Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We demand legislation!

I’m hoping the political Mick Wallace
can give the First Division fan some solace
by asking if the Minister for Sport
might lend the aforementioned fan support
by abolishing, with suitable propriety,
the current two-tier system in society.

At leader’s question time, he could harangue
Joan Burton and the rest of the shebang
and ask for an immediate white paper
to put an end to this unsustainable caper.
Surely he can persuade the Mayo Fuhrer
to heal this rift between the poor and poorer?

Five years on, the situation’s critical –
perhaps its time that we all got political.
Is there nothing in the constitution
that might relieve our current destitution?
Mick could really offer us an elixir
and make our Enda’s five-point plan a sixer?

Let him address the chamber with defiance
from deep within the United Left Alliance,
entreating our befuddled sporting minister
to close this chasm, inequable and sinister.
(Although it might require a few Mick Wallaces
to get the Government to change its policies.)

Diary of a shipwrecked sailor

Early March 2011 –
Hibernating for four months is the only way we can save enough energy to face the perils ahead in this Godforsaken place but oh it was good to wake and feel the sun on our faces and think, if only for a minute, that we were back in our homeland of the Premier Division.
This will be the fifth summer that we have spent in this barren wilderness, searching for a ship to bring us home. It seems that we have circumnavigated this island several times to no avail and at times the despair has been great but we trust in God and the circularity of football fortunes that one day we will see our loved ones again.
A carrier pigeon brought us news that things are again not well back home. It appears that the good ship Torpedo Fingal was wrecked on the rocky coast of fiscal rectitude and was lost with all hands on board. There are few here that mourn her passing, having seriously questioned the raw materials used in her construction.
There are rumours too that the SS Bohs nearly went under in the same storm but survived by throwing overboard everything that wasn’t nailed down. I fear for her greatly, though not enough to lose much sleep over.
The SS Drogs also was sighted off our coast and the wind seemed certain to blow her ashore at the precise spot where our own vessel capsized. However, the Hand of God intervened and the wind changed at the last moment and the last we saw of her she was heading back to the Premier Division with the wind in her sails.
Last week we travelled to the interior of this place to a town called Long-ford in search of provisions for the voyage ahead. Oh but this is a Godforsaken place where the rain pours out of the sky like water from a bilge pump. However on this occasion, it stayed dry and many of the crew took that as an omen of bright days ahead.
Fortunately the tribe in Long-ford were very accommodating and gave us the most amount of booty that we could carry. They can often be a recalcitrant, niggardly bunch so we were pleased to find them in such generous mood.
Last week, a small party went hunting in a place called Cretty-ard. God knows but it is a Godforsaken place but they were hopeful of bagging some serious game which would serve to buoy us up for the months ahead. As I write this, I have heard no news of their return. If they return empty handed it will be a bitter blow
Tonight we receive a deputation from a tribe that dwell on the banks of the mysterious River Slaney in the south east of the island. It is by all accounts a Godforsaken place.
Their leader is a great, wild-haired warrior with a penchant for pink. He has recently being accepted into the island’s inner sanctum after wrestling an ox, a badger and a sabre-toothed squirrel so he is obviously a powerful man. Let us hope they come bearing gifts and without a spirit of animosity.

Double standards?

“Financial mismanagement!” they cried in derision,
those FAI boys with a puritan heart.
“Oh, Shelbourne, quake now, as we give our decision –
this kind of thing must be stopped from the start.
‘Condemned now, you stand here, the scourge of the earth.
The right and the just shall give you a wide berth.
A handful of dust will be all that you’re worth
and your neighbours shall mock you with ill-disguised mirth.”

“Financial mismanagement!” they cried in derision,
those IMF boys with a puritan heart.
“Oh, Ireland, quake now, as we give our decision –
this kind of thing must be stopped from the start.
‘Condemned now, you stand here, the scourge of the earth.
The right and the just shall give you a wide berth.
A handful of dust will be all that you’re worth
and your neighbours shall mock you with ill-disguised mirth.”

“Financial mismanagement,” they whispered in corners,
those FAI boys who sat judgment on Bohs.
“But what is the point turning you into mourners?
What would we gain by augmenting your woes?
‘You know you’ve done wrong but it’s only a game.
The national climate is really to blame.
The rules do not say we should treat clubs the same,
so here’s a few shillings to keep you from shame.”

“Financial mismanagement,” they whispered in corners,
those IMF boys to the glum Portuguese.
“But what is the point turning you into mourners?
What would we gain when you’re down on your knees?
‘You know you’ve done wrong but it’s all a big game.
International climate is really to blame.
The rules do not say we should treat states the same,
so here’s a few shillings to keep you from shame.”

The season starts here

Written in Oct 2010 but only posted up in March 2011!

Our early season games were far from splendid –
All hope, it seemed, did quickly disappear.
Opposition threats were not defended,
sloppy goals conceded out of fear.
And for the loyal hundreds that attended,
our poor results gave little cause to cheer.

But in the final third, the team just blended
and seemed to raise itself another gear.
Our pessimism had to be amended
in light of this new vibrant atmosphere.
Promotion thoughts, which had long been suspended,
now started to be whispered in each ear.

So here we are, the season’s nearly ended
and suddenly the picture’s very clear.
The team and coach must surely be commended
for having fought and scrapped to get so near.
But, for our hopes and dreams to be extended,
the season really only starts from here.

Shels heroes of yesteryear

No.14 Tosh Moher

Shels’ fall from grace into the First Division for the season 1986-1987 lasted but a single year as they bounced straight back up again like a big bouncy football club.
It was around this time, the wizened old supporters say, that a man stepped out of the mists of obscurity and into the light; a man that would prove to be the saviour of Shels fans who had hitherto spent many weeks trudging painstakingly from one away match to the next; a man whose name is so hallowed in the history of Shelbourne Football Club, that many supporters genuflect when uttering his name. That man is Tosh Moher.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Tosh is probably the greatest person who ever lived. His omission from the current Greatest Irish person of all Time competition, currently showing on RTE, is a travesty that has had Bono and Mary Robinson squirming with embarrassment. Maybe the producers felt it would be a shoe-in?
Up to the mid eighties, away travel to matches had been one hard logistical slog. Remember this was a time of no mobile phones and no computers and if you needed to know the times of the trains to Waterford on a Sunday afternoon, you had to run down to Heuston and check the timetable.
Many fans chose to hitch-hike around the country or to ride asses and mules, as trains were infrequent and unreliable. Places like Ballybofey and Newcastlewest weren’t even on the train line and the CIE bus up to Donegal (via Sligo) often took in excess of 36 hours.
Then Tosh Moher came riding into Tolka on a white steed, his moustache flowing in the wind. He devised the revolutionary theory of ‘organising a bus’ to travel to away games. People gasped in amazement at the boldness of the scheme, though Ollie was heard to mutter that “it’s so crazy, it might just work.”
But Tosh was undeterred. Undeterredness has always been his greatest asset and when he finally shuffles off this mortal coil, he will be canonised as the patron saint of the undeterred. Using a phone and a phone book in tandem – rumour has it, that he would look up a number in one and then dial it on the other – he contacted private bus companies, looking for quotes. Thus was Tosh Travel born.
It is hard to believe that today’s multinational transport company once started out from such humble beginnings. Ireland at the time was inhabited by dark marauding savages and it was often incumbent on the passengers to stop in Harry’s of Kinnegad to take on provisions. Even if you were going to Dundalk or Kilkenny, a stop in Harry’s was a must. Today of course, Tosh Travel refuels at places as diverse as Urlingford and Monaghan and stopping at Kinnegad is no longer mandatory on the way to and from matches.
Of course, there have been many travel incidents that have gone down into folklore. Who could forget the story about one supporter who left his scarf on the bus when getting off at Leixlip and had to pick it up from Tosh the following Friday? Or the supporter on the way down to Limerick who had to request the driver to stop at a convenient hedge to relieve himself? Or the fan who was so slow coming out of Flancare Park, he nearly missed the bus home? This is indeed the stuff of legend.
And of course, the man himself! What can be said about this colossus that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? His ability to judge the exact arrival time at grounds to within fifteen or twenty minutes is well-known but how many people know that he once refused a third pint in Mallow on the way down to a match against Cork Unshakables? Or that he once missed a match back in 1991?
Such is the aura that now exists around this great man that many of our younger supporters now seriously doubt whether he even exists, this transportation guru of the past twenty years. Older supporters will claim to have met him, even talked to him, though few will admit to having understood his reply.
He is without a doubt.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Not defeatist merely realistic

As run-ins go, I’m not too optimistic
With five banana skins still left to play.
That’s not defeatist, merely realistic.

It doesn’t take an ancient eastern mystic
To know that Cork would love to spoil our day.
As run-ins go, I’m not too optimistic.

And it would be somewhat surrealistic
To go and beat our northern friends away.
That’s not defeatist, merely realistic.

Surely it would be much too simplistic
To think that Mervue won’t enjoy the fray.
As run-ins go, I’m not too optimistic.

