Without a doubt, C.S Andrews penned one of my favourite books.
Dublin Made Me covers two lives. One, the life and memories of a Dublin youth. The other, a life within the revolutionary movement, serving as adjutant to Liam Lynch during the traumatic Irish Civil War. On reading it, I was struck by Andrews account of the day he made his Confirmation, at the Holy Faith in Dominick Street.
Anyway, on the great day, my mind was more preoccupied with football than with religion because my father had promised to take me to a cup match that afternoon between Bohemians and Shelbourne at Dalymount Park and I was afraid that the ceremony would not finish on time.
At the time, as Andrews noted, Shelbourne and Bohemian F.C were the only senior soccer clubs in the city, and he notes that “the people on the south side followed Shelbourne” He went on to write that the supporters and indeed players of the game were “..exclusively of the lower middle and working classes.” Men would travel north to see one of the Dublin sides take on Linfield, Belfast Celtic, Glentoran, Distillery, Cliftonville or Derry Celtic. These were the first ‘Away Days’, the roots of what we still do today.
Football has a habit of popping up in any account of growing up in Dublin. A love of the beautiful game was not only to be found among native Dubliners, but within immigrant communities too. Nick Harris touched on the love of the game in the Jewish community of ‘Little Jerusalem’, as Clanbrassil Street became known. His account of growing up there, Dublin’s Little Jerusalem ,is a Dublin classic. The local lads, he noted, tended to follow Shamrock Rovers. In the book he recounts stories of away trips, noting his brothers would follow the Hoops all over Ireland.
Once in Sligo, when Rovers were playing Sligo they were leading one goal to nil and Sligo were awarded a penalty. As the Sligo man was about to take the kick, Hymie(his older brother) jumped over the fence and kicked the ball away from the spot.
The Jewish youth evem established a team among themselves, naming it New Vernon, a nod to a “Jewish club that played in Dublin some years earlier”. They played frequently in the Phoenix Park, and Harris noted that the team “… played some great matches with various non-Jewish teams, and we were often applauded by people who stopped to watch the game.” Recently when passing through what was once the Jewish area of Dublin, I spotted a child kicking a football against a wall and was reminded of this tale. Harris also remembered a raid on the house next door by Black and Tans in 1921. The family next door were the Clery’s, one of whom was a footballer for Bohs. “From the noise that was going on, it sounded as though they were playing football” he noted. They were, with a football they found in one of the rooms.
Today, there remains a Football Association of Ireland Cup named after Oscar Traynor, a leading figure of the revolutionary years, who went on to become Minister for Defence. His Witness Statement to the Bureau of Military History runs to 86 pages and makes for fascinating reading. Traynor had been a goalkeeper for Belfast Celtic, even touring Europe with the side.
His statement begins almost with this excellent line.
I was connected with football up to that and I broke with football when I saw that there was something serious pending.
Traynor would even go on to become the President of the F.A.I. In the context of the 1916 Rising, another member of the G.P.O garrison with a love of football was of course James Connolly, a keen supporter of Hibernian Football Club.
Still, the love of a few famous rebels for the game didn’t help to deter the image of the sport as little but a ‘garrison game’, not least among the Gaelic Athletic Association. An Irish Times report of January 23 1929, reported one speaker at a GAA convention stating that
The atmosphere connected with Rugby and ‘soccer’ was inimical to Irish nationalism, and it would be very unwise to remove the ban at this stage
One speaker went one further, arguing that removing the GAA ban on the playing of ‘foreign sports’ would amount to treachery.
Mr. Murphy, Clarecastle, said that they would be deserting the Gaels in the six counties if they remove the ban.
In Derry, things were even more hysteric, and the Beautiful Game came in for a thrasing at a GAA convention there in January, 1930. So too did ‘jazz dancing’. When they weren’t having a go at the jazz dancing, they were accusing GAA players of attending soccer matches.
A meeting of the County Board was held prior to the Convention, the special business being consideration of a report from the Vigilance Committee, who reported players for attending soccer matches.
One player admitted attending the match in question, but said he did so at the request of his club, to see if other members or players were present.
The love for the game spans class-lines too. While still no doubt a past-time most popular among and associated with the working class of Dublin, the game has a much broader appeal. One of my favourite football images is the one below, showing a combined University team (UCD and Trinity) who faced Bohemian F.C in December 1930. Both Universities still have football teams of their own, with the UCD team competiting at the highest level in the state.
The years 1890, 1901, 1929 and 1895 are landmark years for different areas of Dublin, marking the establishment of local institutions. Long before us generations kicked footballs around laneways and street corners.
Nobody ever minded us playing and no one taught us how to play- we just picked up the game naturally. I am sure that is the only way to learn football and I would be surprised if the skills of Pele, Puskas, Best and Eusebio had any other kind of foundation.
Well said C.S Andrews, well said.