1932-33 Free State League season

While Shamrock Rovers had taken a clean sweep of league, cup and shield during the 1931-32 season, Dundalk had won all three of the sides’ meetings, and buoyed by their first league victories over Bohemians and Shelbourne this season, became the first regional club to win the Free State championship, a full five points clear of Shamrock Rovers. The Milltown club (who returned the favour this year by handing the Louth side their only two league defeats) could more than take comfort, however, from a second consecutive Free State Shield (with the competition held over two rounds for the first time since 1922, Rovers finished two points ahead of the new league champions), and an incredible fifth Free State Cup in succession.

With Bohemians being dispatched in the cup semi-finals for the third year in a row, Shamrock Rovers defeated Dolphin in the final for the second successive season, the Crumlin side seeing a three-goal lead (Irish international George Lennox had scored two penalties for Dolphin) slip to allow Rovers force a replay, which they won on an emphatic 3-0 scoreline. Two goals from Jimmy Daly and one from David Byrne (who this season became the first player to register 100 Free State league goals, before being transferred to Manchester United) did the trick in the second game, and William ‘Sacky’ Glen, John Joe Flood and John ‘Tipp’ Burke each collected their fifth Free State Cup winner’s medals. It was not until a 2-1 defeat to St. James’s Gate in a first round replay in the following year’s competition that the Hoops’ remarkable 28-game unbeaten Free State Cup run would finally come to an end.

Off the field, the government’s 1932 budget had included the creation of a new “entertainment tax” for all outdoor events, with Free State League clubs now having to part with roughly a fifth of all gate receipts. Clubs were already required to pay a 5% share of gate receipts to the league management committee, so the new tax, along with the after-effects of the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression (the Free State’s economic war with Britain was also in session), ensured difficult financial times for many clubs during the early 1930s. Many of them increased admission prices to offset the loss, and the Football Association of the Irish Free State took the opportunity to criticise the new tax in a June 1932 statement that also happened to announce a ban on southern clubs from playing any matches against clubs from north of the border. Disagreements between the F.A.I.F.S. and the I.F.A. over the selection of players for international games had yet to be properly resolved, and the ban (which would last until 1937) was intended to remain in place until the Dublin-based body received “its just share in the use of the name Ireland in international matches”. The F.A.I.F.S. were forced to flex their muscles again a few months later, when betting and bookmaking were reported to have been openly taking place at the Cork Bohemians vs (Dublin) Bohemians match at Ballintemple Greyhound Stadium. A ban on betting was announced by the governing body, but the Cork club escaped further censure and the 3-1 opening day win ultimately helped them to finish one point (and two places) ahead of their Dublin namesakes in the Free State League table.

Free State League 1932-33

Shamrock Rovers181125483224
Bray Unknowns18675292919
St. James’s Gate18819394117
Cork Bohemians18468303814

League top scorers : George Ebbs St. James’s Gate, 20 Tommy Doyle Shamrock Rovers, 17 Jimmy Rorrison Cork, 16

Representative match : Free State League 2-0 Welsh League

1926-27 Free State League season

In 1926-27, the top four of the previous two seasons again jostled for position, with an unbeaten Shamrock Rovers (who would this year adopt their famous green and white hooped jerseys, and also move to a new Milltown ground, Glenmalure Park) claiming a third league title ahead of Shelbourne, Bohemians and Fordsons. A 3-0 win at Shelbourne Park on the opening day of the season allowed Rovers to steal a march on the previous season’s champions, and the emergence of a talented young striker called David ‘Babby’ Byrne (whose goalscoring form earned a move to Bradford City at the end of the season) had helped the “Hoops” to overcome the loss of star forward Billy Farrell with what would prove to be a career-ending motorcycle accident injury.

None of the top four teams would contest the cup final, with Leinster Senior League side Drumcondra (who had qualified for the cup as inaugural winners of the F.A.I. Intermediate Cup this season) surprisingly overcoming Brideville after a replay at Shelbourne Park to become the second non-league winners of the competition, and complete a unique Intermediate and Senior Cup double. The replay (the first game had, as other years, taken place at Dalymount Park) was the first Free State Cup final to go to extra-time, with Drumcondra’s Johnny Murray (who had represented Bohemians and Ireland at the 1924 Olympics) getting the only goal of the game.

For the fourth year in a row, the league winners went on to capture the Free State Shield, with Shamrock Rovers ensuring the trophy remained in Dublin for the sixth successive season. Rovers had again remained unbeaten, and a 1-0 victory at Shelbourne Park on the very first day of the competition was again to prove crucial, as the Reds had proceeded to win all eight of their remaining shield matches. St. James’s Gate’s ninth-place league finish this year was notable, as it represented a continuation of the deterioration of their league fortunes since their 1922 championship success. In 1927, for the first time since the league began, there would be no changes to the teams involved for the new season, with all 10 clubs re-appearing for the seventh League of Ireland campaign.

