An unreliable sporting history of the Reds
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…