With the days of Dalymount Park in its current crumbling incarnation numbered, two of the big city clubs Shelbourne and Bohemians will soon be sharing pitch turf. We speak to some of those closely associated with both clubs.
After about 22 minutes, Irish right-back Joe Kinnear picks up the ball just inside the opposition half and swings a cross into the box. The ball sails over the opposing centre-back and is met by striker Don Givens who expertly finds the bottom right-hand corner of the goal with his header. The Irish fans erupt with joy.
The year is 1974 and Ireland have just gone one-nil up against former World Cup semi-finalists, USSR in a 1976 European Championships qualifying match.
The match finishes three-nil to Ireland after Givens scores a hat-trick and a debuting Liam Brady gains fan adoration. It is estimated that more than 35,000 fans swarmed to watch the Irish beat the once dominant USSR on that cold October afternoon in Dalymount Park, the historical home of Irish football.
Since its opening in 1901, Dalymount has been the home of Bohemian FC, one of the oldest running clubs in the country having been established in September 1890. One of the founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921, Bohemian FC, or ‘Bohs’, have won the Premier Division 11 times, FAI Cup seven times and are one of only two teams that have not been relegated from the top-tier of Irish football – feats all accomplished on the hallowed turf of Dalymount Park.
Only about a mile away from Dalymount and across the Royal Canal, Tolka Park and Shelbourne FC lie in wait.
Shelbourne, like Bohs, have a storied past of hoisting league and cup trophies ever since their inception in 1895. Unlike Bohemians, however, the Drumcondra-based club currently play their football in League of Ireland’s First Division, having been relegated after the 2013 season.
Soon Shelbourne and Bohemians will share a stadium. This move would have seemed like sacrilege only a few years ago but as both stadiums fall into disrepair and both clubs fight financial uncertainty, the decision has been made to have one ground host both teams.
After the 2020 season, Dalymount will be demolished and the two arch rivals will share Tolka Park until the new Dalymount is primed and ready. Then, both clubs will reside in Dalymount, leaving the land which Tolka lies on to be turned into social housing.
Players and executives will be heard from most about the move: the positives and the negatives, the logistics and the dynamics. The people in the background, however, the people that help make these clubs tick, are the people that will arguably, be most affected by the move. So, this is their experience, these are their words on what makes their club special and what’s in store for two of Ireland’s biggest football clubs.
Dan Lambert – Bohemian FC Commercial and Marketing Manager
“The day the bulldozers come in everybody will be pretty emotional. It won’t be a nice day”
Meeting at the famously graffiti lined walls of Dalymount Lane on a horrifically wet afternoon, Daniel Lambert directs me to the bar located inside The Jodi Stand. The space is decorated with posters, plaques and trophies commemorating the club’s successes throughout their long existence.
On the wall, above the bar, the years of league and cup triumphs for the senior team, are inscribed. Pointing at the most recent victories, Lambert explains what the club has been through over the past decade or so. “Look at 2008, we win the double. In 2009, we win the league. If, on paper, you’re a person looking back and you see that, you’re like, that must have been a great time. In fact, that was a really bad time.”
“That was when the club lost a lot of money and got carried away with itself. Those successes, as fantastic as the manager and team were back then, they should never have been given the budgets they were given by the club. Looking back, that’s an anomaly.”
He says that due to over-spending and a property deal that never manifested during the “boom years”, the club racked up an enormous amount of debt. There were times, he tells me, that they feared the end was near.
“There have been a lot of lows within the last 10 years. If you go back, there was a point in 2013 where we thought the club was going out of existence, it came very close to that. There weren’t any one-off things on or off the pitch, there was just this sense that it was all very close to ending. Which it was.”
Lambert says that members of the club and people in the community helped in any way they could.
“If it wasn’t for everyone who put in a collective effort – the club would have gone.”
“There is a debt around Dalymount Park so we managed to enter in negotiations with Dublin City Council. It was all about resolving that.”
To aid in the fundraising, Lambert organised two concerts in the Olympia Theatre and Vicar Street which were hosted by boxer Bernard Dunne and TV presenter Martin King. The concerts featured comedians such as Eric Lalor and Ardal O’Hanlon and musician Brush Shiels.
“Fans auctioned off their memorabilia. One lad did a fast for four days – he raised about ten grand. It really was just different groups coming together and doing whatever they could.”
Coming out of those dark days, that collective spirit of fighting for the benefit of something larger than oneself is indicative of what the club, and its ethos, stands for now, Lambert says.
