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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A SIT DOWN WITH ROBERTO LOPES

David McSherry recently caught up with Bohs’ 2015 Player of the Season Roberto Lopes at the Bohemian Bar in Phibsborough. Pico discusses life on and off the pitch as a player for the club, his highs and lows of the 2015 season, as well as his hopes for the forthcoming season.

Interview: David McSherry
Production: Peter O’Doherty / podproductions.ie

BOHEMIANS AND WORLD BEATERS

The split between the footballing associations of the FAI and the IFA has had many consequences for football on our island, many hours have been whiled away with “what if” scenarios with barflies imagining an Irish side of the 60’s featuring the likes of John Giles and George Best. Another less discussed consequence of the split between the two associations was for many the loss of any sense of identity with the all Ireland side that had competed from the 1880’s through to 1921. Any connection with the history of this 32 county team has for most football fans in the Republic, (and indeed some in the North) been severed and there is little sense of identification with the players and their achievements pre-1921.

I for one think that this is a great pity, it ignores the history of the sport and the rich and interesting personal stories of those involved. It also means modern fans in the Republic often feel little pride or connection to the victory by a truly representative Irish team in the Home Nations Championship of 1914. At the time the Home Nations Championship was viewed, in the British Isles at least, as the foremost International football competition in the world with the winners rating themselves as the best international side in the world. While this is obviously an isolated and arrogant viewpoint it is reasonable to say that the winners could legitimately claim to be among the very best international sides in the world.

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Bohemians and World Beaters. Image by Simon Alcock

BOHEMIAN GRAVES AT GLASNEVIN CEMETERY

Aselection of Glasnevin Cemetery graves connected to Bohemian FC from the recent tour conducted by Brian Trench as part of series of events to mark the club’s 125th anniversary.

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Glasnevin Tour

The 1945 Inter-City Cup: War, Goals, Controversy and death by corner kicks

As you go for a pint in the members bar you may on occasion glance upward and notice the Bohemian F.C. honours list spelt out handsomely in gilt on a dark red background. It makes for impressive reading and is testament to the proud history of our club. Right in the middle of the bar, between the list of League Titles and FAI Cups is a sign that reads “Setanta Cup Champions 2010”. The Setanta Cup is, at the time of writing, our most recent honour. Few of us will forget Anto Murphy’s goal versus Pats in Tallaght Stadium, and it added a little extra relish that Bohs had managed to win a trophy in the enemy’s back- yard so to speak. It is worth noting, however, that though the Setanta Cup is the latest All Ireland soccer competition, it was by no means the first, nor was it the first such competition where Bohemians emerged victorious. To learn about this other, much earlier victory we must go back 70 years, to a time when the most violent conflict in human history still raged, to the first cross border competition since partition; the Inter-City Cup.

The Inter-City Cup, or to give it its full title, the Dublin and Belfast Inter-City Cup was conceived as a way to provide much needed income during the turbulent years of the Second World War. When the First World War had broken out in 1914, the general and oft-repeated assumption was that the war would be over by Christmas, so the sporting calendar continued on much as it had done in peace time. Bohemians and Shelbourne, the only two clubs from outside the six counties, continued to play in an pre-partition league season into 1914-15, but the growing realisation that the war was going to drag out meant that the Football League in Britain was suspended, while the Irish League was reduced to a “Belfast and District League” of only six teams with no room for Bohs and Shels. Many players, especially in Britain came in for heavy criticism for playing on into 1915. Some viewed it as a dereliction of patriotic duty that fit and healthy young men should stay at home and be paid to play football rather than volunteer to fight at the front. This led to the formations of “Football battalions” where prominent footballers were used as promotional tools for enlistment. Some football fans joining up were encouraged by the fact that they would have the chance of serving with their sporting idols.

When the Second World War broke out, the mistakes of the past were avoided. The league season was suspended immediately in Britain while Northern Ireland completed the 1939-40 season (Belfast Celtic won their 13th title) before suspending the Irish League and playing on with a diminished Northern District League. The League of Ireland, being in a neutral country, continued on as usual during the War years. It would prove to be a particularly successful era for Cork United, who would win five titles between 1939 and 1946.
However, gone from the fixture calendar were lucrative games against touring British sides. The lack of income was obviously a significant concern for the clubs north of the border, robbed as they were of regular gates and a full league programme which ultimately led to the creation of the Inter-City Cup. The tournament would run for eight seasons between 1941-42 and 1948-49, and despite the name, did include clubs from outside of Dublin such as Limerick, Cork United, Dundalk and Derry City. While matches were spread around various grounds in Belfast, all games south of the border were to take place in Dalymount. Another interesting feature of the tournament was the significance of corners. If two sides were tied on aggregate in the final, the side who had won the most corners were deemed to be the winner. Bohs learned this to their cost during the 1942-43 competition when they lost the final on corners to Shamrock Rovers having drawn 2-2!