Without appearing over-masochistic,
Thoughts of Limerick turn blue skies to grey.
That’s not defeatist, merely realistic.

If we beat Waterford, we’ll go ballistic,
Provided that we’re still in with a say.
But as run-ins go, I’m not too optimistic -
That’s not defeatist, merely realistic.

Shels heroes of yesterday No 13

An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
Careless McGee

The 1970s was the dark age of Shelbourne football, with hordes of huns and vandals sweeping down from northern Europe, and it was a very difficult time to be a Reds fan. Many simply disappeared into the woodwork, obviously under the impression that they were termites, and even today renovators are tearing down oak paneling and finding mummified Shels fans.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom or anything else that rhymes with broom. The club qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1971 (and lost), it reached the Cup Final against Cork Hibernian in 1973 (and lost) and it reached the Final again in 1975, losing again. Gary Glitter ruled the roost in the pop charts. Okay, it was all doom and Macroom.
Many people pin the blame for this sad state of affairs onto one Jinksy Forrester, though others prefer to use thumb tacks or even blue tack. Jinksy was an ancient man who had once been a mariner and he had a penchant (or indeed a pendant) for wearing large sea-birds around his neck. Nobody asked him why for fear of getting 726 rhyming verses for an answer.
It is said that at the height of Shels’ success in the sixties, Jinksy had shot a lesser black-backed gull that was hovering over Tolka Park. When asked why he had done it, he merely replied that it had seemed like a good idea at the time and to be fair, shooting sea birds out of the sky was a popular past-time in Dublin during the sixties.
Shels fortunes started to decline almost immediately after that and Waterford’s and then Rovers’ fortunes rose in inverse proportion. Things got so bad that during the mid-seventies, the club actually descended into Hell itself, or, as it was colloquially known, Harold’s Cross, a vast, bleak empty wasteland that was the inspiration for the Slough of Despair in A Pilgrim’s Progress.
Practically ever-present during Shels’ slide into purgatory was Jinksy, although people normally stood upwind of him on account of his peculiar choice of neckwear. Gradually, the few stalwart fans that were left began to form the notion that perhaps Jinksy was the cause of the club’s decline. He was suspected of being a Rovers agent and given a wide berth, but he returned it, saying that a narrow one was fine.
It is interesting to note that in the documents released under the thirty year rule, there is no mention of Jinksy Forrester being an agent for another football club, nor indeed for a foreign government and those who knew him intimately claim that his love for the Reds was genuine. But the suspicions grew when he started to miss an odd match here and there – matches in which Shels somehow played well and even won occasionally. People started putting two and two together, which was another popular Dublin past-time, along with putting seven and three together.
It didn’t help Jinksy’s cause that he insisted on protesting his innocence by stopping one in three and reciting interminable rhyming quatrains. If he had been a passenger on a boat, the rest of the crew might have been tempted to throw him overboard but he wasn’t so they didn’t.
For the small but loyal band of Shels followers, it was definitely a Catch 22 situation. They tried to have a whip round to pay Jinksy to stay away but, because there were only a few of them, they couldn’t raise enough to make it worth his while. And because the team was playing so badly, due to Jinksy’s presence (allegedly) there was never enough supporters to organise a decent whip round.
The eighties arrived and so did Haircut 100 and the doom and plume continued for the Reds, culminating in the 1986 season when relegation came a-calling. This was a genuine relegation on merit unlike the let’s-make-an-example-of-Shels-but-turn-a-blind-eye-to-other-clubs’-misdemeanours relegation twenty years later.
This was the low spot of Shels history, the absolute bottom of the barrel, can’t get any lower point of the club’s existence. And, on the very day that relegation occurred, poor Jinksy Forrester mysteriously fell into the Tolka at the bridge in Drumcondra Road to be swept out to sea, never to be heard of again.
As we all know, the Reds’ rise and rise started from that day and the rest, they say, is history, with a little bit of trigonometry thrown in for good measure.
But who is this Careless McGee, the Shels legend of the title, I hear you cry, or at least I would if I wasn’t deaf in one ear? Well, Careless was walking alongside Jinksy the time they were crossing the bridge…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Limerick at home

I’m a wild, roving spirit, I’m free as the birds,
I greet the whole world with a wave,
But whenever I hear those three little words,
It’s like footsteps walk over my grave.

Little Miss Muffet was eating her curds
And was lurrying into her whey,
When a spider came whispering three little words
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

The nomadic tribesman lays down with his herds
And drinks from a bottle of wine,
But high on the plateau, he hears those three words
And a shiver runs right down his spine.

The Turkish commander is hunting down Kurds
To inflict an impressive defeat,
But in Morse Code a message transmits those three words
And he gives the command to retreat.

Unemployment, they tell me, is up by two-thirds,
The heartache is dreadful to watch
But whenever one mentions those three little words,
The country slips down one more notch.

Shels heroes of yesteryear - No 12

An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
The Maharishi Yogi
Gerry Doyle’s young charges burst onto the football scene in the early sixties, sweeping all before them, particularly when the caretaker went on strike. They won the League, they won the Cup, they were in Europe and not just for holidays. These clean-cut fun-loving ordinary lads struck a chord (reputed to be C sharp) with the ordinary public and attendances at Shels matches soon passed the million mark.
This was verily the golden age of Shelbourne football with success not to be equaled for another thirty years. And then, one day, Freddie Strahan met the Maharishi Yogi coming out of a fish shop in Fairview.
“It was, like, mystical, maaaan,” Freddie recalled later. “He showed me there was more to life than football. That football was just a part of the whole thing, y’know?”
The Maharishi Yogi (born Matthew Cooney) at the time had been trying to convert English pop personalities to his transcendental meditation programme, with limited success. Along with his side-kick, Boo-Boo, they had become an integral part of the flower power movement in youth culture, a movement that advocating handing over world government to tulips and daffodils.
Freddie became entranced by the personality of the Maharishi and others followed. Gannon, Hannigan, Barber and others all flew to India for pre-season training, and returned with long hair, moustaches and a more laid-back attitude. The middle-aged housewives of Ireland were appalled but the youth stuck with them and attendances rose even further.
Some argued though that their more laid-back attitude (Eric Barber spent much of every match in bed) was a contributory factor in their ultimate demise. Certainly John Hevey’s attempt at levitating to save a penalty in a Cup Match against Cork Imponderables in 1965 was unsuccessful and the team was fast being overtaken by a Waaaaterford side that went on to dominate during the latter half of the sixties.
Ben Hannigan’s assertion to the press in 1966 that Shelbourne ‘were now more popular than deValera’ caused outrage in staunch Fianna Fail homes around the country and there were furious demands that ordinary people boycott the Reds. In Newcastlewest there was a mass burning of Shelbourne match day programmes and Hannigan was obliged to spend part of the season on loan to Ujpest Dozja to escape the furore.
Meanwhile the Maharishi continued to wield his influence. Even manager Gerry Doyle would turn up at the ground with a garland of flowers in his hair and tell everybody how much he loved them before proceeding with his team talk.
Under the Maharishi’s influence, the team gave up touring Europe and concentrated on playing ‘studio’ matches in Ireland. The match day programmes became more and more psychedelic and a certain amount of controversy was raised when Jimmy Dunne appeared naked on the cover of a programme against Cork Despicables with his wife Betty.
Despite the Maharishi’s concepts of peace, love and understanding (choose any two out of three) it became clear toward the end of the sixties that a certain amount of friction was developing among the members of the team. Hannigan wanted to go away and play football on his own for a while as Barber desperately tried to hold the team together. In the end, A refused to speak to B, a row that developed even further when B refused to divulge his full name.
On the pitch, the football became more and more experimental. In one game against Thurles Town, the Shels players decided they would only use their knees to pass the ball. It was not an unqualified success. In a Leinster Senior Cup match against Bray Undecipherables, Ben Hannigan assumed the lotus position near the penalty spot and didn’t move for the entire match, scoring twice.
By 1970, the writing was on the wall and Gerry Doyle ordered that it be rubbed off. The Maharishi was thanked for his services, given a couple of season tickets and shown the door.
Was he a good influence on Shels or not? The jury is still out and hasn’t been seen by their families for many years. Maybe they’ve absconded? What is perhaps telling is that, when the Maharishi died in 2008, not one former Shelbourne player attended his funeral.

Who would you follow?

Last night, as I lay in my bed,
Awaiting sleep’s delicious call,
A question popped into my head.

“Just suppose,” this small voice said
“That Shelbourne did go to the wall.
What team would you support instead?”

“Dunno,” I answered, full of dread.
“Why would you ask me that at all,
A loyal and devoted Red?”

“Just answer!” (I will call him Fred,
This voice that through my mind did crawl)
“Would you frequent the Richmond shed?”

“I think I would be better dead!
The thought does verily appal!”
I answered, as fence-sitting fled.

Rovers? Bohs? The panic spread.
Cork or Derry? Bray? Fingal?
Not one, I thought, from A to Zed.