Officially launched in March 2016, the Bohemian Foundation is a non-profit organisation set up with the intent to give back to the local community via working with local schools, elderly citizens and The Irish Prison Service.
The foundation organises walking football events for over 50s, coaching sessions for inmates of Mountjoy Prison and helps local school children with advice on well-being and nutrition.
“By going into the local area and Bohemians giving to the local area, we’re going back to what club was built upon. It sort of lost its way a little bit during the boom years – like a lot of Irish society where it was a society of the individual. That’s where the motivation comes from, to try and re-establish what we kind of lost during those years.”
“Everybody is proud of Bohs now. This is the best feeling around the club that I could ever remember. I speak to older members in their 50s and 60s and they’re saying it’s the best they can ever remember. Which is something special, I think. The foundation has been a big part of that.”
Lambert speaks with a conviction and a clear passion for Bohemian Football Club. In many ways, he and everybody else who volunteers and works at Bohs have earned that right.
In addition to the community work, Bohemian FC hire a club poet, (which Lambert thinks is a world first for a football club) to write poems about Dalymount and the area. A percentage of all profits made on away jerseys sold goes to bringing people in Direct Provision to matches and recently they attracted 1,700 fans to an under-19 UEFA Youth League between themselves and Danish side, FC Midtjylland.
“For me, that’s my favourite moment over the past decade,” he says. “It was a Wednesday night, seven o’clock – not too soon after people finished work and we had 1,700 hundred people out on the stand there for an under-19 game.”
“That was brilliant, that was really, really brilliant.”
Regarding the upcoming demolishment of Dalymount Park and groundshare with Shelbourne FC, Lambert tells me that, “it’s a good thing for the club. It’s a good thing for Dublin.”
“Having said that, the day the bulldozers come in everybody will be pretty emotional. It won’t be a nice day.”
“We’ve played here since 1901, it hosted the first ever Republic of Ireland home football match in 1924. Pele, Zidane, Van Basten, Guillt, Best, Charlton – you can list them all – have played here. It has an amazing rich history.”
Colin O’Connor – Bohemian FC Kitman
“It would be that sort of club that you would get roped in to doing a bit of everything”
“The biggest games are always the Rovers and Shels games,” Colin O’Connor, the Bohemian FC kitman, tells me. “The week up to that, you can tell there’s a derby, the training is sharper and the atmosphere is just different – with the players and the fans.”
O’Connor is wearing his army fatigues when I meet him at a Rathmines café. He now works full-time in the nearby barracks.
“I started with the club in 2003, 15 years ago, just as a young fella helping out,” he says.
“Stephen Kenny was the manager at the time. He had a lad doing the kitman and I was just helping him. When Stephen left the lad went with him, so I just continued on then.”
“I went full-time with the club in 2007. We were all full-time back then, the staff, the players, coaches, the whole lot of us. I stayed full-time then until 2010.”
When the club began falling further into debt and cost-cutting measures had to be implemented, O’Connor joined the army but stuck with the club on a part-time basis.
“That was probably the lowest moment for me during my time at Bohs,” he says. “We were reverting from full-time to part-time and that was the year we lost the league on goal difference.”
“I decided to leave then and find a more permanent job in the army. It’s good for me because I can still stay involved and do part-time while having job security.”
Although O’Connor is technically the kitman for Bohs, he explains that often, the washing of the jerseys is not the only responsibility that lies at his feet.
“It would be that sort of club that you would get roped in to doing a bit of everything.”
“I would be in charge of looking after the bus for away trips – hotels and pre-match food would also fall on my head. I would look after the u19s as well, regarding away matches and whatnot.”
Part of O’Connor’s role with the team would be to lend an ear to any grievances that the players might have.
“I would be the middle man,” he says. “I would get along very well with the coaching staff and players. I like to have a laugh with the lads and if they have a problem, they might come to me and tell me what’s on their mind. So, I would act as the mediator sometimes – between the players and the coaches.”
Although O’Connor admits that it was a time of over-spending, he still says that his fondest on-pitch memory since he began at the club would be the double-winning season of 2009.
Shortly after the glory years, O’Connor, like Lambert, remembers the financial fallout and the very real possibility that the club would go bust.
“I’ve been there on a couple of days where we thought the club was going to fold,” he says. “I was in the office and people were just coming donating money – it was a bit surreal.”
Now, he says, with the sale of Dalymount Park to Dublin City Council and the introduction of community programmes, the club is in a much better place.