Free State League 1926-27

Shamrock Rovers181440602032
Athlone Town18657414317
Bray Unknowns186111375813
Dundalk G.N.R.18369304012
St. James’s Gate185211304912

League top scorers : David ‘Babby’ Byrne Shamrock Rovers, 17 Jock McMillan Shelbourne, 17 Ned Brooks Athlone Town, 14 Bob Fullam Shamrock Rovers, 14

Representative matches : Irish League 1-1 Free State League, Free State League 1-2 Welsh League

Early Years – Growth of the Game in Ireland

The introduction of Association Football (“soccer”) to Ireland can be credited to a Belfast merchant named John McAlery, who, having witnessed the game being played while on honeymoon in Scotland, began promoting it in his native city throughout 1878. An exhibition game between the Scottish clubs Queens Park and Caledonians in October would represent the first organised association football match to take place on the island of Ireland. McAlery was behind the formation of Cliftonville Football Club the following year, and on the 18th of November 1880, the latter was one of seven clubs (primarily from the Belfast area) that were founder members of the Irish Football Association (I.F.A.). The I.F.A. was the world’s fourth national football association, following those of England, Scotland and Wales.

The game (with the Scottish rule-book being adopted by the I.F.A.) began to grow steadily on the island over the coming years, and aided in no small part by Trinity College’s large English and Scottish student populations, gradually began to gain a foothold in Dublin. It wasn’t long before teams, and then clubs began to spring up around the capital, and in 1883, Dublin A.F.C. became the first one to be established outside of Ulster. The most notable clubs to emerge in the city in the coming years, however, were Bohemians (official name “Bohemian F.C.”, formed by members of various Anglo-Irish schools and academies in and around the Phoenix Park area) in 1890, Shelbourne (from Ringsend / Sandymount) in 1895, and St. James’s Gate, who drew from membership of the Guinness Sports and Social Club, and were named after the address of that company’s famous brewery. Having staged some high profile friendlies at their new Dalymount Park home against the likes of Preston North End and Glasgow Celtic the previous year, 1902 saw Bohemians gain entry to the Irish League, which had been up and running (as the Belfast and District League) since 1890, and they were joined by Shelbourne in 1904.

With Bohemians deciding to retain an amateur footballing ethos (as a Protestant club, they also sought not to play on Sundays), Shelbourne became Dublin’s first professional football club in September of 1905. This helped ensure they were a more competitive force within the Irish League framework, and having won an Irish Cup in 1906 (two Jimmy Owens goals beating Belfast Celtic in the Dalymount Park final), they finished runners-up to Linfield in the eight-team league in 1907. Bohemians were a respected side too, however, and while they never put together a sustained league challenge, they did reach six Irish Cup finals, with a 3-1 replay win over Shelbourne in a Dublin derby at Dalymount in 1908 being their only victory. Shels prevailed by two goals to one in another Irish Cup final derby against Bohemians in 1911, before a third Dublin side, Tritonville, competed in the Irish League for the 1912-13 season, only to relinquish their place the following year. (A Dublin club called Freebooters had contested the 1901 Irish Cup final, but lost to Cliftonville at Jones’s Road, current site of Croke Park; British army teams based in Limerick and Kildare had been runners-up in the 1892 and 1897 finals in Belfast.)

Then, however, due to a perceived “Belfast bias” on the part of the I.F.A., especially with regard to the selection of players for the Irish national side, disputes began to occur between the Belfast and Dublin clubs. The pro-British sentiments of the northern clubs (with the notable exception of Belfast Celtic) during the First World War and the Irish War of Independence inevitably increased tensions further, and in April of 1921, when an Irish Cup semi-final replay between Glenavon and holders Shelbourne (who had won the 1920 trophy after the semi-finalists on the other side of the draw were both disqualified) was switched from Dublin to Belfast for security reasons, the two southern sides removed themselves from the Irish League.

An Irish Cup match between Shelbourne and St. James’s Gate at Dalymount Park in February 1921

It was in June of this year that the Football League of Ireland came into existence. Five other Dublin clubs (all from the ranks of the Leinster Senior League), namely Dublin United (based at Beech Hill, Clonskeagh), Frankfort (Richmond Road, Drumcondra), Jacobs (a team representing the famous Irish biscuit factory who played at Rutland Avenue, Crumlin), Olympia (Bellevue Lodge, Ballsbridge) and Y.M.C.A. (Claremont Road, Sandymount), joined Shelbourne, Bohemians and “the Gate” to contest the 1921-1922 football season. In September of 1921, the Football Association of Ireland (F.A.I.) was formed, to rival the now exclusively northern I.F.A, although the latter body continued to see itself as holding sway over the footballing affairs of the entire island (including the selection of players for the national side). The F.A.I. consisted of the Football League of Ireland, together with the Leinster Football Association (formed as far back as 1892), who had revoked their own membership of the I.F.A. some months previously. A newly reformed Munster Football Association (the body was originally established in 1901 but due to its heavy British military make-up at the time, collapsed upon the outbreak of the First World War) would be incorporated into the F.A.I. in 1922.