But then, as I lay in my bed,
Still waiting sleep’s delicious call,
The answer popped into my head.

“The Mons!” I yelled, “though they’ve no ped-
-Igree, nor any trophy haul,
And I’m not Ulster-born nor bred,

They’re who I’d support instead,
If mighty Shels should ever fall.
Now, go and get some shut-eye, Fred.”

Shels heroes of yesteryear No.11

An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
‘Lardy’ Lar Hennessy
Outside of a small band of statisticians – a word, incidentally, that is impossible to say elegantly while eating a boiled egg – there are very few people who have heard of Lar Hennessy. Even his mother didn’t know who he was despite the fact that he was the size of a small elephant at eight years old, or maybe, like someone going overboard in Egypt, she was merely in denial.
Lar grew up in Fenian Street – not in a house, in the street itself, as doorways were a lot narrower in those days. As such, he soon became very street-wise, being able to recognise telegraph poles and cars from an early age.
Because of his gargantuan size, he became a goalkeeper for Pearse Rangers before joining the mighty Reds in 1961 as understudy to the great John Heavey. What Lar lacked in agility, he made up for in corpulence and opposition forwards often found it difficult to find a gap to shoot at. Despite this, such was the proficiency of the aforementioned Mr. Heavey, that the Buddah-esque Lars never actually appeared between the sticks in a first team game for Shels.
Lar however can lay claim to being a true Shels legend thanks to a report in the Irish Times of January 1963 of a Cup game against Jacobs.
“There was pandemonium at Tolka Park last night as Shelbourne eased comfortably through to the next round of the Cup,” ran the report. “The real drama however came at half-time, when Shelbourne’s reserve team goalkeeper Lars Hennessy, was found to be wedged in the doorway of the away team dressing room, thus preventing Jacobs from gaining entrance.
“By the time a large pick-up truck and a tow-rope had been requisitioned, the second half had started, much to the disgust of the Jacobs’ players, who seemed to lose all interest in the game.”
A subsequent League of Ireland investigation into the matter brought further facts to light, which were gleefully relayed around the terraces at the next home game.
Being such a large person (I would say ‘fat hape’ but you’re not allowed to in these police constable times) Lars was constantly hungry and, as he passed by Jacob’s dressing room door on the way out to the tunnel, he saw the table laden with Kimberley Mikados and coconut cremes which the away team habitually feasted on at half-time due to their links with the company. Shels, as was the habit at the time, dished out a quarter of an orange to everyone.
Midway through the first half, Lars got up off the bench (causing the manager and half the backroom staff to be catapulted twenty feet into the air) and indicated he needed to going to see Mrs. Murphy, a euphemism for going to see Mrs. O’Driscoll.
Naturally, he made a bee-line for Jacob’s dressing-room and scoffed the entire lot, except for one custard cream which he left on the plate, so nobody would know he’d been in there. Unfortunately, in his haste, he tried to exit the dressing room fronton and became securely wedged.
Trooping off at half-time, the Jacobs’ players’ elation at having held Shels scoreless at half time evaporated when they realised their usual mid-match feast would not take place. For some of the team, the regular supply of fig rolls and other delicacies was the reason they had joined the club in the first place, rather than, say, Manchester United or Wolverhampton Wanderers, who both swore by citrus fruit. Finding they were to be denied their traditional perk, heads dropped, stomachs rumbled and Shels ran out clear winners.
History will show that a rampant Shels went on to beat Drums, Rovers and Cork Hibs to claim their second FAI Cup in four years. In the dressing room after the Final, Gerry Doyle, the manager, apparently, filled up the Cup not with champagne, but with chocolate kimberleys and then watched in horror as Lar swallowed them down in one.

Butch Cassidy and Giller the Killer

The deputy ordered a dry bourbon, neat,
Tumbleweed rolled in great balls down the street.
The bartender took all his shot glasses down
When Giller and Casso came riding to town.

“Its Giller the Killer, with Butch at his side,”
The whispers flew round as folk hurried inside.
The only sound heard was the noose support swinging,
Even the very old church bell stopped ringing.

The horses were tethered, the drawn shutters twitched,
Casso’s right finger compulsively itched
Beyond in the shadows, they heard a soft click
But Casso was deadly and Giller was quick.

The tension was thick as they glanced round the village,
The locals suspected they’d just come to pillage.
The sheriff approached them, his guts in a knot
But fell in the dust after Giller’s swift shot.

They stood in the door of the busy saloon,
The honky-tonk medley was halted mid-tune.
The pianist upped and ran swiftly away,
They all looked at Casso but he couldn’t play.

They joined in the poker, downed whiskey and rye
The chips were all down but the stakes were quite high.
Casso was gunning with no cause to grieve,
For Giller had all of the cards up his sleeve.

And so they rode off in a red, setting sun,
Their mission accomplished, the bounty well won.
Back to the desert they chose to skedaddle,
The three points securely attached to the saddle.

Shels heroes of yesteryear - No 10

An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
Cristo (surname unknown)
The early 1960s was the first golden age of Shelbourne football as any oul’ feller in Section D with twelve hours on his hands will tell you. Gerry Doyle’s young charges were Ireland’s Busby babes and many like Strahan, Dunne, Barber and Flood would go on to become household names, particularly in their own households.
In 1961-62 (the League of Ireland only adopted the Gregorian calendar in 2004) the mighty Reds clinched the league championship with a 1-0 victory over Cork Unpredictables and were thus eagerly anticipating their first foray into Europe in September of the latter year.
Drawn against Sporting Lisbon – so called because they always wished the opposition good luck prior to a game, before running off sniggering - a 2-0 home defeat in front of ‘nearly a million people’ (source: the oul’ lad with the red nose who always sits in the middle of the third row ) did not dampen the spirits of the small contingent of Shels fans who set sail from Queenstown on a coffin ship bound for the great maritime port of Lisbon.
Most of course had never been abroad before and there was much wailing and fluttering of handkerchiefs as the ship pulled away from the quay, and that was just the captain. In the early sixties, the only Irish people who ventured abroad were missionaries or emigrants and knowledge of foreign climes was decidedly limited. Many didn’t even know what a clime was.
Arriving in the bustling Portuguese capital, the pioneering band immediately sought out some Guinness to quell their seasickness. Sadly Arthur had not become the worldwide phenomenon it is today and so they were forced to sit down to enjoy several pints of the local brew (port) in a local hostelry before the match.
After the game, the desire to celebrate Jackie Hennessy’s brilliant strike (sandwiched, as it was, between five offside and / or handball goals from their opponents) led them back to the same bar and they obligingly drank it dry.
Now, among the coterie, were a married couple Bert and Cinta, both in their fifties, good devout Catholics. Cinta was horrified to wake up in her hotel the following morning to find a dashing and strapping young Portuguese stud in her bed, rather than her balding and paunchy husband. Bert similarly awoke, straddling a lithe and attractive senorita in a strange apartment.
To cut a short story even shorter, after the initial shock had worn off, both decided to run with the new situation. Bert stayed on in Portugal with Isabella, while Cristiano sailed back to Ireland with Cinta, who successfully convinced the customs officials of the poor quality of Irish passport photographs. It was apparently a little more difficult convincing their ten children that their father had benefited from the European sunshine to such an extent that he had grown six inches, lost six stones and his hair had grown back.
Cristiano – or Cristo has he became fondly known on the terraces – naturally became a big Shels fan, though he had some trouble learning the words of some of the songs. He would also sing “We’re not Barcelona but at least we’re not Belenenses” to the consternation of those around him. At away games, he would be introduced to opposition supporters as ‘a representative of our Portuguese fan club’ and he would frequently bamboozle the play-it-down-the-line brigade by exhorting the fullback to ‘slip it to the defensive midfielder and show for the return.’
Cristo would probably be in Tolka Park still if it were not for the fickle finger of fate – and probably the rest of its body too – that saw the Redsmen drawn against the aforementioned Belenenses in the Cup Winners Cup two years later. Naturally, Cinta and Cristo could not miss such an important tie and sailed from Galway with much the same army of Reds fans as two years previously.
Unfortunately, this time they were met on the quays by an irate Bert. Isabella had turned out to be Rodrigo, a docker from Porto, and despite a close and loving relationship for almost a year, eventually the magic died when Rodrigo met a sheep from Albufeira called Simon.
Bert threatened to pull the plug on Cristo’s passport deception unless Cinta took him back and after several pints of port, she eventually agreed. How they explained the further vagaries of the Portuguese climate to their children on Bert’s return is lost to history.
It is said that a lovelorn figure still stalks the Lisbon quays waiting for his ‘darling Irish chrysanthemum’ to return, but that is another feller altogether and has nothing to do with this story.

Too busy blowing my vuvuzela

Too busy blowing my vuvuzela
That I ain’t got time to cheer the team.

They say that it takes all the breath in your lung
To blow out that monotone note.
Whoever invented the thing should be hung
And his body parts fed to a goat.
I hope to dear God it does not catch on here,
Brought home by irresponsible sailors.
Fans in the stands can’t be bothered to cheer,
Cos they’re blowing their damned vuvuzelas.

They say they can’t ban them, although they’re absurd
And have gained quite a worldwide abhorrence.
Trapattoni won’t be able to make himself heard
When he’s shouting instructions to Lawrence.
FIFA has said we should show some respect
For their music trasdition (I quote)
Music? Forgive my minute intellect
But does that not need more than one note?

Oh Lord don’t diminish the roar of the crowd,
The shouting and chanting and singing.
Let hundreds join in in a chorus so loud
It’ll set local fire alarms ringing.
Don’t let human voices become so subsumed
By a swarm of wasps with a loud-hailer.
I pray that its future in Tolka is doomed –
Yes, death to the damned vuvuzela.

Too busy blowing my vuvuzela
That I ain’t got time to cheer the team.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No 9

An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
Percy Bysse Kelley
It is, I suppose, a debatable point whether Shelbourne’s legendary chant composer, Percy Kelly is truly a legend or not. Can one be a legend if nobody has heard of you? Yet to all the tens of thousands that crowd the new stand every fortnight and roar on the team, his legacy lives on.
For example, that famous chant that has rung out at grounds from Croatia to Iceland and all places in between – ‘Shelbourne, Shelbourne, Shelbourne, Shelbourne’ – how many of today’s fans know that was a Percy Kelly original? Borrowing the melody from an old Doris Day B-side, (‘Show me your Colt 45, cowboy, and I’ll be up in the saddle tonight’) he crafted lyrics to represent the very essence of the club, writing and rewriting for months until he came up with the words we know today.
Percy Kelly was born some time between 1932 and 1934 (experts tend to go for 1933), a stone’s throw from Shelbourne Park, providing the stone was smaller than your hand. (And bigger than a grain of sand. The size of a hard boiled egg, that kind of area.)
From an early age, he decided to become a poet and deliberately developed consumption to aid him in his career. He bought an attic and struggled in it on a daily basis but the big break did not come, except for one poem about what he did on his holidays that was published in Ireland’s Own.
At the end of the fifties, when many people were wondering which decade would come next, Percy turned his quite inconsiderable talents to penning football chants for junior side Young Boys of Berne, including the now universal ‘Come and have a go if you think your hard enough’ and the not-quite-so-well-known ‘It’s certainly possible that if you persist in such loutish behaviour, you might sustain a serious head injury,’ which was later made into a film starring Burt Lancaster.
Naturally, such poetic talents did not go unnoticed and after a fierce bidding war involving Cork Inexcusables, Waterford and Estudiantes, Kelly was signed by Shelbourne for £5 and one of those pens that writes four different colours.
The ten years that Kelly spent with Shels, between 1959 and 1962, was a veritable golden age of football chanting in Ireland. Alfred Lord Dennison was working with Bohemians; Sam the Sham Beckett was at Milltown and Sir John Betjeman was whipping up the crowds at Athlone. The four of them used to meet up in McDaid’s until a nasty altercation over who had first come up with Shelbourne/Rovers/Bowez/Athlone –clap, clap, clap.
Within six weeks of arriving at the club, Kelly had written the somewhat esoteric lyrics to ‘We are Shels,’ still heard at matches today. “I agonised over the last line for a fortnight,” he confessed to Hello magazine later. “Should I go for three ‘We are Shels’ or only two? In the end, he phoned Cole Porter, who advised him to go with the latter.
He is credited also with the Indian war chant, though a Nahavo Indian in Flagstaff, Arizona, who coincidentally was Kelly’s life partner at the time, (even though the two had never met) attempted to get a court order against its use. “It was the only chant I could never put decent lyrics to,” Kelly once confided to marinologist Jacques Cousteau, who simply raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
Of course, there were many Kelly blueprints that never saw the light of day. ‘We’re not Barcelona and we’re not Athletico Madrid neither’ was one that singularly failed to spark the imagination of the Shels faithful. ‘When Jayo went to Poland’ was deemed by the literary critic section of the crowd to be too far ahead of its time and was dropped for 45 years until circumstances allowed it to be resurrected. And for some strange reason, ‘We quite admire you, Shelbourne, we do’ – now deemed by experts to be a minor classic of the genre – was dropped after one airing against Cork Crustaceans.
Kelly died in 1966, three years after he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The simple headstone is inscribed with words from another of his songs that never quite made it – ‘I lay, I lay, I lay.’

One rule for one...

The bankers were too reckless,
Far too greedy and too feckless
And led us down the road to rack and ruin.
They banjaxed our economy
And international bonhomie,
And all the while they knew what they were doin’.

To the end, they kept on lending
With financial meltdown pending,
The golden boys who sent a country crashing.
If they’d lived in other cultures,
They’d have gone to feed the vultures –
At best they would receive a damn good thrashing.

But how were they rewarded
For their errors gross and sordid?
Given golden handshakes and big bonuses!
Despite irregularities
And huge peculiarities,
It’s easy to discern just where the onus is.

So to put aside frivolity
And tackle inequality,
I think that we should get in touch with Brian,
Pointing out how much we’ve suffered
As our debts remain unbuffered,
While the handouts to the banks are multiplyin’.

Come on, Brian, show awareness
Of this manifest unfairness,
A drop is all we need from your vast ocean.
Won’t you give us several billions
To acquire a few Brazilians
And maybe then, we’ll challenge for promotion.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shels heroes of yesteryear No 8

Billy the Kid

One of the most beloved of all Shels legends was the affable and genial Billy the Kid, who became Shels mascot all through the fifties and into the early sixties. Certainly, no other farmyard animal has featured so strongly in the history of this great club, outshining even the unknown donkey that reversed over Drums goalie Jimmy Sixbellies in the 1920s, causing him to ass-end into heaven.
Billy was born on a farm just outside of Shillelagh. He was given the nickname ‘The Kid’ because that’s apparently what young goats are called and the name stuck. Sadly, he left the farm under a cloud when he was still quite young after an unsavoury incident with a cocker spaniel and a bowl of Instant Whip. Fortunately, the cloud was travelling to Dublin and on his arrival, Billy immediately enlisted in Mrs. Donnelly’s Drama School on Harcourt Street, dreaming of a career on the stage. And indeed, he was quite successful at first, winning wide critical acclaim for his interpretation of the role of Antonio in the Merchant of Venice at the Gate. “His habit of chewing the scenery was a work of genius,” wrote The Times and it became a sort of trademark in his acting career which came to an abrupt end in a performance of Picture of Dorian Gray, when he inadvertently ate the musical score.
Mrs Donnelly suggested he become a mascot and he was interviewed by the Shelbourne FC board of directors in July 1950. His willingness to help keep the match pitch short on weekdays won the day over his only other serious rival, a chicken called Arthur, and the legend was born.
From the start he was a firm favourite with the fans, not least for his tendency to headbutt the opposition mascots in the rear when they turned around. It may come as a surprise to many younger Shels fans but in the fifties many mascots were simply men cavorting about in an animal costume. Billy took great exception to this, calling them the Black and White Minstrels of the mascot world and set about exposing them big time.
(Nowadays, of course, all football club mascots are genuine animals and this is down mainly to Billy and his war on impostors.)
One of the most famous incidents, and one that created a plethora of letters in Mascot Monthly, was the spat with the Bohs Bull prior to an important league game at Dalymount Park. The Bull had been very much playing to the home crowd, flicking Billy with a towel and then denying it theatrically and basically getting right on Billy’s goat.
The Shels manager could see the warning signs and knew that Billy’s blood was boiling. “Billy,” he shouted. “Don’t be a hero!”
But it was too late.
With a snort of defiance, Billy put his head down and charged. The Bull turned tail and fled, Billy hot on his heels. At the penalty spot on the shopping centre end, Billy caught him and butted him right into the back of the net to a tumultuous ovation from the Shels faithful.
Of course, the League came down hard on Billy. He produced video evidence that he had been provoked but they still banned him for a record six weeks. “No butts!” they said, when he protested at the severity of the sentence.
Billy continued his mascot duties all the way into the sixties. Part of his pre-match ritual was to lead the faithful in singing such popular favourites as ‘Michael row the goat ashore,’ ‘Nanny, get your gun’ and ‘Naaaaannnny,how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old nanny.’ Once he even daubed himself with rainbow-coloured paint and took to the pitch singing ‘Joseph and his goat of many colours.’
Ironically, as the sixties dawned and the fortunes of the club were due to take a sharp rise, Billy was put out to grass. “Butt, butt, butt...” he protested but the board were Adam Ant.
He spent his remaining days growing his beard and wandering forlornly around Fairview Park, listening to the crowd in Tolka Park on matchdays. On his death in 1961, as a tribute to his memory, the board of directors made him into sixty pairs of gloves.

Sunday football

Phoenix Park, a dreary Sunday morning,
Waiting for the ref to amble over,
The outside left collapses without warning,
Hungover very badly in the clover.

Sunday morning football in Raheny,
Goalie stubs his fag out on his boot.
It could be something dreamt up by Fellini,
Coach’s wife is idly slicing fruit.

Out in Malahide, the bells are chiming,
Summoning the faithful into Mass.
The centre half displays a lack of timing,
Fails to intercept a misplaced pass.

Sunday, bloody Sunday up in Finglas,
Altercation in the home-team area.
Substitute refuses to play ring-less,
Ref just shrugs – they say he’s from Bulgaria.

Manager’s embroiled in a row,
Curses at the ref and linesman freely.
This is where we might be playing now
If it hadn’t been for Dermot Keely.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No 7

Yul Skinner
Burly, tough in the tackle, strong in the air, fearless and with an acute footballing brain – sadly 1950s Shels’ winger Yul Skinner was none of these but that did not prevent him from becoming one of the Shels’ faithfuls’ all-time favourites.
Known as Skinner the Shinner, more for his habit of wearing his socks rolled down than for any republican tendencies he might have harboured, the Cabra native had genuine speed, which he used to buy from a dealer on Townsend Street. Compared to him, Ger McCarthy was a tortoise. Unfortunately, Yul had roughly the same footballing ability as both the tortoise and the aforementioned Mr McCarthy.
Joining as an apprentice in 1951, he broke into the first team the following year, filling his sack with silver candlesticks and crystal decanters before being ratted on by some pesky kids. But he impressed in training and could soon run around stationary cones faster than anybody else. “If only we could play against cones every week,” his manager used to say.
An inability to kick a football did not seem to hamper Yul at all. Shels’ tactics would be to hoof the ball over the fullback’s head for Yul to run on to. If the defender had had any idea how bad Yul’s first touch was, he’d have let him go but instinct invariably took over and the flying winger would be hauled down in desperation, resulting in a sepia card (the prototype of today’s yellow card) for the full back and a free kick to Shels.
“Skin him, Yul!” the crowd would shout expectantly whenever another long high ball headed for the opposition corner flag and Yul would duly oblige until FIFA banned the art of skinning on the grounds that it was ‘gross.’ (This aspect of a football match is still actually practised by certain tribes of Papua New Guinea, where referees wisely turn a blind eye.)
His team mates were of course wise to his deficiencies and rarely passed the ball to his feet. In this way, Yul could go whole matches, seasons even, without ever actually touching the ball. “There’s only one thing that kept me out of the Ireland squad,” he wrote in his autobiography Carl Lewis me arse. “I wasn’t good enough.”
His lack of contact with the ball certainly kept down his goal scoring exploits, although he did score a vital winner in a Leinster Senior Cup quarter final against Cork Existentialists in 1953/4 (it was a very long match.)
With time not only running out but turning around and blowing a raspberry as it did so, Davy ‘Deadeye’ Davis - so called because that was his name – latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the Cork box and let fly with his usual unerring accuracy. It was going well wide until the ball struck Yul full in the face, took a wicked deflection (always the best kind) and ended up in the Cork net. Unsurprisingly, the Shels faithful broke into a chorus of ‘Yul never walk alone.’
In all, Yul Skinner made 142 appearances for Shels in the early 1950s until he suffered a serious injury in a match against Cork Imperials in 1955. According to eye-witness accounts, he was sprinting for the ball when his leg suddenly fell off. Such was his momentum however that he hopped around in ever decreasing circles for several minutes until he finally fell over.
Some experts (though not of medicine) declared that he would never walk again, let alone play football, but Yul refused to lie down, except when he was tired. After months of physio and some advances in medical science (consisting mainly of a tube of super glue and some giant-sized elastic bands,) he ran out to a tumultuous ovation in a B team game against Timpani Athletic (a junior club affiliated to the Drums) Sadly it was not to be, for he only lasted eighteen minutes before he was hit by a light aircraft making an emergency landing.
His football career over, Yul became bitten by the acting bug, which he promptly stamped on. He shaved his head and changed his name slightly and headed for Hollywood, calling on every contact he knew to give him a break in the film industry. Unfortunately, film parts were few and far between in Hollywood, co Wicklow and in the end he returned to Cabra a sad and broken man.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No 6

Gerry Bolan

So little is known about Gerry ‘Rollin’ Bolan’s early life, that it is widely believed among Shelbourne fans that he has born at 55 years of age, emerging into the world fully clad in blue overalls and clutching a pair of gardening shears.
He was apprentice groundsman at Shelbourne Park since 1911, serving under the great Bert O’Custard for nearly thirty years before taking over in 1939 when the latter became the only victim of the Dublin earthquake that year, being stabbed through the ear by a pair of shears in his potting shed.
As an understudy, Gerry was a model student, though Bert was definitely old school, having cold classrooms and a playground that wasn’t big enough. Because Bert mistrusted modern technology, Gerry would have to start work at 6am, coiffuring the grass with a plastic comb and trimming scissors until all the blades were of uniform height and bolt upright. For this, Bert, who stayed in bed until 11am most mornings, won many awards and the state of the Shelbourne Park pitch was the envy of thousands.
After Bert’s death, the board of directors quickly promoted Gerry to head groundsman, even promising to stump up for a new pair of trimming scissors. Gerry was having none of it. Unbeknownst to the board, he had been taking evening classes on football pitch maintenance and the ideas in his thesis were to become a groundsman’s manual for nearly seventy years.
Gerry was the first to investigate different types of grass. To the consternation of his fellow gardeners busily growing broccoli and carrots, Gerry turned his allotment into a mini-Shelbourne Park and sowed it with elephant grass (too noisy and too grey,) Kentucky blue grass (too blue,) rye grass (too cynical) and lemon grass (too yellow) before finally deciding on the green, green grass of home.
He was also the first to embrace modern technology, which caused quite a few suspicious glances from anybody who caught him at it. So, his fingers arthritic from the trimming scissors, when he took over, he demanded a lawnmower and a roller and a hose pipe with a sprinkler system.
The board was aghast. With crowds of nearly half a million at every home game and players’ wages amounting to a whopping £2 10s, Gerry’s demands would eat into the profits. And to a man they refused, which led to the great groundsman’s strike of 1940.
At first, the board tried to bluff it out but all during February, the pitch in Ringsend slowly deteriorated until it resembled the Somme circa 1917. Other groundsmen around the country tied their clipping fingers together in sympathy and came out too. The Cork Improbables team refused to play on their pitch until its condition improved and fixtures were cancelled. Hitler heard about the dispute and informed Goering to drop a load of lawn mowers on FAI headquarters as the strike was ruining his pools coupons.
Eventually the board caved in and reluctantly acceded to Gerry’s demands. A rusty lawnmower was acquired at a car boot sale and a car boot was acquired at a rusty lawnmower sale. They even bought in a roller, though it was only eighteen inches high and weighed less than a bag of sugar.
The result was seen as a victory for groundsmen everywhere. With new-fangled technology, they no longer needed to work eighteen hours a day, with time off for the match (sometimes) but could join the rest of society in working a normal 84 hour week.
All through the forties, Gerry continued to pioneer groundsman techniques. He substituted plain water for water with a dash of blackcurrant and the results were revolutionary. He doused the roller in vinegar before he rolled the pitch. And he was the first to patent the machine that has come to be known throughout the known world (and sometimes farther) as ‘the little wheely thing that marks the pitch.’
Throughout the fifties, Gerry continued to tend, roll, water and mark the Shelbourne Park pitch, which was a little pointless as Shelbourne moved out of there in 1949. Still, he refused to be parted from his beloved ground and even when they put a padlock on the gate, he would nip over the back wall at 10 o’clock at night to do a spot of nocturnal rolling.
When he died in April 1960, the board of Shelbourne FC acceded to his last wishes, rolling him out to the size of a large Chinese rug and burying him under his beloved pitch, where even today, hungry greyhounds are still digging up parts of his anatomy.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No 5

Andy Hoch

Andy Hoch was born in the small Bavarian village of Wurm in Apfel in September 1914. From an early age, he stood out from the crowd with his blue hair and blond eyes and also for his prowess from the penalty spot and it was no surprise when he was snapped up at an early age by Bayern Lederhosen, for whom he played two full seasons (autumn and summer)
It may surprise some of today’s supporters that in the mid-thirties Shels were one of the top sides in Europe with a scouting network second only to Baden Powell and Hoch signed for the Ringsend club in July 1937 for £30 and a box of Messerschmidt parts.
Instead of travelling overland, as was the custom in those days, Hoch arrived in Tolka Park by air, leaping out of a Stuka at 12,000 feet and landing in the centre circle to the tumultuous applause of the groundsman, who was none too pleased however when the new signing proceeded to bury his parachute near the corner flag.
He went straight into the first team and made his debut against Cork Incontinentals on the first day of the 1937. The Irish Times noted that “the tigerish Teutonic tackler made an immediate impression on the Shelbourne faithful, not least for his tendency to slap the opposing full back around the face with a pair of leather gloves every time he felt the situation warranted it.”
As part of his contract, Hoch became the club’s official penalty taker, a position that he took very seriously. Legend has it that after training, he would stuff the penalty spot under his arm and go down to Sandymount Green for a few hours extra practice. The Guinness Book of World Records in fact mentions the fact that in twenty years he never missed a single penalty, although there is still debate in some quarters about the legendary Foggy Day incident against Athletico Cork in October 1938.
Sadly, his disciplinary record was not always the best but this may have been down to cultural misunderstandings rather than an attitude problem. Whenever he was being cautioned by the match official, he had a tendency to click his heels together, give a straight arm salute and scream out “Jawohl mein Kapitan!” Such immediate and uncompromising obedience immediately raised the suspicions of many referees who frequently invoked Rule 42 – “Thou shalt not be sarky with the ref” – to dismiss the bewildered player.
Known for his legendary German humour in the dressing room – he once arrested fullback Jason Shadows’ wife and sent her and her children to the ghettos of Prague – he used to help raise morale at half-time by doing little ventiloquist stunts involving a pillowcase and a pair of fake eyes. Invariably the Shels team took the field in the second half with a steely look of determination in its eyes.
Andy Hoch looked set to be a Shelbourne player for many years but he had a falling out with the manager at the time Ernest Hilter in September 1939 as storm clouds were breaking over Europe. Hilter wanted Hoch to attack down both flanks at the same time and Hoch protested that this would leave the defence exposed to the counter-attack. When Hilter flew into a rage and threatened to have the German shot, the writing was on the bunker wall and Hoch was smuggled back into Germany as an Allied food parcel.
Although he disappears from the annals of Shelbourne FC at this point, his subsequent involvement in the German war effort is well documented in his autobiography “Three and in with Der Fuhrer.” Seemingly Hoch’s penalty spot prowess caught the eye of the German chancellor and he was a frequent visitor to Berchtesgarten where he entertained members of the High Command by constantly scoring against a hapless Martin Bormann, much to Hitler’s amusement.
However, a subsequent exhibition during which Eva Braun tipped a weakly struck penalty around the post resulted in Hoch being transferred to the Russian front, though with a sizable signing on fee. Here he soon realised he had made a big mistake and only escaped with his life by the skin of his teeth by agreeing to manage the Tonga national team.
At his funeral (1968-70), German legend Franz Beckenbauer paid him the ultimate tribute.
“Andy who?”

One rule for one...

The bankers were too reckless,
Far too greedy and too feckless
And led us down the road to rack and ruin.
They banjaxed our economy
And international bonhomie,
And all the while they knew what they were doin’.

To the end, they kept on lending
With financial meltdown pending,
The golden boys who sent a country crashing.
If they’d lived in other cultures,
They’d have gone to feed the vultures –
At best they would receive a damn good thrashing.

But how were they rewarded
For their errors gross and sordid?
Given golden handshakes and big bonuses!
Despite irregularities
And huge peculiarities,
It’s easy to discern just where the onus is.

So to put aside frivolity
And tackle inequality,
I think that we should get in touch with Brian,
Pointing out how much we’ve suffered
As our debts remain unbuffered,
While the handouts to the banks are multiplyin’.

Come on, Brian, show awareness
Of this manifest unfairness,
A drop is all we need from your vast ocean.
Won’t you give us several billions
To acquire a few Brazilians
And maybe then, we’ll challenge for promotion.

Shels Heroes of Yesteryear No 4

Dick the Gick

Nobody knows for certain exactly when Dick the Gick first showed up at Shelbourne Park. Some say it was 31st February 1929 while others maintain it was in the latter half of the Tang Dynasty. When the two factions meet, it often results in a very long and repetitive argument.
The famous American author, Mark “Never The” Twain once famously said that there are only three certainties in the world – death, taxis (yes, I wondered about that myself) and the presence of Dick the Gick at Shelbourne Park in the thirties.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 saw many ruined Shels fans leaping to their deaths from Row Z of the terraces, which meant there was suddenly space for new enterprising supporters. Dick the Gick was one of these. He had been born at forty years of age and wore an old sack tied with sisal around his waist, believing it to be the height of fashion. Like all thirties football supporters, he wore a flat cap and glasses, twirled a rattle incessantly and was as ugly as sin.
Rumour had it that he had been a Greek shipping magnate who had fallen on hard times (the book by Charles Dickens) though his broad Ringsend accent made this unlikely. Others claim he was the Crown Princess Anastasia still in hiding from the Bolsheviks, though he was always the first to lead the singing of “Keep the Red Flag flying.”
Dick’s rattle was a major reason for the upswing in Shels fortunes during the thirties. The Irish Times reported on one occasion that, such was the clamour emanating from the object, that the opposition were frequently terrified and refused to venture into the Shels half of the field.
Dick never missed a Shels match right through the thirties but the real reason for his cult status among Reds fans was that, in all that time, he never once paid the admission fee. At first, he used to scale the wall at the back of the dressing rooms but when security got wise to that, his methods of entry became more and more convoluted.
He was one of the first recorded spectators to pole-vault into a football ground, sailing in over the Canal End in a match against Cork Imponderables; another ruse was to disguise himself as a referee, complete with white stick and Labrador; on one famous occasion, he hid himself inside a vaulting horse and tunneled into the ground, unfortunately coming up under the penalty spot at precisely the wrong time.
A trawl through James Joyce’s little-known homage to Dick – “What’s Sixpence to a Football Club?” – reveals some highly inventive ways that The Gick avoided paying the admission fee. On one occasion, he strapped himself to the visiting Dundalk centre-forward and pretended to be a Siamese twin; on another, he circumnavigated the ground nine times before blowing on a trumpet and the walls came tumbling down; sometimes he would approach the officer on the gate, point up at the sky and exclaim “Look, a squirrel” and then nip inside while the officer was busy scanning the heavens.
Probably Dick’s most famous escapade was the parachute incident in a Cup tie against Cork Despicables in 1936 which resulted in him being booked for descent. The stunt made headlines around the world and earned the enterprising fan an exclusive contract with OK magazine.
With many people attending Shels matches simply to marvel at Dick’s increasingly bizarre entry tactics, it was of course in the club’s interest to make sure he evaded the matchday security. Turnstile attendants were instructed to pretend to be lacing up their shoes whenever they saw Dick approaching badly disguised as a halibut and the security guards were told to run into each other like the Keystone Cops and allow him to access the terraces unmolested to rousing cheers from the supporters.
His death in 1944 from a lethal cocktail of TK Lemonade and Smarties provoked a nationwide outpouring of grief, though some suspected it was merely another of his brilliant ruses to evade detection. Even his state funeral in an open-topped casket wouldn’t budge some cynics, though many lost their ration books in Paddy Powers when his death was officially confirmed.
Despite popular misconceptions, there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that Dick was the grandfather of a modern-day Cork fan who, it is said, can magically appear in two grounds hundreds of miles apart at the same time.

Old Neighbours

Ah Mabel, stop your staring out the window,
You know quite well who’s moving in next door.
Why yes, I read about them in the Indo,
But darling, weren’t we once the nouveau-poor?

Do you recall the pain when we were leaving
That swanky neighbourhood we used to love?
Now it seems, they’re finally receiving
The same strong dose of fate from up above.

I’ve heard their fall from grace was full of rancour,
I even heard they had to change their name.
It seems that they were shafted by a banker –
Isn’t football such a funny game?

The stories of their fall were quite salacious,
You laughed so hard it nearly made you cry.
But darling, we should not be so ungracious,
Its time those sleeping dogs were left to lie.

It seems to me the neighbourhood’s improvin’
The Derry lads have moved in up the street.
All it needs is Bohs and Pats to move in
And then the circle will be made complete.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shels Heroes of Yesteryear No 3

Sandy (Sandra) McPherson
The late twenties were truly the golden era of Shelbourne football, replacing the yellow era and preceding the much-vaunted dusky pink era. This remarkable team swept all before them, thanks to a job lot of brooms that the Chairman acquired at a knock down price. But the truth, if it were known, is even more amazing than the statistics tell.
There is only one picture of this famous team still in existence. It is painted on the altar of the 15th century Chapel of St. Tommy the Right Half in Verona and the guidebooks will tell you that it depicts the team at the post-match meal after clinching the League in 1928.
But look closely at that figure to the left of the centre-forward Jesus (The Jeezer) O’Malley. Notice the slightly effeminate features, the long hair and the hint of a bosom? Notice how the shape between their two bodies and the jar of mustard in Jesus’s hand perfectly forms the letter G for Girlie?
Football historians are today convinced that Sandy (or Sandra) McPherson, the long-haired midfield general of one of the most successful League of Ireland teams ever, was in fact a woman. They frequently point to her lack of understanding of the offside law and her disinclination to swop shirts at the end of the match as evidence of this, though they are constantly told that it is rude to point.
Certainly, if Sandy was a person of the female persuasion, her team mates have remained remarkably tight-lipped, and indeed tight-buttocked, about the whole affair, which may or may not have anything to do with the celebrations in the communal bath after matches.
There was at the time a certain puzzlement among the football fraternity over Manager Harry Carbuncle’s insistence on kissing Sandy full on the lips whenever he was substituted, a practice that never seemed to translate to the rest of his players. Carbuncle, a dyed in the wool card-carrying member of the Macho Society, denied that there was anything improper in the relationship.
Of course, this was a completely different Ireland than the one we know today. The country had not got over the sight of Countess Markievicz in a pair of combat trousers and many people insisted that instead of gadding about Dail Eireann, she should buy herself a nice frock and do some traditional dancing at thoroughfare intersections. The idea of a woman in tight shorts was unthinkable, except to young men.
But was Sandy in fact Sandra?
What can be said for certain is that there was a veritable queue of players trying to sign for the Reds during this period, often willing to take a large pay cut for the honour of donning the famous shirt. Even at the time, the rumour mill was in full swing, which is not something that you normally expect of a mill.
On the field, Sandy was a tigerish midfielder, though he didn’t have stripes down his flank or big teeth. (For the purposes of this article, I will continue to refer to Sandy in the masculine) He loved nothing more than getting stuck in to the opposition centre half and if truth be told, the opposition centre half often relished the prospect of getting stuck into him.
In all, Sandy played for the Reds for ten seasons, (some of them concurrently,) scoring twenty three goals, despite being marked more closely than a lot of his fellow professionals. It was these goals that live most in the memory of his team mates, with the somewhat exuberant celebrations sometimes lasting a full 15 minutes before he could be extricated from the bottom of a pile of players, both from his own team and the opposition.
Many consider it a travesty of justice that he was never called up for full international duties, though this may have been down to Ireland manager Walter Wobblebottom, who famously declared, to raised eyebrows, that he had “never really fancied Sandy as a player.”
Sandy was forced to retire at the end of the 1931-32 system due to an abnormal growth in his stomach, which historians maintain turned out to be his daughter, William. After leaving the club, he appears to have disappeared from the pages of history, though he occasionally turns up in the pages of cookery and political science.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The new neighbours are coming around

Let everyone remember their manners,
Let cead mille failtes abound.
Please, no inappropriate banners –
The new neighbours are coming around.

Do not pick your noses while singing,
Don’t sing any songs that you oughtn’t.
From the start, let our welcome be ringing –
First impressions are always important.

Moving in, you feel lonely and friendless,
But friendships can always be found.
Let the bounds of good humour be endless –
The new neighbours are coming around.

We have a good name – let’s not spoil it,
All flatulence should be discreet.
Throw a bucket of bleach down the toilet
And try not to pee on the seat.

Make sure that your hair’s neat and tidy,
Let a chorus of welcomes resound.
Remember that eight o’clock Friday,
The new neighbours are coming around.

They’re probably nervous of meeting us,
So let’s try and put them at ease,
(Unless they’ve the neck to start beating us,
And then you may do as you please.)

Shels heroes of yesteryear No.2

Iggy Foley

Ignatius Foley, the bow-legged goalie, was one of the more colourful characters to play for Shelbourne down the years, mainly because of his skin pigmentation, which was a bizarre medley of greens, yellows and purples.
If God were designing a goalkeeper, He probably wouldn’t have come up with Iggy Foley. Short in stature, bow-legged and an inability to catch a football, Iggy looked set for a career in banana bending until a bizarre incident catapulted him into the Reds Hall of Fame.
In March 1912, he had been a spectator standing behind the Shelbourne goal in a semi-final against Cork Disfunctionals, when the Shels goalie at the time, the legendary but ageing Jermaine Punchett, was shoulder-charged into the crowd by a burly Cork forward, dislocating his toupee in the process.
The Shels physio treated the stricken keeper on the fourth row of the terraces and then signalled to the bench to bring on a substitute keeper. However, the message came back that substitutes weren’t going to be allowed for another 50 years. What should they do?
Quick as a flash, Iggy Foley donned the keeper’s attire and marched back out onto the pitch, while his new team-mates all shouted out “Hi Jermaine?” “Are you all right Jermaine?” and gave each other theatrical winks that fooled nobody but the referee.
Naturally the Cork players protested vehemently but nobody could understand their accent, so Iggy Foley took his place in the Shels goal for the final 25 minutes of the semi-final, as the luckless Jermaine Punchett got led away by the Royal Irish Constabulary for exposing himself in a public place.
With Shels leading by the odd goal in eight, Cork then laid siege to the Shels goal, cutting off their food supply, but the Reds fans came to the rescue, tossing packets of Tayto to the weak and weary defenders. In goal, Iggy played like a man possessed, his eyeballs going white and his head swivelling around full circle. Time and time again, he thwarted the Cork forward line, despite his inability to catch a ball. They threw everything at him including the kitchen sink (the ref consulted his rule book and blew for a free out) but still the Reds goal held firm.
And then, in the 89th minute, a rash sausage sandwich sent a Cork forward sprawling and the ref immediately pointed to the penalty spot. At the time, it was somewhere near the centre circle – it was allowed to wander around the pitch as it pleased in those days – but there was a deathly hush among the crowd as the Cork superstar of the day, Jean-Jacques Eejit de Village stepped up to take the penalty.
In the crowd, several thousands of supporters dropped pins and listened to them falling. Curiously, they never made a noise until they hit the floor. Eejit and Iggy faced each other like two gunfighters in the Wild West, narrowing their eyes and spitting loudly into their respective spittoons. Hurriedly the bartender grabbed bottles and stashed them underneath the counter. The piano player stopped playing. Nobody knew what he had been doing there in the first place.
The ref’s whistle sounded and Eejit ran up, his blond locks flowing behind him. He struck the ball sweetly and it seemed that it was destined for the top corner but Iggy Foley, diving in slow motion like Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory, launched himself sideways and upwards, sideways and upwards, in a long graceful arc.
Unfortunately, he guessed the wrong way but his momentum carried him into the upright and sent it tumbling, causing the crossbar to collapse, with the result that the previously goal-bound shot sailed harmlessly over. For a second, there was a deathly hush and the crowd erupted, spilling onto the pitch and hurriedly dressing the players in Nazi uniforms before streaming out of the gate.
There was an enquiry of course but the Pathé newsreels of the day were in black and white, so Iggy’s distinctive kaleidoscope colouring didn’t show up. Jermaine Punchett was given a small fine and flew to Belgium to have his toupee repaired and was soon back in action between the sticks.
And as for Iggy? Some say, he left Ireland shortly afterwards and was washed overboard by a freak wave on the approaches to Valparaiso. Others say he changed his name to Edith Piaf and moved to France to pursue a career in show business.
One thing is for sure, he was probably the greatest Shels goalie that never played for the club.


A flick of the switch and the season’s alight,
We’re caught in the glare of publicity.
Thank God we are back on the circuit tonight,
With Eircom replaced by Airtricity.

Watt a fine mess the close season has wrought,
Though no-one’s been charged with duplicity.
Who was at volt? Well nobody’s been caught
Or is current-ly up for complicity.

We can’t remain static in dark, stormy weather
So what, if this means eccentricity?
AC or DC, we’re in this together,
This game that we love with simplicity.

So socket it to me baby, let’s go hit the town
And escape all this drab domesticity.
Our ohms will be dark as we mosey on down
To savour the crowd’s electricity.

Yes, football is back and sure, who can resistor?
(As I said to my daughter Felicity)
The field is electric; this beautiful vista
Comes courtesy now of Airtricity.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No.1

