Football clubs which were formed from the employees of factories are commonplace around the world with teams like PSV Eindhoven, and Bayer Leverkusen. Ireland, too can, claim its share of such teams including St. James’s Gate from the home of the world-famous Guinness. Cian Manning tells the story of the first ever winners of the League of Ireland.
Founded in 1902, St. James’s Gate FC were the footballing representatives of St. James’s Gate Brewery, the home of Guinness. Though pre-dating the League of Ireland by nearly twenty years, they are not unique in being a factory team in the competition. Clubs with such origins include Jacobs (of biscuit factory fame who competed in the league till 1932); Fordsons in Cork (linked to the Ford factory in the city and the first winners of the Free State Cup from outside of Dublin in 1926) while Dundalk FC can trace its origins to the Dundalk Great Northern Railway side in 1903.
The integral figure to the foundation of St. James’s Gate FC was Guinness’ medical officer, John Lumsden. The Drogheda native had a track record of establishing institutions such as the Dublin Golf Club in 1885 and he was a founder of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland, the first division of which was formed at Guinness Brewery in 1903. His medical practice was on the first floor of his residence at 4 Fitzwilliam Place. Tuberculosis was a scourge of many employees at St. James’s Gate, and studies by Lumsden into the conditions of workers led to construction of the Iveagh Trust charity buildings at the start of the 20th century.
Similarly, the football club at Guinness would make an impact on the sports scene on the island. In the 1909/10 season, they achieved success in the Leinster Senior League and the Irish Intermediate Cup. Prior to the inception of the League of Ireland, St. James’s Gate won the haul of Leinster Senior League, Leinster Senior Cup, LFA Metropolitan Cup (a competition between clubs based in the Greater Dublin area) and the Irish Intermediate Cup in 1920. A side that featured Charlie Dowdall was the springboard for further success at the start of the 1920s.
Dowdall went on to join fellow works team Fordsons followed by spells in England with Barnsley and Swindon Town. He earned five caps for the Irish Free State and was a part of the contingent that represented Ireland at the 1924 Olympics but did not play a game. Two St. James’s players who that did play in the tournament were Paddy Duncan and Ernie McKay. Duncan was the man who scored the first ever goal for an FAI senior representation.
In 1921, St. James’s Gate was a founder member of the League of Ireland with Bohemians, Dublin United, Frankfort, Jacobs, Olympia, Shelbourne and YMCA. The side representing Guinness dominated the inaugural season. The League of Ireland championship was complemented with victory in both the Free State Cup and the Leinster Senior Cup but amazingly, James’ Gate best finish in the following 12 seasons would be fifth in 1923 and 1924. A second-place finish was achieved in the 1934/35 season and finally some silverware arrived again in the latter half of the 1930s. Their second Free State Cup victory came in 1938 followed by a League of Ireland title in the 1939/40 season. There were also two League of Ireland Shields, a Dublin City Cup, three Leinster Senior Cups (including their 1940/41 success) to add to their honours from 1922. The side from the home of the black stuff certainly seemed to be living up to the slogan adopted by Guinness decades later, “Good things come to those who wait.”
Integral to their sustained competiveness in the 1930s was the goal-scoring exploits of Alf Rigby and Paddy Bradshaw. Yet the most recognisable name from that side in 1936 was Johnny Carey. The Dubliner joined Manchester United from St. James’s Gate, and captained the Old Trafford club to the 1948 FA Cup. He was also notable for being the first player from Ireland to win a major trophy with the Red Devils.
Yet such names that would loom large in the folklore of the international game were unable to prevent St. James’s Gate from failing to get re-elected to the League of Ireland for the 1944/45 season. Nearly fifty years later, the club would replace Newcastle West in the League of Ireland but withdrew from the competition in 1996 due to financial difficulties. The club’s backers, Premier Computers, who the previous season provided the club with £150,000, went on to acquire the ownership of Shamrock Rovers. Even Guinness withdrew their financial aid.
Arthur Guinness may have signed a 9,000-year lease for the premises of his brewery, but St. James’s Gate Football Club had a number of homes. First, they played at Bellevue Lodge until 1921 when the Guinness board hired a pitch at Dolphin’s Barn. Today they play at Iveagh Grounds which they made their home in 1928.
St. James’s Gate’s place as the first the league and cup double winners in the League of Ireland is cemented in the annals of Irish soccer history. Perhaps instead of the raising the salute, ‘To Arthur’, Irish football fans should raise a glass ‘To John Lumsden’.