Dalymount Park: The home of Irish football was a field of dreams

For Dalymount Park, the fervent hope must be that we can soon be calling it the once and future home of Irish football.

Dalymount Park: The home of Irish football was a field of dreams

The stadium’s place in history is already secure, of course, and while its future is hardly likely to be as a venue for senior international game and FAI Cup finals, advanced plans to redevelop ‘Dalyer’ should ensure that top flight domestic football will continue to have a proper home in Phibsborough.

Yes, it’s sad to think they’ll have to knock it down to build it back up again but given the delapidated state of the place — with half the ground no longer accessible to the public for even the biggest games which Bohemians host — a wholesale revamp would seem to be the only way forward.

As part of that, the pitch will be rotated by 90 degrees but then, that’s nothing, when some of us can recall glory days when it seemed as if the whole ground, iconic floodlights and all, actually levitated and hovered briefly above the northside of Dublin.

Many such moments are recalled in Dalymount Park: The Home Of Irish Football, a gorgeous pictorial celebration of 125 years of football in the holy ground, lovingly compiled by Colin White, whose own grandfather played for Bohs in the late 1920s.

If you’re into your Irish football and have a Christmas book token to spare, then look no further.

The picture we reproduce here is of two legendary figures of the game on these islands, Noel Cantwell and Bobby Moore, shaking hands before kick off between Ireland and England in a friendly at Dalymount in 1964.

In front of a full house of 45,000, the match ended 3-1 in favour of the visitors and, should you want to know more — because the only quibble I’d have with Colin White’s book is that it’s a bit stingy on captions — I’m pleased to say that on YouTube you’ll find some wonderfully evocative Pathe News footage of the day’s play (“They might be two goals down but Eire are not downhearted”).

My own Dalyer greatest hit of yesteryear dates from October 30, 1974 when Ireland played the Soviet Union in a European Championship qualifier — or, as the programme, reproduced in the book, has it: Ireland v Russia in the European Nations Cup.

I note the cover price was 10p which I suspect must have been beyond me that day since, as myself and a school pal tried to get into the ground, my entire financial assets at the time — consisting of one 50-pence piece — slipped through a hole in my pocket and down my leg onto the ground, the ferocious pressure of the crowd which was forcing us forward towards the turnstiles being so irresistible that I was physically unable to bend down to pick it up.

Dalymount Park: The Home Of Irish Football retails at €19.99.
Dalymount Park: The Home Of Irish Football retails at €19.99.

Happily, our schoolboy tickets ensured we were still able to get in but, stuck high up on the terraces at the back of a vast, heaving throng, I have to confess that my view of the action on the pitch was somewhat shy of panoramic.

No matter, the important thing was to be able to say you were there the day Don Givens scored his famous hat-trick and Liam Brady made his celebrated debut, as Ireland thrashed the Soviets 3-0.

One of the joys of this job is that from time to time you get to meet the heroes of your youth and glean all sorts of delicious inside info straight from the horse’s mouth.

Thus it was that, a couple of years ago, the same Don Givens was able to regale me with the bizarre postscript to that game.

In a rush after the match, along with Eoin Hand, to catch a plane back to Heathrow, Don decided to forego the dubious pleasures of the Dalymount showers and head straight for his hotel to clean himself up, pick up his bags and then make for the airport.

Unfortunately, traffic gridlock in Phibsborough imprisoned the team coach, leaving our heroes no option but to try to hitch back into the town, the goal hero standing on the street with his thumb out and the matchball tucked under his other arm.

When an obliging motorist finally pulled in, his innocent opening gambit was the classic: “Were yiz at the match, lads?”

To cut a long story short — and there still having been no time for that much needed shower — when Don did finally touch down in London, it was to find his epic feat had made him international news, with photographers lined up in arrivals at Heathrow to take a picture of the goal hero.

Little did they know, he told me with a chuckle all those years later, that beneath his tracksuit the man of the hour was still liberally coated in a sticky layer of authentic Dalyer muck.

The lank-haired Liam Brady’s debut would probably be uncontestable as the greatest in Irish football history but for the fact that the master to his apprentice that afternoon, John Giles — or ‘Johnny’ as he was known outside his family back then — had gone one better by scoring in his first game in the green shirt, at the same venue, in 1959.

It was also more in keeping with the Irish way of doing things — that is to say, the hard way — since the home side were 2-0 down to Sweden before the 18-year-old’s stunning volley turned the tide, Ireland going on to complete the comeback by winning 3-2.

In a lovely foreword for Colin White’s book, Giles recalls what it all meant to a young football fanatic to hit the net for his country at his beloved Dalyer: “I could see the goalkeeper sprawling across his goal at the School End as the ball screamed high into the net. And even now I can hear the noise: the Dalymount Roar...

“My mother wasn’t there in person but she knew I’d scored because she was listening to the match on the radio at home.

“And when the ball hit the net and the Dalymount roar went up, the noise travelled all the way to the Navan Road. She heard it.”

Giles concludes: “The goal was not just a dream come true, it was better than any goal in any dream I had ever had — an unforgettable experience.”

From ‘Pisser Dignam’s Field’ to Bohs v Rovers in 2014, via Charlie Hurley, Pele, Jack Charlton, Roy Keane, Kevin Hunt, Bob Marley, Johnny Logan and many, many more, Dalymount Park: The Home of Irish Football is full of the stuff that dreams are made of.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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