We are pleased to able to bring to you ‘Harold Sloan: A Forgotten Ranger’, a paper written by CIARAN PRIESTLEY. Ciarán has previous contributed historical features to the Bohemian website and is a keen historian. His published works include ‘Clonsilla and the 1798 Rebellion’ and ‘The Bohemian Football Club: The Enduring Legacy of an Idle Youth’ . We would like to thank Ciarán for allowing us to reproduce and share his latest paper with a wider audience.
HAROLD SLOAN: A FORGOTTEN RANGER
When Harold Alexander Sloan was killed in action at Combles, near the Somme on 21 January 1917, Irish football lost one of the most recognisable players of that era. His exploits have been largely forgotten, however, due not only to the passage of time but also the polemics of Irish history and the evolution of Dublin sporting culture.
A Presbyterian from Castleknock, Sloan attended the prestigious High School (then on Harcourt Street) before embarking on a career as a civil servant. A prime example of the ‘gentleman’ footballer, a phenomenon in the early history of Bohemian Football Club, Sloan played eight times for Ireland, scoring five goals, and led the line for his club for over a decade.
A quick-footed forward, he scored the first-ever goal at Dalymount Park and captained his club during his career, capturing the Irish FA Cup in 1908. Sloan achieved his elite status as an amateur in an era of increasing professionalism. While he married and had one son after his retirement, Sloan enlisted in the British army in January 1916 and was dead within a year at the age of 34.
Sloan was born on 25 August 1882 to Gilbert and Mary Sloan of Dunsinea, Castleknock, county Dublin. He was the third of four sons born to the couple; Gilbert, the eldest was born in 1879, Stanley was born two years later and Norman Edward arrived two years after Harold.
At the time of his enlistment in the army, Sloan stood at 5ft 9 ½in and weighed 9 stone 7 pounds. The Sloans were a middle class family who were connected to the Rathborne family, who owned a prestigious candle company in Dublin, which dated back to 1488. They appear to have resided at the original Rathborne family home at Dunsinea, which was built in 1763.
Sloan’s father was a manager at the candle company and died in 1898. Harold’s brother, Stanley Sloan, was listed as a ‘manager of a candle company’ in the 1911 census. He had been employed as works manager by Henry Burnley Rathborne at Dunsinea and remained in that position until after the company was sold. He resided at Dunsinea until it was disposed of by the company sometime in 1927, when he moved to Clontarf. Stanley retired in March 1946, having spent his entire working life with the firm.
Harold Sloan studied at The High School, located at Harcourt Street, from September 1895 until June 1899. He entered the school in third year and studied English, Maths, Classics, French and Drawing during his time there. He scored consistently high grades in English and to a lesser extent in Maths but struggled at Classics; a fact which was reflected by his teacher’s comments in school reports.
The most commonly reoccurring remark made by teachers is that Sloan was a ‘promising’ student. He was described as ‘babyish’ in June 1896 by his third year teacher, immediately prior to a two-year stint in fourth year. Sloan did not complete sixth year in the school and it is highly likely that he entered a civil service college at that time, his fifth year teacher remarking that Sloan ‘seems to have lost interest’ during his final term at the school. By 1901, Sloan was employed as a 2nd division clerk in the civil service.
The Bohemian Football Club was established in Dublin on 6 September 1890 when a small group of students from Bells Academy, a civil service college, joined with students from the Hibernian Military School at the North Circular Road Gate Lodge in the Phoenix Park. The club was formed exclusively from a cohort of young students in their late teens and early twenties.
It is highly likely that Sloan’s involvement with the Bohemian club stems from either his employment or training as a civil servant. Little is known of the Bohemian Club’s playing programme for 1890 and 1891. No administrative body was in place at a county level to administrate local competitions or arrange a fixture list. However, indicative of a successful debut season, Bohemians added a reserve team to their club at some point during 1891.
