The League of Ireland – Bohemian: Bohs Will Be Bohs
It was a frustrating night for the home fans, with the scoreless 90 minutes falling, Roy Hodgson’s England-style, some way below expectations. Their team made a bright start with the opposition keeper producing what kids today call a “worldie” to prevent an early goal which would surely have opened the proverbial floodgates. As the evening progressed, so did opposition confidence, even to the extent of creating an occasional chance themselves. But tiredness crept in and while the hosts’ pressure should have broken the deadlock, the failure to do so was greeted more with defiance than dismay by home fans.
The Euro 2016 final last Sunday? Well, no. This was Bohemian FC v Bray Wanderers in the League of Ireland (LoI) Premier Division last Friday. Regular readers will know of my frequent trips to Ireland to support my parents’ home county Roscommon’s Gaelic Football team, a young group with huge potential having entered this summer’s championship after encouraging pre-Championship results. And, yes, that is designed to “sound familiar” to England fans.
On previous trips, an easy win for West Dublin’s St Patrick’s Athletic preceded a good Roscommon win. On this trip, Roscommon drew a turgid game in a driving rain/Atlantic wind combo which would have stopped Noah taking the Ark out. And TV pundit Joe Brolly called us “useless and getting worse.” You’d be mad to go to the replay. So you now know EXACTLY where I’ll be next Sunday. Roscommon snatched an unlikely draw with two late scores, so my weekend was far from destroyed. But regardless of that, the LoI again did its bit for my trip.
St Pats were away. So I had the choice of relatively-posh South Dublin’s Shamrock Rovers in a well-appointed show jumping venue or Bohemian FC in the ramshackle inner-city Dalymount Park, the ground which hosted Ireland internationals until 1990 (just after Ireland became good) and was one for the “seen much better days” column. Again, you know EXACTLY where I went.
(NB: The “outside” world knows Bohemian FC as “Bohemians” or the “Bohs” and I’ve never seen them referred to as “Bohemian.” I’d like to be accurate here, given that I’ve NEVER supported a team called “Kingstonians.” But even the matchday programme seemed unsure, with adverts from “proud sponsors of Bohemian FC” alongside action from “Longford Town 0 Bohemians 1.” “Bohs” it is, then.)
Despite being prepared for plenty, it was still a shock to see quite how “much better” Dalymount’s days were. You know Dalymount will be an old-fashioned ground when its floodlights tower over the neighbouring Phibsborough shopping centre, off Dublin’s North Circular Road. And, as with all old urban English grounds, floodlight size is in inverse proportion to ground entrance size, an unassuming, narrow alleyway between tightly terraced houses.
As kick-off loomed and no entrance in sight, I comforted myself with the thought that many visitors will have similarly lapped the ground…with nothing so 20th-century as a signpost for guidance. And with LoI attendances being hundreds not thousands, the prospect of “following the crowd” seemed equally elusive.
However, having stumbled upon the relevant alleyway, the artwork on the ground frontage was…er…quite something. Four skeletons with a contribution to the legend “Bohs ‘til I die” written on the foreheads, inside the bigger legend “Love Football, Hate Racism.” This gave off a sense of Hamburg-based FC St. Pauli, the Bundesliga second division club with a virulently left-wing following, although this sensation was disappointingly brief.
The first sight of the ground itself was uncovered “temporary” seating running only half the length of the opposite side of the pitch under the sign “Dalymount Park. The Home of Irish Football.” This may have been the case when the sign was written but it looks like a p*ss-take now.
Alongside this was a more recent sign for the “Gypsies Supporters Trust,” Gypsies being the unlikely nickname for a club that has played at Dalymount since 1901 and had never previously strayed further than a mile either side of Phibsborough since its formation in 1890.
Dalymount does offer something for fans of weed-covered terraces and doubtless many Charlton fans of a certain vintage would shed a tear at Dalymount’s East End, a terrace which seemed much higher in pictures of it in the 1970s but still had enough plant life to keep David Attenborough off the streets for a bit.
The terrace housed many of the multitude of banners which appear common to LoI teams, others hung at the back of the main stand. One suggested that the “Bohemian Rude Boys” dated back to 1890. This, however, may have been a grammatical error. Phibsborough seems an unlikely inspiration for 1960s Jamaican sub-culture.
The rest of the ground looked long-unused and the seats behind the opposite goal to the banner-strewn terracing were covered by netting which looked as “temporary” as the seating opposite the main stand. Dalymount Park certainly has “character.” But “character” covers a multitude of sins and Dalymount is currently a forlorn-looking football ground, with a glance at the LoI table suggesting that the team are currently matching their surroundings.
Visiting Bray fans didn’t have as far to travel to the big city as the doughty band of Athlone Town fans I met at St Pats in 2014. The Wicklow mountains loom over most of Dublin. Bray sits between them and the city. But if Athlone’s fanbase suffered from the “Friday Night Fever” emblazoned on one of their flags, Bray’s fanbase must have been wiped out by a Friday night plague. And the team’s display didn’t help identify any survivors, with their few chances probably a huger surprise to anyone watching Bray regularly than to the Bohs following, as a lengthier look at the league table revealed.
