of the port also played a part. The main catalyst for this decision was the death of three young men from Dun Laoghaire; brothers Henry and Richard Shortall and their friend John Hughes, all drowned when their boat capsized when they were attempting to hobble a boat into port. A decision that came some 20 years too late for James Sims.

These weren’t the only tragedies to affect Rovers at the time, the Great War dominated the decade, and as I’ve highlighted at other clubs like Bohemians and Shelbourne, claimed its fair share of young sportsmen. In Rovers case one of their early heroes from their beginnings at the turn of the century was full-back James Keogh. Like many he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but never made it back from the battlefields of France.

These men left families and friends behind, they also never got to see the club they re-founded go on to enjoy success as Rovers progressed within ten years from Junior football to League and Cup champions.


For more on life in Dublin Port check out “The Dublin Docker” by Aileen O’Carroll and Don Burnett. Also a thank you to Rovers historian Robert Goggins for proof reading this piece.


Taking a Lax attitude- George & the magic magnetic board


The dim light of the training lamps strung along the old main stand illuminated the thin strip of touchline as the players sprinted by, full tilt. They were trying to impress the coach with their pace and athleticism before turning into the darkness of the shed end. The floodlights that would come to define Dalymount and become a landmark in the Dublin skyline wouldn’t be installed for another year and the majority of the pitch was in complete darkness. As the players, all amateurs, reached the Connaught Street side some of the more experienced ones stopped. Now subsumed into the darkness the only light was the faint amber glow of embers as they lit up their cigarettes. Their plan was to wait until the rest of the team had made their next lap of the pitch and save their energies for another sprint past their coach. The man that they hoped to impress, who unlike his charges was a professional football man, was a middle-aged Yorkshireman in thick glasses by the name of George Lax.

George had first encountered Bohemians as they encountered a period of comparative decline. In the opening decades of the League of Ireland Bohemian F.C. enjoyed more than their fair share of successes. Foremost among these triumphs was the “clean sweep” of the 1927-28 season when the Bohs won every competition available to them. Three further league titles, an FAI cup and an array of other trophies made their way to Dalymount of the following ten years but by the end of the 30’s things were beginning to change.

The end of the 30’s and into the 40’s other teams were coming to dominate the major prizes in Irish football, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, Drumcondra, Dundalk and especially a rampant Cork United side were collecting league titles and cups. Bohs were increasingly being left behind. After winning the league title in 1935-36 Bohs could only finish 7th the following year, and 9th the year after.

The Gypsies policy on remaining an amateur club was beginning to affect their performances on the pitch. While the club, even by this stage had a long and proud history, one of the best stadiums in the league, and a strong record of bringing through talented players, unsurprisingly many of these same players would leave for other clubs prepared to pay them.

While amateur on the pitch the Bohs management committee looked to take a more professional approach to training and management of team affairs. To this end they brought in an English coach not long finished his playing days, George Lax, for the beginning of the 1938-39 season. Important to realise was that while Lax would be responsible for training, coaching and physio work with the players, the starting XI was still primarily decided by a selection committee and this would remain the case until the 1964 appointment of Seán Thomas as Bohs first manager in the modern understanding of the word.

Early days

George Lax was born in Dodworth, a coal mining village near Barnsley in South Yorkshire in 1905. Unsurprisingly young George began his professional life with Frickley Colliery near Wakefield having come from a mining family. The Colliery, one of the deepest coal mines in Britain had a strong sporting tradition, they had swimming baths, cricket clubs, athletics clubs and of course a football club, Frickley Colliery F.C. founded just after George was born. A teenage George lined out for the team at right-half and in his early 20’s was spotted by the legendary Wolves manager Major Frank Buckley and signed by them for the 1929-30 season.

Lax immediately became the sides’ regular right half as Wolves finished in the top half of the second division and continued a good run of form into the next year. His good fortune continued and during his spell at Wolves he also got married, tying the knot with his fiance Kathleen Hill in the Spring of 1932. However, a series of injuries including a badly broken jaw and later a broken ankle began to limit his first team opportunities at Molineux. This saw George move back to his birthplace to sign for Barnsley in 1932 after making 66 appearance for Wolves, although it would not be his last time working with Major Buckley. Further moves, first to Bournemouth and later to non-league sides like Evesham Town and Worcester City. As his playing career wound down he was beginning to get involved as a manager and coach alongside his playing duties.

In 1938 Lax was on the move again, this time having hung up his boots, he was off to Dublin to take over the management of Bohemian Football Club from the former Liverpool star and Irish international Billy Lacey. Lax had benefited greatly from working with Major Frank Buckley, a character with a fearsome reputation who had led the Footballers regiment during the First World War and had fought at the Battle of the Somme. Buckley’s teams were well known for their robust and very direct, physical football but this belied the fact that he was also somewhat of a pioneer and moderniser in other aspects of the game.

