By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)
If you are into your football quiz questions, then this club could provide you with answers a plenty. Who won the first League of Ireland title? Who won the first FAI Cup? Which famous female boxer played for this club? The answer is the same for each of these questions.
This club has been and gone, came back and then went again in the League of Ireland (LOI). It’s name though would be more associated with another Irish delicacy. Guinness is one of Ireland’s best-known exports and something that everybody associates with in this country.
Anytime I speak with a foreigner I always get asked, ‘Are you a Guinness drinker?’ I’m not, but I don’t want to ruin the stereotype that we all drink Guinness on this island as if it is water. So I suppose it’s okay to accept that we should have a football club so closely associated to the black stuff. This club is where Guinness is brewed, along with twenty-three Irish international footballers, (Two of which were women). So, let’s open up St James’s Gate FC.
Founded in 1902, St James’s Gate FC was formed by a serving medical officer, John Lumsden who worked at St James’s Gate Brewery. The club originally played their games at Bellevue Lodge, moving to St James Park between the years of 1921-28 and eventually making the Iveagh Grounds their permanent home to this day.
It didn’t take the club long to gain success, winning both the Leinster Senior League and Irish Intermediate Cup in the 1909-10 season. Ten years later the club won a quadruple, collecting the Leinster Senior League title, the Irish Intermediate Cup, Leinster Senior Cup and the LFA Metropolitan Cup. This set the club up nicely to be one of the founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921-22.
The other seven clubs were all from the Dublin region and had played in the Leinster Senior League with St James’s Gate previously. It was no surprise that ‘Gate’, as they were nicknamed back then, went on to be seen as one of the stronger teams involved. And so it proved when they won the treble that year, becoming the first club to win the League of Ireland, the first club to win the FAI Cup and also adding the Leinster Senior cup to their collection. But the club could not replicate that success the year after, coming a disappointing 5th.
In fact, the club seemed to peak a little too early as they didn’t add another League of Ireland title until the 1939-49 season, although they did come close in 1934-35 while they did win the FAI cup for a second time in 1937-38. Their largest win on record while being a League of Ireland club came in the 1929-30 season on 24th August 1929 when they beat Jacobs 8-0. Their final season in the League of Ireland came in the 1943-44 season when the club came 8th, bottom of the league with a miserable one win all season. It was the season that also produced the heaviest defeat in their League of Ireland history, losing 7-0 to both Cork United and Shamrock Rovers. (They had also lost 7-0 to Waterford in 1931-32 season). As a result of coming last the club was not re-elected for the following season and therefore dropped out of the League for the first time. But they were to come back in the future.
During Gate’s early years they had a few players that represented the first Ireland side to compete in the 1924 Olympic games in Paris. They included, Paddy Duncan, Michael Farrell and Emie McKay. Duncan himself went on to score the first ever international goal for Ireland in a 1-0 win against Bulgaria. They would be the first in a long line of players to represent Ireland. Paddy Bermingham, Paddy Bradshaw, Pat Byrne, Johnny Carey, Martin Colfer, Charlie Dowdall, Bobby Duffy, Dominic Foley, Peadar Gaskins, Matty Geoghegan, Billy Kennedy, Owen Kinsella, Charlie Lennon, Emmet McLoughlin, Thomas Murphy, Joe O’ Reilly, Paddy O’ Reilly and Alf Rigby all played Internationally for Ireland. Their women’s team also produced two Internationals in Irish Wold and Olympic boxing Champion Katie Taylor and Irish International cricketer, and umpire Mary Waldron.
As well as producing players for the international team, Gate were known for producing prolific goal scorers in their time, with five of their players finishing top goal scorer in the League of Ireland’s history books seven times, with Paddy Bradshaw and Alf Rigby winning the accolade twice each. Paddy Bradshaw lays claim to St James’s Gate’s all time League of Ireland goal scorer with 68 goals to his name.
After leaving the League of Ireland for the first time in 1944, The Gate were to return in 1990 to take the place of Limerick side Newcastlewest in the League of Ireland First Division. Although they finished a respectable fifth in their first season back, (which would to be the highest place they would ever achieve), their impact wasn’t as successful as their first stint and didn’t last as long either. The Gate only lasted a total of five seasons after their comeback. They finished bottom of the table twice, (1993 and ’94), 9th in 1995 and 5th in the 1996 season, which would prove to be their last in the League of Ireland. Despite being taken over by a consortium in 1995 the club had to leave the league at the start of the 1996-97 season for financial reasons. The club continue to play in the Leinster Senior League (LSL) to this day.
One man who knows St James’s Gate inside-out is former player, Mick Mougan. He played for the club in their last season in the League of Ireland in 1996. When his playing days finally ended, he went on to manage the club from 2000-2016 and by all accounts the man lived and breathed St James Gate. He only played one season with Gate in the League of Ireland but developed an affinity with the club that remains to this day.
Mick went on to manage the club in the LSL, organising a tournament to celebrate the club’s 110th Anniversary in 2012. The tournament was contested by four clubs, St James’s Gate, League of Ireland side Bohemian FC, Welsh Premier League side Port Talbot Town and Northern Ireland side Ballymena United. After beating Bohemians in the semi-final 2-0, St James Gate lost to Northern Ireland side Ballymena United in the final to the same score. In addition, the club also developed a relationship with English Football League (EFL) club Milton Keynes Dons. The EFL club were regular visitors to the Iveagh Grounds during this period when they visited Ireland for pre-season training camps.
When asked if St James’s Gate would be back in the League of Ireland a third time, Mougan was not optimistic, “No, I don’t think so. Financially there is a huge burden on LOI clubs to attain valid licensing and without either consistent and substantial sponsorship, or a very kind benefactor, I don’t see it ever happening again. In addition, Diageo’s sale of the Iveagh Grounds to Dublin University, means that they are now tenants in a facility they have called home for most of their existence, which I’m sure brings with it an uncertainty that doesn’t auger well.”
Often when researching and writing about these clubs you get a sense that there was so much potential to build on, but for whatever reason, or reasons that potential was never realised. St James’s Gate started off so well, almost too well, with their first ever double winning season but for some reason couldn’t maintain it. Was it due to the other clubs catching up with them back then or was the club mis-managed? Certainly, in their more recent League of Ireland appearance it would suggest they just couldn’t cope with the demand of League of Ireland football, which is a shame because a club like that, gave so much to Irish football in the past. Of course the club is still around today, playing in the LSL, but I wonder if in another 38 years St James’s Gate will be back playing in the League of Ireland? Well, it has happened before so don’t rule anything out!