Harry Mulvey

Harry Mulvey played for Shelbourne for six years between 1903 and 1905 and is best remembered for being ‘that feller on the end with the big moustache’ in old sepia photographs. Curiously, instead of wearing his moustache between his nose and mouth, as was the custom at the time, Mulvey wore it on his chin and would get annoyed if people referred to it as ‘a beard.’
Born into a large working-class Ringsend family (which surprised him, as his parents were very rich and from Tullamore) the left full back soon caught the eye of a number of scouts, until his father complained to the scoutmaster.
At fourteen, he signed apprenticeship terms with Bray Unknowns but couldn’t find his way to their training ground, despite asking directions from everyone he passed. Disillusioned, he considered joining the Navy until he discovered it meant he would have to go to sea.
It was legendary Shels supremo Joe “Joe” Hartigan, who first spotted Mulvey playing for junior league side Bray Even More Unknowns and liked the fearless, never-say-die attitude of the young left back. Indeed, although the wily old manager interviewed him for thirty minutes afterwards, he could still not get him to say the word ‘die.’
At the time, Shelbourne were of course playing in the Free State League (sponsored by the Black and Tans) and Harry Mulvey soon found himself pitting his wits against tricky right wingers from Linfield and Cork Wanderers, though not at the same time. He soon became a firm crowd favourite not just for his skill and bravery, but also for his habit of throwing money into the crowd every time the ball went out for a throw-in.
With Harry at left back, the legendary Shels back four of Wallis, Dingbat, Scrote and Mulvey was complete and they soon gained the reputation of being the meanest defence in the League, pretending to look the other way when the man with the Salvation Army collection tin came around. Opposition forwards got little change out of them, as they tended not to carry much money in their shorts. The “Shels back four” as they came to be known, in both verse and Braille, took no prisoners, mainly because it wasn’t their job.
In 1904, Shels came agonisingly close to landing the double when they narrowly avoided relegation and were knocked out of the Cup in the first round by the minnows of the competition, Littlefish Athletic. Harry missed most of the season with a splinter in his thumb and by the time he regained full fitness, his place had been taken by his namesake, Ernie “Ernest” Carbuncle.
A lesser man would have crumbled. Sadly, Harry was a lesser man and he did. Still, crumbling was a very respectable occupation in those days and it helped to supplement Harry’s income as he whiled away his time in the reserves.
He got his chance in the first team early the following season when Ernie Carbuncle’s leg fell off in a freak sliding tackle. This time, Harry never looked back, except when the ball went over his head. By all accounts, he played out of his skin that season, which many opposition players protested about, and Shels clinched the League on the final day of the season with a 3-0 win over Cork Incorruptibles with goals from Bumstead, Scrote and Khomeini (og)
Unsurprisingly, Harry was called up to the Ireland squad at the end of the season and took part in a tour of South America. The team didn’t play any matches – they just toured around looking at things – but Harry came home with three caps after a spot of souvenir shopping in Caracas.
The 1905 / 1906 season began poorly for Shels, with Bumstead becoming pregnant and the Freckleton twins, John and Johnny, leaving to join the priesthood. Dingbat was transferred to Accrington Stanley and Harry found himself playing alongside Scrote at the heart of the defence. The two men hadn’t got on since the unsavoury incident of the Werther’s Originals and famously ignored each other on and off the pitch, preferring to be caught in possession rather than play the simple pass.
The once-solid defence began to leak goals and the end was in sight for Harry. He finished the season in the reserves and was transferred during the summer to Cork Intractables for two shillings and a tin of Gold Flake.
He died in 1932 when he was stabbed by a Romanian priest at the Ecclesiastical Congress. His last wish was to be scattered over Shelbourne Park and this was dutifully carried out by his tearful family in a moving ceremony, in front of 20,000 old time Shelbourne supporters. As the Irish Times movingly wrote, “They should have cremated him first.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

The viscosity of fudge

Is your Toblerone too hard?
Does it leave your palate scarred?
Do nuts in Fruit and Nut stick in your teeth?
Is the chocolate in a Flake
Much too crumbly by mistake,
Obliging one to eat it from beneath?
Phil Lynott’s moonlight dance
Led to brown stains on his pants
(And chocolate on your trousers will not budge)
But in Abbotstown, the question
That pertains to indigestion
Is all about viscosity of fudge.

One rule for one and one for others
(Pass the claret there, Carruthers)
Ivory towers and dull grey flannel suits.
And those who scratch our backs
Needn’t fret ‘bout unpaid tax
(Ignore the Bolshies’ claim we’re in cahoots)
Decisions must be hedged
When our consciences are dredged.
Beware our ire, lest we should bear a grudge.
For the rules will be obeyed
And authority conveyed
According to viscosity of fudge.

So do not rock the boat
And we’ll help keep you afloat,
We’ll give you time to balance up your books.
Do not worry about the rules,
They’re for pinko, leftie fools
With tendencies to hang themselves on hooks.
If we like, we can ignore
Any major point of law,
With just a very simple wink or nudge.
Sacred cows are known to drown
In the mire at Abbotstown
Sad victims of viscosity of fudge.
Phrase coined by Shels superfan Fintan Cassidy, describing what Shels chances of replacing Drogheda United in the Premier Division depended upon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A bridge too far

When Shels overreached
And were brusquely impeached,
The delight down in Cork was incredible.
They greeted our troubles
By ord’ring large doubles
With a joy that was very near edible.

So, I vowed there and then
If there came a time when
They had spent all the cash in their kitty,
They would quite understand
If I could not command
Any semblance of pity for City.

Revenge, I’ve been told,
Is a dish best served cold
And now Cork are immersed in the doo-doo.
And I’ve laughed at their plight
Every day, every night.
Ah, come on now, me boys, what would you do?

But now comes a rumour
That’s stopped my good humour
And frozen my bones to the marrow.
And my laughter’s been stilled
And my blood has been chilled
As the news hits my brain like an arrow.

Cork have got their desserts,
They’ve been hit where it hurts,
But I’d wish this foul turn on nobody –
A bridge much too far
If the Villagers are
To be further subjected to Roddy.
Just when you think things can't get any worse...
Cork City, massively in debt, their chairman suspended for a year for bringing the game into disrepute, only 5 players on the books, possibly about to be thrown out of next years Europa League and demoted (if the FAI follow the same sanctions they applied to Shelbourne) now find that the ultimate spoofer Roddy Collins has left his job in Malta to come home hoping to take over the reins.
May the Lord have mercy on their souls.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gloom upon gloom

Snatching defeat out of victory’s jaws,
We threw it away once again.
Draws became losses and wins became draws
And all we have left is the pain.

We thought for a while we’d get out on parole
And walk out, head high, from this jail.
But promotion remains an impossible goal
And suddenly we’re looking frail.

Condemned once again to spend twelve months or more
In this cold and despicable prison,
Staring at walls and the cold concrete floor,
While others in here have arisen.

Conditions down here defy human rights,
The rations decidedly meagre
The minutes tick slow in this cold, lonely nights,
When you’re sentenced to be a low-leaguer.
Another season and we lost out on promotion by a whisker again. Its like Captain Scott waiting for the ice to melt so the Terra Firma can sail home only it doesn't and they're forced top spend another winter on the Antarctic ice shelf.

A Tolka Murder Mystery by Christie Agatha

Epilogue – Where are they now?

Since I finally put the lurid events of the Tolka Murder Mystery down on paper two, nay, three weeks ago, I have been stopped thousands of time both in the street and in my bedroom and asked what became of the main perpetrators of this case that held a nation captivated for six months.
In order to finally lay the matter to rest, I have decided that I shall reveal all. After this, I have taken a solemn oath that never more will talk of these foul deeds pass my lips, though it might of course decide to pass my nose instead.
Dean Delaney, one time suspect for the first two murders, is still under house arrest at Tolka Park for fear that he might be poached by a top Italian club.
Lionel Edward (L.E.) Mentary, the greatest detective in the world who was absolutely no help to DI McBiscuit during the course of the case, is currently on the trail of a missing tiger that was last seen jumping off Rosslare Pier shouting “Sod this for a game of soldiers!” His mission is to recapture the tiger and bring him back to Ireland but the initial prognosis does not look good.
The three victims in the case, John Clapper, Quasimodo O’Shaughnessy and Miroslav Kampanolojyzt, are still dead, though O’Shaughnessy is showing definite signs of improvement. John Clapper’s last request to “bury me not at Wounded Knee” was adhered to by his tearful family and his body was laid to rest in a brown wheelie bin. A bronze plaque erected to the memory of the three men never came to fruition as the money was spent on a trip to Finn Harps instead.
Commissioner Salami, McBiscuit’s superior, received a knighthood for his hand in the case, although he is still trying to attach it to his knight-jacket. It would be unfair to say the award has gone to his head, but he now sits on a solid gold throne and demands to be addressed as ‘Your Excellency.’
John Delaney, who was arrested for the grisly murders, was acquitted on a technicality (lack of evidence) However, the judge in the case sentenced him to between six months and three years (whichever came first) for his haircut.
Liam Buckley, also an initial suspect in the case due to his admission that he gets his hair cut by Stephen Kenny’s ma, is still manager of Lokomotiv Fingal.
Roddy Collins is running a highly profitable painting and decorating business in Bugibba.
Pat Dolan, the underworld mastermind, went on the run after the case. He shed several stone and led reporters on a wild goose chase to Argentina. At first rumours came through that he was lying low in the fields of Athenry but it has since emerged that he may be working for Setanta Sports.
Mrs. Groundsman, wife of the unfortunate suicide victim, lay on her front porch with an arrow in her throat for several weeks until the ambulance came. She was treated for a hernia and discharged. She has since fully recovered and nowadays leads a normal life, though the arrow still hampers her when she goes ducking for apples.
Alan Kelly, who was implicated in the murders because he had a beard, was last heard of running a bed and breakfast in Alicante.
The constable in the case, who infiltrated the club during the investigation, was transferred to Bray Wanderers, where he was voted player of the season by a section of the club’s supporters, despite the fact that he never actually made an appearance. He has currently on trial with Neil Trebble for impersonating a footballer.
As for DI McBiscuit, he got promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector, until they found out that that was what the DI stood for. On the back of the Tolka Murder Mystery, he was called in to help in the Arsenal FC fire tragedy, where he told the press that he suspected it was Arsene. Last seen battening down the hatches of an old suitcase, gasping “Ah, the case is closed.”

Like the poem below, this was produced for the 2nd play off game that never happened, as we lost the first play off game!