Tolka Park: A History- Part 1

The following article originally appeared in RI66, last June. Part 2 will feature in RI67 available at the end of this month. In the meantime, enjoy Part 1 here

Tolka Park: A History- Part 1

 

Just alotolka parkng from Drumcondra Bridge, on a bend in the river where today the faded facade of a football stadium remains, there was once a residence called Trout Lodge. The name evokes a time when the river flowed fast and was more abundant with life.

Soon the bulldozers will come for the stands and terraces, what life remains within condemned to history. The record of a stadium on maps will, for future generations, be a curiosity, providing a hint of almost a century of sport and entertainment enjoyed there.

Its story begins with the founding of Drumcondra FC in 1924, though there had previously been other Drumcondra teams which had disbanded. The location carries echoes of some of the earliest football in Ireland. In the late 19th century, Larry Sheridan was among those who formed the Drumcondra-Botanic club at a meeting on the waterfront where the Riverside stand rises today. He would go on to become an influential figure in the Leinster Football association and the FAI.

There would follow another incarnation of Drumcondra in the early part of the 20th century. The Richmond Road itself was something of a hotbed for football, with several teams already based out of the many playing fields there, including Frankfort who were founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921.

Despite the failures of previous such clubs, the founders of Drumcondra; Tom Cribben, Tom Johnston, George Ollis, Christy Purcell and Andy Quinn, were hugely ambitious for their side. They identified a patch of land, close to the Drumcondra tram stop as ideal for their club’s new home. They would be far from the last men with grand dreams to be seduced by this location. The grounds would become known as Tolka Park, though it would be as late as 1926 before this moniker was commonplace in newspaper reports.

 

Tolka’s fortunes were closely intertwined with the successes and failures of the clubs who came to call it home through the years. Drumcondra, though a newly formed side, were immediately accepted into the Leinster Senior League Division 1. They would finish runners-up in their inaugural season and repeat this placing the following year. It seemed Drums were in prime position to be admitted to the League of Ireland’s Free State League and applied at the first opportunity, when the retirement of Pioneers created a vacancy in 1926.

 

By this time Tolka Park already had a pavilion and, in preparation for top tier football, an enclosure was added around this. The pitch was levelled by steamroller and embankments created for spectators where possible. Their efforts were in vain as instead, Dundalk were elected to the League of Ireland. Undeterred, within months of this rejection further improvements were made. These included the addition of hot and cold baths to the pavilion and the press noted the club’s efforts in looking after both spectators and players. It was around this time that the first advertisements for games at the venue – with admission prices of 1s & 6d – appear in the evening newspapers.

 

In 1927, success in winning the Free State Cup (the forerunner of the FAI Cup) as a “second grade” side and Leinster Cup pressed their case further. En route to a second cup final in succession in 1928, a record crowd of approximately 10,000 passed through the turnstiles for a game against Bray Unknowns. Though they would lose the final against Bohemians, Drumcondra’s claim to a place at the top table could no longer be ignored. In June 1928, they were duly elected to the Free State League and on August 25th of that year a large crowd witnessed a 1-1 draw between Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers in Tolka’s first League of Ireland match.

The rising popularity of the venue was evident with a letter to the Evening Herald in the name of “Safety First” noting the need for upgrades to the footpath along the football ground side of the Richmond Road due to the increasing traffic.

Up to this point the top games in Dublin had been the preserve of Shelbourne Park and Dalymount Park. Important matches like the Free State Cup semi-finals had been always been fixed for these venues as they were the only grounds with adequate capacity. However, early in 1929, a dispute arose between the clubs and the FAI about gate receipts. Shelbourne and Bohemians asked for 10% of the gate, but the association were only prepared to offer 7.5% With neither side prepared to back down, the decision was taken to move the game between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers to Tolka Park barely 48 hours before kick-off.

The late change of venue was problematic enough, but just a week earlier 13 spectators had been injured at Tolka Park. Wire fencing at one end of the ground collapsed, unable to support the weight of the 100 or so youths using it as vantage point to watch a game against Shelbourne which was already above capacity. Tolka’s capacity at this time was estimated at 10,000 – 12,00, less than half of the Ringsend and Phibsboro venues and considered far too small for the anticipated turnout, with the lack of a covered stand being a further drawback.  For the semi-final itself, many stayed away due to the fear of overcrowding and a boycott by members of Bohemians and Shelbourne. This resulted in reducing takings at the gate of just £300, far less than the £1600 the previous year’s final had generated.