Buckley had placed great emphasis on fitness and diet (and allegedly the use of stimulants and animal gland injections) and contrary to popular wisdom at the time had encouraged players to do plenty of ball-work in training. He had also helped Wolves gain promotion to Division One and greatly improved their scouting network and youth system which would help lay foundations for the success enjoyed by Stan Cullis’ Wolves teams in the 1950’s. Lax borrowed heavily from Buckley’s methods and was also one of the first participants in the FA’s early coaching courses.  While Bohs amateur status might have seemed a throwback to a bygone age, even by the 30’s, in their choice of trainer they were selecting a man in his early thirties whose coaching methods were cutting edge for their time.

Among the modern elements of the game that Lax brought to Bohs was his “magnetic demonstration board”. While such coaching aids as a tactics board are hardly unusual today its use in the League of Ireland in the 1930’s seems to have raised more than a few eyebrows. He also brought with him a number of other tactical innovations such as “The Switch” which entailed the swapping of roles between the outside-right (usually Kevin O’Flanagan) and the team’s centre forward (Frank Fullen at the time). While this may not seem that groundbreaking to a modern football audience, the idea of swapping a centre-forward with a right-winger as part of a usually rigid W-M formation employed by the vast majority of British and Irish teams was revolutionary. It no doubt helped that O’Flanagan was an exceptional and versatile sportsmen and one of the best forwards in the country. These tactical innovations bore closer resemblance to the type of tactical experiments being tried out by coaches in Hungary or Austria.

It is worth remembering that it was only in 1953 when Hungary’s wandering centre-forward Nándor Hidegkuti helped dismantle the English national teams defense as they destroyed Billy Wright and Co. 5-3 that such tactical experiments began to get greater credence in Britain and Ireland.

Such was the success of this tactical innovation ( no doubt worked out on the infamous magnetic tactics board) that other Irish sides soon started copying the ploy with Belfast Celtic using their international winger Norman Kernaghan in the O’Flanagan role.

Call of battle and the return to English football

Lax had two spells with Bohemians, joining in 1938 before leaving in 1942 at the height of the Second World War to enlist in the RAF. As someone resident in neutral Ireland at the time he could have conveniently avoided the danger of the conflict but instead chose to enlist. He was eventually demobilised some months after the end of the War in February 1946. The high-points of his first spell as coach of Bohs included a 3rd place league finish in the 1940-41 season as well as back to back League of Ireland shield wins (1938-39, 1939-40) and a Leinster Senior Cup win also in 1939-40.

George’s first spell at Bohs would see him succeeded by Sheffield United and Ireland legend Jimmy Dunne who had fallen out with Shamrock Rovers where he was previously player-coach. Once he was demobilised George was straight back into his sporting involvement, first with non-league Scunthorpe United where he was coach but also an occasional player and then onto second division Hull City as a “trainer-coach”.

George’s job at Hull was secured by the intervention of his former mentor Major Frank Buckley who wrote to club Chairman Harold Needler stating that Lax was a “grand servant, of irreproachable character, keen, willing and loyal”. Buckley also boasted that it was “on my recommendation that he went as trainer-coach to the famous amateur Irish club, the Bohemians of Dublin. He gave grand service to them and it was the war that caused their severance”.

George was joined by his mentor Buckley as manager at Hull just a month later in May 1946. Hull were stuck in the unglamorous world of the English Division Three North, however they certainly had ambition, over the course of the next few seasons Hull sought promotion to the second division, succeeding by winning Division Three North in 1948-49. By that stage Major Buckley had already moved onto Leeds United where he would help start the careers of John Charles and later Jack Charlton.

His trusty lieutenant George Lax remained on Humberside working for Raich Carter who took over as player-manager. Carter had been one of the most highly-regarded and stylish inside-forwards of his era and over the coming years he brought some big names to Hull’s new ground at Boothferry Park. Joining Carter were players like England centre-half Neil Franklin, Danish international Viggo Jensen and an up and coming young forward named Don Revie.

Carter retired in 1951 and his role was taken over by Bob Jackson, a league winning manager with Portsmouth only a couple of years earlier. George Lax stayed on as part of his coaching team although Hull, despite all their ambition couldn’t do better than lower mid-table finishes in the second tier. After almost ten years with Hull as coach, trainer and physio among other roles George left for a new challenge. During his time at Hull he’d played second fiddle to some of the most famous and successful English managers in the game but perhaps he wanted to be in charge of himself again.

George had been a player-manager at Evesham before he had even hit the age of 30. During his time there he’d helped to launch the career of players like future West Brom and England forward Jack Haines. He was used to being his own man. Still it was with some surprise that in 1955 he moved the short distance to take over the management of Goole Town of the Midland league. During his brief tenure George led the club to the third round of the FA Cup, their best ever result in that competition.  George’s time in Goole was short and by 1957 he was heading back to Ireland, but this time not to Dublin but to a new club from Cork.

A return to Hibernia

In 1957 yet another Cork football club went the way of the dodo, this time it was the short-lived Cork Athletic. Although they had won back to back titles and two FAI cups around the turn of the 50’s, and had even coaxed George Lax’s old boss Raich Carter out of retirement to lead them briefly as player-manager, by 1957 financial difficulties saw them withdraw from the League. Their spot was taken by another Cork based club, this time it was Cork Hibernians. Their first manager was to be George Lax.

A tough first season for the Hibernians finish bottom of the 12 team division but gradual progress was made in the following seasons with Hibs finishing 9th and then by 1959-60 up to 6th place. George had set up a comfortable life in Cork, he ran a physiotherapy practice in the city and was on a considerable salary of £1,000 a year to manage the team. However despite the steady progress Lax was making he left Cork Hibernians to return to Dublin and to Dalymount to take on a Bohs side that had finished bottom the previous two seasons. By the time he left the press credited him with having “moulded Cork Hibs into a first class side”. Lax took the reigns again at Bohemians for the beginning of the 1960-61 season, some 22 years after he had first arrived at Dalymount.

While the side that George had inherited in the late 30’s had some genuine stars like the O’Flanagan brothers, Fred Horlacher, “Pip” Meighan, Kevin Kerr and Billy Jordan. The side of the early 60’s unfortunately wasn’t so blessed and the drawbacks of the enforced amateur ethos at the club was being keenly felt. Some genuine greats of Bohs history were to join not long afterwards, most notably centre-half Willie Browne who would go on to win three Irish caps during his time in red and black and became captain of the club in only his second season.

After two seasons of propping up the table, including the 59-60 season where Bohs had finished without a single win and with a paltry five points there was some modest yet clear improvements under Lax. Bohs finished 11th out of 12th in his first season back in charge and 9th the year after. The following year however Bohs once again finished bottom in a reduced 10 team division and bottom again the following season (1963-64) as the division expanded again to 12 sides. Despite the initial improvements and the fact that he had helped bring through players like Browne, Billy Young, Mick Kearin and Larry Gilmore the club felt it was time for a significant change.

Lax left the club at the end of the 1963-64 season and the club directors finally agreed to the abolition of the 5 man selection committee that still picked the starting XI. Full control of team affairs was to be entrusted to a team manager for the first time and Phibsborough local Seán Thomas was given the reigns. Thomas’s talent and the additional authority invested in his role had the desired impact and Bohs finished the following season in 3rd place and saw the emergence of future Irish internationals like Jimmy Conway and Turlough O’Connor.

During his less successful second stay George remained true to his footballing philosophy. Unlike his mentor Major Buckley the focus on Lax’s teams was always on trying to play good football even on the boggy winter pitches of the League of Ireland. He told the Evening Herald that “there is no substitute for good football and it only will draw the crowds”. He had a focus on discipline and skill, players were instructed strictly to never argue with the referee, a practice that certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. In training his focus was always on improving touch and ball control, often preferring to organise 5-a-sides with various handicaps such as players only taking two touches or only using their weaker foot so as to build technique.  Practices that might now seem commonplace but were certainly ahead of their time for the league in the 1960’s. His commitment to this footballing ideal wasn’t even shaken during times of duress. Commenting after a heavy 6-0 defeat to a strong Drumcondra side Lax rejected the idea that his team should have tried to spoil or play more direct, stating simply “I’ve made it quite clear, I want them to play football all the time”. In many ways despite the struggles of the team in the early 60’s George Lax certainly seemed to try to embody the three golden rules of Bohemian F.C.  “never say die, keep the ball on the floor and the best defence is attack”.

After leaving the Bohs George’s services were quickly in demand. He was  signed up by St. Patrick’s Athletic to replace Ronnie Whelan Snr but he would spend only a season in Inchicore before quitting. He would later take on a physio role at Dundalk and later at Shelbourne where he was working well into his 60’s. He continued to run a physiotherapy practice in the Phibsboro area and treated many prominent GAA players and other athletes in his private practice.

Saint Saviours – searching for a Farrell

The above photograph features my grandfather and namesake Gerard Farrell. Well at least I think it does, I’m fairly sure he’s the guy in the back row, fourth from the left, standing next to the goalkeeper. The photo was found as with wider Farrell and Taylor clans sat in a pub in Cabra looking through various albums and mementos that had belonged to my grand-aunt Betty whose funeral we’d just attended that morning.

A close look at the crest on the jersey seems to confirm it is the now defunct Saint Saviours football team who were based around the Dominick Street area of Dublin’s north inner city. The crest relates back to the Dominican order and the impressive Saint Saviours church and priory complex that remain on Dominick Street to this day. The most notable success of Saint Saviours F.C. was their winning of the FAI Junior Cup in 1959 although the team would fold only a few years later.

My father played for Saint Saviours under-age sides in the 50’s before moving to Drumcondra F.C. and later Bohemians. From talking to both my Dad and my auntie Betty I know that my grandfather Gerard Farrell also played for Saint Saviours and was by all accounts a prolific centre-forward for them. This would have been somewhere roughly between 1937 and 1940. This would have been the era when the photo was taken.

