As a 5 year old my father brought me to see my first Shelbourne game. We travelled from Corrib Road in Terenure (my father working for Guinness and Corrib Road comprising “Guinness houses”). His father had been a “stoker” on steam ships and an avid “Reds Man”.
I travelled on the cross bar of my father’s bicycle to Milltown to see Shelbourne play Shamrock Rovers. The year was 1959. I do not recall the result of the game but I was hooked and knew from that day forth that “The Reds” were the good guys and “Rovers” were definitely the bad guys. Absolutely nothing has happened over the intervening years to make me change my mind.
The memories and coincidences since then have been astonishing.
I remember attending the 1960 FAI Cup Final (Shels 2-0 Cork Hibs) and Freddie Strahan becoming God. For the first time I saw grown men cry (Hibs supporters). I attended my first European game when Shels lost 0-2 in Dalymount to Sporting Lisbon. Many years later I became friends with a Portuguese Colleague (us both being air traffic controllers in our respective countries). He was and is a Sporting supporter. On a visit to his home he produced the programme from the return leg (Sporting 5-1 Shels). This had been his first European game!
Football is about tradition and loyalty and little superstitions. As a kid I remember the smell of pipe tobacco on the Sunday Football Specials. The apprehension regarding what “Big Ben Hannigan” would do. Would he be even more brilliant than his hero Denis Law had been the previous day for United at Old Trafford or would he get “sent off” and cost Shels the game, especially if “Pip Meehan” was the ref and we were playing Drums. Either was equally likely.
The week-long build-up to the “old-firm” games between Shels and Rovers. The school yard banter where every boy was either a Shels, Rovers or Drums man and United and Liverpool were something we had a passing interest in. We played for Home Farm, or Kevins, or Young Elms and dreamed of play for the Reds, The Hoops or Drums The 20,000 crowds in Tolka, Milltown and “Dalyer”. Before the game we always stopped at the shop at the top of Richmond road where I would get two packets of fruit gums. This was part of the football ritual. My youngest daughter, now 19, has been attending Shels matches since she was 5 years old. My other children have also bought into the Shels addiction to varying degrees. My eldest guy Ronan, currently working in London, had his office bedecked in Red Regalia for the recent cup final and explained to his colleagues from England, Netherlands, Japan etc that they simply had not lived until they had experienced a big Shels game. At the recent Shels/ Cork City game my daughter and I stopped at the shop at the top of Richmond Road. Her “goodies” were the same as when she was five years old, a bottle of cola, a lollipop and a bag of pop-corn. When I asked her why she still bought the same as when she was five she said, “Sure it’s tradition, it’s part of the ritual”.
Surely this kind of identification with a club and understanding of what football is about can only really apply when one is supporting a “local team” from your own city or town.