Despite that setback Bohs, would eventually triumph in the competition. The 1944-45 season would be one of highs and lows for Bohemians, but it did at least end in some silverware. Bohs’ league form during the War years was poor; a third place finish in 1940-41 being the sides’ best placing and the 44-45 season would see Bohs finish bottom of the eight team league but would also see them reach two cup finals. An epic, three game semi-final win over Team of the decade, Cork United, would get Bohs into an FAI Cup final against Shamrock Rovers, where in front of the biggest ever Cup Final crowd of almost 45,000 they would lose out to a Podge Gregg winner. Gregg, a native of Ringsend had just returned to Dublin after a spell with Glentoran where he had won the Inter-City cup the previous year.

Bottom of the league, having lost a final to Shamrock Rovers, its fairly obvious that Bohs’ season needed a pick-me-up, and the Inter-City Cup could provide it. So as not to clash too much with regular games, the Inter-City competition was held around April and May each season when most games were coming to an end. In that particular year, Bohs lost the FAI Cup final to Rovers on the 22nd of April, but less than a week later were in action in round one of the Inter-City.

The first round game saw them drawn against fellow amateurs Cliftonville in Solitude on the 28th of April, with a return leg in Dalymount a week later. A 3-2 victory in Belfast with two penalties from full-back Frank Glennon and a Pat Waters goal gave Bohs too commanding a lead for the return leg, which ended as a 1-1 draw. The following round would see them matched with Glentoran; competition winners the previous year, Glentoran had been beaten on corners in the previous round by Limerick and only qualified as the best loser, their luck was out again as the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate so Bohs advanced as winners on corners 10-9 and thanks to an excellent performance by Collins in goal. Victory over Glentoran meant a meeting with Distillery, now based in Lisburn but then firmly ensconced in Grosvenor Park, West Belfast. Bohs would comfortably beat Distillery 8-3 on aggregate, a dynamic 5-1 victory in Dalymount was capped by a stunning strike from Kevin O’Flanagan, who beat the opposing keeper with a shot from out on his own touchline. The Irish Independent correspondent was moved to describe it as “the greatest goal seen in Dublin for years” and very topically likened the speed of the shot to that “of a V2 rocket”. O’Flanagan had the Distillery defence bewildered, and Bohs could have won by an even greater margin, as he finished with two goals. His brother Mick at centre-forward got one, while Noel Kelly and Waters got the other two. Despite going 2-0 down early on in the second leg in Belfast, the Gypsies rallied, and goals from Mattie Burns, Kevin O’Flanagan and Noel Kelly ensured there was no chance of an unlikely comeback.

The other semi-final between Belfast Celtic and Linfield was also a high scoring affair, finishing 7-5 on aggregate to Celtic. As a two legged semi-final the first leg was held in Belfast before both sides travelled to Dalymount Park for the second game. With the tie balanced at 2-2 from the first leg, the Linfield goalkeeper and captain Tommy Breen (once of Manchester United and a seasoned international) elected to kick off defending the tramway end of the famous old ground. Due to heavy rain, Breen and his defence were ankle deep in water at that end of the ground which had cut up much worse than the opposite school end. 7 of the 8 goals scored on the day went into the tramway goal and Linfield were out. Breen’s former team, Belfast Celtic, were through to the final and were eager to make up for their defeat to Glentoran the previous year. Celtic had beaten not only Linfield, but Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne en route to the final. The first leg was to be played in Belfast on May 30th with the return leg in Dalymount on June 2nd. VE day had taken place on May 8th and the laws and censorship brought in during the “Emergency” were lifted shortly afterwards. For the first time in six long years, football fans both North and South could genuinely look forward to the first real cup final in “peacetime”.

It is worth a brief diversion from our narrative to outline the merits of the Belfast Celtic side. Although the club has not existed in any real sense since the end of the 1940’s, they were at the time unquestionably one of the biggest sides on the island of Ireland. By the time the club was dissolved in 1949 they had won 14 league titles, second only to Linfield who by that stage had 19 to their credit. Former players included Mickey Hamill later of Manchester United and Manchester City, former President of the FAI and Government minister Oscar Traynor, Paddy O’Connell who would also play for Man Utd and later managed Real Betis and FC Barcelona, and Louis Bookman, the Lithuanian-born Irish international who became the first Jewish player to play professionally in Britain. Their coach at the time was Elisha Scott, a former player with Belfast Celtic and also Liverpool’s longest serving player ever. Scott was considered with some justification to have been one of the greatest keepers Ireland has ever produced and won ten league titles and six Irish Cups as Belfast Celtic manager. Their starting XI at the time of the Inter-City cup final was also on par with any of their previous sides. They would win the first official Irish League title after the war in 1947-48, and the team that Bohs faced included the likes of midfielder Charlie Tully, who would later join Glasgow Celtic and once famously scored against England direct from a corner in an international, attacker Jimmy McAlinden (an FAI and IFA international) an FA Cup winner with Portsmouth, and fellow international centre half Jackie Vernon who spent much of his career at West Brom.