Last week was the first time I’ve ever seen this photo. I don’t know of any other family connections who would have resulted in this photo ended up among my aunt’s belongings. I’d love to find out more about the members of this team and confirm for definite that it is my grandfather in the back row but there are so few people left who would remember or recognise members of a local side from more than 70 years ago.

If anyone does know more about the Saint Saviours team from this era, or indeed recognise and Farrell’s in the photo please do get in touch.

Update – March 2018

Saint Saviours 1933

Saint Saviours 1933 team names

My aunt passed on the above, even older photo. This is the St. Saviours team from the 1933-34 season complete with player names. This photo is from the Sodality Cup Final of 1933 played against Mountjoy Rangers. My grandfather, and namesake, Gerard Farrell was the team’s centre forward and he’s pictured in the middle row, second player from the left.

Also pictured in the back row wearing the shirt and tie on the very left is Matt O’Leary the team’s trainer, after whom the Matt O’Leary cup is named after. This competition is still played to this day in the Amateur football league in Dublin, the 2017 winners were Finglas United.

I’d love to hear more from anyone who has any other connections with those in the photo. Clearly visible is a Father Courtney, no doubt a priest in Dominick Street. Also part of the team appear to be a number of brothers, the Greers and the Ormsbys. If you know more please do get in touch.

Oh commemorate me where there’s football

Do we make a political statement when we as a society decide who to remember and who to forget, whose home or resting place is commemorated, and those who remained unmentioned? This is an argument as old as portraiture and statuary, but one that seems especially relevant today.

Beyond our shores, the ‘Rhodes must fall’ protest movement in South Africa, and more recently in Britain, has campaigned for the removal of statues depicting Cecil Rhodes, as part of a wider protest against institutional racial discrimination. Protests in the United States, especially in the south, have focused on the commemoration of Confederate icons of their Civil War. This has included groups calling for the removal of statues of figures such as Jefferson Davis, while also sparking some counter-protests from torch-wielding white supremacists. This has recently culminated in the outbreak of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia due to the local government’s decision to remove a statue of the Confederate General and slave-owner Robert E. Lee.

In Ireland the contested nature of symbols and artwork has been especially prominent in recent years. The 12th of July commemorations by sections of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland continue to be a highly sensitive issue with occasional flashpoints, while last year saw the huge state commemoration of the 1916 Rising. While there seemed to be broad public support for the tone and content of the commemorations, they have not been immune from criticism. The commemorative wall in Glasnevin Cemetery which listed all the dead from the Rising, and included not just Irish Volunteers and civilians but also British soldiers, was vandalised with paint only a few months ago. Similarly, the statue of Irish Republican Sean Russell that stands in Fairview Park has been repeatedly been vandalised over the years by various groups, including its decapitation, due to his wartime links with Nazi Germany and indeed the Soviet Union.

These historic events and personages are marked either by significant commemorative events, like the 12th of July “festivities” with marches and bonfires, or by physical monuments, like the remembrance wall in Glasnevin, or the statue of Russell. There is also much to be said about the nature of a society in showing who is not commemorated in word, art or celebration. The Tuam babies story, of over 800 children buried in an unmarked grave in a former septic tank has dominated public discussion and forced the nation into uncomfortable reflection about our recent past.  For decades, the remains of these babies and toddlers from the Sisters of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway, were disposed of as though they were detritus. It was only the work of local people, especially the meticulous research of amateur historian Catherine Corless that brought this story to national attention and meant that these deceased children could at least be remembered and perhaps suitably commemorated.

To try and consider all physical points of remembrance or indeed collective amnesia in a country, or even a city like Dublin would be a lifelong task, but living around Dublin 9 and having a particular interest I’ve decided to focus my modest talents on how our city commemorates something a little more trivial, though still important to many: its footballers.

Dublin has long been the hub for football in the Republic of Ireland, producing more international players than all other counties combined. Areas like Cabra or Ringsend could field full international XI’s out of players born in those suburbs alone. The city is also home to the main stadiums used for international matches, Lansdowne Road, which hosted its first football international in 1900, and Dalymount Park, home to Bohemian F.C. since 1901 and for many years the main home stadium for the Republic of Ireland national team after the FAI/IFA split in 1921. Other stadiums from the past and present such as Drumcondra’s Tolka Park and Glenmalure Park in Milltown also feature prominently in Irish football history. Yet the sport has also seemed controversial to some, viewed as an un-Irish, “garrison game” that was not truly representative of a post independent Ireland. My focus is on who and what we as a supposedly football-loving city have chosen to commemorate.

Plaque build-up

From a quick examination, the commemoration of football in Dublin street signs and plaques is fairly limited to ex-Ireland internationals of prominence, or those sites associated with the creation of the most well-known city clubs.

In terms of playing personnel, there are three men commemorated publicly that I could find; John Giles, Liam Whelan and Patrick O’Connell. Giles, who was the first of these three to receive a commemorative plaque, is also the youngest of the three and the only one still alive. His plaque is located in Ormond Square, Dublin 7, just off the city quays close to the house where he was born.

