When hoops were kings

When Hoops were Kings

Shamrock Rovers halcyon days at Milltown will be revisited in style when Ronaldo and the Real Madrid Galacticos take to the pitch at Tallaght, writes David Kelly

Saturday July 18 2009

Cristiano Ronaldo was really bowled over by some of the young autograph hunters at Carton House this week. Funny that, because when you watch a replay, you can see clearly they never touched him.

It’s been difficult to escape from ‘Galactico’ fever this week, with the fact that Real Madrid deigned to dock in Maynooth acquiring a similarly pious passion to that possessed so suddenly by those tree-watchers in Rathkeale.

The global village truly has a lot to answer for.

Last weekend, our greatest ever golfer, arguably our greatest ever sportsman, Padraig Harrington, walked around Brittas Bay, unmolested by holidaymakers, ‘Gooch’ Cooper, one of the greatest ever footballers, walked in solitary confinement from a waterlogged scrub in Longford.

Meanwhile, on Monday, a Portuguese footballer will attract thousands to a stadium - or as the English newspapers would prefer, a ‘tiny’ stadium - in Tallaght.

As the man responsible for putting together the financial package to bring Real Madrid to Ireland, Fintan Drury has once more demonstrated that he is the ultimate businessman with a keen eye for the scoring chance.

But the football fan in Drury will not be entirely unaware that when the Spanish aristocrats’ request for a challenge encounter was submitted, there was only going to be one name invited to accept their presence on such a prestigious occasion.

For if Real Madrid are Spain’s equivalent to football royalty, with the historical patronage of the monarchy - persisting to this day under Juan Carlos - dovetailing with a global financial dominance, then Shamrock Rovers are Ireland’s regal representatives of the beautiful game.

Oh, St Patrick’s Athletic or Bohemians may claim similar blue blood but, in reality, apart from those inextricably linked as avid devotees, they are merely admired as princes. Rovers are the undisputed High Kings of Irish football. Their decorated history weaves a rich tapestry of success through the ages.

They have won the most league titles (15), most FAI Cups (24), most doubles (6), most All-Ireland Cup competitions (6).

They have supplied more internationals (62) to the Irish team than any of their rivals - from Paddy Coad and ‘Sacky’ Glen, through Johnny Fullam and Frank O’Neill to Johnny Giles and Pat Byrne.

In the 1957-'58 season they were the first Irish team to compete in the European Cup competition, which had been inaugurated by Real Madrid’s legendary president Santiago Bernabeu, among others, in 1955.

In fact, in this first foray into Europe, Rovers would become eternally embedded in the history of Manchester United following their early meeting in that season’s fateful competition which, for the English club, would end so prematurely and so tragically. Last year, Rovers and survivors from that 1957 side were invited to the Munich commemoration in Manchester.

Rovers also blazed a trail in aiding the launch of the first American soccer league in the 1960s, they toured Japan in the 1970s - and a long time before Euro '88 transformed the branding of the international team, Shamrock Rovers were the true global face of Irish football.

No wonder the Spaniards’ belief in tradition and success would offer no alternative than to be served by such gilded hosts as Shamrock Rovers, however time may have lessened their former lofty position.

For Real Madrid’s list of glittering prizes truly shines with more authority than any other - European Cup/ Champions League winners a record nine times; twice Uefa Cup winners; Spanish league champions 31 times and Spanish Cup winners 17 times.

What the club can turn over in one day will take Shamrock Rovers a year to match; the accelerating sale of Ronaldo jerseys - at last count a scarcely believable 15 per minute - will augment the Spaniards’ return to the top of the financial charts.

Typically, there have been terrific tales of potential feats of derring-do from the Irish players - “I’ll knock Ronaldo’s block off” and such - yet few of the Rovers’ players or diehards will have trouble keeping a straight face when they tell you that, in the truest tradition of the sport, the ‘caviar’ offered by real Madrid can never hope to match the proverbial ‘bread and butter’ of the league.

