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.

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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 was 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 Europe and the Western Front and 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. In one account the trees of the woodland were all 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, of the 3,153 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 780 were present at the roll call after their relief.

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.

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.

Check out Gerry Farrell’s “A Bohemian Sporting Life” blog.

Bendigo

BOHEMIANS AND BROTHERS IN ARMS – THE ROBINSONS

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

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Free State Champions

HARRY WILLITS – THE DARLING OF DALYMOUNT

When Harry Willits finished his first season as Bohemian captain in spring 1916 he had other major responsibilities on his mind. He had joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in late 1915 “for the duration of the war” and soon he would be sent to the western front in France during the Battle of the Somme.

He had followed his friends and several Bohemian colleagues in signing up for the army. His choice was the Commercial Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, established to cater for young men of the “commercial class” and farmers.

Willits was not the military type, according to his daughter Audrey, still living in the family home aged 93. But English-born and a civil servant, he moved in circles where enlisting for military service would have been regarded as a matter of duty.

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Harry Willits

Bohemians at Easter 1916

In April 1916 Bohemians were coming to the end of a season disrupted by war, but in which they were rewarded yet again with the Leinster Senior Cup, their fifteenth win in twenty years. It took two attempts to secure the trophy from old rivals, Shelbourne. The first was on St Patrick’s Day, a scoreless draw watched by 6,000 spectators, the second on 1st April.

No Dublin clubs took part in the Irish League that season due to the war and several Bohemian players had enlisted with the army. But the club insisted that football should continue and they managed to maintain Dalymount Park as a playing pitch when some rugby and cricket grounds were taken over for relief works.

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Half-back Josh Rowe was with the East Surrey Regiment and was wounded many times. At the end of March he was reported to be returning to duty after convalescence and, it was said, “he hopes to play football again”. Full-back J.J. Doyle had joined the Officer Training Corps in early 1916 but got leave to play for Bohemians in the Irish Cup semi-final, which Bohemians lost to Glentoran in Belfast.

Also involved in that cup campaign was outside-left Harry Willits, who was team captain in 1915-16. An English-born civil servant, he played during 1916 both for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers’ regimental team and for Bohemians. By the start of the next season, however, he was at the war front with the Dublin Fusiliers and in November 1916 was reported as wounded. He survived and was back with Bohemians in 1917-18.

Bohemians’ squad in 1916, coached by the everlasting Charlie Harris, included two internationals, Billy McConnell and Johnny McDonnell, whose 1915 Irish shirt hangs today in the JJ Bar at Dalymount Park.
Others included regular goal-scorers Ned Brooks and Dinny Hannon, and defender Bert Kerr, who had joined in 1915 and was to have a notable career with Bohemians, including as team captain. He also had a remarkable career as a pioneer in the Irish bloodstock industry.

On Easter Monday 1916, a Bohemian team travelled to Athlone to play an end-of-season friendly, as they had done for several years. So friendly was it that McDonnell and Hannon played for Athlone, in a team that included several army officers. (Hannon later won the Free State Cup with Athlone Town.)

Neither team can have been aware of what was happening in Dublin as they played their game in bad weather (3-2 for Bohemians) and were later entertained at the Imperial Hotel and at a dance at the Commercial Quadrille Class. “The Bohemians expressed themselves highly pleased with their visit,” the Westmeath Independent reported.

However, the trip was to end less pleasantly for the Bohemian team. Due to the Rising, train services were disrupted from Mullingar, and they had to arrange car transport back to the capital.
Their late return was reported in the Irish Times among the repercussions of the Rising: “Some of the [Bohemian team] members who lived on the south side of the city had to stay in Phibsborough for the [Wednesday] night and, after walking via Islandbridge, Kilmainham, Goldenbridge, Rialto, Crumlin and Dolphin’s Barn, these did not get home until Friday (April 28), at 1.30 p.m.”

While the Bohemian party were concerned about getting back to the city from Athlone the rebels were worried about the arrival of British Army reinforcements from the same location. Many of the sites occupied by the rebels were chosen for their ability to delay the troops coming into the city, most notably the engagement with the Sherwood Foresters at Mount Street bridge.

In Phibsborough members of B Company of the Dublin Brigade built barricades on the railway bridges on the Cabra Road and North Circular Road close to St. Peter’s Church. They even went as far as to try and blow up both bridges with gelignite.