It was clear that, despite the rapid improvements, further development would be needed to meet the growing attraction of football at Drumcondra’s home and to establish the ground as an equal of other Dublin venues. The challenge of such growth in its residential location was spelled out in yet another letter to the Evening Herald, lamenting the difficulties caused to locals by badly parked vehicles, inadequate policing, and spectators trying to gain access without paying via gardens. A first step was taken later in 1929, with the formation of a new public company; Drumcondra Football Club. This allowed the club to take on the debt necessary to upgrade the grounds and create a more professional setup.

The 1931-32 season was pivotal in laying the foundations for football as enjoyed in Tolka Park today. Drumcondra were among the first to experiment with Friday evening games in the early part of the season, while daylight allowed. It was certainly a change from afternoon games during the Winter in the 1920s which had to be shortened to 30 minutes a half due to bad light. The late summer evening exhibition games were reported to be popular with spectators and generated large attendances and profits which would be crucial for the largest building project at the ground yet.

In January 1932 excavations began on the river side of the ground. A covered stand was finally built. Like Noah’s Ark, it’s dimensions are faithfully recorded. The Irish Independent reported it would measure 160 feet long and 46 ft. 6 in. wide, with a covered frontage of 14ft. The estimated capacity of the stand was 5,000 but within a few years, it was reported that it held as many as 8,000. The pitch was also widened by 5 yards with plans to further lengthen it also.

The record attendance swelled first to 16,000. Then in 1935, with additional terracing in the Riverside stand and Richmond Road enclosure, and as many as 12 turnstiles in operation helped create a new record attendance of 18,000 for a cup semi-final, where despite the new facilities, numbers behind each of the goals were so great that the fencing was broken by the volume of the crowd. Photos from this era show a stand that is as recognisable to anyone who has seen the league’s newest sides like Cabinteely or Wexford Youths at Tolka as it would be to those who witnessed that semi-final between Drumcondra and Dolphin.

 

It wasn’t just football that drew crowds to Tolka Park. Almost from its earliest days it has been what is described in modern parlance as a multi-purpose arena. From 1929 it was a boxing venue with open air bouts fought every few years. In 1934 it hosted a contest for the national lightweight title. Probably the earliest footage of the ground is of the respected American heavyweight Tony Shucco defeating the great Irish hope Dom Lydon in 1938. For most of the next decade a boxing card would be a fixture of the summer, with the Drumcondra chairman even acting as promoter and the football club itself putting up the purse.

The most notorious fight at the Drumcondra venue during this era did not take place within the boxing ring. In March 1942, a “riot” broke out between two rival gangs, swiftly dubbed by newspapers as the “Battle of Tolka Park”. It happened during the semi-final of the Junior Combination Cup between St. Stephen’s and Mountview. The teams and Football Association were keen to point out the violence was not related to football. Nevertheless, the events that took place that day are be extraordinary enough as to be worth retelling even now.

The two gangs involved were the “Ash Street Gang” and the “Stafford Street Gang”. It was suggested in court that if the clash was not pre-arranged it was certainly expected, with weapons drawn on both sides. The Ash Street Gang had arrived at the match and reportedly entered without any of them paying admission. The Stafford Street Gang commandeered a flotilla of boats and rowed up the Tolka, mooring the boats near the Ballybough end. After fording the river, they scaled the boundary partition and attacked their rivals.

Players and spectators quickly fled and later witnesses described seeing knives, swords, crowbars and bayonets, as well as corner flags and bricks being adapted for combat. One participant was being treated for head injuries in the pavilion when two men climbed through a window to finish him off, only being prevented from doing so by some of the players who were attending to him. Another antagonist was rescued after being thrown over the wall into the river. Unsurprisingly the match was quickly abandoned, but the clash continued and spilled on to the road outside. Ultimately ten young men were arrested and tried. Nine of them were found guilty and given sentences of between 6 and 18 months.

The entertainment on offer at Tolka Park went beyond sports, marking it as a venue of wider cultural importance for Dublin. In 1931, a programme of music and dance took place there as part of Wolfe Tone Week. A charity fête in 1933 featured such diverse events as a story-telling contest and a fairy cycle race. Long before floodlights arrived, there were illuminations of a different sort during the Tolka Park Carnival in 1937. Attractions included Dodgems, a Ghost Train and Donkey Rides. You could also have your palm read or take a motorboat ride on the river. Music and dance were catered for with acts such as Charlie Nutty’s A1 Combination playing the “Big Ballroom” and a ceilidh in the hall that had both been specially set up for the occasion.