“There’s been hype around it,” says Dessie Baker, a former Manchester United youth not normally prone to understatement. "But we’re concentrating on what really matters and that’s the bread and butter of our league matches.

“I’d rather play the next league game (last night’s tie against Sligo Rovers) and miss the Real Madrid game to be honest with you. Sure, it’s a great opportunity to play against a club of their stature, but you’d rather play in competitive games.”

A Rovers acquaintance placed it in rather more aggressively styled context when surmising via email: “What do you think our fans would prefer? Beating Real Madrid in a friendly, or stiffing Bohs for a title that seemed destined for Dalymount?”

The answer is crystal clear and not for one second muddied by the paranoid delusions of a significant minority of those remaining supporters of domestic soccer who blindly blame others for its woes.

It is because Shamrock Rovers’ recent tortured history provides them with daily reason to offer gratitude for their very existence, whether or not it is Real Madrid or Kildare County darkening their door.

Rovers and Real were founded within months of each other at the beginning of the last century. Now, both are technically owned by their supporters, but simplified similarities must be ignored. In reality, both clubs operate on different planets.

Real’s flirtation with financial disaster in this decade, following the first ‘Galactico’ era of Beckham, Zidane and Luis Figo, was obviated by concocting a fire sale of over-priced property assets, allegedly in conjunction with a sympathetic government.

On two separate occasions since 2002, they have somehow managed to clear debt piles of some 250m in this manner, their ability to generate extraordinary revenues mitigating an unsporting manner of trying to gain sporting success.

Alas, poor Rovers have never enjoyed such a cosy relationship with authority figures of any guise and, although not alone among Irish clubs in spending recklessly, they have come closer than many to paying the ultimate price.

A debt of 2.3m brought them to the precipice of extinction in 2005 and a court-appointed examiner began the laborious process of steering them through the novelty of relegation and the more familiar climes of financial penury.

The decline precipitated by the 1970s startling depression in domestic attendances was never arrested even as Rovers maintained their familiar hegemony; in 1987, Milltown - as storied to Irish soccer as Fenway Park is to American baseball, or Lord’s to English cricket - was sold by the Kilcoyne family for property development.

Rovers had just won their fourth consecutive league when the sale was announced; their subsequent decline was as inglorious as their hitherto domination of Irish football was rich in achievement.

In essence, the old Rovers as we knew them died, slowly and inexorably, throughout the KRAM (Keep Rovers At Milltown) years, the Tolka and Dalymount ignominies, all the while casting a slew of worthless, average players wearing the proud Hoops jersey.

Owners, directors, managers and grounds changed with accelerating frequency; ironically, as the Charlton years reached their zenith, Rovers were plummeting towards their nadir.

A league title during a six-year stint at the RDS barely salved the gaping wounds.

Then, salvation. A nascent plan to build a stadium in Tallaght. Yet it seemed stillborn from its conception in 1996.

The saga of how Glenmalure Park, Milltown, was demolished for housing was as nothing compared to the saga which would envelop this new field of dreams.

Boardroom fights, disingenuous accountancy and a raft of objections – whether from the local school principal or the GAA – stymied the project, the calamitous planning of which forced South Dublin County Council to assume responsibility as Rovers wallowed in farce.

The cavernous half-finished stadium on the Blessington Road was an eyesore which daily mocked the great name of Shamrock Rovers.

Even though saved from the brink by examinership, Rovers faced further roadblocks as Thomas Davis GAA Club sought a share from South Dublin County Council of what was effectively municipal property before losing their two-year legal challenge.

Now owned by the supporters and with a functional executive, this was a new Rovers - still the same club, but utterly separated from the chaotic anachronisms which ruled during the fall of their once glorious empire.

This year, they belatedly played their first league match in the stadium; ironically, their opponents, Sligo Rovers, had also marked the last league match in Milltown.

Finally, they had the keys to their own home, albeit as anchor tenants. Now they have been offered a chance - via Sky Sports and global media - to show it to the world.