Giles collage
John Giles Irish International Footballer was born and raised in Ormond Square – Heroes come from here

The square of houses surrounds a playground area and, appropriately, the plaque is mounted on a low wall surrounding this space. It was unveiled in 2006 and the intention of the message seems to aim as inspiration for children living in this part of the city. It seems to suggest that if Johnny Giles could make it as an elite player for Manchester United and Leeds United, play for and manage Ireland then the future should likewise be wide open for other children from this area.

Giles is of course something of a national institution, rightfully regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players. He also managed Ireland for seven years, and later became known to successive generations due to his extended service as a newspaper, radio and television football pundit through the many highs and lows of the Irish national team.

Giles seems to still be held in affection by the vast majority of Irish football fans despite his playing or managerial involvement ending almost 40 years ago. As a player he was one of our most technically gifted and sought to encourage a more expansive style of play when Irish manager. He found success in England as a cup winner with Manchester United before his move to Leeds United, where he won two league titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and two Fairs/Uefa cups.

Liam Whelan bridge
Liam Whelan Bridge, Connaught Street, Cabra, Dublin 7

Not a great distance from either of the two spots in Dublin that John Giles called home stands a plaque to another ex-Manchester United star, Liam Whelan. The plaque in question is on the east side of a bridge that links Connaught Street across the old railway lines, now part of the extended Luas green route, to Fassaugh Road. The bridge has been known as Liam Whelan Bridge since an act of Dublin City Council gave it that name in 2006. It’s is a fitting location, as the bridge is just a few seconds walk from St. Attracta Road, where Liam was born.

While Liam was an exceptional player, a back to back league winner with the stylish Manchester United side of the mid-fifties, it is more his tragic death in the Munich air disaster at the tender age of 22 for which he is most remembered. Whelan made but 98 first team appearances for Manchester United and won only 4 four senior caps for Ireland, two of those appearances made in Dalymount Park, located just yards from the bridge that bears his name.

Then as now, Manchester United were a hugely popular team in Ireland. They had been captained to FA Cup glory in 1948 by Irish international Johnny Carey, and a year later 48,000 fans packed out Dalymount Park for a testimonial match for Bohemians’ legendary trainer Charlie Harris, between Bohemians and Man Utd .

The “Busby Babes” team were famed not just for their youth but for the appealing, attacking style of football they played. Liam had been their top scorer when they won their second consecutive title in the 1956-57 season, scoring 33 goals in all competitions. His loss, and that of his team-mates symbolised the unfulfilled potential of a group of young men cut down before even reaching their prime.

Patrick O'Connell
Patrick O’Connell plaque at 87 Fitzroy Avenue, Dublin

The most recently unveiled football related plaque in Dublin City is in remembrance of Patrick O’Connell. He was born in Dublin in 1887, growing up on Fitzroy Avenue in Drumcondra, just a stones throw from Croke Park. Patrick was a successful footballer for Belfast Celtic before moving across the Irish Sea with spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United. He also made six appearances for the Irish national team and was a member of the victorious Home Nations Championship winning side of the 1913-14 season, Ireland’s first victory in the competition.

Despite a relatively successful and eventful playing career (captaining Manchester United, becoming embroiled in a betting scandal, winning the Home Nations), O’Connell is best remembered for his managerial achievements. He began his managerial career as  player-manager with Ashington before moving to Spain in 1922. During more than 25 years in Spain he managed a host of clubs, including Racing Santander, Real Oviedo, Barcelona and both of the major Seville clubs; Real Betis and Sevilla. O’Connell even lead Betis to their sole league title in the 1934-35 season. Strangely, despite the influence of Irish players and managers in Britain, this is success is more recent than the last time an Irish manager won the League in England, Belfast’s Bob Kyle with Sunderland in 1913.

O’Connell is revered as a hero in Betis for this championship victory, and is similarly lauded in Barcelona as the man who saved the club from going bankrupt during the tumult of the Spanish Civil War by arranging a series of lucrative foreign tours that kept both the club coffers full and the players out of harm’s way.

The tireless activities of O’Connell’s descendants and enthusiasts has meant that this previously forgotten footballing pioneer is now commemorated not only in Dublin but in Seville, Barcelona, Belfast and in London where he is buried. The efforts of this small group has seen television and radio documentaries commissioned as well as a biography being published. In this regard O’Connell is the 3rd Manchester United player commemorated in Dublin, but the only manager. His unique achievements in Spain and his crucial role in the history of Barcelona setting him apart in an Irish footballing context.

Pubs, clubs and housing estates

Many League of Ireland fans understandably feel that our domestic game gets a raw deal in wider Irish society, and with the FAI and the Irish media in particular. John Delaney’s description of the league as the “problem child” of Irish football only seemed to confirm this to the die-hard supporters of clubs around the country. However, it was not always thus. In the early days of the FAI, domestic clubs held significant sway and grandees of League of Ireland sides made up many of the committees of the FAI, including the selection committees for the national team.