In the case of Bohs, it would be a last hurrah of sorts. After the end of the Inter-City final, several of the winning side left for pastures new, including young goalkeeper Jimmy Collins, Frank Glennon and Noel Kelly, who would all switch to Shamrock Rovers. They would be joined a year later by their coach Jimmy Dunne, the former record breaking striker and soft-spoken coach, returning to Rovers after patching up his differences with the Cunninghams. Kevin O’Flanagan, a medical doctor was offered a job as a GP in Ruislip, London where he would spend his free time playing for Arsenal at football and London Irish in Rugby. While Bohs would make another FAI Cup final in 1947 (which they would lose after a replay to Cork United) the Inter-City cup would be the last trophy that Bohs would win apart from a pair of Leinster Senior Cups until the Cup final victory over Sligo Rovers in 1970. Bohemians’ insistence on remaining strictly amateur had served them well, as they won Leagues and Cups in the 1920s and 30s, but by the 40s, key players were being picked off by other clubs offering a few pound a week. While Bohemians continued to find and recruit excellent young players, they struggled to keep them for any length of time, the few exceptions being those whose day jobs allowed them the freedom to play without care for additional wages.

The two-legged final would be a close and often controversial affair. In the first leg there was nothing to separate the teams, not even corners as the sides finished level with two goals apiece, six corners each and both sides down to ten men. Kevin O’Flanagan for Bohs and Douglas for Celtic were the men sent off after coming to blows after Douglas kicked the ball out to touch when O’Flanagan was about to take a free. Bohs had taken a two goal lead thanks to an own goal and a finish by Smith, but the free scoring Bohs full-back Glennon ended up getting a roasting from Celtic outside left Paddy Bonnar, who grabbed two second half goals to tie the game. The return leg was no less controversial. Bohs named an unchanged side for the second leg (almost identical to the one which had lost to Shamrock Rovers just over a month before apart from Smith coming in for Frank Morris).

The Bohs side read: Jimmy Collins (GK), Frank Glennon, Billy Richardson, Ossie Nash, Peter Molloy, Pat Waters, Kevin O’Flanagan, Noel Kelly, Mattie Burns, Robert Smith, Mick O’Flanagan.

Belfast Celtic had suffered some injuries in the first leg with Peter O’Connor and Charlie Currie coming into attack for Johnny Campbell and Tommy Byrne. The second leg remained tight with few opportunities, Jimmy Collins in the Bohs goal being called into action in the first half to deal with chances from both Tully and Bonnar, but it was in the 67th minute that things became more heated when a cross came in from Smith which was trapped by Kevin O’Flanagan and passed into his younger brother Mick who when controlling the ball had a “Thierry Henry moment” and appeared to handle it before firing past Celtic keeper Hughie Kelly. This started furious protests from the Celtic players and led to an altercation between Captains Kevin O’Flanagan and Jimmy McAlinden who both had their names taken by the referee. Despite the Celtic players’ protests, the goal stood. Celtic’s disjointed attack, with the enforced changes since the first leg, had struggled to get past the Bohs defence, with Richardson and Glennon coming in for particular praise. Bohs successfully defended their lead, and after a season of disappointment, were All Ireland champions. It was particularly sweet for the star player Kevin O’Flanagan, who despite his sending off in the first leg, had been key in Bohs’ advancement to the final in much the same way that he had been key during the FAI Cup run scoring three goals by the time they reached that final. By setting up the goal for his brother Mick he had managed to make amends for his below par display in the earlier final versus Shamrock Rovers. Despite being a qualified GP the “Flying Doctor” had failed to diagnose himself with a bout of flu and upon returning home after the defeat to Rovers took his temperature and found that he had played a cup final with a 103 degree temperature!

It would be the last major trophy that Bohs would win for some time and the Inter-City cup was in some ways was the farewell of the Corinthian era of Bohemians and of Irish football as they signed off as Champions of North and South. Belfast Celtic, meanwhile, would remove themselves from League football only four years later, a mixture of sectarian violence, financial troubles and mismanagement forcing them out of senior football. While the Celtic board believed the withdrawal would only be a temporary measure it would transpire that their successful tour of North America, where they played to packed stadiums and famously defeated the Scottish national team, would in fact be their good-bye to the world of football. Guesting at centre forward for that touring side was none other than Bohs’ Mick O’Flanagan, his “hand of Mick” moment forgotten as he starred for Belfast Celtic as they slipped into history.

*special thanks to Martin Flynn and the Belfast Celtic Society for their assistance with some research for this article.

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