The Story of Dalymount Park: The Home of Irish Football

By Ryan Clarke

Saturday the 16th of July 2016. A fantastic summers day in Dublin, not a single cloud in sight and the sun burning brightly in the sky. If Carlsberg did the perfect day for a game of football, then I’m pretty sure that was it. By the hordes of people wearing Newcastle United jerseys you would have sworn that you were outside St. James’ Park, but in actual fact you were outside Dalymount Park in Dublin, the home of Bohemian Football Club. As the thousands of Newcastle United supporters sat in a semi-derelict and dilapidated stadium watching their team coast to a 6-0 victory against a part-time outfit, they failed to realise that they were sitting in The Home of Irish football, where many of the greatest players to ever play the game of football graced the pitch.

The story of Dalymount Park begins 116 years ago in 1900 when officials from Bohemians began negotiations with the owners of Pisser Dignams field (what would later become known as Dalymount Park). At the time Pisser Dignams field, as it was known locally, was private property although it was more or less common land due to it being a large and open green space. The locals of Phibsborough used one side of the field as allotments to grow vegetables, while the other side of the space was a playground for local children.

Throughout the 1890s Bohemians had gone through a number of permanent home grounds without ever spending significant time in any of them, leading to them getting the nickname of ‘the Gypsies’. Their first permanent home was the Polo Grounds in the Phoenix Park until the 1893/94 season when the club acquired Jones Road (which is now Croke Park and the HQ of the GAA) before moving to Whitehall Farm, Glasnevin for the season of 1895/96, although at that time the area was too remote and without public transport attendances began to dwindle, forcing the club to continue the search for a permanent home. This search concluded when Bohemians acquired the site of Pisser Dignams field and the ground was officially opened on the 7th of September 1901 with an inaugural game that attracted 5,000 spectators against local rivals Shelbourne with Bohemians winning 4-2. Bohemians star forward of the era Harold Sloan cemented his place in history by scoring the first goal in Dalymount.

Development of Dalymount continued at a steady pace throughout the early 20th century. The ground gradually evolved from little more than a field enclosed by a corrugated metal fence with ropes and lines of demarcation to keep spectators at bay and the only changing room being a tent at one end of the pitch, to a modern (at the time) stadium. By 1907 wooden stands had been constructed behind both goals and two more were added on either side of the pitch and over the coming years roofs were constructed over the main stand and the Connaught street stand.

dalymount-bookAlmost immediately Dalymount became one the most important grounds in Irish football with it hosting the 1903 Irish Cup final between Bohemians and Distillery (the Irish Cup, which is now Northern Ireland’s premier cup competition was an All-Ireland competition prior to clubs from the Irish Free State breaking away from the IFA in 1921 and forming the FAI), and going on to host its first international match with the British Home Championship tie in 1904 between Ireland and Scotland which ended 1-1. Dalymount’s prestige and reputation continued to grow throughout this period as it continued to host Irish Cup finals when Dublin based clubs Shelbourne and Bohemians were competing in the final. This tradition continued into the 1920s when Ireland gained independence from Britain, Dalymount hosted the first 4 finals on the Irish Free State Cup between 1922 – 1925 and continued to host cup finals when the Free State Cup was renamed the FAI Cup. The prestige of Dalymount was not solely confined to the Irish domestic game. Dalymount Park hosted a litany of high profile international matches against England, Spain, Belgium, the U.S.A and even Nazi Germany. The vociferous support that would eventually become known as “The Dalymount Roar” propelled Ireland to famous victories against Belgium, the U.S.A and an impressive 5-2 win over Nazi Germany.

With the attention that Dalymount Park was attracting from being the premier football venue for domestic and international football in Ireland it was not surprising that by the 1927/28 season Bohemians had contacted renowned Scottish architect Archibald Leitch, who had been commissioned to design Anfield, Goodison Park, Ibrox, and Highbury previously, to draw up plans for the development of the main wooden stand at a cost of £17,000 that would remain in use until 1999 when the Jodi stand would be constructed in Dalymount Park.

