Saturday, May 29, 2010
Shels heroes of yesteryear No 7
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.