Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shels Heroes of Yesteryear No 3

Sandy (Sandra) McPherson
The late twenties were truly the golden era of Shelbourne football, replacing the yellow era and preceding the much-vaunted dusky pink era. This remarkable team swept all before them, thanks to a job lot of brooms that the Chairman acquired at a knock down price. But the truth, if it were known, is even more amazing than the statistics tell.
There is only one picture of this famous team still in existence. It is painted on the altar of the 15th century Chapel of St. Tommy the Right Half in Verona and the guidebooks will tell you that it depicts the team at the post-match meal after clinching the League in 1928.
But look closely at that figure to the left of the centre-forward Jesus (The Jeezer) O’Malley. Notice the slightly effeminate features, the long hair and the hint of a bosom? Notice how the shape between their two bodies and the jar of mustard in Jesus’s hand perfectly forms the letter G for Girlie?
Football historians are today convinced that Sandy (or Sandra) McPherson, the long-haired midfield general of one of the most successful League of Ireland teams ever, was in fact a woman. They frequently point to her lack of understanding of the offside law and her disinclination to swop shirts at the end of the match as evidence of this, though they are constantly told that it is rude to point.
Certainly, if Sandy was a person of the female persuasion, her team mates have remained remarkably tight-lipped, and indeed tight-buttocked, about the whole affair, which may or may not have anything to do with the celebrations in the communal bath after matches.
There was at the time a certain puzzlement among the football fraternity over Manager Harry Carbuncle’s insistence on kissing Sandy full on the lips whenever he was substituted, a practice that never seemed to translate to the rest of his players. Carbuncle, a dyed in the wool card-carrying member of the Macho Society, denied that there was anything improper in the relationship.
Of course, this was a completely different Ireland than the one we know today. The country had not got over the sight of Countess Markievicz in a pair of combat trousers and many people insisted that instead of gadding about Dail Eireann, she should buy herself a nice frock and do some traditional dancing at thoroughfare intersections. The idea of a woman in tight shorts was unthinkable, except to young men.
But was Sandy in fact Sandra?
What can be said for certain is that there was a veritable queue of players trying to sign for the Reds during this period, often willing to take a large pay cut for the honour of donning the famous shirt. Even at the time, the rumour mill was in full swing, which is not something that you normally expect of a mill.
On the field, Sandy was a tigerish midfielder, though he didn’t have stripes down his flank or big teeth. (For the purposes of this article, I will continue to refer to Sandy in the masculine) He loved nothing more than getting stuck in to the opposition centre half and if truth be told, the opposition centre half often relished the prospect of getting stuck into him.
In all, Sandy played for the Reds for ten seasons, (some of them concurrently,) scoring twenty three goals, despite being marked more closely than a lot of his fellow professionals. It was these goals that live most in the memory of his team mates, with the somewhat exuberant celebrations sometimes lasting a full 15 minutes before he could be extricated from the bottom of a pile of players, both from his own team and the opposition.
Many consider it a travesty of justice that he was never called up for full international duties, though this may have been down to Ireland manager Walter Wobblebottom, who famously declared, to raised eyebrows, that he had “never really fancied Sandy as a player.”
Sandy was forced to retire at the end of the 1931-32 system due to an abnormal growth in his stomach, which historians maintain turned out to be his daughter, William. After leaving the club, he appears to have disappeared from the pages of history, though he occasionally turns up in the pages of cookery and political science.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The new neighbours are coming around

Let everyone remember their manners,
Let cead mille failtes abound.
Please, no inappropriate banners –
The new neighbours are coming around.

Do not pick your noses while singing,
Don’t sing any songs that you oughtn’t.
From the start, let our welcome be ringing –
First impressions are always important.

Moving in, you feel lonely and friendless,
But friendships can always be found.
Let the bounds of good humour be endless –
The new neighbours are coming around.

We have a good name – let’s not spoil it,
All flatulence should be discreet.
Throw a bucket of bleach down the toilet
And try not to pee on the seat.

Make sure that your hair’s neat and tidy,
Let a chorus of welcomes resound.
Remember that eight o’clock Friday,
The new neighbours are coming around.

They’re probably nervous of meeting us,
So let’s try and put them at ease,
(Unless they’ve the neck to start beating us,
And then you may do as you please.)

Shels heroes of yesteryear No.2

Iggy Foley

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.


A flick of the switch and the season’s alight,
We’re caught in the glare of publicity.
Thank God we are back on the circuit tonight,
With Eircom replaced by Airtricity.

Watt a fine mess the close season has wrought,
Though no-one’s been charged with duplicity.
Who was at volt? Well nobody’s been caught
Or is current-ly up for complicity.

We can’t remain static in dark, stormy weather
So what, if this means eccentricity?
AC or DC, we’re in this together,
This game that we love with simplicity.

So socket it to me baby, let’s go hit the town
And escape all this drab domesticity.
Our ohms will be dark as we mosey on down
To savour the crowd’s electricity.

Yes, football is back and sure, who can resistor?
(As I said to my daughter Felicity)
The field is electric; this beautiful vista
Comes courtesy now of Airtricity.

Shels heroes of yesteryear No.1

Harry Mulvey

Harry Mulvey played for Shelbourne for six years between 1903 and 1905 and is best remembered for being ‘that feller on the end with the big moustache’ in old sepia photographs. Curiously, instead of wearing his moustache between his nose and mouth, as was the custom at the time, Mulvey wore it on his chin and would get annoyed if people referred to it as ‘a beard.’
Born into a large working-class Ringsend family (which surprised him, as his parents were very rich and from Tullamore) the left full back soon caught the eye of a number of scouts, until his father complained to the scoutmaster.
At fourteen, he signed apprenticeship terms with Bray Unknowns but couldn’t find his way to their training ground, despite asking directions from everyone he passed. Disillusioned, he considered joining the Navy until he discovered it meant he would have to go to sea.
It was legendary Shels supremo Joe “Joe” Hartigan, who first spotted Mulvey playing for junior league side Bray Even More Unknowns and liked the fearless, never-say-die attitude of the young left back. Indeed, although the wily old manager interviewed him for thirty minutes afterwards, he could still not get him to say the word ‘die.’
At the time, Shelbourne were of course playing in the Free State League (sponsored by the Black and Tans) and Harry Mulvey soon found himself pitting his wits against tricky right wingers from Linfield and Cork Wanderers, though not at the same time. He soon became a firm crowd favourite not just for his skill and bravery, but also for his habit of throwing money into the crowd every time the ball went out for a throw-in.
With Harry at left back, the legendary Shels back four of Wallis, Dingbat, Scrote and Mulvey was complete and they soon gained the reputation of being the meanest defence in the League, pretending to look the other way when the man with the Salvation Army collection tin came around. Opposition forwards got little change out of them, as they tended not to carry much money in their shorts. The “Shels back four” as they came to be known, in both verse and Braille, took no prisoners, mainly because it wasn’t their job.
In 1904, Shels came agonisingly close to landing the double when they narrowly avoided relegation and were knocked out of the Cup in the first round by the minnows of the competition, Littlefish Athletic. Harry missed most of the season with a splinter in his thumb and by the time he regained full fitness, his place had been taken by his namesake, Ernie “Ernest” Carbuncle.
A lesser man would have crumbled. Sadly, Harry was a lesser man and he did. Still, crumbling was a very respectable occupation in those days and it helped to supplement Harry’s income as he whiled away his time in the reserves.
He got his chance in the first team early the following season when Ernie Carbuncle’s leg fell off in a freak sliding tackle. This time, Harry never looked back, except when the ball went over his head. By all accounts, he played out of his skin that season, which many opposition players protested about, and Shels clinched the League on the final day of the season with a 3-0 win over Cork Incorruptibles with goals from Bumstead, Scrote and Khomeini (og)
Unsurprisingly, Harry was called up to the Ireland squad at the end of the season and took part in a tour of South America. The team didn’t play any matches – they just toured around looking at things – but Harry came home with three caps after a spot of souvenir shopping in Caracas.
The 1905 / 1906 season began poorly for Shels, with Bumstead becoming pregnant and the Freckleton twins, John and Johnny, leaving to join the priesthood. Dingbat was transferred to Accrington Stanley and Harry found himself playing alongside Scrote at the heart of the defence. The two men hadn’t got on since the unsavoury incident of the Werther’s Originals and famously ignored each other on and off the pitch, preferring to be caught in possession rather than play the simple pass.
The once-solid defence began to leak goals and the end was in sight for Harry. He finished the season in the reserves and was transferred during the summer to Cork Intractables for two shillings and a tin of Gold Flake.
He died in 1932 when he was stabbed by a Romanian priest at the Ecclesiastical Congress. His last wish was to be scattered over Shelbourne Park and this was dutifully carried out by his tearful family in a moving ceremony, in front of 20,000 old time Shelbourne supporters. As the Irish Times movingly wrote, “They should have cremated him first.”