Twenty years ago it began, like so many others, as an immigrant caucus in the heavily Irish neighbourhoods of the Bronx. Pub chat in Woodlawn begot a new football club. Security in recognising the accents and the gearbags from home, writes Fergus Jayes.
Now? Lansdowne Bhoys are performing at high-wire levels unimaginable in 1997. True, the accents are as likely to be Caribbean as Cavan, but the culture and ethos is unmistakably Irish. And this weekend, they may cap it all off by being crowned the best amateur soccer team in the United States.
The Bhoys from the Bronx are in Milwaukee Friday for the four-team play-offs for the National Amateur Firth Cup finals - they play the LA Wolves at 10.30pm Irish (live stream available), anchored by the likes of defensive linchpin Sean Kelly, the former Arsenal and Cork City centre-half from Tralee.
The club’s reputation for attracting the best amateur talent in the US and from Europe has enabled them to build and grow into one of the biggest teams outside the professional ranks.
Lansdowne Bhoys - they have a coaching tie-up with Glasgow Celtic and sport the famed hoops - boast a number of ex-League of Ireland players such as Kelly, Daryl Kavanagh and Gareth McGlen and are managed by ex Derry City player Austin Friel, who’s making a name for himself as a coach.
California-based LA Wolves, Florida side Kickers FC and Bavarian SC, who have the home advantage in Milwaukee, will have similar thought of glory, but Lansdowne spokesman Colm Morrissey is quietly confident.
“Our summer is normally spent relaxing, but due to our current cup run, the lads are still out training twice a week and loving it. We have a full strength squad of 18 set to travel to Milwaukee, and Austin is quietly confident of our chances.”
Morrissey hasn’t paused yet to consider where the club has come from - they’ve another amateur cup play-off national semi in two weeks time - but he knows they can’t stop the merrygoround just yet.
“Last year we progressed past the Long Island Rough Riders 2-1 in the first round of the US Open Cup, which is basically the FA Cup in England.
“Then we were up against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and we pulled off a 2-0 win over them, which was something unheard of for an amateur side to beat a team who had a 2,500-capacity purpose-built stadium and play at a higher level.
“We came up against the Rochester Rhinos in the next round, who are a professionally trained outfit. It was an achievement in itself to hold them 0-0 until the 60th minute, then their fitness ousted us and we lost 2-0.
“It really put us on the radar as a side with a burgeoning reputation for giant killings to progress that far as an amateur side.”
The inflow of resources, ie hard cash, is key to keeping it all going. Getting to Milwaukee for the weekend doesn’t come cheap.
“A lot of it was fundraising initiatives like hosting golf events, soccer camps that sort of thing. It’s a community-based club and the support we received from the large Irish contingent living in New York was monumental.
“Our youth system is one of our priorities as we have 22 kids’ teams ranging from six to 12 years old. We provide our own coaches from the first and second team players, which adds to their busy schedules on top of their own training, matches and work outside the club.”
Lansdowne Bhoys began a partnership with Scottish champions Celtic FC which started last year and has nurtured the youth system they currently have in place.
“It was a successful start to the campaign last year with coaches coming over from Glasgow and started showing the kids in our club ‘The Celtic Way’ as they like to call it.
“There were coaching camps and not only the kids, but our first team learned from the experience from coaches who are used to being in the top flight.”
Morrissey explained the first team is made up of a number of multi-national players, and that the Irish contingent is not a requirement.
“As the years went by, we started incorporating a lot of foreign players from the likes of Haiti, Jamaica and Germany just to name a few.
“In a way a lot of these guys consider soccer to be their first line of work. Our manager (Friel), is always looking to bring in new blood and he has a real eye for spotting Airtricity League players who are maybe not getting signed next season and he invites them to come play in the States.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t”.
A run through of some of their non-Irish notables establishes their bona-fides as a squad of substance. They boast Jean Voltaire, a Haiti international, Christopher Edwards from Jamaica, who has played second division football in Poland, former German U21 international Michael Holzer and Francois ‘Paco’ Navarro, who was part of the French elite academy at Clairefontaine as a teenager. Friel has serious talent at his disposal so it’s not the greatest surprise that Lansdowne is peerless in the greater New York area, topping the Cosmopolitan league and claiming a pair of cup successes.
If you want to watch Friday’s USASA National Amateur Cup final, it’s live-streamed here.