“They’ve taken away some of the overheads from Bohemians and that’s helped us a lot, and they’re looking after the maintenance of the place.” he says. “Things such as showers breaking and lights not working just because it’s an old ground. In that sense the Council taking it over has been a great help.”
“It needs to be done. It’s badly needed,” he asserts when asked about the upcoming redevelopment of the stadium.
“It has a lot of character and history and when you think of all the players that have played here and the concerts etc. But the facilities aren’t up to scratch and it’s not nice for people coming to the games and the facilities just not being there,” he says. “It’s an aging ground.”
Talking about the upcoming year, O’Connor seems hopeful that the team can pull of something worthy of “Dalyer’s” penultimate season.
“I don’t think we’ll be challenging for the title, unfortunately because we just don’t have the squad. I do think we can go on a good cup run, however,” he says with a smile.
Paul Byrne – Shelbourne FC No#1 Fan
“It could be argued that Byrne is Shelbourne FC’s biggest fan. He’s been to about 1400 games”
Paul Byrne was the only fan present when the team toured Australia back in 1992. He remembers it vividly too.
“We played in Canberra, went up to Sydney to play a game and then flew to Perth to play a game there. We played three nil-all matches,” he laughs.
“We were there to commemorate the 30th anniversary of winning the league, when we won in ‘62.”
“Because I was a part of the official tour, I ended up going as the kitman, it was good fun, I didn’t have a kit with me sure. It was a great aul trip.”
It could be argued that Byrne is Shelbourne FC’s biggest fan. He’s been to about 1400 games, “give or take a few,” and has familial connections to the club tracing back to 1895.
“My dad played for them, but he got badly injured when he was about 20 so he never actually played for the senior team. If he had gotten treatment, he would have been out of work for about a year which in those days, it wasn’t going to happen,” he says. “I also have cousins who played for Shelbourne and my dad’s uncle played for them back in 1906.”
Now 62-years of age, Byrne says the first game that he really remembers was when Shelbourne played Dundalk in 1964. “Back then they used to advertise the revenue taken in at the gate and it was £1,998. I was sitting on my Dad’s shoulders and heard that being announced, that’s why I remember that game so clearly.”
Byrne is a wealth of knowledge about the League of Ireland and particularly Shelbourne FC. He casually recites the great rivalries that his beloved club had with Derry and Dundalk in the early 1990s and the club’s time playing in Harold’s Cross Stadium during the 1980s.
Byrne is more than a ticket-buying fan, however. Over the decades he has been involved with the club at different times and at different levels.
In Harold’s Cross Stadium, he and a few others were responsible for making sure all the rubbish left behind from the dog racing the night before was cleaned up prior to kick-off. Before the club permanently moved into Tolka Park in 1990, he helped get the stadium ready with general handywork. He also ran the souvenir shop for a period and helped out on the turnstiles when he could.
“I like to help out as much as I can. We always had designated turnstile people and stewards and so on but for the bigger games we would chip in.”
“I was programme editor about 30 years ago and it’s now coming around again. I do that and I’m also the Chairman of the SSDG, the Shelbourne Supporters Development Group. We’re a supporter’s club that would have be fairly influential on club policy.”
Byrne thinks for a moment when asked about what his favourite memory would be supporting his boyhood club. Eventually, after a few seconds, he recalls the time that Shelbourne beat Dundalk to win the league after a 30 year wait.
“In 1992, we went up to Oriel Park (Dundalk’s stadium) and won 3-1. It was personally, very emotional for me because my father died a few years beforehand. I was with my uncle and cousin and I remember my uncle said to me, ‘I wish Billy was here.’”
“It even gets to me now, thinking about it.”
On the flip side, Byrne expresses disappointment in the team’s position over the past few seasons.
“The last six years being in the first division, for a club like Shels and our achievements, it has been tough. We have got new investors in and signed some good, young players so I’m hoping we win promotion this season.”
“Going forward we will be debt free, have a lot more Dublin derbies, a lot more revenue – I think we’ll have a higher profile. We’ll be in a place where a club like Shelbourne should be.”
Although Byrne is looking forward to clashing once again with old Dublin foes, he has reservations about the groundshare.
“There won’t be one fan that will want to move to Dalymount Park but having said that the reality is that the debt will be written off and we’ll be going to a purpose-built stadium.”
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to go over and try and drum up support in that area. We’re essentially going in as the arch rivals, it won’t be easy.”
“We have our concerns about practical situations and how things are going to unfold but I’m very hopeful that things are on the up and I’m hopeful that it’ll work out.”