By January 1892, the club sought to organise matches for the first and second selections at the same time in similar locations. A dual strategy of organising ‘first eleven’ fixtures against military regiments, while finding domestic opposition for the seconds, also appears to have emerged at this time. The Gloucester and Royal Sussex Regiments provided opposition on 15 January and 5 February respectively, as the reserve squad faced the St Helen’s School at this time.
By the end of the 1892/’93 season, the Bohemian Club had evolved from a small collection of young men seeking to find a regular means of playing the new sport of Association football to an influential club of expanding membership who were pioneers of the sport at a provincial level. They had also entered the Irish Football Association Cup to compete at a national level, although until their inclusion the competition was primarily a Belfast affair. The struggle for supremacy in this competition between the cities of Dublin and Belfast was to dominate the Irish ‘soccer’ scene for decades to come, until political events overtook sporting concerns.
The start of the 1894-’95 season proved a milestone in the early history of Association football in Dublin. The Leinster Football League appears to have been constituted around the same time as Sloan entered the High School, to compliment the Leinster FA’s successful Cup Competition.
By the start of the new century, a new generation of Bohemian players graduated from the ranks of the reserves into the first squad. Of the incumbents, Harold Sloan’s endeavours as a quick-footed forward had caught the most attention. He featured in a 4-0 defeat of Freebooters in March 1900, the match report acknowledging that Bohemians had experimented with several reserves.
His promising reserve squad displays included an appearance for a Leinster Junior League representative side against Bohemians first squad, which the junior side had won 4-1. He capitalised on the opportunity presented by injuries to Crozier, Pratt and John Murray to play in that seasons Leinster Cup semi-final loss to Shelbourne and appears to have made a favourable impression on the selection committee with his early displays.
On 7 September 1901, Dalymount Park was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Mr Tim Harrington before a crowd of 5,000 spectators. Bohemians defeated Dublin rivals Shelbourne 4-2 in an exhibition match and Sloan earned the distinction of having scored the first goal at the new ground. Dalymount would go on to become the home venue for the Republic of Ireland international side for much of the 20th century.
In 1902, Bohemians took another significant decision when it became the first Dublin club to join the Belfast-dominated Irish Football League. The difficulties faced by an amateur club travelling long distances to face superior opposition, coupled with the uncertain availability of team members due to professional commitments, ensured that Bohemians made little impact in this competition.
While they struggled to mount a sustained league campaign, their pedigree as a formidable cup side continued to develop. A crowd of 6,000 spectators witnessed the first Irish Cup final to be staged at Dalymount Park as Distillery overcame Bohemians 3-1 in 1903.
Bohs had to suffer the indignity of watching Shelbourne become the first Dublin side to win the cup in 1906 when they defeated Belfast Celtic 2-0 at Dalymount Park. The following season, Shelbourne failed to retain the trophy when they were beaten by Cliftonville in a replay, also at Dalymount Park.
On the same day that improvements to Dalymount Park were announced in the Freeman’s Journal of 11 February 1903, in anticipation of the 1903 Irish FA Cup final being held at the ground, so too was news of Harold Sloan’s first international selection. He was named at inside left, due to an injury to Shanks, the regular starter, in the Irish side to take on England at Wolverhampton.
This was Ireland’s opening fixture in the 1902/’03 Home Championship and Sloan was the sole Dublin squad member named amongst representatives from the northern clubs and English-based players. He travelled via Holyhead in the company of Dr Sheehan, while the rest of the team travelled via Liverpool, presumably through Belfast port.
Sloan appears to have played his part in the Irish performance, credited with an early shot on goal and some ‘pretty passing’ moves with Sheridan. The gulf in class between the two sides was all too apparent in the first half as England dominated the play and went 1-0 up after 20 minutes.
