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.