(Just something different. This is the reproduction of an article I wrote during a recent trip home, for the March issue of United We Stand, the Manchester United fanzine)
Dalymount Park. The red and black stripes meet the green and white hoops. The artisan, bohemian, village of Phibsborough against the vast suburban landscape of Tallaght. Northside faces Southside, Bohs v Rovers.
It’s derby day in Dublin. The biggest rivalry in League of Ireland football between two of its most successful clubs, yet without a championship between them since 2011.
The lack of recent title success, or Storm Dennis for that matter, doesn’t dampen fan enthusiasm or the flares of red or green from opposing ends of the shabby old stadium,
Both sets of supporters are up for this one, each club’s ticket allocation significantly over-subscribed. It’s the opening weekend of the season (think United v City on Premier League opening day – unlikely!).
Having one side and an end condemned, Dalymount’s capacity is now only 3,600, and with RTE’s plan to broadcast live coverage literally blown away (along with the HOME dug-out), the derby was lost to those left ticketless.
2,700 Bohs fans in the Jodi Stand out-roared a raucous 900-strong Rovers contingent, a troop that earlier preceded me up Phibsborough Road past the Bohemian Bar towards the stadium, mounted police and the clacking of horse-shoe on pavement the insulation between Hoops fans’ boisterous march and distracted, curious on-lookers.
Inside, and on the field, Rovers were the more assured, though Bohs too had their moments, mainly involving Canadian wide man Kris Twardek. Two momentous downpours made conditions ugly and testing throughout the opening half, the pitch cutting up, the greasy ball skipping unapologetically away from players’ desperate attempts to control.
Rovers are sound defensively. Goalkeeper Alan Mannus a Northern Ireland international and Scottish Cup winner with St Johnstone, Joey O’Brien with Premier League experience at both West Ham and Bolton and Danny Lafferty, formerly of Burnley and Sheffield United in Championship football, all on the wrong side of 30 but each adding experience.
The home side looked like they’d weathered storms Dennis and Rovers both. Playing with 10-men from minute 65, they reached added time still level, a point well within grasp.
That was when Shamrock’s Aaron McEneff, surged into the box, driving in a dangerous cross-shot. Talbot for Bohs repelled the well-struck effort but only as far as Hoops striker Aaron Greene who gleefully lashed home from 6 yards before going across to taunt the home fans in celebration. The game was 93 mins old.
The fare was decent in trying conditions, a credit to the players’ toil and tenacity. Both teams will look better as the season develops. It was watchable and the atmosphere lively. Not bad for a dry seat and 15 euros.
Certainly, worth it to hear the entire Jodi stand launch into The Auld Triangle, Bohs adopted anthem, encapsulating nearby landmarks, the Royal Canal and Mountjoy prison, a stone’s-throw away. The triangle’s still in the jail but no longer beaten daily to awaken the inmates.
Speaking to Bohs fans after the game hope prevails through plans for the much-needed redevelopment of Dalymount, dubbed not without justification, ‘the home of Irish football’. But with investment of 32m euros being talked, fans aren’t impressed the new structure will house only 6,000 fans.
Perhaps it’s capacity enough if Irish football fails to wean new fans away from the dreaded weekly exodus to the UK, mainly the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool.
I met Mark from Limerick in the Bohemian Bar post-match. He reckons only ‘one in twenty’ Irish soccer fans attend local games.
He’s probably not that far off. A five-year-old study by the Irish Times reckoned 350,000 fans attended League of Ireland games in 2013/14 and as much as half that number travelled across the water to watch games at English grounds.
“I don’t see the majority as real football fans, apart from a very few who attend locally as well. Many of those who make the pilgrimage to England probably don’t even know where Finn Harps are from.
“I’ve nothing against English football. Wouldn’t generally go out of my way to watch it, but if there’s a game on and I’ve time, I’ll watch. I’d just rather go out to a match. If we can get others to do similar, they might just keep going. Getting people out in the first place is the tough part.”
More optimism has arrived recently in the form of Keiran Lucid’s proposals for an All-Island League structure. Mark’s opinion….
“The top clubs in Northern Ireland allied to those here would add variety, introduce better competition and structure, and increase the chances for sponsorship and much needed finance to flow into the local game.”
The proposers intuitively labelled the new league, ‘All-Island’, as opposed to ‘All-Ireland’. However, the unique political dynamic and distrust of one administration over the other which exists in Ireland, make Lucid’s concept at best 50-50 to convince enough, particularly in the north.
Lucid’s proposals probably remain a far-off dream, but either way you wouldn’t bet against Bohs and Rovers, battling since 1915 for the city’s bragging rights, to still be around doing the same in another one hundred years…