Playing soldiers, Olympia versus Jacobs

Jacob’s Football Team, probably late 1920s.

Jacob’s Football Team, probably late 1920s.

The 1919/20 Irish League season took place during the country’s violent War of Independence and a Leinster League game between Olympia and Jacobs exemplified the tensions that existed in Irish society at the time. Cian Manning takes a look back.

The annual meeting of the Leinster League in 1919 had seen eight clubs apply for entry to Division 1 including Bohemians, St. James’s Gate, Jacobs, Olympia, Ulster, YMCA, University College and Stafford Regiment.

Olympia Football Club, originating from the Coombe in Dublin, had achieved success in 1918, winning both the Leinster Junior and Senior Cup. The Irish Independent newspaper noted that the club ‘played on a ground near Mount Jerome Cemetery – the side of a hill – where the outside left could hardly see the outside right below him’. But this didn’t inhibit their impressive record of winning every knockout competition in Leinster soccer from Minor to Senior Cup.

Players such as Jack McCarthy and Fran Watters, both of whom would go on to earn caps for the Football Association of Ireland in the 1920s, began their playing days with the club. The latter scored the vital goal in the Leinster Senior Cup final against Shelbourne in a cup shock which journalist Peter Byrne later outlined led to the chant ‘Remember Olympia once beat Shels’. Olympia became only the fourth different club to win the competition. Later in the mid-1920s, Watters would play a part in Shelbourne’s first League of Ireland title-winning team.

Based in Crumlin and originally a works team of Jacobs Biscuit Factory, Jacobs were runners-up in the 1917 IFA Junior Cup, losing to the Royal Irish Rifles. The first game between Jacobs and Olympia in the 1919/20 season was in October in a fixture described by the Freeman’s Journal as one that would: “dominate all interest in the Senior League”.  With eight minutes remaining, Wall, in the Olympia goal, got the tips of his fingers to a shot from Stephen Boyne and as the ball dropped to the ground Boyne chased in and drove it into the net to earn a 3-2 win for Jacobs.

The return fixture in April 1920 would see Ireland’s tense politics mix with football. The only moment of note in a match hampered by wet and slippery conditions was Mick Chadwick’s scoring effort in the last kick of the game when he “lifted the ball against the face of the Jacobs crossbar” with the game finishing in a nil-all draw.

With the contest finished, a group of Jacobs players invaded the opposing team’s dressing room having been taunted by members of the Olympia team throughout the game for ‘playing soldiers’ of the British Army in their side.

It led to a meeting of the Leinster Football Association Council on the evening of the 28th April and its “principal business was the consideration of a report by Olympia against Jacobs with the charges deemed as ‘very serious’.”

However, the Freeman’s Journal noted that: “Witnesses declined to incriminate any of the players of the reported club, alleging as their reason, dread of consequential physical violence.” After the hearing of evidence which lasted over 3 hours, suspensions were handed out to Stephen Boyne of Jacob’s for six months, Chadwick, of Olympia for six months and E. Boyne of Jacobs for three months. The League chairman then appealed to both clubs to ensure: “that in future everything pertaining to party politics should be rigorously excluded from the game.”

To understand the political persuasions of some of the members of the Olympia sides of the era, it is worth looking at the lives of Edward Cleary and Mick Chadwick. Mr. Edward A. Cleary ‘who entered the Civil Service in 1913 was dismissed in 1918 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance’ (as reported in the Irish Independent upon his death in January 1956). He subsequently became a solicitor in 1923 having served in the Irish Land Commission.

Olympia’s Mick Chadwick also passed away in January 1956, described by the Irish Press as an “Old I.R.A. hero” and “one decent fellow, a sportsman on the field and an unselfish brave worker in the national movement.”

Chadwick’s suspension from football for his role in the aftermath of the game with Jacobs was one matter but during the War of independence he was sent a card by Paddy Kenny to turn up as a loan centre forward for Shelbourne for a game in the Phoenix Park. “I’d be delighted to attend, but I’m afraid the Governor will not consent,” was the reply. His address was listed as Mountjoy Prison.

The war had disrupted communication between the soccer heartland of the North and their Southern counterparts which hindered the resumption of the Irish League. The re-arranging of the Irish Cup semi-final in April 1921 between Glenavon and Shelbourne by the IFA in Belfast instead of Dublin was a breaking point between the Northern and Southern clubs. In September 1921, the breakaway Football Association of Ireland was formed by the Free State League and the Leinster FA.

Both Olympia and Jacobs were founder members of the subsequent League of Ireland in 1921 with the latter having a longer lifespan in the competition. Olympia lasted just two seasons in the league while Jacobs endured well into the late 1960s, reaching the round of 16 in the 1968/69 FAI Cup. The club went on to win four Leinster Senior Leagues and an FAI Intermediate Cup in 1950. Notable players who lined out for the club included internationals Tommy Dunne, Shay Keogh and Frank Collins (who played for both the IFA and FAI).

The incident between Olympia and Jacobs in 1920 captures the tense atmosphere that existed in the south of Ireland, with the beliefs of the time not only shaping the two states that exist on this island today but in effect the duplication of soccer bodies with differing political beliefs.

Many like to see soccer as a unifying factor but equally it is worth acknowledging the words of Barcelona and Uruguayan Luis Suarez in relation to Latin America; ‘The border between soccer and politics is vague.’ Often sport can shed light on the times we live in, and the fixture between these two Dublin clubs offered an eye-opening glimpse of Irish life in turbulent 1920.

Main image: South Dublin County local studies

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