Even animals graced its hallowed turf. As part of that 1937 carnival the “All Sorts of Dogs Show” took place, awarding prizes to the “Dog That Can Wag Tail Fastest” and “Nicest White Dog”. Dog shows continued to grow in popularity throughout the forties and by the middle of the decade a record 925 entries competed in the Combined Canine Club’s contest at Tolka Park. The Jeserich circus brought with it Horses, Bears and Lions while Reco Bros featured crocodiles and pythons.

These events were as practical as they were entertaining, ensuring the grounds were in continuous use, even outside the football season. The Hunter family, who owned the club at this time, were successful contractors, providing many Drumcondra players with employment, but the economic reality of 1930s Ireland followed by the lack of resources during the years of the second world war made further development of the ground fitful and incremental. The completion of terracing for the Riverside stand by 1938 meant that the focus was now on erecting the ‘reserved’ stand on the Richmond Road side, but an application to the FAI for a loan to complete these works in 1939 and again in 1940 was rejected on the grounds of “the precarious state of football today.”

By the end of the 1940s the Hunters had succeeded in developing the stadium to be one of the premier venues in Dublin and finally achieved the club’s dream of winning the League of Ireland, bringing the trophy home to Tolka for the first time in 1947/48 and retaining their title in 1948/49. Success on the pitch made the club an attractive proposition and the stage was now set for the next great era in Tolka’s history.

Wherever Red is Worn

The following article originally appeared in Newcastle United fanzine The Popular Side in May 2016

I have a confession to make; despite being a regular reader of this fine fanzine, I’m not a Newcastle United fan, and have yet to visit your wonderful city. When people think of Newcastle United, the first thing they will usually think of is one of the following: the fanatical support, the iconic number 9 shirt, the globally recognisable barcode shirts, the famous Gallowgate End, Jackie Milburn, Alan Shearer, Supermac, Kev Keegan’s Entertainers that came oh so close to glory, dramatic 4-3 defeats to Liverpool, Local Hero, Inter-City Fairs Cup winners, Bobby Robson’s class and dignity, Mike Ashley and his garish takeover, fan’s protests, supporters punching horses.

 

But not me. No; when I think of Newcastle United, the first thing that goes through mJim Crawfordy mind is one Jim Crawford. The Chicago-born Irishman may have had a limited impact during his 2-game spell on Tyneside (including a cameo appearance at Anfield in one of the aforementioned 4-3 games) but when he returned to his hometown of Dublin he played a key role in leading my club, Shelbourne, to four League of Ireland championships in 6 seasons, but is probably most fondly remembered by Reds for sticking with the club in 2007 when the club faced financial meltdown and it’s very existence was in jeopardy. Jim’s status as a cult hero was secured in that dark year of 07 as he played on a seriously reduced salary as a favour to the club that resurrected his playing career, leading a team of players sourced from our underage set up and cast offs from other sides. For probably 99% of you reading this who don’t know, Shelbourne are a League of Ireland football club and are presently based in Tolka Park, Drumcondra, a suburb close to the north inner-city. Since 2003, we’ve played a summer season; with the campaigns kicking off in March and coming to a climax in October. We are generally considered to be one of the so-called Big 4 Dublin clubs, with Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers (Ringsend’s 2nd team) and St. Patrick’s Athletic our city and main rivals.

 

I was very lucky in that I started following Shels as a kid in the early 90s. I gorged on those success and trophy-laden times, I experienced all the glory years. Silverware in the form of League Championships, FAI Cups and League Cups were amassed, European football was a near constant for a decade and a half and a poor season was considered to be a third place league finish. Title races, cup finals, big games, and relatively big crowds. In my late teens and early 20s I was fortunate enough to go on a number of European aways, visiting such far-flung places like Iceland, Spain, and, errr, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We also experienced the novelty of having our UEFA Cup home fixture against Rangers in July 1998 moved from Drumcondra to beautiful Birkenhead, for “security reasons”, an experience in itself. We actually took a shock 3-0 lead that memorable night in Prenton Park before succumbing to a Rangers onslaught led by Jorg Albertz and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, and losing 5-3. Unlike a lot of my mates who go the match, I had no prior link to Shelbourne- neither my father or grandfather supported them; I had no family in, or link to, Ringsend. I had no distant relation who donned the red shirt with the three castles on it. No; I followed the Reds of my own volition, when I was 10 they were the best team in the League of Ireland, with the best players, best stadium, had all the links to the glamorous English clubs by way of preseason friendlies, and wore an iconic Red strip that screamed serious football club. They were the nearest team to where I grew up as a kid and many of the lads in my class in primary school spent their Monday mornings raving about the previous Friday evening’s trip to Tolka Park. It wasn’t a tough choice.  As soon as I started going regularly with mates from school, I was hooked. The sight of the floodlights as you approach the ground along the winding Richmond Road, Tolka Park encased by terraced houses on one side and factories and industrial space on the other, the echo of the PA into the gloomy night sky, the click of the turnstiles as the impatient masses queued to get in, stepping into the ground and seeing a terrace behind one goal and seats down the far end, the smell of the hotdogs and oxtail soup emanating from Moore’s shop behind the Ballybough End of the ground, the anticipation of seeing the teams burst out of the old dressing rooms onto the park. I was hooked. Better times for sure. Things are a bit different these days with the club currently sitting mid table in the second tier of what passes for the pyramid system of Irish football. We’ve won the League of Ireland Championship 13 times and FAI Cup on 7 occasions, and we still remain the 2nd most successful club in Irish football, despite spending the last decade in the doldrums. Nowadays, I’m a member of the supporters trust, the 1895 Trust, as well as Reds Independent, the independent supporters group who produce the fanzine Red Inc., the longest-running fanzine in Irish football, and I’d also have links to the Ultras group, Briogáid Dearg.