Dublin has always been at the forefront of the game in this country. Again, the capital alone has comfortably provided more international players than every other county combined and the Dublin clubs have generally tended to be among the predominant clubs in the league, regardless of the era.

Upon creation of the Free State League in 1921 after the split from the IFA, the entirety of the eight-team division were Dublin based clubs. Prior to that, the only non-Ulster based clubs to compete in the Irish league came from the capital. Bohemian F.C. and Shelbourne, two clubs formed in the 1890s who remain in existence today and both their founding locations are commemorated.

Gate lodge
The gate lodge at the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park. Bohemian FC were founded here in 1890.

Bohemian F.C. were founded on the 6th September 1890 in the Gate Lodge at the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park. Those forming the club were young men in their late teens from Bells Academy, a civil service college in North Great Georges Street, and students from the Hibernian Military School, also located in the Phoenix Park.Gate lodge plaque The early matches of the club were played on the nearby Polo grounds. By 1894 the club had its first major piece of silverware, the Leinster Senior Cup, defeating Dublin University 3-0 in the final. It was to be the first of six consecutive victories in the competition. Less than two years after that first victory John Fitzpatrick became the first Bohs player to be capped at international level, captaining Ireland on his debut against England.

The club continued to grow, purchasing Pisser Dignam’s field in Phibsboro as their new home ground. Dalymount Park, named after the nearby line of terrace houses remains the club’s home to this day. It also played host to dozens of cup finals and hundreds of international matches. Bohemians were founder members of the Free State league, becoming champions for the first time in 1923-24. The club have proceeded to win the title on a further ten occasions.

Shels collage
Shelbourne F.C. plaque on Slattery’s Pub


Shelbourne were founded in what is now Slattery’s Pub at the corner of South Lotts Road, Bath Avenue and Shelbourne Road in 1895 by a group of dock workers from the local Ringsend/Sandymount area. Their name was reportedly decided upon by a coin toss between the various nearby streets. By the 1902-03 season they were champions of the Leinster Senior League and by 1905 they had become one of the first Dublin clubs to begin paying players, with James Wall receiving the princely sum of a halfpenny per week!

Paying players seemed to pay dividends because by 1906 the had become the first side from outside of Ulster to win the IFA Cup beating Belfast Celtic in the final. Other triumphs would follow and to date Shelbourne have won 13 league titles and seven FAI Cups.


Commemorating the founding of Shamrock Rovers in 1901. The building is located on Irishtown Road.

Shamrock Rovers, as with Shelbourne mentioned above, took their name from a street in the local area around Ringsend, in this case Shamrock Avenue. The street as it was then no longer remains, but is roughly located where the Square is today, a small side street off Irishtown Road. The first home ground of the nascent Rovers was Ringsend Park, just to the rear of Shamrock Avenue. The club was formed at a meeting held at number 4 Irishtown Road, the home of Lar Byrne, the first secretary of Shamrock Rovers. The plaque shown above commemorates this event, and can be found on Irishtown Road near to the corner with the Square, opposite the Ringsend public library.

Ringsend map collage
Irishtown Road past and present

Ringsend Park would not remain Shamrock Rovers’ permanent home for too long, as the club moved to a number of grounds in their early years and withdrew for competitive football completely on a number of occasions. However, by the early 20s, they were on the rise. They finished as runners-up in the inaugural FAI Cup final in 1921, and would win the league title a year later. By late 1926, Rovers had begun playing their matches in Glenmalure Park on the Milltown Road, and they had been playing on other pitches nearby in the years immediately preceding 1926. Glenmalure Park would remain Rovers’ home until 1987, when it was finally sold for redevelopment as a housing estate by the club’s owner, Louis Kilcoyne. The Rovers support had strongly opposed this move, and formed the pressure group KRAM (Keep Rovers At Milltown) to fight this decision. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful and the intervening years would see Rovers lead a peripatetic existence, moving to Tolka Park, Dalymount Park, the RDS and Morton Stadium amongst others, before finally relocating to their present home in Tallaght in 2009.

Glenmalure Park retains a strong significance for Rovers fans, and more than a decade after leaving, a monument commemorating their time on the Milltown Road was unveiled in 1998. In credit to Shamrock Rovers, a particularly active brand of their support have been prominent in recording and marking their heritage and history, not just with the plaque above, but also with initiatives like the fundraising for a new headstone for their former striker Paddy Moore.

Monument collage
Monument to Glenmalure Park on the Milltown Road at the former site of the stadium

This is pretty much the sum total of the football commemorations that I could find, although I would appreciate any other suggestions. For clarity I’ve excluded and plaques, monuments and such that exist within football grounds and clubhouses. A quick review shows that despite the long football heritage of the city, very little of this is marked physically.

