Gavin White examines newly promoted Shelbourne’s proposed departure from their Tolka Park home to share a redeveloped Dalymount from Issue 5 of Póg Mo Goal Magazine available here…
One of the most frustrating but rewarding elements of following
a League of Ireland club is the wide-ranging potential for success or catastrophic failure. Dundalk’s near miraculous recovery from perennial relegation battlers to Europa League group stage is a prime example of the rollercoaster. Sporting Fingal’s boom to bust time in the league was a little more tragic for all concerned.
Two of the league’s most famous clubs, Shelbourne and Bohemians, have featured in some of the most spectacular ascents and declines seen in Irish football. Most recent years have been troubling for Shels, while Bohs have been left to rebuild following financial difficulties after years
of success most notably their 2009 league and FAI Cup double.
Shelbourne’s famous Champions League run, culminating with a play-off against Deportivo La Coruna in 2004 came at a cost. Debts from that year hit €1.7 million with total liabilities over the following years rising towards €4.4 million.
Now both clubs find themselves at a crossroads regarding the proposed redevelopment of Dalymount Park. Shelbourne, controversially, are set for
a move out of Drumcondra to the ground that their rivals have been accustomed to for over 100 years, while Bohs are facing an uncertain two years at Shels’ Tolka Park, where they will play while Dalymount is redeveloped.
The next few years are crucial for both clubs. Several developments outside of the Dalymount move have left Shels with some rare hope, giving a glimpse of a return to where they feel they belong. New investment along with an exciting partnership with Dublin City University has seen fans promised strong and sustainable growth. After clearing an infamous debt, with changes in the boardroom and further build-up of academy structures for both girls and boys, the club are looking back at past heady days with a hint of possibility again.
A new investor Andrew Doyle has since entered the set-up promising to rebuild. A new youthful CEO, ex-UCD player Dave O’Connor, has also been appointed and the club has sought to initiate unique fundraising methods to build a competitive squad.
Margins are fine in football, however. An impressive season followed by promotion, as they almost achieved in 2018, could see Shels set up for success once more. On the other hand, continued failure in the promotion hunt would destroy any new hope whilst having to deal with a much higher wage bill compared with previous seasons.
Failure to be promoted would now be seen as a major set-back, whereas since the death of CEO Ollie Byrne, the club simply sought to survive. A promoted Shelbourne in a revamped Dalymount Park could be a huge success story.
The move to Dalymount represents a significant change for a club who have called Drumcondra their official home since 1989 when chairman Tony Donnelly first took the keys of Tolka Park. But it won’t be the first time in their history that the Reds have been based at ‘Dalyer’ having also had spells at Shelbourne Park, Harold’s Cross, and Irishtown.
Having finished level on points with Cork Celtic in the 1961/1962 season, Shels won the play-off for the League of Ireland title 1-0 in Dalymount Park and thus gained entry to the European Cup for the first time. There they drew Sporting Club de Portugal, who would go on to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year.
The tie with the Portuguese champions was a huge draw for the Dublin crowd and was the beginning of a mini European odyssey for the northside club over the next three years. On Wednesday 19th of September, 22,000 packed into Dalymount as a Shelbourne team containing club legends Theo Dunne and Eric Barber battled to a 2-0 loss. Writing in the Irish Independent the next morning, W.P. Murphy paid tribute to the home side’s spirit: “Shels glorious in defeat. The game was flavoured with all the tenseness and excitement that one expects from cup football and was thoroughly enjoyed by the big attendance as they watched the Davids of League of Ireland fight a magnificent battle against the Goliaths of Portugal.”
For potential co-tenants Bohemians meanwhile, they’ve enjoyed decades of success in Phibsborough in the famous old ground known as ‘the spiritual home of Irish football.’ An exciting 2018 cup run saw Bohs dream of European football once more, but brief flirtations with relegation recently have also had their supporters looking over their shoulder.
Off the pitch, the club’s identity has never been stronger, thanks to a groundswell movement among their fan-owned model giving rise to a terrific sense of involvement from members. Initiatives such as the Direct Provision programme working with refugees and playing matches with the inmates of Mountjoy Prison, as well as the recruitment of Community Officer Carina O’Brien has seen the club build their domestic image and community presence.
However, Gypsies’ fans would seem to be indifferent to their future co-tenants compared to the recent unrest that has occurred in nearby Drumcondra. A boycott by the Briogaid Dearg Shelbourne ultra group ended after almost one year of non- attendance at Tolka Park. In Phibsborough, however, Bohs supporters don’t seem too bothered about the prospect of a groundshare, no doubt influenced by knowing the agreement would lead to the clearance of debt that has riddled the club for years.
The north Dublin outfit previously thought it was in for a €65 million bonanza in 2006, when Liam Carroll’s Zoe Developments struck a deal to redevelop the stadium. The Irish property market since plummeted and in 2013, Bohemians had losses of €4.7 million, a massive amount in comparison to the club’s income and sponsorship earnings. The directors also faced insolvency and the club had also acquired debts of over €5 million.
The proposed transformation of Dalymount, if funded and finally signed off, could usher in a new era for both Bohemians and Shelbourne. As ever with Irish football, however, much will depend on exactly what unfolds between the time the bulldozers move in and the doors of the new stadium are opened, whenever that may be.
Although sometimes known for being one half of electronic music group White Collar Boy, Gavin White is a journalist who has written for the Irish Independent and Extratime.
Photography by Eoin Smith a sport photographer based in Dublin, Ireland, working in conjunction with Extratime photographing League of Ireland football.
This article appears in Issue 5 of Póg Mo Goal Magazine, 64 pages of excellent feature writing, beautiful photography and illustrations from contributors across the globe.