 

Shelbourne FC was founded during the dying embers of the 19th Century in 1895, by a group of lads- including James Rowan, Patrick Finn, and the Wall brothers, with Rowan being the main protagonist- who lived around the Bath Avenue area of southeast inner-city Dublin, taking its name from the nearby Shelbourne Road. From the start, the colour Red was adopted as the club’s colour, leading us to having those original twin nicknames- Shels, or the Reds. Like all good football clubs, Shels were at the heart of a working class community, established to represent the working people of the fishing village Ringsend, and thus can legitimately lay claim to being the original working class club of the city, with the club drawing its support from dock workers, plus labourers and carters, from the South of the city but also the North inner city. Many of the club’s first players worked on the docks and were casual workers. In contrast to our rivals on the Northside, Bohemians- who were established to represent the professional middle classes and drew it’s supporters, members and players from the professional classes such as doctors, accountants, solicitors and vets- the Reds represented the working man and were often referred to as ‘the Dockers team’ in the early days. From the very start, there was a social divide on class lines.

 

Our first pitch was located beside the present day stadium at Lansdowne Road. Shels joined the then all-Ireland Irish Football League in 1904 and was one of the founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921. As you would expect for a football club established over a quarter of a century before the modern Irish State was even founded, Shels are steeped in history and our rich history is intertwined with that of this city and country. In 1913, Jim Larkin, James Connolly and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union organised and mobilised one of the largest workers’ strikes in Irish trade union history, with the noble aims of improving working conditions and the right to unionise. At the beginning of the 1913 Lockout in September of the same year, Shels opened their new ground at the Ringsend Road end of the Southlotts Road, named Shelbourne Park, with a game against local rivals Bohs. Tensions were high in the city with the outbreak of the Tram dispute, and it was reported that a picket of about a hundred tramway men were had gathered outside the ground. There were a number of strike-breaking scabs in the Bohs’ ranks (denounced openly in Larkin’s own newspaper Irish Worker) and it was little surprise the picketing workers kicked off at these parasites, and a riot ensued. With the Shels’ staunch working class support, and the location of the game, it’s fair to assume that some of the picketers would have held Red allegiances and would have been non too impressed with scabs visiting their neighbourhood. Formed by the bourgeoisie, populated with scabs- that’s Bohs for you! In a similar vein, a few years later, Shelbourne’s Metropolitan Cup Final against Bohemians in Dalymount Park was postponed due to the small matter of the Easter Rising in April 1916. If you ever visit our home ground in Tolka Park, you can see newspaper clippings from that week adorning the walls of the club bar. Or in 1921, when the country was to be partitioned following the War of Independence and Civil War. Shelbourne were to play a central role in the split in Irish football. Up to that point, football on the island was governed by the IFA, which had been founded in 1880 as the governing body for football for the whole of Ireland. Tensions between the North and South were strained and exacerbated by the War of Independence, which disrupted contact between northern and southern clubs and prevented resumption of the Irish League. Shels were Cup holders at the time and travelled to the North to play Glenavon in the cup semi-final, and the understrength Reds team earned a scoreless draw. Convention dictated that the replay would take place in Dublin, but the IFA ordered that the replay would also take place in Belfast, claiming that Dublin was in an unsettled state as a result of the ongoing violence. The Reds refused. This was the climax of a series of disputes about the alleged Belfast bias of the IFA, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite some last minute back-pedalling from the Belfast clubs, the die was cast. The FAI was formed in Dublin in September 1921 by the Free State League (League of Ireland), founded the previous June, and the Leinster FA, which had withdrawn from the IFA in June.