Statues of other sports stars adorn other parts of the country, from the recently unveiled statue of Sonia O’Sullivan in Cobh, to numerous GAA stars remembered in bronze in other parts of the country, hurlers Nicky Rackard in Wexford Town and Ollie Walsh in Thomastown being two personal favourites. There is a statue of Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros at Heritage golf club in Co. Laois, and even our four-legged friends have been immortalised, with the legendary racing greyhound Mick the Miller getting pride of place in the centre of Killeigh, Co. Offaly and another of his ancestor Master McGrath just outside Dungarvan. In terms of football, there is a statue of big Jack Charlton in Cork Airport, but if you didn’t know him as the former Irish manager you might think it commemorates a noted angler.

So what have we learned? In Dublin, to be a footballer and receive a physical commemoration, it really helps if you’ve played for Manchester United! Apart from the three mentioned above, the city’s three biggest clubs are all remembered at their places of birth, while Rovers’ home ground at their peak has also been commemorated in granite and bronze. Perhaps Tolka Park will receive similar treatment if and when it is redeveloped? I for one would certainly hope so.

I’ll end on one final commemorative plaque. This one is on Parnell Square East and marks the birth place of the inimitable Oliver St. John Gogarty. The plaque commemorates Gogarty as a Surgeon, Poet and Statesman. Plenty more terms could be added. He was the inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and he was also a fine sportsman, in swimming, cricket and indeed football. Gogarty was a Bohemian F.C. player from 1896 until at least 1898 and featured as a forward in the clubs first XI. It may not be as a footballer that he is best remembered but it was certainly another string to his bow.Gogarty2

Ernie Crawford he’s our friend

Regular attendees to Dalymount Park may have noticed a new flag appearing around Block F. It features a bare chested man with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and bears the legend Ernie Crawford – He’s our friend, he hates Rovers. But who, you may ask was Ernie Crawford?

Born in Belfast in November 1891 Ernie was perhaps best known for his endeavours on the Rugby pitch. He starred for Malone in Belfast and later Lansdowne Rugby Club and won 30 caps for Ireland, fifteen of them as Captain between 1920 and 1927. After retirement he was heavily involved in administration as President of Lansdowne Rugby Club between 1939 and 1941 and President of the IRFU in the 1957/58 season as well as being an Irish team selector between 1943 and 1951 and again between 1955-1957. His obituary in the Irish Times listed him as one of the greatest rugby full-backs of all time, he was honoured for his contribution to sport by the French government and even featured on a Tongan stamp celebrating rugby icons.

He was also a successful football player who turned out for Cliftonville, for Bohemians and on a number of occasions for Athlone Town. He was even a passable cricket player. Ernie was a chartered accountant by trade and moved to Dublin to take up the role of accountant at the Rathmines Urban Council in 1919, and this facilitated his joining Bohemians. Despite his greater reputation as a rugby player, Ernie, as a footballer for Bohs, was still considered talented enough to be part of the initial national squad selected by the FAIFS (now the FAI) for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. In all, six Bohemians were selected (Bertie Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Christy Robinson, John Thomas & Johnny Murray were the others and were trained by Bohs’ Charlie Harris), but when the squad had to be cut to only 16 players Ernie was dropped, though he chose to accompany the squad to France as a reserve. The fact that he was born in Belfast may have led to him being cut due to the tension that existed with the FAIFS and the IFA over player selection. However, even as a travelling supporter, he caused some controversy. He was stopped by customs officials en route to Paris and had to explain the presence of a revolver in his possessions. Ernie’s reply was merely that he brought the gun for his “piece of mind”. Not that this was Ernie’s first experience with firearms.

Crawford collage
Ernie in military uniform, appearing on a Tongan postage stamp and in rugby kit

Ernie had served and been injured during the First World War. That he could captain the Irish Rugby Team and be selected for the Olympics is even more impressive when you consider that during the Great War Ernie was shot in the wrist at Arras, France in 1917 causing him to be invalided from the Army and to lose the power in three of his fingers. He had enlisted in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons in October 1914 and was commissioned and later posted to the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), becoming a Lieutenant in August 1917. After his injury he finished his war service on the staff of the Ministry of Munitions. He was a recipient of both the British War medal and Victory Medal.

Ernie later returned to Belfast where he became City Treasurer in 1933. It was in Belfast in 1943 that Ernie encountered Bohs again, as he was chosen to present the Gypsies with the Condor Cup after their victory over Linfield in the annual challenge match.

One of the reasons that his memory has lasted nearly a century with the Bohemians faithful and why a group of us decided to get a flag made up bearing his image centres around a minor cup tie. Ernie, due to his Rugby and also his professional commitments tended to not be a regular starter for Bohemians, his appearances tended to be because of the injury or suspension of other players or as part of reduced strength sides in smaller cup competitions.

As we all know however, when it comes to games against Rovers there are no “smaller ties”. After one particularly tough cup game against Shamrock Rovers an angry Crawford removed his jersey challenged Rovers star forward Bob Fullam to a fight in the middle of the pitch. It’s this moment that the image on the flag imagines!

Fullam himself was no shrinking violet, as well as being an accomplished footballer who was capped twice by Ireland he supplemented his income as a docker in Dublin Port. He finished the 1922 FAI Cup final amid a mass brawl after Rovers were beaten by St. James Gate. The fighting only ceased when the brother of the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall reportedly confronted Fullam with a pistol.