The match report indicated that Ireland were fortunate to have kept their hosts to a single goal during this time. England then stepped up a gear and outclassed Ireland in the second half, scoring a second after seven minutes. Two more goals were added before the final whistle, during which time the match reporter felt that ‘from the share of the play they had, England ought to have run up a formidable score’. Ireland’s determination to score a consolation goal does not appear to have abated during the closing stages, however, their forwards showing ‘more grit’ but lacking the cohesion to break down the English defence, ‘could seldom get together’.
Sloan undoubtedly experienced a difficult debut and one he would bounce back from, but the result was not unexpected. Prior to the 1903 game, England had won twenty of the twenty-one matches played between the two sides; the exception was a two all draw in Belfast in 1894. Ireland would go on to finish second in that year’s championship with victories over Scotland and Wales, although Sloan would play no further part. His next cap was awarded for a home game against Scotland during the following campaign.
In the midst of much political turmoil behind the scenes, the decision to stage Ireland’s meeting with Scotland at Dalymount Park in 1904 was interpreted as a genuine attempt by the IFA to keep their southern colleagues onside. It was the first international match to be awarded to the capital since a 2-0 loss to England four years earlier and Belfast officials were sufficiently impressed by the match day arrangements to invite the Leinster body to host the next two home fixtures against Scotland in 1906 and 1908. Significantly, however, the fixture with England, regarded as the highpoint of the Irish season, did not return to Dublin until 1912.
Sloan’s second cap was awarded for the Scotland encounter, as one of two Dublin-based amateurs included in the side – the other was H. O’ Reilly of the Freebooters club. The preview in the Irish Times on the morning of the match noted that ‘unlike the sides which opposed England and Wales, the Irish team today is made up mostly of men playing in this country’.
The only exceptions to this were the ever-present Sheridan and Kirwan, respectively of Everton and Spurs. Ireland dominated the early play and were unlucky to go a goal down before half-time, the match report recording that Sloan was unfortunate to let a goal chance ‘glide off his boot, a foot wide of the post’.
Sheridan equalised for Ireland in the second half and no further score was added before full time, the match ending 1-1. This result ensured Ireland’s final placing above Scotland for the second year in a row in the Home Championship. The match notes indicated that Sloan fared better than O’ Reilly, the other Dublin amateur in the Irish side, who appeared out of his depth at this level and whose performance was described as ‘poor’. According to the report, Sloan performed ‘more creditably all round’, noting ‘his charging of the big Scottish backs being admirable but in the second half he fell away’.
Sloan was named in the starting XI of the opening fixture of the 1904/’05 Home Championship against England at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough in front of 30,000 spectators. He was drafted into the team following an injury to O’Hagan, who damaged his knee prior to the game.
Two second-half goals within four minutes of each other decided the contest, the first an English own goal and the second their equaliser, thus earning the Irish side a credible 1-1 away draw to their dominant neighbours. Despite this positive result, on the back of two consecutive second place finishes in the Home Championship, Ireland performed poorly in the remaining fixtures, losing 4-0 away to Scotland and drawing 2-2 at home to Wales to finish bottom of that season’s competition. Sloan played no part in either match, his next cap coming away to Wales in April 1906.
Sloan’s strongest individual display for Ireland came in a 4-4 away draw to Wales in April 1906. Again, the only Dublin-based player named in the starting eleven, Sloan put in a solid performance, opening the scoring from a cross by Hunter in the first half. Wales then scored two goals in quick succession to take the lead before Sloan added his second after a solo effort on goal. Wales added a further goal before half time to lead 3-2 at the break.
After Wales scored again in the second half, Ireland rescued a draw with two late strikes, the first from Maxwell and the second from Sloan, completing his hat-trick in the closing stages.
The hat-trick performance against Wales resulted in Sloan being named as captain for the opening fixture of the 1906/’07 Home Championship against England at Goodison Park in February 1907. The Irish team was described by The Irish Times as ‘one of the strongest ever put in the field’ and expectations of Ireland’s first victory in the fixture appear to have been relatively high.