Football on this island would be fundamentally changed forever. It wouldn’t be very Irish without a split, would it?
League titles were won in every decade from the 1920s until the 1960s, when the Club entered a serious trophy drought. This was accompanied by severe financial difficulties, with the Club having to be re-elected to the league on a number of occasions. Throughout this period, a number of private owners ran the Club, and directors using personal funds to cover losses at the Club were a common occurrence, which is also ongoing up to the present day. There were also a number of ground relocations, making growth of the Club’s fanbase difficult due to it not being settled in one geographic area. Success only returned to the Reds in the early 1990s, when Ollie Byrne, revived its fortunes, with the financial backing of businessman Tony Donnelly. Located in Tolka Park, which was upgraded to become a state of the art facility by League of Ireland standards, Shels ended a 30 year drought and won the league championship in 1992, when Pat Byrne led us to the promised land, with FAI Cup triumphs following in 1993, 1996 and 1997. The most successful period in the Club’s existence commenced in 2000, with a League and Cup double. The Club won five league titles in eight seasons from 1999/2000-2006, as well as a famous run in the Champions’ League in 2004, which saw Hajduk Split dramatically knocked out on balmy August evening at Tolka and Deportivo LaCoruna- Champions League semi-finalists a few months previous and conquerors of holders AC Milan- held goalless until the final 30 minutes of the second leg, with a place in the lucrative CL group stages beckoning.  This period also saw Shels incurring significant financial losses, running into the millions. A highly complex property deal, intended to fund current expenditure at the Club as well as provide a new stadium, started to unravel in 2006, with a winding up order also being issued by the Revenue Commissioners for unpaid taxes. A falling out between Byrne and one of the primary investors in the deal lead to funds being cut off and the Club’s ability to continue as a going concern was questioned by the auditors. Byrne’s health also deteriorated during this time, and responsibility for running the Club fell to a number of other directors and shareholders in the Club. Denied a license to compete in the Premier Division, despite being the reigning champions, the Club were forced to compete in the First Division for the 2007 season. Apart from two seasons since then (2012 and 2013), the Club has remained outside the top tier, struggling for crowds and carrying a significant legacy debt.

 

Some of the illustrious names privileged enough to wear the famous Red through the years include Tony Dunne, who starred at full back for Manchester United in Matt Busby’s sides European Cup triumph over Benfica at Wembley in 1968, and Wes Hoolahan, current Irish international and diminutive talisman for Norwich City, who lit up Tolka Park during his spell at the club, winning three league championships in the process. Lisbon Lion Jimmy Johnstone also went on to have a spell at the Reds, a decade after lifting the European Cup with Celtic. The late, great Eric Barber is the club’s all-time record goalscorer with 126 goals, and was also capped for Ireland.

 

The League of Ireland itself is equally brilliant and at the same time horrifically shit. The league suffers from an image problem and systemic, structural issues- clubs are generally poorly supported, the league is often ignored by the mainstream media, many of the grounds including our own beloved Tolka Park are deteriorating and are in a state of disrepair, a lot of the clubs are poorly run with a good few regularly demonstrating an inability to budget adequately, and there’s a drastic shortage of income streams for all. The administration of the league is inept and clubs struggle from one crisis to the next. It’s a perfect storm and for some time it has appeared the league is on life support. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, becoming “the Irish Rosenborg” was the dominant narrative in domestic football. Perceived wisdom at the time said that emulating the Trondheim side’s European exploits was the best way for an Irish club to make a breakthrough, the best way to succeed, increase support, become the dominant force in Irish football, and in doing so secure the long-term future of your club. After all, if a team from a little league in Scandinavia could do it, why couldn’t we here with a new-found Celtic Tiger confidence/arrogance? What happened next can only be described as the League of Ireland spending arms race, resulting in its own form of Mutually Assured Destruction. Buoyed by a sense of optimism but also a feeling of desperation at being left behind, club after club lined up to frantically splash the cash and sign the best players available. Whilst this undoubtedly raised the on pitch standard of the league with more and more clubs signing more professionals, severe problems were being created down the line. Everyone was at it- Bohs, Cork, Derry, Drogheda, but like many things in Irish football we at Shels even did this better and with more panache than the rest. And we’re still paying the price for that gross irresponsibility to this day. Short-term success came by the way of increased attendances in the early to mid-2000s for many of the bigger clubs in the league, and the improved playing standard along with the advent of the summer football season contributed to a spike in Irish teams’ results and performances in Europe. Teams of the calibre of Hajduk Split, Malmö, Djurgårdens, Nijmegen, Appollon Limassol, IFK Göteborg, Skonto Riga, KR Reykjavik, Gretna, Aberdeen, HJK Helsinki and BATE Borisov were regularly dispatched by Irish clubs in Europe, with the likes of Deportivo La Coruña, Lille, Paris Saint-Germain, Odense, Steaua Bucharest, Kaiserslautern and ironically enough Rosenborg all being run close by their Irish opponents. Empires built on sand, and it just couldn’t last. And the closer some teams got to making the great breakthrough, the more they and others were encouraged to spend, spend, spend. Clubs recklessly gambled with their futures- some like us and Bohs selling our grounds to fund current expenditure, Rovers squandered government grant money that should have been ring-fenced for the construction of a new stadium on players’ wages- and tax bills went unpaid and creditors and small businesses became creditors and were left to wait for their cash. Cork, Drogheda and Derry all went into examinership/administration and came back as zombie clubs. The cycle of boom and bust in Irish football circles was evident when virtually every side that won the league title from the late 90s to the present day experienced some form of financial crisis either before or in the aftermath of their league success. It was a crazy time for the league in retrospect; Galway United even employed convicted fraudster Nick Leeson to run the club under the guise of being a financial expert. Yes, only in the League of Ireland! I wouldn’t mind, but he probably wasn’t even in the top 5 nefarious characters operating in the league at the time… To this day, clubs continue to struggle financially, with some clubs dragging out the begging bowl a mere few weeks into the season to the surprise of absolutely no one.

