herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

'Dalymount was a place of dreams, even on the coldest winter Sunday'

Ireland take on Austria in 1963, with some fans enjoying a bird’s-eye view from ad hoardings and floodlights
Ireland take on Austria in 1963, with some fans enjoying a bird’s-eye view from ad hoardings and floodlights
Pele plays for Santos against Bohs in 1972
The crowd on the edge of the pitch at Ireland v Italy in 1985

Text me before Ireland's next soccer international and I'll tell you in advance the exact seat I will be sitting in during the game.

Things were not so streamlined when Dalymount Park was Irish soccer's spiritual home. I can roughly tell you which concrete steps I stood on as a schoolboy when Don Givens headed head home his third goal in a hat-trick against the USSR in 1974.

The problem was that as the crowd surged forward in a euphoric tumult of celebration, my feet left the ground. When they encountered concrete again, I was a dozen rows closer to the pitch.

Before Givens scored four goals against Turkey in 1975, I positioned myself at the top of the open Tramway End terrace. But I still found my face pressed against the wire next to the pitch when the tectonic plates of wild celebration settled for the fourth time.

Hypothermia

This is not to suggest that all visits to Dalymount were dangerous. Sometimes in the 1980s the main danger was that if you collapsed from hypothermia on the deserted terraces nobody else might notice. The isolated figures present looked so lost in pensive contemplation that you wondered why they were there.

But they were there for the same reason I was - because, even on the coldest Sunday, Dalymount could be lit up by a moment of lethargic genius by the late Jackie Jameson of Bohs, who would rouse himself (and rouse the meagre attendance from our toper) with moments of such bewildering brilliance that he was the closest the League of Ireland came to an enigma like Matthew Le Tissier.

Dalymount wasn't always empty in the 1980s - it could be dangerously full. It was perilously packed in 1984 when Glasgow Rangers thugs rioted there - despite pleas from Ranger's manager, Jock Wallace - as Bohemians beat the Scottish giants 3-2 in the Uefa Cup.

The main danger was not even inside the ground in 1985 when the FAI had the crazy idea of playing the reigning World Champions, Italy, with cash being taken on the few turnstiles not bricked up.

Crush

This was the closest I came to being killed at a football match, caught up in a terrifying crush at the narrow entrance off Connaught Street.

Swept off my feet, I ended up lying on top of a girl who lay astride another girl, with more bodies beneath her.

We were minutes away from an Irish Hillsborough when the gardai, knowing that the turnstiles could never cope, forced open the main gates.

I was so winded a policeman needed to drag me by the leg into Dalymount. For 20 minutes I lay against a wall, unable to move. Then I walked back out into the lane and found my shoe among a sea of lost shoes.

To top it all, Chris Hughton then conceded a simple goal against the Italians.

Every football supporter has their own special memory of Dalymount Park, which has been home to Bohemians FC since it opened in 1901.

The ground has just passed into the ownership of Dublin City Council which plan to redevelop it, after previous plans fell by the wayside.

This means that Colin White's new book, Dalymount Park: The Home of Irish Football (Currach Press) will be of interest to anyone who once packed onto its terraces or indeed - as happened during big games in the past - climbed onto its roof, scaled its floodlight pylons or precariously balanced on tall wooden advertisements above terraces for a better view.

White's book is a cornucopia of photographs from 1909 up to the present day.

For example, we see the elderly Douglas Hyde - who had no interest in soccer - attending a match against Poland in 1938, out of courtesy to our guests, who were about to be invaded by the Nazis.

What you may not be aware of is the price he paid for this gesture of decency - sectarian forces in the GAA used it as an excuse to rid themselves of a Protestant patron by expelling him. This was despite the fact that he was attending in his official capacity, like many Garda Siochana there that day, who were also GAA members but suffered no censure for just doing their jobs.

The book also features the programme cover for the international against Yugoslavia in 1955, a seismic match as 22,000 Dubliners defied Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and turned up to see a team from a communist country play in Ireland for the first time.

But maybe the joy of anecdotes about Dalymount lies in the telling of these stories by people who were present - or whose fathers and grandfathers were present - when Pele played there in 1972 or when or Drumcondra played Atletico Madrid in 1958.

Irish soccer has come a long way since Alan Kelly Snr earned his first cap against Germany in Dalymount.

Kelly caught the ball and rolled it into his chest. Only when he kicked it away did he discover a white stain on his jersey.

Irish football was so poor back then that they had whitewashed an old ball to make it look new.

This is a book to savour, making all those memories new again.

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