It is interesting to note that of the 25,000 present at the Liverpool venue, the Irish supporters’ attendance was said to have matched that of England’s. A rather poor match appears to have ensued, England running out eventual 1-0 winners on a pitch which cut up quite badly, only after Sloan was ‘as near as possible to equalising in the last few minutes of the game’.
The Irish Times reporter was critical of the Irish front-line, which Sloan headed, stating ‘the Irish quintet shaped badly through the piece, their methods lacked cohesion and with but two exceptions there were no real good bouts of passing which one would expect from an international line’. Nonetheless, Sloan was named in the starting line-up for the Wales game scheduled for Cliftonville, Belfast the following Saturday.
Ireland lost 3-2 to Wales in the second fixture of 1906/’07 Home Championship in a frustrating display which saw them dominate play and lose out on the day, scoring two disqualified goal at the closing stages of the match. In terms of his personal performance, although Sloan netted a headed goal early in the first half, The Irish Times reported that he ‘did not come up to expectations’ overall. Sloan was not selected in the team to face Scotland in the final game on 16 March, instead lining up for Bohemians at Dalymount Park for the visit of Glasgow Rangers on 18 March.
Sloan returned to the Ireland side for the final fixture of the 1907/’08 campaign, scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory over Wales at Aberdare. His final cap for Ireland came in a dismal 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Scotland at Ibrox Park during the following season’s campaign. In addition to his eight full caps for Ireland, Sloan was awarded two amateur caps and two Irish league caps.
The highlight of Sloan’s club career came during the 1907/’08 season, when Bohemians embarked upon a hard fought campaign to reach the Irish FA Cup final. Having suffered final defeats in 1895, 1900 and 1903, their route to the final in 1908 required replays in every round of the competition. As an Irish league side, Bohs entered in the second round with a tie against Glentoran in Belfast, where the concession of a last minute goal ensured that a replay was needed to secure a 4-1 victory at Dalymount Park.
A two-goal lead was surrendered to Linfield at Windsor Park in the quarter final before an impressive 2-1 victory at Dalymount Park was recorded. Another replay was required to defeat Belfast Celtic in the semi-final, which set up the first all-Dublin Irish Challenge Cup final for Dalymount Park against Shelbourne on 21 March 1908 in front of a crowd of 8,000 spectators. Bohemians went in at half=time one goal ahead, thanks to a goal from Sloan, and held their lead until ten minutes from full=time.
For the replayed final, the number of spectators was said to have been noticeably smaller than the previous encounter and The Freeman’s Journal expressed the opinion that the ‘prices of admission were considered too high’ for the occasion. This was a common complaint of the Dublin press when the Irish Football Association was responsible for setting the entry price. A full season ticket for Bohemians in the unreserved enclosure cost five shillings around this time, which was a fifth of the price set by the IFA for entry into the same section for the cup final.
Bohemians drew first blood after only eight minutes, when a Harold Sloan strike came off the upright and was finished by Dick Hooper. Hooper added a second on the half hour mark with a strike from distance that beat Reilly in the Shelbourne goal. A blistering first half display from Bohemians concluded with a goal from younger brother William Hooper, which gave his side a three goal cushion at half time. Some questionable tactics employed by Shelbourne in the second half saw several long delays in play after Bohemian’s Balfe, Thunder and O’Hehir were knocked out by their opponents.
The performance of the referee, a Mr McQue from London, was a source of debate in the post match press analysis of the game. The general consensus being that it was an unwise decision to utilise someone from outside Irish football for this purpose. John Owens, who had received a caution from the London referee for his conduct, pulled one back for Shels, who ultimately failed to capitalise on their opponents beleaguered state. Bohemians finished the game strongly, which ended with a Harold Sloan strike which hit the back of the net after the final whistle, amidst reported scenes of uncontrolled celebration from players and supporters.
