1921-22 League of Ireland season

The first League of Ireland season, kicking off in September of 1921, saw St. James’s Gate capturing a league and cup double. The competitions, originally the Football League of Ireland (with, like the British leagues, two points for a win and one for a draw) and the F.A.I. Cup, were renamed the Free State League and Free State Cup in the aftermath of the opening league campaign. This was done in anticipation of the foundation of the new, 26-county southern Irish “Free State”, which, in accordance with the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, was due to come into existence in December of 1922. The F.A.I. itself was to undergo a similar change, becoming the “Football Association of the Irish Free State” (F.A.I.F.S.) upon its successful entry to F.I.F.A. in 1923.

St. James’s Gate had secured both national trophies in rather dramatic circumstances. The league championship race had boiled down to a last-day (December 17th) showdown with second-placed Bohemians at St. James’s Park, a 1-0 “Gate” victory enough to clinch the title by two points, with Shelbourne a further three points back in third. The Free State Cup final (held at Bohemians’ Dalymount Park), meanwhile, almost descended into complete pandemonium. With non-league Shamrock Rovers having forced a replay following an initial 1-1 draw on St. Patrick’s Day (a game that had attracted a very satisfactory crowd of 15,000), a first-half goal from Jack Kelly was enough to see off their spirited challenge in the second match, or so it appeared. An on-field dispute between Rovers’ Bob Fullam and St. James’s Gate’s Charlie Dowdall escalated into full-blown fisticuffs after the final whistle, and with Rovers players and fans taking the opportunity to assault members of the winning team (the incident was typical of the general lawlessness that was prevalent during the aftermath of the Irish Civil War), the fracas continued all the way into the St. James’s Gate dressing room. It was only when Dowdall’s brother Jack (who had seen active military service) fired a gunshot into the ceiling that order was restored. (The format of the Free State Cup was similar to that of the F.A. Cup in Britain, with non-league sides competing in a number of preliminary rounds, before joining up with the Free State League sides for the first round “proper”. The winners of the first round ties then proceeded to the quarter-final stage.)

With the league season having been wrapped up by December, it was decided to provide for the creation of a Free State Shield, which would come to be seen as the third most important competition in Irish Free State football. The tournament initially ran from December to April, and took the form of a full league programme for the inaugural season, with each Free State League club facing each other twice. The inaugural Free State Shield was won by Shelbourne, who, bar two defeats by second-placed Bohemians (who collected full points from their Dalymount Park outings, and conceded just seven goals in their entire shield programme), recouped maximum points from their 14 shield fixtures.

It had perhaps been no surprise that only Bohemians and Shelbourne had mounted realistic challenges to St. James’s for that first league title. The campaign would prove to be the first and only season for Frankfort (they resigned with three of their shield games still unplayed) and Y.M.C.A., the latter having failed to record a single league victory, taking just three draws from their 14 league games. Shamrock Rovers, who had been formed in the Ringsend / Irishtown (they took their name from nearby Shamrock Avenue) area of Dublin as far back as 1901, would be one of six new league recruits for 1922-23. Of the others, Shelbourne United (with no links to Shelbourne F.C., this club played at Angelsea Road, Ballsbridge for their first season), Pioneers (who drew from membership of the alcoholic abstinence organisation of the same name, and played out of Strand Road, Clontarf for their first season), Midland Athletic (a railway works team based at “The Thatch” in Whitehall; they would share the venue with Pioneers from 1923 onwards) and Rathmines Athletic (based at Rathmines Park) were also from Dublin, while Athlone Town (one of the oldest clubs in the Free State, having been established in 1887; their first home was the Sports Ground) had the distinction of being the first Free State League side from outside the capital city.

League of Ireland 1921-22

St. James’s Gate14111231823
Dublin United14509253910

League top scorers : Jack Kelly St. James’s Gate, 11 Paddy Smith Jacobs, 10 E. Pollock Bohemians, 9

Bohemians play a pre-season friendly against a Falls League selection

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