While B Company was able to hold off a number of attacks from small arms and machine gun-fire, the arrival of artillery onto the Cabra Road (outside what is now the Deaf Village) and the use of shrapnel-loaded shells raining down on the bridges just yards from Dalymount Park and as far down as Doyle’s Corner meant that the Volunteers could not hold their positions. A number of civilians were killed by over-shooting shells, while 15-year-old Fianna Éireann scout Shay Healy was shot dead outside his Phibsborough home.

The rebels eventually abandoned their positions hoping to link up with Thomas Ashe in Finglas but by the time they got there he and his men had already left for Meath and the Battle of Ashbourne. Many of B Company found their way back into the city and some joined the garrison in the GPO and then Moore Street.

While there is no record of Bohemians fighting with the 1916 rebels, some Bohemians did work in the British administration during that period. Highest-placed of these was founder member Andrew P. Magill. He was an 18-year-old clerk in the Land Commission when he attended the club’s first meeting, and later a clerk in the office of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He rose to become private secretary to Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell, who resigned in May 1916 after failing to predict or take preventative action to stop the Rising. Magill later worked in the post-partition civil service of Northern Ireland.

While Magill was serving the Chief Secretary, fellow-Bohemian Joe Irons, an army reserve who was called up when World War 1 broke out, was posted to the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, to what is now Áras an Úachtaráin, to protect the Viceroy.

In later articles we will look further into the life and career of Harry Willits, report on other Bohemians who fought in World War 1, and tell the stories of some Bohemians who were IRA volunteers in the War of Independence.

Bohemians in Easter 1916

Dalymount days: Identity crises in the home of Irish football 1914-1939

While speaking at a public event of the Blizzard football journal in Dublin, esteemed French football journalist Philippe Auclair remarked on the “schizophrenic” nature of the modern Irish football fan’s mentality. This analysis of the current state-of-play is entirely accurate. In truth, the most common popular expression of football supporter identity in Ireland is to wear a premier league replica shirt to the pub. Football’s mass-culture in Ireland grew out of a similar process.

Advocates of the League of Ireland were dismayed that the summer obsession with football during Italia ’90 did not lead to a bounce in attendance figures, despite virtually nothing being done to attract newly converted fans to their clubs.

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The decline of the League of Ireland continued throughout the nineties as the national team captured the nation’s imagination while elite English club football commercialised at an unprecedented rate. Ireland was a ripe football market which SKY TV conquered with ease.

Placing this surge in the popularity of football in Ireland within the same ‘post-national’ category as Australia and the USA, Richard Giulianotti noted that football’s new cultural and social importance emerged in the post-modern era, after the modern process of nation-building had been completed. Codified indigenous sports were integral to the nation-building processes, to which football made no meaningful contribution. While this theory does carry some legitimacy in an international context, it is ignorant of the vibrant football subculture that carved out a proud, engaged and distinctive identity in Ireland prior to the Jack Charlton era.

This ‘niche’ identity was often marginalised and trivialised by those who did not subscribe to it. By the mid-twentieth century, the Irish communities in which football was the dominant sport were predominantly urban, working-class and fanatical about their game. Remnants of this identity are evident in the modern day League of Ireland supporter; who generally still conforms to the above categories, while becoming increasingly isolated and derided in their obsession. Dalymount Park was the home of this football subculture.

The role of the British military establishment in the early development of association football in Ireland led to the term ‘garrison game’ being coined to express popular nationalist resentment towards the sport. Michael Cusack, founding father of the GAA, epitomised this attitude when he derided “the foreign faction, the orange Catholics [and] the West Britons” who played football in the Phoenix Park. Prior to competitive structures being put in place in Leinster, Bohemians had played one-off fixtures against army regiments in order to measure their progress against the highest standard of available opposition. Military teams also took part in the earliest organised competitions in the province. Reflecting this elevated social status, soldiers in uniform often received discounts of half the admission price for marquee fixtures, as was the case for the Leinster Senior Cup final in 1893.

While military recruitment during World War one was at its most intense in the north-east of Ireland, the football community around Dublin appears to have been a bulk supplier to the front. Bohemians were said to have lost up to forty playing members to the war and their stand-out player, Irish international forward Harold Sloan, was killed in action near the Somme in January1917. Dalymount Park hosted fundraising events for the care of convalescent soldiers during this period. In July 1915, wounded soldiers were transported from hospitals around Dublin and various games were provided for their entertainment on the pitch.

The general public attended a musical programme provided by military bands and the day was concluded with a rendition of God save the king. In May 1917, a football game between representative sides from Leinster and the Army played in Dalymount for the same benevolent fund. The custom of soldiers in uniform paying half the admission fee was still a feature at this time. These fundraising activities persisted despite events in the capital during the previous Easter.

The semantics of Dublin football identity in the period before 1918 were aligned to the outward respectability of the middle-class environment which provided its genesis. In this scenario, pioneering clubs such as Bohemians were founded by playing members from prestigious educational establishments who embarked on their missionary project with remarkable ambition. There was a measure of conformity to the existing civic and military structures centred on Dublin Castle evident in their actions. It is crucial to note, however, that the ethno-religious composition of its members was as varied a mix as Dublin could provide at that time. The subsequent life-paths of the club’s founder members indicated deeply divergent political views on the contemporary issues dividing Ireland.

The growth in popularity of football among Dublin’s working classes forms an important backdrop to this scenario. There were strong working class traditions of military service among families in Dublin and military patronage of the game may not have been as divisive an issue in the city as in other parts of the country. The 1913 Lockout had been a traumatic recent experience which had scarred memories and soured class relations in the capital. Dublin’s working class also had to endure the worst housing conditions in the United Kingdom; 23 per cent of the city’s population living in one room tenements of varying degrees of squalor. Dublin was an unpredictable city of delicately balanced social tensions; defined by class inequality, religious difference and prone to spectacular outbursts of violence.

In October 1919, while Ulster were inflicting a heavy 5-0 defeat upon Leinster during an inter-provincial tie at Dalymount, a section of the home support invaded the pitch from behind the goal and attacked at least one of the opposing players. According to the referee’s report, the visiting Ulster players were forced to jump over fences into the reserved enclosure in order to avoid the invading crowd. The implications of social class in these disturbances are self-evident.

Dalymount Park was designed by Scottish stadium architect Archibald Leitch, who counted landmark grounds such as Anfield, Highbury, Celtic Park, Goodison, Villa Park and White Hart Lane amongst his portfolio. Dalymount was a modest example of the classic British stadium design of this era in which social ethnology was incorporated into the layout of the ground; it featured banks of open terraces to accommodate the working classes while directors and middle-class spectators were annexed in the expensive seats. Ulster players instinctively scrambled for safety into this section of the ground to escape the incoherent wrath of a violent rabble.

The administration of Irish football split irreparably in 1921 along geo-political lines consistent with the new states of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. It is not possible to investigate the political complexities of this split within the confines of this paper. However, Mark Tynan has provided a systematic analysis of this process in his PhD thesis Association football and Irish society during the inter-war period, 1918-1939 in which a general pattern of mutual distrust, financial disagreements and sensitivity to perceived slights can be observed. Throughout these disputes, over-assertive declarations of apolitical stances and posturing barely concealed the political undertones.
The subservient nature of the relationship between the Irish FA in Belfast and its Leinster counterpart was entirely inconsistent with the expectations of self-determination which were at the forefront of the emerging Irish Free State psyche. It is virtually impossible to imagine a scenario in which the socio-political ‘norms’ of that era would have respected any constituent body which surrendered all expectations of executive control over its own affairs.

Association football in the Irish Free State already had a compromising historical relationship with the British army to contend with. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the newly constituted Football Association of the Irish Free State’s pursuit of international legitimacy abroad was mirrored by its struggle to seek acceptance at home. The FAIFS aimed to achieve this by aligning its identity with that of the emerging polity, its sphere of geographical influence and the tri-colour flag.

Despite these difficulties, there is little doubt that football culture had become entrenched in the social fabric of working-class Dublin. In April 1931, the city was deeply affected by the tragic death of a young football player from injuries sustained on the Dalymount pitch. Gerard O’ Sullivan was a twenty-two year old clerk employed at Dublin Corporation from Ballybough Road who was playing in his third game for Bohemians when he suffered a clash of heads with an opposing player. Although he continued playing after the incident, he soon left the field and watched the remainder of the match with his father in the stand. Unaware of the gravity of his injuries, one report stated that both men went for tea after the game in the club gym.

O’Sullivan was brought to Jervis Street Hospital that evening as the extent of his concussion became apparent and he died the next day. The funeral congregation was described as ‘enormous’ in the press and the cortege was estimated to have been ‘nearly a mile long’. Given the inherent personal tragedy of O’ Sullivan’s case, it is unsurprising that such an expression of sympathy should have been articulated. Nonetheless, it is striking that a fatal incident on the Dalymount pitch had such a profound resonance on the city around it.

The level of empathy directed towards the O’ Sullivans may indicate that many families could relate to the loss that they suffered on a personal level. Participative cultures of informal street football and junior, non-elite competition had taken root in working-class communities across Dublin. O’ Sullivan’s death was likely to have been interpreted in quite personal contexts as the news was received. While such tragedy can focus a coherent sentiment into one consolidated response, Dalymount Park could also be the venue for competing identities, ideologies and political opinions.

While the upper-middle class origins of Bohemians have already been alluded to, it is worth noting that founding member A.P. Magill was instrumental in establishing the government in Northern Ireland and eventually served as Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs. In his memoirs he recorded a ‘positive nostalgia’ for his football experiences in the Phoenix Park, which he described as ‘the only place in Dublin that comes before me in my dreams’. Emmet Dalton joined Bohemians in 1919 after he had been demobilised from the British Army. Soon after, he joined the IRA and became a trusted member of Michael Collins’ inner circle, serving as his liaison officer and gaining a reputation for cunning and bravery in the field. In August 1922, he was part of Collins’ escort when he was shot dead at Béal na Bláth. Dalton served as President of Bohemians in 1924 while he worked as a clerk of the senate.

Harry Willets was a member of the club throughout this period, having previously been employed as a civil servant in Dublin Castle before the Anglo-Irish treaty. He also served with the Dublin Fusiliers during the First World War. Willets remained with the club throughout this period and he was still a member of the committee during the 1930’s. Harry Cannon joined the club at some point in the 1920’s and was a member of the first Irish Free State international squad. Cannon rose to the rank of commandant in the Irish Free State Army and captained Bohs to every domestic trophy in the 1927/’28 season. After the civil war, two brothers and IRA volunteers named Sam and Christy Robinson also joined as playing members of the club.

Despite the conflicts of politics and identity which are obvious amongst that cross-section of Bohemians membership, there are points of similarity in the characteristics of these men. Bohemians and Dalymount Park have certain distinctive fundamental traits that could have acted as unifying factors amongst this unlikely cast of characters. Since its inception in 1890, Bohemians has been an entirely members-owned club governed by democratic principles. The structures of governance have evolved through the years, in terms of the size, formation and function of committees and boards yet the club has never been in private hands.

The first generation of members opened Dalymount Park in 1901 and the ground has never had a commercial owner. The club’s progress has stagnated at times due to this democratic process and Dalymount has been allowed fall into a state of disrepair. Nonetheless, this model has been defended vociferously and has remained intact at every juncture. Idealism and principled policies have been consistent features of this sporting identity, at times to the detriment of sporting success.

At an official level, the amateur ethos of the upper-middle class Victorian founders persisted until 1969 despite the club having failed to win the league or FAI cup since 1937. A general trend of promising players moving on from the club once a professional contract was offered elsewhere can be observed. Out of respect to its Church of Ireland membership, Bohemians refused to engage in Sunday play until the same era. The principled adherence to this structure of ownership and governance has ensured that the club’s identity has evolved from its lofty origins to become a solidly working-class institution to reflect the social composition of its fan base.

Anecdotally speaking, the younger cohorts of modern-day League of Ireland fans in Dublin tend to come from working class backgrounds with quite strong familial connections to the city. They are more likely to express left-wing political views and be liberal-minded in their social outlook. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced at Bohemians. Although there is no quantitative data to support this claim, the identity of the individual club’s micro-culture is expressed publicly through fan displays on match day, social media output and club-commissioned graffiti at Dalymount Park.

This scenario defines Bohemians as an example of the classic counter-culture movement; while stressing that their identity is not reflected by mainstream media or history, an alternative version is offered through empowering personal choice. While challenging the ultimate authority of the SKY TV/ Premier League influence is futile, League of Ireland clubs such as Bohemians can offer a viable local alternative to football fans that are disenfranchised with the increasing commercialisation of the game. Equally, League of Ireland can also serve as a secondary interest that does not compromise loyalty to an English club; much like the way English football fans will often support a second team in the lower leagues.

In the twenty-first century, this sporting subculture is housed in a crumbling and dilapidated Dalymount Park. The sweeping terraces behind the goalmouth at the tramway end and facing the main stand at Connaught Street have been condemned and partially demolished. International fixtures were re-located to the IRFU’s Landsdowne Road stadium due to valid concerns over crowd safety which reached a zenith after 40,000 people crammed into Dalymount in 1985 to watch Ireland take on Italy. Gardai were forced to open one gate to avoid a crush and fans sat along the pitch to watch the game.

It is worth recalling that Dalymount Park is part of the architectural portfolio of Archibald Leitch. His designs were no longer fit for purpose by the 1980’s and were contributory factors to the disasters at Hillsborough and Valley Parade. Nonetheless, from the inception of the FAI to this period, Dalymount Park was the home venue for teams competing on the international stage, representing the state which would eventually become the Republic of Ireland.

Within the research period defined by the title of this paper, two incidents involving the Irish Free State international team in Dalymount during the late 1930’s require closer analysis. They attest not only to the precarious position of association football within the Irish Free State but also to an ill-conceived, narrow minded naivety in seeking international recognition at government level.

On 15 October 1936, the German international football team landed in Dublin specially-commissioned Junkers monoplane resplendent with a red-tipped fin adorned by large swastikas. A bus operated by the Great Southern Railway Company, decked out with two small swastika flags, conveyed the German squad to the Gresham Hotel in Dublin where a lavish banquet was held in their honour, the evening after their first international against the Irish Free State team at Dalymount Park. The team’s official party met with Eamon de Valera and various other dignitaries and ministers of state.

The German team welcomed their hosts to the Dalymount pitch with a full-squad Nazi salute, while Pathé News footage captured the awkward manner in which FAI officials removed their hats and deferentially returned the gesture. The occasion was deemed such a success that arrangements for the return fixture were heavily referenced in the speeches and toasts of the Gresham banquet. Viewed through the prism of the Second World War, the idea that such platitudes were afforded to the performance of Nazi propaganda can make the blood run cold.

In November 1938, President of the Irish Free State Douglas Hyde accepted an invitation from long-time Bohemian and FAI secretary, Joe Wickham, to attend a three-two win that Poland suffered at the hands of the Irish team at Dalymount Park. In December of that year, the central council of the GAA removed Hyde from his position as patron of the association as his attendance at the game was found to be in contravention of rule 27; or ‘the ban’ as it was more commonly known. The ban prohibited members of the GAA from playing games or attending functions organised by those promoting four named ‘foreign’ sports; rugby, hockey, cricket or association football. While the decision was met with general public outrage, it was resolutely defended by the GAA and Hyde was not re-instated before his death in 1949. Rule 27 was not officially removed until 1971.

There was a certain irony to the actions of the GAA. Hyde was a founding member of the Gaelic League and in 1892, he had delivered a pivotal lecture titled On the Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish People. The lecture was a call to cultural arms by Hyde which sought to inspire a generation of young Irishmen to recreate a separate Irish cultural nation through a process of ‘de-Anglicisation’. Central to this was a refusal to imitate the English in their language, literature, music, games, dress and ideas.

In the match programme notes of the German fixture, the FAI made clear their intention to play under the title of ‘Ireland’ in future competition. Mirroring the efforts of the fledgling state to gain diplomatic recognition through supranational organisations, the FAI looked to FIFA for international legitimacy and played solely against continental opposition prior to 1939. Ireland’s last fixture before the outbreak of the Second World War took place in Bremen in May 1939 against Germany. On this occasion, the Irish team returned the Nazi salute as part of the pre-match ceremonies out of respect to their hosts.

The extremities of action in both of these cases attest to the ferocity of the battleground for the interpretation of Irish identity during the early years of the Irish Free State. The dictatorial stance of the GAA over the Hyde affair reflected a dogmatic, isolationist interpretation of this identity. The FAI had a compromising shared history with the British military to contend with. In a very real sense, the early success of the GAA was given impetus by direct opposition to interaction with the British military. The prominent role that Hyde had played in articulating this opposition is crucial to understanding the actions of the GAA; as is understanding the salient motif of the traitor to Irish nationalist folklore.

Within this paradigm, the actions of the FAI around the problematic relationship with Germany can be understood, if not excused. In no small part, association football owed its early development in Ireland to an expelled military apparatus that was now viewed as an occupying tyranny. In attempting to establish its nationalist credentials, the FAI sought to become the largest sporting organisation representing the Irish Free State on the international stage. In doing so, they found a friendly ally in their enemy’s enemy. Unfortunately, this duopoly of syntax led to Irish football becoming a propaganda tool of Nazi Germany.

First and foremost, Dalymount Park has been a venue for sporting theatre since 1901. International icons of the calibre of Pele, Zinedine Zidane and Marco Van Basten have played there; as have local folk heroes like Johnny Giles, Liam Brady and Noel Cantwell. The Busby Babes played a European Cup tie against Shamrock Rovers in Dalymount in 1957, the year before the Munich air disaster. The ground was the venue for FAI Cup finals and landmark European ties for clubs across Ireland. Dalymount’s primacy as the venue for elite football competition in Ireland during the twentieth-century has left a trail of vital source material through which Irish society can be better understood.

 

 

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