 

But while I’ve painted a fairly grim picture of domestic football here in Ireland, it has to be said that it’s not all negative, and believe it or not, is actually quite enjoyable to follow. Following the league, but especially the Reds, even when it’s shit, it’s great. It’s affordable and fairly inexpensive to go to, with most match tickets costing between €10 and €15. Similar to most smaller leagues around the world and grassroots football generally, the sense of community and comradery is fantastic. There is a tangible sense of involvement with your club- most clubs depend on a network of volunteers and supporters to continue to function. It wouldn’t be unusual for me as a fanzine editor to be on nodding terms with the chairman who I might pass on the way to a much-needed half time pint, or to have a good chat with the manager’s Ma and Da in the bar after a home match. Despite intense inter-club rivalry, it would be quite common for you to know a good few main faces at your hated rivals, especially given how small the league is. Away days are fantastic, are the lifeblood of the match-going fan and really give you a taste of what the LOI is all about. The buzz of the day out, the possibilities for the day ahead being endless. The giddiness of anticipation for the game ahead playing second fiddle to having a laugh and drink with your closest friends with some great sounds soundtracking the day. Getting on a bus with a bag of cans and a gang of your mates and heading off to some distant godforsaken part of the country is something every match-going supporter can relate to, is one of life’s greatest simplest pleasures and something that you never really grow out of. But in the LOI, I get the impression that this might be even better due to the chaotic and at times shambolic nature of the league. Of course you’re gonna get gargled and have a laugh with your pals when you know there’s a possibility the game you’re attending might count for sweet FA when the result gets expunged because the opposition will drop out of the league. I’ve actually experienced this twice myself in the past decade, with Dublin City and Monaghan United dropping out of the top flight midseason. The esteemed editor of this fanzine, Ian Cusack, and Galwayman and regular Popular Side contributor Declan McGrath, joined me and a group of comrades on a journey to Waterford last July and I think they enjoyed the experience. The First Division, where the Reds find themselves currently trapped, has been dubbed the Discover Ireland what with it being the only possible reason you may actually venture to places like Cobh, Limerick and Longford.  As a wise man once said, the thing about football- the important thing about football- is that it is not just about football. Or, to paraphrase an even wiser man- in every football ground in the world, there are a certain number of nutters; it’s just that, in the League of Ireland, everyone else forgets to show up.

 

So what of my beloved Reds in 2016? At time of writing, we’re just a point outside a promotion playoff place with one third season gone. Under the tutelage of club legend Kevin Doherty, this young Shels team, mainly comprised of kids in their late teens and early 20s, is more than capable of securing a playoff berth come October. As an aside, Kev would be considered a Reds hero to many Shels fans, a fella who joined the club as a player in 2001 following an injury-ravaged spell at Liverpool. Gerard Houllier was quoted as saying that Kev was one of the best young defenders he’d seen, and Houllier would know a thing or two about quality young players given his work with the French underage set up is considered the basis for France’s international domination in the late 90s. Doherty’s first season as Shels manager in 2015 wasn’t great, and his inconsistent side ultimately missed out on the playoffs. We can’t be too critical however, considering it was his debut season managing a first team, and he was operating off a fairly low budget even for LOI First Division standards. This term, Doherty has the team playing a much more attractive brand of football, with the emphasis on playing good neat passing ball on the deck, in contrast to much of last season’s direct football. We tend to keep possession well, control the midfield, and we’re beginning to reap the benefits of this results-wise. He has assembled a good young side with a lot of heart and commitment, and no little skill. At a fan’s forum a few weeks back, Kev spoke about wanting to instil a passion and feeling for the club within his young charges, and this identity he’s looking to establish is evident in two young players- Adam O’ Connor and Ryan Robinson- sticking with Shels, despite offers from elsewhere, on the basis of the rapport they’ve built up with the manager from their time under his watch as an underage coach at the club. Our current squad is padded by the experience of a few senior players in their 30s, including the composed figure of midfield lynchpin Daire Doyle, and only last month we signed ex-Ireland international Stephen Elliot on a season-long contract, a player who you may know best from his time at a club just down the road from you. If we can keep our goalscorers like James English and Jamie Doyle fit and firing on all cylinders this season, and we put a stop to conceding daft goals from set pieces every week, we stand a great chance of making the playoffs.

 

Off the pitch, things are looking altogether more disturbing. Because of the large legacy debt run up, and because the club in effect sold Tolka Park over a decade ago, Shels will soon be in the unenviable position of having no ground to call our own.  The FAI and Dublin City Council want us to groundshare in Dalymount Park, home of Bohemians. It is understood, DCC will pay Bohs a fee to acquire Dalymount and redevelop it. The FAI wish to have the stadium redeveloped as part of a legacy project for Euro 2020. DCC is then reliant that they get Tolka Park, which means acquiring the leasehold from the land developer. It is understood that this has now happened. Funds from the redevelopment of Tolka would be used to leverage the purchase of Dalymount. In essence, Tolka would be sold off for redevelopment (in whatever form- social housing, commercial, who knows) in order to fund the purchase of Dalymount. The money going to Bohs will then be used to pay off their debt owed to a bank. It is understood Tolka could be demolished and redeveloped in order to help DCC recoup their investment in Dalymount. The redevelopment of Dalymount into a modern stadium was dependent on the Council getting Tolka and selling it off. I’m obviously biased, but I think it is shameful that a local council who within the last decade was designated the European Capital of Sport is considering putting a historic football stadium beyond municipal sporting use. But by all accounts it is a done deal, the tarnished legacy of the Ollie Byrne era. Whether we end up in Dalymount on a temporary or permanent basis is up for debate, but the impression I get from speaking to fellow supporters from our different supporters groups, is that this proposed move should be used by all at the club to regroup, assess, rediscover our identity and restructure the club into a supporters-own and run institution. Personally, I’d love a return to our Ringsend/Irishtown roots, as pie in the sky as that may seem today, and could be the basis of a future article here. For the time being, Tolka remains a great if somewhat dilapidated stadium. It’s a cracking place to spend a Friday night, and the rows and rows of terraced houses that surround the ground give it that quintessential traditional, old-school charm. If you’re ever in Dublin for a weekend, and there’s a game on at the grand old ground, I’d really recommend a visit. Get in touch, we’ll go for a few pints and you can savour a bit of living history of this city before it’s consigned to the past for good.

 

 

 

 

 

RI 63

RI63 is now completely sold out. Many thanks to everyone who purchased a copy.

Red Inc. 63 On Sale Friday June 1st

RI63 will be on sale Friday night at the Wexford game, outside the ground, from 7 pm til 8pm, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at last month’s fans forum, pyro on the pitch, podcasts, Prenton Park 20 years on and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a 32 page edition, all for a mere €2.

Red Inc. 62 on Sale

The remaining copies will go on sale on Friday at 7 before the Cobh game, or alternatively are available delivered to your door for €3.
Red Inc 62
Many thanks to everyone who bought a copy on Friday night.

A Statement from Reds Independent 22 February 2017

On 5 October 2016, Reds Independent issued a statement that called upon the board of Shelbourne FC to explain two simple things which they publicly stated in their own statement issued the previous day.

1) What happened to the promise by Joe Casey to consult with the supporters over the relocation of the club?

2) To name the supporters’ groups that the board alleged had lobbied DCC in favour of the club relocating to Dalymount.