Shane O’Doherty – Owner of The Little Grill
“I’m in the Air Corps and Defense Forces. On Thursday I finish at about four or five. I head to Musgraves and get the stuff for the match.”
“We’ll never be rich, not out of Shelbourne anyway,” Shane O’Doherty, owner of The Little Grill, jokingly tells me.
We meet just outside of Grogans pub on South William Street and O’Doherty is accompanied by his mother, Alison.
O’Doherty operates his fast-food van for Shelbourne FC in the grounds of Tolka Park on matchdays.
Now into his third or fourth season – a definitive starting date can’t be given as it “feels like a lifetime when you’re in the van,” – O’Doherty says that it wasn’t always the plan to get into the catering business.
“I had savings to get a new car, but I saw it (the van) on DoneDeal, and I said I’d love to give this a try. I pulled it into my mam’s garden, and she said, “what are you doing with that”, and I said, well, here we go.”
O’Doherty has been a fan of Shels for most of his life and played for the club from under-12s to under-17s, but catering for the loyal fans in Drumcondra kind of happened by chance.
“The guy who I bought the chipper van from had the contract for Shelbourne. There were three Shelbourne games left in the season and he asked could they keep it until the league was over. He then asked me to do the three games – so I done them. The club were happy with the service and I was happy doing it, so I stayed on.”
O’Doherty, like many people involved in League of Ireland clubs, has a full-time job in addition to his gig at Tolka Park.
“I’m in the Air Corps and Defense Forces,” he says. “On Thursday I finish at about four or five. I head to Musgraves and get the stuff for the match.”
“Magically,” he answers when asked how he manages to balance both jobs.
“I get a lot of help, there’s a lot of man hours and because it’s mobile it has to be moved from location to location. It’s a full family affair, the ma helps out a lot and often we drag other people down to chip in.”
To make sure he doesn’t buy too much or too little stock for the match, O’Doherty would often ring ahead, to see how many fans Shels’ opposition are bringing that weekend.
“We’ll contact the club and ask, “has Limerick been on to you?” and they’ll say yeah, they’re bringing 200 fans with them.”
“Each match is different. Wexford Youths won’t bring a big crowd, Athlone will bring an OK crowd, Cork will bring a huge crowd. After a while you kind of know how big the crowd will be.”
Operating a chipper van inside a stadium is not without its risk of injury, however.
O’Doherty recalls a time when one of the arms holding up the hatch on the side of the van was struck by a stray ball.
“We’re right behind the goal and we have had numerous items in the catering unit broken. The arm that holds up the hatch is now slanted, and it always happens when they’re practicing their shots, so we tend not to open up now until shooting practice is over.”
“If they hit the net as much as they hit our van they would be in the Premier Division,” he says with a grin.
Nursing the last of his pint, O’Doherty and his mother are warm and friendly, characteristics that seem to translate to matchday. “Let’s just say we tend to look after the people.”
By “looking after the people”, O’Doherty means that he’s rather liberal with his prices, an unofficial policy that has endeared him to the Shelbourne faithful.
“We’re living in a country where everything is crazily priced. You hear a child coming down, you don’t even see them, you just hear two euro being put on the counter and you peel over, and you say, “hiya bud”, and he’ll say, “can I get chips and a drink?” Now, chips alone are three euro but that little kid will go away with chips, sausages and a drink. Some kids do have it and some kids don’t, but we don’t treat them differently.”
“You see, some of the regulars have been to see Shels since the ‘50s and ‘60s. They brought their children and now their bringing their grandchildren.”
“These guys are coming generations and generations, most of the people down there are volunteers. Even the stewards would come up. You picture Friday night in October or November and it’s teaming down rain, these guys are standing there watching more-or-less grass roots, these are all Irish players. We just look after them.”
“Our prices tend to bend the odd time, yeah.”
“I would definitely describe Shelbourne as a family club,” he emphasizes as we finish up. “We see the enormous effort that these guys put in to support and run the club, so we like to contribute and give something back.”
Before we part ways, I wonder where the cooking experience comes from. “I spent two years in the kitchen in the Defense Forces, so I picked up the basics there.”
“Sure I fed him all my life,” says O’Doherty. “Yeah, she’s like SpongeBob with those burger patties so she is,” O’Doherty admits.
“But I’ll tell you something, I have the best goddamn curry chips in Dublin,” he exclaims. “I’ll never tell anybody how I do it. It’s a secret.”
Words: Gary Ibbotson
Photos: Aoife Herrity