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.