Although billed as a social history of the “garrison game” of soccer in Ireland, this book ranges far and wide on the sporting and social life of town and country over the last 150 years.
Curran, a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, recounts an incident during the 1913 Lockout when workers tried to stop a game between Bohemians and Shelbourne, because two of the players, one from either side, were alleged to be strike-breakers. The match led to two days of rioting in the city.
Further tensions developed after the War of Independence, with Free State soldiers banned from playing soccer until the order was rescinded by a former goalkeeper and Fianna Fáil minister Oscar Traynor in 1939.
Then there was Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who stopped an international friendly against Yugoslavia in 1952 because of General Tito’s alleged persecution of Catholics. It was played three years late and boycotted by church and state. But the huge attendance showed how sport can transcend politics and religion.
The clergy also stopped women’s soccer being played in 1954, with one priest describing it as “vulgar”. Although Curran charts the rise in popularity of English soccer clubs in Ireland and the exodus of topflight players to Britain, there is only one mention of Roy Keane. It’s the fascinating detail of the players, coaches and officials that’s the true strength of this book.
It’s probably not for the faithful who turn out week after week to watch League of Ireland matches but it is a treasure trove of information for those wanting a full-blown history of “the beautiful game” in Dublin and a reference book of real importance.
Soccer and Society in Dublin by Conor Curran, Four Courts Press, €35