The Irish Times commented: “No club that was ever formed in Dublin did so much to popularise and improve the game in Leinster as Bohemians, and these facts, taken into consideration with the fine performance of their cup team this season, probably accounted for the remarkable scene of enthusiasm which was witnessed at Dalymount Park on Saturday when the final whistle sounded. ”
As defending champions, Bohemians were defeated by two goals to one by Cliftonville FC of Belfast in a replayed final on 10 April 1909 at Dalymount Park. Harold Sloan had been named as club captain for the 1908/’09 season and he remained as a player for at least two seasons after that campaign.
While the precise date and reason for Sloan’s retirement from club football cannot be ascertained, it can be stated that he ceased to be mentioned in match reports and squad announcements from the 1911/’12 season onwards. If his debut season is included in his list of honours, Sloan won five Leinster Senior Cups, three Leinster Senior Leagues, one Irish FA Cup and eight international caps, captaining the side once, during his twelve seasons as a Bohs player, two of which were as club captain.
Sloan married Mabel Fitzgerald Jones on 6 September 1911 at All Saints church, Grangegorman and built a new home on Green Road in Blackrock in the same year. Mabel had previously resided on Rathdowne Road, Phibsborough, located across the road from Dalymount Park.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Sloan’s marriage and move to Blackrock occurred around the same time as his retirement from football. During the time prior to Sloan’s enlistment in the army the couple had one son, also named Harold, who was born on 21 December 1913. Before the following year was out, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand had triggered the drift to total war, which would engulf Europe and wipe out a generation.
Sloan did not immediately join up to fight but both he and his brother, Norman Edward, who survived the war, would eventually play their part in the conflict.
He was commissioned through the Inns of Court OTC in London. He enlisted as Private (9013) in 6th Company, Inns of Court OTC on 19 January 1916 and went to Cadet School on 7 August 1916. He was commissioned in the 198th Royal Garrison Artillery on 18 October 1916.
The 198th went out to the western front on 25 November 1916. A mechanised battery had been formed on the Humber the previous July with an establishment of 158 personnel; inclusive of six officers, one warrant officer, six sergeants and two trumpeters with armament of 4 x 6in Guns Mk VII. Sloan joined 14th Corps on 3 December 1916 in their long range group, then 29th Heavy Artillery Group on 6 December 1916 and was transferred to 49th Heavy Artillery Group on 22 December 1916, the HQ of which was at Combles. He remained with this battery until his death on the 21 January 1917. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown.
A letter written to his widow on 16 February 1917 informed that he was buried in the guard’s cemetery at Combles, in a grave marked by ‘a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing full particulars’.
Harold Sloan’s story has fallen victim to the often quoted “intentional amnesia” of Irish history. His experience and identity do not sit well with any obvious political interest. His club, Bohemian FC, has become a solidly working-class institution with a fan base which, where politically engaged, is quite left-wing and nationalist in its outlook.
His caps are officially listed as being with the IFA in Northern Ireland and his alma mater does not list him among the 100 prominent past pupils of the school. While the experience of Irish soldiers in the Great War is undergoing a dramatic re-evaluation, Sloan’s story is unlikely to feature prominently in many forums. He has no direct descendants as his only son, also named Harold, was killed in action during the Second World War.
Sloan held a steady employment in the civil service and left an estate valued at £1,883 which he bequeathed to his wife. Thus, financial motivation alone cannot be stated as a determining factor in his decision to enlist. In the absence of any personal correspondence, it is difficult to determine Sloan’s political outlook. Sloan spent his time at leisure playing for the Bohemian Football Club; a diverse organisation where political agendas appear to have come second to the higher calling of Association football.
He is unquestionably a product of his era; an amateur sportsman and a forgotten soldier, who found it increasingly difficult to withstand the pressure felt by a lost generation to collude in their demise and join the war effort. He was above all else a man of his times who did his utmost to stand apart; a Dubliner who played for his club and country with distinction.