This new stand developed by Leitch, however, was not ambitious enough. Bohemians wanted to expand Dalymount Park to truly match other sports’ national stadiums in the country at the time, namely the GAA’s Croke Park and the IRFU’s Lansdowne Road, which the Irish national team would end up playing in and was also designed by Leitch. Bohemians launched a “Ways and Means Committee” to deal with the issue of redevelopment but the sticking point in the plan was the huge financial burden it would be on the Club to redevelop Dalymount to the scale of Croke Park and Lansdowne Road. Those two stadiums were constructed by national associations which were able to pool vast amounts of resources whereas Bohemians were just a club with severely limited resources in comparison. Though the plan was ambitious and the odds increasingly dim Bohemians put out a rallying cry to the fans with a series of posters and pamphlets entitled “Can We Do It? – It Depends On You”. These documents included designs of what the new Dalymount would look like and called on the ‘staunch loyalty and support of our members and followers’ and described the venture as something ‘worth striving for’. The document concludes with the statement that achieving the goal of redeveloping Dalymount to the scale of a national stadium would make every Bohemians supporter ‘glow with pride’. Indeed, it probably would have made every football supporter in Ireland glow with pride to see their socially rejected sport be on a par with the Gaelic Games but sadly the plans were too ambitious and the work was never carried out. One wonders what the present day Dalymount would be like now if these plans came to fruition.

Despite the disappointment of being unable to redevelop Dalymount Park to a level that befitted its status in the game, the golden years of Dalymount Park were just around the corner. This was a period in which football began to really catch the imagination of the wider Irish public. Some of the most famous matches to be played in Dalymount took place during this period, ranging from domestic cup finals and massive international matches to marquee European Cup ties, seeing the debuts of some of Irish football’s greatest players and Dalymount making an iconic addition to the north Dublin skyline that persists to the modern day.

One of the most interesting facts of Dalymount Park are the iconic floodlights that dominate the Phibsborough skyline. They led many supporters to become eagerly excited at the sight of them on the way to a match in Dalymount, leading to the famous phrase “follow the floodlights.” The floodlights themselves once stood over Arsenal’s Highbury and were given to Bohemians in 1962 with the inaugural match under them seeing Arsenal defeat Bohs 8-3.

Airtricity League Premier Division 5/3/2010 Bohemians A general view of Dalymount Park Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer *** Local Caption ***

The Famous Floodlights

Dalymount Park really becomes “The Home of Irish Football” throughout this period of time as a result of it not just being the home ground of Bohemians, but the venue for every major game that took place in the country. With Dalymount Park being the premier football ground in the country it was no surprise that the FAI cup final was contested there from the early 1920s until 2000 when the ground wasn’t considered up to that standard any more due to decades of decline.

Dalymount Park was the home stadium for the Irish international team and the unfaltering support that the team garnered while playing there became famously known as the “The Dalymount Roar”. This support would have been a factor in a famous victory for Ireland in what was undoubtedly in a historic match against West Germany in 1951. It was the West Germans first match outside of Germany since the conclusion of World War II with Ireland running out 3-2 winners. This match is just one in a litany of others in which the Irish team was lifted to another level because of the Dalymount Roar. In 1957 Ireland faced an England side that was considered to be ‘the cream of the crop’ and from this is it clear the crowd in Dalymount elevated that Irish side that was leading the game until England scored an injury-time equaliser. Irish winger Joe Haverty recalled that match and the Dalymount Roar, “I loved playing here (Dalymount)… The crowd was unbelievable from the first minute. What’s remembered to this day is the silence when they (England) scored.”

