Forgotten Clubs – Drumcondra FC

By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)

For the first time we will be venturing into Dublin and looking at one of League of Ireland’s oldest and most successful clubs. Unfortunately, they are no longer present in the modern day League of Ireland but are still around at youth and intermediate level. Not only did this club have to compete with other Dublin clubs but they did it and won, creating history that will always be enshrined in League of Ireland folklore. This, of course is the story of Drumcondra FC.

Founded in 1924 and playing their football at Clonturk Park it didn’t take Drumcondra F.C long to win their first major trophy, winning the FAI intermediate Cup, beating Cobh Ramblers in the final. They didn’t have to wait long to win their second major trophy and in fact it came in the same season of 1926-27 when they won the FAI Cup, this time beating Brideville (a club we will cover) in the final.

What made this even more impressive was that Drumcondra FC were still only playing their football in the Leinster Senior League. A league title in 1927-28 followed the seasons previous Cup successes and they even reached the final of the FAI Cup again but sadly lost to Bohemians FC 2-1 at Dalymount Park. But they soon made the jump up to League of Ireland and joined in the 1928-29 season where they came a respectable fourth in their first season. And that’s the way it stayed, respectable until the 1940’s when ‘The Drums’ won their first League of Ireland title in the 1947-48 season.

Again, in typical Drumcondra style it seems, it came in two’s as they followed up their first success with another one in 1948-49 season, retaining their champion status. Things then got better for the club as a wealthy business man named Sam Prole bought the club. No only did he introduce pitch side advertisement for the first time but he installed floodlights in, Drumcondra’s now home ground, Tolka Park making them the first club in Ireland to have this luxury.

Their next league title came nearly a decade later in the 1957-58 season, adding a fourth in the 1960-61 season. Drumcondra FC’s fifth and final League of Ireland title came in the 1964-65 season. During this time Drumcondra FC formed a bit of a rivalry with Southside club Shamrock Rovers.

With the two clubs being so successful throughout the 1940’s and 50’s it was inevitable that their matches would draw in big crowds. The northside/southside element brought a bit of spice to affairs, a bit like the modern-day Bohemians FC (Northside) Shamrock Rovers (Southside) Dublin Derby we have today. Both clubs competed on all fronts and met in the 1940’s and 50’s a total of four times in FAI Cup finals, both sharing the honours twice.

Drumcondra also qualified for European competition five times, first playing Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the European cup preliminary round in the 1958-59. Unfortunately, the gulf in class showed with Atletico coming out on top 13-1 on aggregate, (1-5 loss at home and 8-0 loss away), with the home game played at Dalymount Park.

Match program from the game against Atletico Madrid in 1958

Other results in their European adventures included a 9-1 aggregate loss to 1.FC Nurnberg in 1961. ( 4-1 loss at home and 5-0 loss away). Defeats also came against three other German clubs including Vorwarts Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and German giants Bayern Munich, Their best result was arguably their home win against Bayern Munich when Billy Dixon scored the winning goal in a 1-0 home win. Of course, the damage had been done in the first game away when Bayern had won 6-0. Drumcondra did however make history by being the first League of Ireland club to gain an aggregate win in Europe, and it came in the Inter-Cites Fairs Cup round 1 against Danish club Odense XI in 1962, winning 8-3 on aggregate. (4-2 win at home and 4-1 win away)

That was to be the end of the success for The Drums and the club went into decline. In both 1969-70 and 1970–71 the Drums finished last place in the league. They were also £6,000 in debt. At the end of the 1971-72 season the team was effectively taken over by Home Farm (another club we will look at in the ‘Forgotten Clubs’ series) when, after almost twenty years in charge, Sam Prole agreed to sell the club.

Drumcondra FC’s final league game as a club of that name was a 1–1 draw with Shelbourne FC at Tolka Park on 5 April 1972. The Home Farm-Drumcondra merger only lasted one season when the club lost the ‘Drumcondra’ part of the name and just became Home Farm.

Talking to Gerard Farrell, who has written in books about Drumcondra, most recently in the ‘Greatest League in The World’ book, gave me an insight to how the club was run, even telling me how his father, Leo Farrell, was on the books for the one-time League of Ireland giant. ‘He was a youth player there in the early 60’s as a teenager, he played quite a few times with their LSL side who were effectively the B team for younger players or lads coming back from injury.’

Gerard went on to tell me how his father remembers going to the Drumcondra games in the 50’s. ‘He grew up in Marino, so Tolka was only down the road from him. He remembered going to the big games against Rovers in the 50’s which were probably the biggest games in the League of Ireland at that time. Alan Kelly in goal for the Drums. I think he still rates Kelly as the best keeper Ireland ever had!’

Ray Keogh (pictured bottom left)

One of the most interesting facts Gerard gave me was that Drumcondra produced the first ever black player to play in the League of Ireland, and his name was Ray Keogh. ‘My Da was an outside right which is why he always watched Ray Keogh, and later Ray signed my Da to play for Tullamore Town in the 70’s. Ray was player-coach when they won the Intermediate Cup. He also signed up a load of ex-League of Ireland heads like Leo O’Reilly who started out at Rovers. Gerard went on to name many great players to play for the club, like goalkeeper Mick Smyth, Bunny Fullam. Rosie Henderson, Pa Daly and Tommy Kinsella, as he shared old team photos with me. ‘{My Da} used to say that they regularly got over 10k at those games.’

It is quite clear from my research, and talking to Gerard, that Drumcondra FC definitely left their mark on the League of Ireland and plenty of ‘Firsts’ to add to that as well. The first club to get an aggregate win in Europe, the first club to introduce floodlights and even having the first black player to play in the League of Ireland.

As I said previously, Drumcondra still run their LSL and schoolboy sides, so they are not completely gone from our footballing world, but something tells me that they would add a bit of rivalry to proceedings if they were to ever return to the League of Ireland. I for one would not deny them a place if they should request it, as their history and success surely deserves it if the issue ever presented itself again.

Next up is a rather smaller club, who may not have been as successful in the League of Ireland, but their inclusion should not be forgotten. Nights at Station Road were eventful. Kildare Town is next….

Photo credits: Drumcondra AFC

   

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