“We know Shamrock Rovers is a very important team in Ireland,” says Real Madrid director Jorge Valdano.

Even amid all the bulls**t surrounding modern football, including the players, and the agents, the meeting of football traditions will be vividly illustrated.

Ronaldo may require two minders to accompany him to the toilets, he may literally be worth 3,200 Gary Twiggs (Rovers’ chief scoring threat) but, for one night at least, both sets of players will feel as equals.

“There are a lot of similarities between Real Madrid and Shamrock Rovers, if I’m not being arrogant,” says Rovers’ chairman Jonathan Roche.

“We’re both members’ clubs, owned by the fans. Obviously they’re much bigger, but we’re the biggest clubs in our respective countries.”

And although Ronaldo was a little less diplomatic than Valdano in acknowledging Rovers’ place in Irish football’s pantheon - “I don’t know any player,” he said on Thursday - he can at least claim nationality as the reason for his ignorance.

However, his lack of knowledge will be no different to all but a few thousand of this state’s citizenry.

In a week when a visiting football club are treated with all the exalted grace demanded of royalty, the remarkable revival of Shamrock Rovers also deserves to be acknowledged.

As the eyes of the world alight upon them, all involved with the club will truly feel like kings for a day.

All-time Rovers and Real teams:

Shamrock Rovers XI – Pat Dunne; Mickey Clarke, Mick Neville, Gerry Mackey, Kevin Brady; Paddy Coad, Pat Byrne, Ronnie Nolan; Frank O’Neill, Mick Leech, Liam Tuohy.

Real Madrid XI – Iker Casillas; Fernando Hierro, Jose Antonio Camacho, Roberto Carlos; Francisco Gento, Raymond Kopa, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo; Ferenc Puskas, Raul, Alfredo Di Stefano.

Hula Hoops?

When you have David Kelly writing about misty-eyed memories, you know this is more of an event for an event’s sake than it is an actual sporting event.

And when you put that event ahead of your bread and butter domestic competition you know you’re in trouble.

Well, you should know you are in trouble but there’s no telling some of these monkeys.

At least it leaves our path fairly clear for the league title now, Bohs just need to stay in business and the league title is ours

[quote=“sledgehammer”]well, You should Know You Are In Trouble But There’s No Telling Some Of These Monkeys.

At Least It Leaves Our Path Fairly Clear For The League Title Now, bohs Just Need To Stay In Business And The League Title Is Ours[/quote]


Handy if you run out of toilet paper I suppose.



[quote=“north county corncrake”]
When Hoops were Kings

Shamrock Rovers halcyon days at Milltown will be revisited in style

WTF…where are all the people who live in the houses in Glenmalure going to go when a shower of Rovers thugs try to revisit Milltown ??..:eek:

David Kelly is a mong.

60 for this inconsequential PR stunt?

God be with the days when it was a pound to get in to see Limerick City v Real Madrid in the European Cup.

[quote=“SHANNONSIDER**”]60 for this inconsequential PR stunt?

God be with the days when it was a pound to get in to see Limerick City v Real Madrid in the European Cup.[/QUOTE]

true- the good old days when rovers would draw with bayern munich & valencia in european competition

PR stunt- for who? SDCC? SRFC?Platinum 1 or RealMadrid

Cork charged 30 to see Ipswich & the GGA charge 30 to see fiddlestick in the bigotdome so relative to that its a steal


[quote=“north county corncrake”]
PR stunt- for who? SDCC? SRFC?Platinum 1 or RealMadrid


Real i’d imagine…they want to increase their jersey sales by robbing the lucrative 872 Rovers fanbase…:mad:

872 is exactly twice the number of male adults from Dublin that play fiddlestick

well next saturdy’s attendance in thurles will tell…the reputation of any past and future stats you use depends on this…

the number of registered dubs playing the game you fool:D

your the fool comparing a fanbase of one club in one sport to the playing members of another…mong…In simple terms where does the X-axis cross the Y-axis…you idiot…:rolleyes::smiley: