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Friday 25th March 2011 ko 19.45

League of Ireland Premier Division


GALWAY UNITED 1 (Yoffe 60)

Att c1,000

Entry €15 

Programme €4

It’s long been my conviction that the British and the Irish have far more in common than what divides us. We drive on the same side of the road, speak (predominantly) the same language and occupy the same set of islands. For the record Dublin is still the only airport I’ve ever landed in and not felt abroad. Most of the time its the extremists and politicians that seek to accentuate the differences while everyone else is happy to enjoy each other’s company; this trip rather proved the point.

I was in an odd position that March, newly single but still living alone in the marital home and would be for another two months. I was coming off the back of a dreadful year but was gradually rebuilding my life and a trip to the Irish Republic was a real help to me in terms of finding some self-confidence.  That said it didn’t stop the ex-wife phoning me up when I’d just dumped my overnight bag at my hotel in Swords on asking whether she could drop by in Banbury to collect some of her belongings. I wasn’t exactly in the position to stop her!

I remember us getting it into our heads that with Bohemians playing on the Friday night it might be a good idea to head to Dalymount Park in the morning to buy tickets. That was unnecessary, but we did have to call in at the Aviva Stadium for tickets for the Republic vs FYR Macedonia on Saturday night. That turned out to be a pain- a whizz at the FAI thought it would be a wonderful idea to only sell tickets jointly with Eire’s upcoming friendly with Uruguay. Just the €70, a lot to pay for one game as we’d be back home for the second game.

It was altogether easier at Bohemian. I’d made a mental note to be aware of the sensitivities of being an Englishman in Dublin, but the truth of it was that the welcome we found at Dalymount made my thought rather unnecessary. The welcome we received from the club and secretary Lynne O’Neill was warm and the gesture of being allowed into the empty stadium to take photos was greatly appreciated. As we departed we were offered the chance to have use of the Members’ bar for the evening’s game, which was a gesture we’ll never forget.   

We returned to Dalymount in good time to make use of that bar, and yes I did order a Guinness; it would have been rude to have done otherwise!! But it does pay to take time to consider what we were visiting. Firstly do remember the League of Ireland exists due to Irish independence and was formed in 1921, before that all Irish teams played in the Irish Football League- that competition still exists but only Northern Irish clubs participate in it. 

Bohemian were one of the founder clubs of the new league, but had played at Dalymount in the northern suburbs of Phibsborough since 1901. The original ground was a vegetable patch called, (you’ll love this!) Pisser Dignam’s Field, but was gradually built up over the next 30 years with Archibald Leitch designing the main stand and the crash barriers on the Tramway Terrace to the right.

In its pomp Dalymount regularly saw crowds of up to 40,000 for high-profile games. The ground consisted of the Leitch stand, and three sides of terrace with only the School End having any covered terrace at all – and the whole stadium certainly never was up to today’s safety standards. Nevertheless Dalymount was Dublin’s go-to football ground- in 1957 48,000 saw Ireland play England and the same year Shamrock Rovers played Manchester United in the European Cup here. 

The problem was that the place was allowed to become obsolete. Gradually internationals were switched to Lansdowne Road- the final international at Dalymount- Ireland vs Morroco was played in 1990, and the last Irish Cup Final in 1999.

Sadly the main “Jodi” stand you see now replaced the Leitch stand in 1999 but the crash barriers on the disused terrace are still in situ, though maybe not for much longer. Back then that section of the ground had been sold off so just existed at one end- isolated, derelict and unloved.

Elsewhere the construction of the new main stand also saw half of the terrace opposite demolished, with the other half and the School End having seats bolted on to it. Those seats were only in use in the open side until 2011 when health and safety concerns saw it closed, leaving just the two sides open with a total capacity of 3,640.

Now there have been no end of plans to redevelop the place. The stadium is now owned by Dublin Council and the idea is to create a European competition- compliant 6,000 capacity stadium for both Bohs and Shamrock Rovers. The idea is for both clubs to play at Tolka Park, also owned by the council during construction. The sale of Tolka and the redevelopment of Phibsborough Shopping Centre would help finance the whole thing. 

And as wonderful as Lynne and her colleagues were it was clear that something needed to give. What was visited was a club in debt, and struggling but still managing to be right in the centre of their community. I’ve never seen as many children in green and white shirts playing short-sided games on the pitch at half time, and that includes my trip to Celtic!!!

We watched Bohemian lose a poor game but this was an evening about making new friends and learning about a wonderful old ground. We headed back to Swords, and  over another Guinness decided if we had to buy that €70 special offer we’d pop those Uruguay tickets in an envelope and drop them off at Dalymount. Hopefully they could find a family who would appreciate them. 

Dedicated to the memory of Graeme Askham. R.I.P.