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.