Ernie himself seemed to have been one of those “larger than life” characters, quite aside from bringing a gun to the Olympics and bare-chested on-pitch scraps he also fell foul of Rugby referees one of whom complained about Crawford’s back-chat and claimed that such was the roughness of his play “that the definition of a “tackle” should be sent in black and white to him”. On another occassion an English rugby opponent remembers Crawford treating him and his wife to dinner and giving them a lift back in his car which didn’t happen to have any working headlights. Ernie in an attempt to beat traffic tried to get between a tram and the pavement without much success, badly denting the side of his car and scratching up the paintwork of the tram car. The angry tram driver jumped from the vehicle but on recognising that the other driver was non other than Irish rugby captain Ernie Crawford he let the car pass unhindered, taking off more paint as he went.

In 1932 he became the first man from Britain or Ireland to be awarded the silver medal of honour by the French ministry of sport and physical education for his contributions to the world of sport. Apart from sport he was obviously professionally successful, being City Treasurer of Belfast until his retirement in 1954, he was also trained as a barrister and took an interest in economics. He died in 1959 and was survived by his wife and three children.

Ernie Crawford, he’s our friend.


Useful resources on Ernie’s career include Paul Rouse’s History of Irish Sport, Tadhg Carey’s When we were Kings and David Needham’s Ireland’s first real World Cup and the Dictionary of Irish biography.

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.

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.

Drums v Glentoran
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”.

Drums Matthews3
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 remarkable life 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 Henry Otto, the versatile Bohemians half-back, better known as Billy, who captained the team.

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 surname, without having the 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 as his story developed it brought me on quite an unexpected journey.

What we know about Billy Otto begins with his birth in December of 1898, son of another William Henry Otto, in Robben Island just off Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is most famous for being the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years from the 1960’s to 1980’s. However in 1898 it was a leper colony. William Henry Otto Snr. was a pharmacist which explains his presence on the island, though it was hardly the ideal place for a new born baby as part of the growing family. Billy being the 2nd born of a large family of 10 children.

In 1915, before he had even reached his 17th birthday young Billy had volunteered to join the 1st South African Infantry Regiment and was off to fight in World War I under the command of Brigadier General Henry Lukin. The Regiment was part of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force which was a volunteer military organisation that fought on the British side against the Central Powers during the war. Billy’s regiment was colloquially known as the “Cape Regiment” as this was the area that provided the bulk of their manpower.

Early on the regiment fought along with the British in North Africa and Billy was involved in the Action of Agagia in Egypt in February 1916 as part of what was known as the Senussi campaign. The Senussi were a religious sect based in Libya and Egypt who had been encouraged by Ottoman Turkey to attack the British. The engagement at Agagia led to the capture of one of the Senussi leaders.

But by May 1916 the 1st South African Infantry had left Africa and had been transferred to Europe and the Western Front and where they were joined into the 9th Scottish Division. They would take part in some of the many epic and bloody engagements of the Battle of the Somme at Longueval and at Delville Wood. Brigadier-General Henry Lukin and his South African troops were ordered to take and hold Delville Wood at all costs. The battle was for a tiny and ultimately insignificant sliver of land as part of the huge Somme offensive and began on 15th July of 1916. By the 18th of July Billy had been injured in a massive German counter-offensive, the Germans shelled the small section of the Wood for seven and a half hours and over the course of day, in an area less than one square mile, 20,000 shells fell. One account described the trees of the woodland being turned to matchsticks by the end of the bombardment.

The South African soldiers would continue to be shelled and sniped at from three sides until the July 20th when suffering from hunger, thirst and exhaustion they were led out of the wood. The Battle of Deville Wood would be the most costly action that the South African forces on the Western Front would endure, of the 3,153 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 780 were present at the roll call after their relief.

Deville Wood South African National Memorial (source wikipedia)

The injured Billy would ultimately be sent to England to recuperate and it is likely that from here he got the idea to travel to Ireland. What prompted this we simply don’t yet know.

What we do know is that 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 that year with the club also finishing as League runners-up the following year, he would also become a member of the club committee. 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 return to 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 list 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.

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.

Billy had lived out his days in his native Cape Town, he and Chriss had three sons, another William Henry, Brian Barry and Terrence John. Whatever about his interest in bloodstock and horse racing Billy also had other business interests running an off-licence (locally known as “bottle stores”) up to the time of his death in 1958. In just 60 years he had led quite the life and defied the odds in many ways. Born in a leper colony, as a teenager he had survived the horrors of the Somme to go on and become one of the first prominent South African born footballers in Europe. He captained his club to a League title and faced off against the national team of his home nation in one of their earliest games. He built a life, friendships and family across two continents and I hope I’ve done a small part in restoring him to the consciousness of the Bohemian fraternity.

With thanks to Simon O’Gorman and Stephen Burke for their assistance and input and a special thank you to Maryanne and all of the Otto/Calitz family for sharing information about their late grandfather.