Although Bohs were only three places above Bray, the visitors were top of three teams already well adrift of as much of a pack as you can get in a 12-team division. And 11 goals in 17 games told a grim story. However, Bohs’ lightning start diverted attention from their 16 goals in 17 games. Indeed, had I looked carefully at the table in the Dublin Evening Herald earlier in the day, I might have noticed just how much the Bohs game had “nil-nil written all over it.” And this article might have been mostly about Show Jumping. I made the right choice, though.
Bohs’ beanpole striker Ismahl Akinade and pocket-battleship right-back Lorcan Fitzgerald were clear “ones to watch.” Fitzgerald had a disturbingly-hipster beard and strutted around like a pint-sized Conor McGregor, Ireland’s “star” of the execrable, neanderthal “Ultimate Fighting Championship” (UFC). But his determined tackling and floodlight-high pain threshold made him way more endearing than that.
Akinade was a graduate from the school of strikers who “don’t know what they will do next, so how can defenders know?” A disconcerting mix of Peter Crouch and Dimitar Berbatov, his aerial prowess was hard to pre-empt, combining temporary unawareness of the concept of jumping with some prodigious floodlight-high leaps. And the first quarter featured his personal duel with Bray keeper Peter Cherrie. Cherrie saved bravely at Akinade’s feet when Bohs first carved open Bray’s “defence” (the inverted commas quickly appropriate). Akinade was gifted a second chance but fluffed his shot into the side-netting, thanks partly to more Cherrie “on-rushing.”
On 18 minutes, Bohs’ 94th corner was drilled to the edge of the box where Akinade somehow lurked un-noticed before bulleting a header towards the top corner. From completely out of shot, however, Cherrie’s long right arm extended profusely to enable a jaw-droppingly remarkable save which frankly did not belong in its surroundings. As if dispirited by their VERY best efforts coming to nought, Bohs lost the pace until half-time, even allowing Bray’s Andrew Lewis to head over a fine chance from close-range, to the afore-mentioned stunned silence from any Bray following.
Bohs dominated early second-half possession more through grit (Fitzgerald foremost again) than their earlier fluency. But the crowd were confident of a grandstand finish. The fan next to me had apologised un-necessarily for “being biased” as Bray’s defending elicited increasing frustration. But this didn’t distract him from waxing lyrical about Bohs’ supersub.
“Eamon Mohamed,” was a name I simply wasn’t wired up to hear. “He’s only strong enough for 20 minutes because he’s not eating during Ramadan but he’s our best player,” the fan explained. The programme revealed that, yes, “Ayman B Mohamed” was an influential Bohs’ midfielder who’d been limited to off-the-bench cameos since Ramadan observances began in early June. And his 66th-minute introduction against Bray galvanised matters as predicted.
But the grandstand finish wasn’t enough. Quick and skilful as Mohamed was, Cherrie starred again. He diverted another effort wide from a clean-through Akinade before, in stoppage time, Mohamed’s moment arrived. He skipped through Bray’s “defence” and his left-foot shot arrowed towards the corner of the net until Cherrie’s left leg, again from completely out of shot, diverted it to safety.
It was an entertaining nil-nil, especially for the €15 entrance fee (approx. £11, £12, £13…bloody Brexit) but still two points dropped to clear relegation candidates. Yet, after short collective sighs of disappointment, the crowd rose to their team, recognising their considerable efforts. The players responded in kind, producing a heart-warming ending. Almost brought a tear to the eye.
The LoI still struggles as a product…and financially. Its 2016 goals-per-game ratio matches Euro 2016’s. And Bohs’ July schedule also includes relatively lucrative games which serve as pre-season friendlies for their opposition, Portsmouth and Newcastle United.
Portsmouth visited a mere 17 hours, less stoppage time, after the Bray final whistle, winning 2-0. While the Toon are due to kick-off at Dalymount next Saturday, SIXTEEN hours after Bohs’ local derby at Shamrock Rovers, a two o’clock kick-off despite the actual match tickets saying three o’clock (“Sorry about that” said the PA announcer, understating profusely).
But the money is needed as European qualification via the league is a distant prospect. The whole Premier Division already need snookers to overhaul the runaway top two Dundalk and Cork City, the latter eight points clear of third-placed Derry City, although there is a Europa League place for the Cup winners. Newcastle United is where the money is, regardless of kick-off time.
Bohs remain one of Ireland’s “big” teams, having been LoI ever-presents since its formation in 1921. The noughties were about their most successful major Trophy-winning decade, which included league and cup doubles in 2001 and 2008, although they have won nothing since 2009’s League Cup. But even they are making do with crowds which don’t even fill the one-quarter of their ground which is open on matchdays. So the context of last Friday’s match was an unpromising one. Fair play to all, then, that the visit to Dalymount made for a worthwhile and enjoyable evening. More fun than France v Portugal, anyway.