International matches were not the only games to experience the Dalymount Roar. In September 1957 Shamrock Rovers faced the Busby Babes of Manchester United in the European Cup a mere 5 months before the tragic events of the Munich Air Disaster, although Shamrock Rovers were trailing 1-0 at halftime, they went on to lose 6-0 and the 45,000 spectators in attendance that night had witnessed a team that not even the Dalymount Roar could intimidate. Controversial Irish football pundit Eamon Dunphy, who was a spectator in Dalymount that evening, described the Busby Babes as “the best team to ever play here (Dalymount)” before going on the comment on the occasion as a whole, “it was a magical moment, I don’t think anyone who was here will ever forget it.” This would not be the only landmark European Cup tie to be hosted in Dalymount Park as in later years Drumcondra would face off against Atletico Madrid in 1958 and one year later in 1959 Shamrock Rovers would be back again, this time facing Nice. In fact, Shamrock Rovers would go on to contest their first eleven European ties in Dalymount Park due to their own ground out in Milltown being too small.

For Irish football and Leeds United legend Johnny Giles, Dalymount Park was seen as a safe haven for the “soccer men” from the authority figures in Irish society that looked down on football as the “foreign game” and that Irish sports like Gaelic Football and Hurling were the only sports that Irish people should have an interest in or risk being made to feel exiled from Irish society. This notion that football was a foreign game left Johnny Giles not feeling Irish as a result of his love of the game. When the day came for Giles to make his international debut for Ireland in Dalymount
Park aged 18, in his (and many others) safe haven, in 1959 against a Swedish team that took part in the World Cup final the year previous against Brazil. Ireland won the match 3-2 despite being 2-0 down, with game swinging in Irelands favour thanks to a stunning 30-yard volley from Giles and the resulting Dalymount Roar spurring the team onto victory. When Giles retired veteran Irish broadcaster Jimmy Magee remarked “Giles was the best Irish player who ever trod on the Dalymount grass.” When the next Irish midfield maestro came to the fore in Dalymount, in the form of ex-Arsenal and Juventus legend Liam “Chippy” Brady, Giles was now the manager of Ireland and watched on as Brady pulled all the strings from midfield in a 3-0 thrashing of the Soviet Union in 1974. It is a testament to Dalymount Park that such Irish footballing icons hold it in such high esteem.

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John Giles, Steve Heighway and Liam Brady at Dalymount Park

The decline of Dalymount Park (and by extension the League of Ireland as a whole) coincides with the explosion of interest in the Irish national team from the mainstream of Irish society as a result of the arrival of Jack Charlton as the manager of Ireland, and consequently qualifying for international tournaments for the first time in our history. The arrival of such an unprecedented period of success for Ireland on the international stage spawned a group of fans who previously had no interest in League of Ireland football were suddenly ripe for the taking and the League of Ireland was not prepared to take advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately for Dalymount it was also unready to grasp the opportunity.

Dalymount Park had been in a state of decline for decades prior to football catching the imagination of the wider Irish public and while there was a thriving football subculture in the country, it did not generate enough revenue for it to be possible to redevelop the ground after the drop off in attendances after Dalymount’s glory years. To put the decline of the ground into perspective the old wooden stand that was constructed during the 1927/28 season was still in use up until 1999.

The realisation that Dalymount Park was no longer up to international standard came crashing down in 1985 when Ireland welcomed world champions Italy to Dalymount. Bohemians and the FAI had not been faced with a capacity crowd in Dalymount for a significant period of time and as a result were woefully unprepared. The FAI speculated that there would be a crowd of 20,000 people attending the match so they took the decision that fans would pay for entrance to the match at the turnstiles. The FAI were wrong and an estimated 40,000 people made their way to Dalymount for the match. The entrances to the ground were (and still are) situated throughout a series of laneways and this led to major crowd congestion. Concerns about safety were rising and the police had to move around 800 fans to sit behind the touchline to avoid a crush. With all the chaos surrounding that night, Frank Stapleton’s memory of the match is: “How there wasn’t a disaster that night is beyond me.” In aftermath of that night the capacity of Dalymount was reduced to 22,000 for future events and signalled the end of Irish international matches at the ground with the team moving to Lansdowne Road.