In  the absence of a response to these questions, Reds Independent released a further statement on 23 November 2016, calling for Shelbourne supporters to refrain from funding the club in any way while this lack of transparency
and accountability existed.

In  the absence of a published response to these matters, we regret that we again  must  ask supporters not to pay into home league matches nor any cup matches  that  the club are entitled to a percentage of gate receipts from.
We also ask supporters not to buy any product that will fund the club nor to fund the club through any form of sponsorship.

We encourage supporters to continue to support the team on the pitch and to attend away games in order to do so.

Reds Independent

22 February 2017

A Statement from Reds Independent 23 November 2016

Today marks the 50th day since Shelbourne FC issued a statement (4 October 2016) announcing the club would be relocating to Dalymount Park. That announcement was in stark contrast to a previous promise by club chairman Joe Casey at the club’s Fans’ Forum in Tolka Park on 2 March 2015 that there would be no move without the consultation of the fans.

The same statement from the club also alleged that Shelbourne supporters’ groups had lobbied Dublin City Councillors in favour of the club relocating to Dalymount Park. No Shelbourne supporters’ group has ever publicly supported the relocation of the club to Dalymount Park and the position of Reds Independent with regard to that issue was addressed in a public statement on 5 October 2016.

The same statement on 5 October 2016 called upon the board of Shelbourne FC to explain two simple things which they publicly stated.

1) What happened to the promise by Joe Casey to consult with the supporters over the relocation of the club?

2) To name the supporters’ groups that the board alleged had lobbied DCC in favour of the club relocating to Dalymount.

Despite the statement from RI on 5 October, and countless requests for an explanation on social media from fans to simply explain their public statement, the board has contemptuously ignored the supporters.

As Shelbourne FC is currently a privately owned entity with no obligation nor accountability to its’ supporters, we find that we can no longer continue to fund the club in any way while the current board hold its’ supporters in such disregard.

It is with deep regret that we hereby find ourselves with no other option but to ask all Shelbourne supporters not to fund the club in any way while the status quo exists. We ask supporters not to pay into home league matches nor any cup matches that the club are entitled to a percentage of gate receipts from. We also ask supporters not to buy any product that will fund the club nor to fund the club through any form of sponsorship.

Reds Independent

23 November 2016

Red Inc. 59 on sale this Saturday

Red Inc. Issue 59 will be on sale Saturday night at the Waterford United game, outside the ground, from 7 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at the potential effect of Dundalk’s Euro success, focuses on the latest on Dalymount, RI FactCheck, a look back on the Doherty era, a feature on a Red at Euro 2016 and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a special 36 page end-of-season special edition, all for a mere €2.

Regards,

Reds Independent

A Statement from Reds Independent- 5 October 2016

While yesterday’s official confirmation that Shelbourne FC plan to relocate to a redeveloped Dalymount Park at some stage in the future couldn’t be considered a shock, there are issues that we would like the club to clarify regarding the statement that they issued (Statement from Shelbourne Board of Management 4 October 2016).

Yesterday’s statement claimed that Shelbourne supporters’ groups had lobbied Dublin City Councillors in support of the club relocating to Dalymount. Reds Independent would like to take this opportunity to clarify that they are not one of those groups, and in the interests of transparency would like the club to name those Shelbourne supporters’ groups who it is alleged did lobby DCC councillors in favour of moving the club to Dalymount.

Furthermore, at the club’s annual Fans’ Forum on 2 March 2015, club chairman Joe Casey informed the supporters present that the club would not move anywhere without consulting the fans. We are not aware of any such consultation process taking place, so we would like the board to clarify if such a process did take place, and if so, give further details of said process, or if it was decided to disregard the promise made to fans.

Finally, we would like to express our disappointment with the board’s statement describing the club as an “inconvenience” to those living close to Tolka Park, an insult to our supporters who would never view our great club in such a light. Aside from the fact that Tolka Park is there longer than probably every resident in the area, such a statement could come back to haunt the club in the future. Any planning permission that is sought for any facility by the club or for a facility by any other entity that the club may be hoping to use, could be jeopardised and can now be objected to with the club’s own description of itself as an inconvenience, and ironically will probably be used by those who will no doubt be objecting to “Project Dalymount”.

Reds Independent
5 October 2016

Red Inc. 58 on sale this Friday

Red Inc. Issue 58 will be on sale Friday night at the Cobh Ramblers game, outside the ground, from 6.20 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at Red identity, a review of up and coming Dublin band Oski Bravo’s debut single, a focus on the return of begging bowl season, we catch up with the affairs of our former Euro opponents and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a special 32 page edition, all for a mere €2.

Regards,

Reds Independent