Hidden away amongst rows of terraced housing and a car park where terracing used to stand sits the crumbling Dalymount Park. Despite huge contrasts with the redeveloped Aviva Stadium (the one time Lansdowne Road) for many Irish football fans this is the true home of soccer in Ireland.
Dalymount Park sits in the Phibsborough area of Dublin, north of the River Liffey. Surrounded by narrow back alleys, terraced houses, back gardens and corner shops the ground mirrors its surroundings – rundown, crumbling and in need of some loving care.
Outside the stadium are the obligatory fan stickers, largely all affiliated to the resident football club – Bohemian FC. But amongst these sits one tellingly symbolic message. Its contents provide a hint as to why Dalymount Park is so rundown.
‘F*** the FAI and the GAA’ says the sticker.
Dalymount Park stands as a victim of the lop sided nature of sport in Ireland. While both Croke Park (the home of GAA) and the Aviva Stadium (home of the FAI and IRFU) stand as modern monuments; they also stand as structures to sports considered minority sports everywhere else in Europe.
In Dublin’s fair city where the stadiums can be pretty, the rundown Dalymount is working class through and through. Yet somehow this ground still plays host to top level League of Ireland soccer.
The rain crashes down in Dublin as the clouds overhead hide a sun breaking through – no wonder the grassy pitch is so green given all the rainfall in Ireland. Tourists in central Dublin rush for the numerous pubs for cover or seek out an umbrella. You could never say you come to Ireland for the sun.
But the patch of land where Dalymount stands has a rich background for more than simply football. This area of Dublin was once an area of lush vegatable plots growing enough potatoes, carrots and turnips to feed locals ten times over.
Founded in 1890 Bohemian FC were a club with a rather nomadic early existence – a fact which is probably unsurprising for a club known as the ‘Gypsies’.
Eventual settlement at Dalymount Park did not arrive until 1901. Before then the club had played its football in Phoenix Park and on a patch of grass that eventually became Croke Park – the home of the GAA.
The first football game played was a fixture between Bohemian FC and local rivals Shelbourne on the September 7th 1901.
In front of 5,000 fans a 4-2 win was secured for the home side in surroundings then quite humble. The grassy pitch was surrounded by simple iron fencing and rope barriers. The pitch was as bumpy and uneven as the plots that still stand nearby.
International football first came to Dalymount Park in 1904 when the ground hosted an Ireland v Scotland friendly match. However, it was Landsdowne Road that held Dublin’s first international football in 1900 when England came to visit.
At this time football in Ireland was overseen by the IFA based in Belfast. International challenge matches in Dublin were few and far between with Belfast the true home of Irish football. As a consequence of the increasing social tensions in Ireland, Dublin did not see any international football between 1913 and 1924.
Mirroring the wider Unionist and Nationalist rows in Irish society, the FAI (Football Association of the Irish Free State) was founded in Dublin in 1921. Increasing tensions with the predominantly Unionist and Belfast based IFA came to the fore during the Irish War of Independence and the signing of the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Southern Ireland had gained independence as the Irish Free State in 1922.
By 1924 Dalymount Park was the home of football in the South and it would soon welcome teams from all over the world. An Irish Free State side played at the Paris Olympics that year.
The first International guests to a free Ireland were a US national side in June 1924 and thereafter the ground hosted a number of matches of the Eire side. Qualification matches for the FIFA World Cup events and UEFA European Championships also occurred.
Although matches of the Republic of Ireland national team eventually moved to a new traditional home at Landsdowne Road in the 1970’s, international competitive football continued to be played at Dalymount well into the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was at here in 1983 that the Maltese were defeated 8-0 in qualification for the 1984 UEFA European Championships.
As with the national side, so domestic football followed a similar pattern. The resident club side – Bohemian – withdraw from the Irish League in 1921. Along with Dublin’s other traditional sides they were one of the founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921. Soon Dalymount Park became a stronghold of the Irish Free State league.
A total of 5 domestic titles and numerous cup wins were enjoyed at the stadium as Bohemian established themselves as one of the top football sides. Tightly packed terracing saw large crowds within a metre of the touchlines. Dalymount helped confirm soccer as the true sport of Ireland’s working classes.
Dalymount Park today is a real curious creation in these days of modern stadia across the globe. Not so quaint or appealing for some it remains loved and traditional by the few thousand who watch Bohemian FC weekly.
The main entrance to Dalymount Park is reached via a sort of narrow back alleyway from a row of terraced houses. At the end of the alley is a iron gate entrance with a ‘Welcome to Dalymount Park’ sign.
While the original main stand is now gone, some of the original infrastructure remains as does the surroundings – which includes the spire of the local St.Peter’s church. Post Hillsborough much needed restructuring happened following serious crushing at some international friendly matches.
In 1999 the old iron and wood main stand was replaced by a more modern structure called the Jodi Stand which has capacity for under 3,000 fans.
Opposite the main stand is an open grassy topped standing terrace, half of which was knocked down and now operates as a car park. Seating is in this terracing area now where once crush barriers stood. But this area of the ground remains largely unopened on match days.
Behind the goal stands a construction called the Des Kelly Carpets Stand but parts of the old Shed end can still be seen just behind. A floodlight thrusts skywards through the roof.
This area of the ground often plays host to larger groups of visiting fans who travel to Dublin for League of Ireland matches.
The other end of the ground – the Tramway End – has been closed completely in recent years. Therefore match days see a stadium with only two open areas for fans. From the heights of the 1950’s when almost 50,000 would pack in the ground, now Dalymount has the capacity to hold little more than 4,500 fans.
At the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years the board of Bohemian FC voted to authorise the sale of the ground to property developers. The strategic idea was to develop the land on which the stadium stood into flats for investment. A purpose built ground would be created for the club on the thriving outskirts of the city with the money earned from the sale.
However by late 2009 the Irish economy collapsed with the property sector particularly hit. Whilst Shamrock Rovers (who shared the ground for years with Bohs) have moved to a purpose built ground in Tallaght, Bohemian FC look like remaining at Dalymount Park for years to come.
Any future modernisation ideas will remain just that – concepts and ideas.
Football often plays second or third fiddle to other sports in Eire with the GAA backed Croke Park and the IRFU backed Landsdowne Road at the heart of Irish sport. Millions of people come to Dublin every year for reasons other than football.
Dalymount Park, despite its rich historical footballing past remains now only a relic of Irish football history. But thanks to its rundown stands and ramshackle appearance it also stands as a symbolic modern reminder of a more current though no less turbulent period in Irish history.
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