There were plans made by Bohemians to redevelop Dalymount towards the end of the 1990s. The first phase of these plans, and the only phase to actually be carried out, was to replace the 90-year-old wooden stand with a modern 2742 seater stand which is known as the Jodi Stand at a cost of £1.1m, a huge figure for a League of Ireland club. On the opposite side of Dalymount were the old terraces, half of which were demolished and the remaining half had seats installed but by 2011 that side of Dalymount was closed due to health and safety concerns. There were also 1,485 seats added to the School End, which is now the Des Kelly Stand and the away section for away fans when there are sufficient numbers to open it. Leaving the capacity of the ground at 4,227 in the present day.

There was also an ill-fated deal with property developer Liam Carroll in which Bohemians had agreed to sell Dalymount in a deal estimated to be worth €60m. The deal would see Bohemians selling Dalymount and also having a purpose built 10,000 seater stadium built for them by the developer. The new stadium was to be built 4 miles away from Dalymount close to Dublin airport. However, in 2009 when the Irish property bubble burst, the entire deal collapsed and left Bohemians on the brink of extinction with debts of €4m that were accumulated while trying to get the deal with Liam Carroll over the line, but tragically it also left the future of Dalymount in limbo.

The deal with Liam Carroll falling through has an unexpected silver lining to it. In June of 2015 Dublin City Council announced that it had purchased Dalymount Park in a deal worth €3.8m which would also see Bohemians emerge from the deal debt-free. With the future of Dalymount Park secured, Dublin City Council announced plans in February 2016 that it would be demolishing Dalymount Park and rebuilding the famous ground for an estimated €20m, with work earmarked to commence in October 2017. After Bohemians and Shelbourne contested the very first match in Dalymount park 115 years ago, they are due to become tenants under a ground sharing agreement when Dalymount Park is reconstructed, the current aim is to have the stadium ready by 2020. Something that is being taken into consideration is to design a stadium that will be able to meet UEFA standards and host matches in the Champions League and Europa League if the need to arises. As was demonstrated by Dundalk’s impressive European campaign in 2016, it would be beneficial for Irish clubs to play in a stadium smaller than the Aviva to create a more intense atmosphere, a recreation of the Dalymount Roar for a new generation. It is also hoped that international football will return ‘home’ to Dalymount for games that would not sell out the 51,700 seater Aviva Stadium. The impressive new plans for Dalymount Park aim to bring The Home of Irish Football into the 21st century and make the ground the centrepiece of the Phibsborough community. Bohemians director Daniel Lambert has been quoted saying, “It is very likely that it [Dalymount] will be used for concerts and other civic events, and of course there is the museum proposal [museum of Irish football]. There may also be multi-use elements for the community, such as theatre space or a library. The local residents are actively involved in discussions.” In years gone by there were also concerts that took place in Dalymount with performances from the likes of Bob Marley and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bohemians have also been looking to add a safe standing section to the new ground, with an estimated 30% of their fans standing at matches despite it being ‘unsafe’ to do so at this moment in time, but the final decision is to be made by the council. Although the iconic Dalymount floodlights will be taken down with the old ground, there are plans to incorporate new ones that are up to modern standards so Phibsborough doesn’t lose a key feature of its skyline.

The future of Dalymount Park is bright and while it may be sad the old ground is coming down, the memories of the old Dalymount will never be forgotten with tributes pouring in from various figures in the Irish game. As Eamon Dunphy eloquently put it, “Dalymount is full of rich and beautiful memories. This was our culture, our life – a wonderful place.” To Johnny Giles paying tribute in a way as classy as he played the beautiful game, “To lose Dalymount would have been very sad. As a football man, Dalymount means a lot to me, and I know it means a huge amount to Irish football fans throughout the country.” With the many fantastic memories the old Dalymount is leaving in its wake, it leaves every Irish football fan with hope for the future and that Dalymount will roar again.

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