May 17, 2006
Many moons ago, fifty two years back to be precise, my Dad and a few other local lads founded Dalkey United. In its first year, the team won the Wicklow Cup and League. The fact that Dalkey wasnï¿½t considered Dublin at all, rather it was sufficiently far away to be part of Wicklow, evidences how small pre-suburban Dublin must have been. Over the years, the club – which was put on the map by Paul Mc Grath – has been at the centre of the townï¿½s life. My own 1980s schoolboy team werenï¿½t up to much, but even so, when we were growing up, there was never any doubt that we would pull on the white and black strip of Dalkey Utd and march out proudly to be hammered by the likes of Rory Oï¿½ Conner Park Celtic, Patrician Villas, Ballybrack Boys or the mighty Joeys of the ï¿½Noggin.
Fifty two years ago, when the founders decided that the town needed its own club, they wrote to Liam Cosgrave the local TD, who brokered a 99 year lease with Dun Laoghaire Corporation for the pitch at Hyde Road. The first home game was played on St Stephenï¿½s Day 1955. Later, in 1962 ï¿½ in what must have been an enlightened early sign of rapprochement – Dalkey United opened up its ground to Cuala ï¿½ the local GAA. Both clubs continue to thrive.
Would that be possible today? Could a few locals, without any cash, sponsorship or clout set up a soccer club, get a ground and sign a long, secure lease? No way. Dun Laoghaire Corporation wouldnï¿½t have the cash to buy the field in the first place and anyway, a developer would drive a coach, two horses and a few JCBs through any plans that would see such a valuable site ï¿½wastedï¿½. So what happens to local amenities? They are getting elbowed out by the property Leviathan that stalks the land. Ask any of the amateur clubs and they will tell you getting players is not the problem but getting a local authority pitch is almost impossible because amateur sport, which generates no money, has to compete with construction, which yields a small fortune. Whether you have a local football pitch, a one hundred year old golf club or one of the oldest soccer clubs in the country, the land obsession continues to dominate the financial outlook for all sports clubs.
In recent weeks, we have seen this at Dalymount Park. Bohemians FC has decided to sell the historic ground in a move that will probably signal the beginning of a mass migration of all Dublinï¿½s city soccer clubs. Dalymount Park has been the scene of many important nights in Irish soccer history. None more so than Wednesday, October 19th 1955 ï¿½ two months before Dalkey Utd played their debut match – when another Dalkey man, Peter Farrell, captained Ireland against Yugoslavia. Farrell ï¿½ the then captain of Everton ï¿½ led out his men to a capacity crowd that had defied the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who denounced the game from the pulpit and lobbied Eamonn de Valera to have the game called off. Mc Quaid was livid that Ireland would entertain a bunch of communist atheists like the Yugoslavs. In the event, the sinners trashed the saints 4:1. However, the evening proved that even in the oppressive 1950s, the ordinary football supporter had a mind of his own and that there was only so far Mc Quaid could push it.
My own favourite memory of Dalymount Park was Ireland against the World Champions, Italy, in February 1985. The considerably-more-than-capacity crowd spilled out onto the pitch and the likes of Paulo Rossi ï¿½ the World Cupï¿½s top scorer -was forced to share the dugout with local scallies who had bunked in. The look on the faces of the tanned Italian maestros at the state of Dalymount and us Paddies in general was priceless. We lost 2:1.
A few weeks ago, Bohs finally decided to sell out. The maths of the deal makes huge sense. The club will get a new stadium out in Castleknock off the M50 which will be built at a cost to the developer of 23 million euro, plus the developer will hand over 20 million euro more for their bank account. Dalymount was falling apart and ultimately, the members put the club before the ground. This deal, if it gets planning permission, will ensure that Bohs will be by far and away the richest club in Ireland. The two other Dublin clubs with prime location grounds, Shelbourne and St Pats, are also likely to sell out. The same is the case for Drogheda Utd and it would seem logical for all clubs that have decent grounds in the centre of towns around the country to do likewise.
So far, so good. The fans will get new 10,000 seater stadiums with top-of-the-range facilities. The clubs will be recapitalized and in many cases, will stave off bankruptcy, the developer will get his apartment blocks and home buyers will get apartments closer to town.
However, this must raise the big question over the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road. Given that the property market has gone ballistic in the past three months and if you use the sale of the Jurys Doyle site as a benchmark, the rugby ground must now be worth a fortune. There surely is a temptation on the part of Lansdowne Rugby Club and the IRFU to abandon plans to redevelop and to sign a long-term arrangement with the GAA for Croke Park. It could use the money to build a smaller stadium for Heineken cup games and Celtic league games. For the GAA it would be an extra, invaluable stream of income which could be ploughed back into the game. At the moment, there isnï¿½t too much talk of this but doubtless it is being considered behind the scenes. For the GAA, presumably the cash that it will make from next yearï¿½s soccer and rugby games is already in the 2007 budget. As every business knows, cutting budgets is always difficult and the demands on the GAA to hold onto that extra cash on an ongoing annual basis will be enormous.
Money talks and money in sport talks loudly; combined with the irrepressible march of property speculation, it is not hard to foresee huge changes in the Irish sporting landscape in the years ahead. For soccer, the big one is getting an Irish team into some European league. The appetite is there. For example, two years ago, 28,000 turned up to see Shels against Deportivo de La Coruna at Lansdowne. 16,000 Irish people made the pilgrimage to Old Trafford last week to see Keano and plane loads fly to England every week to watch a league that has only four real teams and of course, half of Munster will be at Cardiff on Saturday. We like our sport and we want to see regular top class games ï¿½ no matter what codes here. In fact many of us will turn up to all three major sports ï¿½soccer, rugby and GAA. In addition, we are prepared to pay for it. The migration of Bohs from Phibsboro is only the start.
Letï¿½s hope that when the property guys do put their hands in their pockets for our remaining sporting citadels (and that includes possibly Thomond Park), that some of the cash trickles down to the local level so that the Dalkey Uniteds of the 21st century can be founded. Those whoï¿½ve played Saturday soccer here over the past twenty years have seen no improvement in facilities and the chances of the FAI spending any windfall sensibly seem remote. For those of us still getting changed in the car or on a windswept sideline, scepticism reigns. However, the Bohs move is the first positive thing to happen to Irish domestic football for a long time. Letï¿½s hope itï¿½s the beginning of a new era where economic, finance and sport merge successfully.