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Our Earlier Champions, Part 3
By Christopher Sands
MY BACKGROUND; - Some readers of my articles in these Shelbourne FC match programmes will remember my writing something of my own background. I was born (November 1937) into a Shelbourne family in a Shelbourne area just off Pearse Street in the City Quay/Westland Row parishes including Townsend Street. I would have been first brought to see Shels play in Shelbourne Park by my father and my brother’s c1940. One of my brothers, Bill, was good enough to be signed by a League of Ireland club, and he did play some games in the reserve team of Drumcondra FC, but as he really wanted to be signed by Shels, he didn’t put much effort into his games with Drums, and other interests took over his time. My nephew Tony Byrne, now living in Newcastle-on-Tyne in England for some years (and who attends Shels matches whenever he is in Dublin and who can say he has not attended a game in which Shelbourne have lost for over thirty years, but then he cannot get over as often as he would like to) recalls that one of the proudest moments of his life was when he arrived into the dressing room in Shelbourne Stadium, Irishtown, to put on his Shelbourne red shirt for the first time to play for two seasons with Shelbourne minors, then being coached and managed by our great club stalwart and former senior club captain, Andy Fitzpatrick.
The Shelbourne committee was then seeking a manager for our senior team and Andy Fitzpatrick was the favourite for that position. In confident anticipation of this appointment, Andy began to approach some of the most promising young players about then, one of whom was my nephew Tony Byrne. Tony was delighted to agree to make himself available to sign for Shels League of Ireland team, especially under Andy. With Shels minors, Andy had often personally coached Tony in wing-half play, and he had sometimes switched him about for specific tasks when playing certain teams, especially against future full international Terry Conroy who was then starring for Home Farm minors (and whose three brothers Ollie, Larry and Stephen all played for Shels first team). In the manner in which Shels often found the ability to mess-up things, news suddenly broke that the new team manager had been appointed, and it was not Andy Fitzpatrick but Gibby McKenzie (and that was Not a glorious event in our club history). Andy Fitzpatrick was extremely annoyed at the way things had gone. He was not now in a position to sign these players but he advised them to call to the club office to sign. Most did not, including my nephew.
So we had had a wearer of the Shels shirt in the minor grade, and we had come very close to having a Shelbourne senior player in our family. But we did have some neighbours and friends who played for Shels, especially Eddie Gannon (Shels 1940-46, and 1954-57 as player-manager) who was a friend of my brother John, and we could see Eddie during summer months on his break from Notts County and later Sheffield Wednesday in the English First Division (now the Premiership). Eddie Gannon starred especially in the Shels team which won the League Championship and the Shield in 1944, also reaching the FAI Cup Final that season to lose in very controversial circumstances. Our erstwhile volunteer grounds man Peter McDonald (himself a former League of Ireland player with Bohs and Transport although, being originally from Bath Avenue, his heart always followed Shels), remembers that Eddie Gannon ‘was one of the best players that I have ever seen with Shelbourne. He was very strong; like an engine’. Eddie also played 14 times for Ireland. Our next door neighbour was the aunt of Gerry Malone and we would watch in admiration as this great star of Shelbourne FC made a visit to her home. Other local lads who rose to wear the Shels red shirt included Tommy Kirwan, Georgie Lynam, Johnny Murray, ‘Danno’ Egan and Bobby Grumley.
IN THE BEGINNING;- The story we had heard of the naming of the club as Shelbourne was that in the earliest days the lads from Bath Avenue and district began this new group or club by playing challenge games against other groups in their vicinity. One of these groups was the British Army soldiers stationed in nearby Beggars Bush Barracks. On one occasion when outside the barracks arranging a match with the soldiers, they asked the local lads what was the name of their team. Not having thought about this matter before this, the local organiser looked up at the nearby road sign and answered, ‘Shelbourne’, as stated on the road sign above their heads ‘Shelbourne Road’. In the booklet ‘Fifty Years of Shelbourne FC’, the naming of the club was given as because of financial support obtained from regular collections received from customers in the local hostelry ‘Shelbourne House’, on the corner of Shelbourne Road and Bath Avenue (and still there in 2008).
ADMINISTRATORS;- The ‘Fifty Years of Shelbourne FC’ booklet explains the earliest years of the club in some detail, mainly because some of the founder members, or at least close members of their families had been still available to be personally interviewed for that booklet (in 1945). This records, ‘A group of young men in the Ringsend-Sandymount area, where the game seemed to get its greatest grip following its introduction to Dublin, became convinced that there was only one effective outlet for their enthusiasm, a team of their own. Shelbourne FC was the result. The club was founded in 1895, without any ceremony or blowing of trumpets’. The club committee included John Bury (President), Partick Finn (Vice-President), - Wall (Hon Secretary), plus committee members M Wall, P Byrne, J D’Arcy and James Lee (referred to as the captain). The widely acknowledged ‘moving spirit in the promotion and organisation of the club’, was James Rowan, original Hon Treasurer, and referred to here as ‘the founder’. For the first year or so the members arranged games amongst themselves or against similar groups or clubs within a reasonable travelling distance including the soldiers of Beggars Bush Barracks. When they decided the club was organised enough to register their club, the officers set about doing this, but the registrar of the Leinster Football Association lived out in Finglas, then very much way out in the country. There being no other form of transport available to them they had to walk out there so the club would be registered properly and on time. Leading the trek out on such an important mission was James Rowan, the original club treasurer and he has been generally acknowledged as the driving force who kept the club moving in the early days. A half-back in his playing days, James Rowan lived in No 7 Bath Avenue Place and he worked in the Dublin Corporation Cleansing Department.
In that Golden Jubilee Booklet there is an article entitled, ‘The Grand Old Man of the Club- Founder, Official and Player, Mr. James Rowan.’ ‘Mr. Rowan is still (in 1945) a living link between the far-off past and the present day. In those early days he doubled in the role of official and player, and when time forced him to hang up his boots, he continued his administrative interest in the club, and has served in some capacity to the present day.’ The article went on to recount some of the many duties Mr. Rowan continued to carry out on behalf of his beloved Shelbourne. He had latterly become the guardian of the members gate on home match days, carrying it out as thoroughly as he previously did, but ‘always in the unobtrusive way of the gentleman he ever was’. ‘This booklet is as much a tribute to Mr. James Rowan as a record of Shelbourne FC, which he ‘fathered’ so ably, and its publication will, no doubt, be one of the happiest events of his remaining years. May there be many.’ ‘If the good work men do keeps their memory fresh, then this group of pioneers should never be forgotten by followers of the club’.
The Wall brothers named above were later joined by another younger brother who became the first player to receive payment for playing for Shels when the club first went professional in September, 1905. A twist to that story of the Wall family came in our 2007 season when in our first ever game against Limerick 37 FC, their team included a David Wall who was a direct descendant from those Wall brothers from Bath Avenue in Dublin. That match had to be switched to Home Farm’s ground in Whitehall because of a safety problem in Tolka Park. Mid-way through the first half we went behind to a Limerick score from a set-piece. The scorer was Davy ‘Stoney’ Wall, our Shelbourne descendant from Limerick. Later we scored an equaliser to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Christopher Sands can be contacted at email; - NCSands@eircom.net