John McCarthy tells us how and why he supports UCD AFC
According to the remains of my autograph book from that time, I attended my first League of Ireland match in the early autumn of 1957. The book is not intact, as my mother’s Alsatian, with fading eyesight, mistook it for a bone! It could have been worse – in his prime he had an appetite for postmen, ESB men and my sister.
The match was Shamrock Rovers versus Drumcondra. My father (who played with Rovers in the 30s and 40s) and I walked down the Clonskeagh Road and along the Dodder to Milltown. All matches in those days were played on Sunday afternoons. That day the gates were closed about twenty minutes before the kick off as the ground was full. There was a haze of tobacco smoke. Passive smoking was unknown to us at the time so no one worried about it. Filter tips were still rare and, in any event, were frowned upon by hardened smokers. Having said that, smokers freely gave advice between hacking coughs and launching gruesome spits along the lines of “whatever you do Sonny, never smoke.” All small boys seemed to be addressed as “Son” or “Sonny” even by strangers.
Men who were legends and men who would become legends took to the pitch; Paddy Coad, Paddy Ambrose, Liam Tuohy for Rovers; Alan Kelly, Bunny Fulham and Kit Lawlor for Drums, just to name a few. Many were capped for Ireland at International and Inter-League level. Such men were our local heroes. You could meet them on the street or see them on the bus. No flimsy prima donnas sheltering behind tinted glass in those days. Diving was unknown except at Blackrock Baths. All boots were black. Jerseys had no publicity on them. Only tough sailors had tattoos. Jeeps were driven by soldiers.
We had no inferiority complex to the English leagues which we really only knew through grainy photos in newspapers and short black and white film clips which we saw in Pathé Newsreels whilst waiting for the cowboy picture to start. The awful modern Irish cult of following certain English and Scottish teams as if they played around the corner was unimaginable – our loyalty was to our own league and mine still is. English teams occasionally came to Dublin to play friendlies, but were, more often than not, put to the sword by Rovers.
I followed Rovers from those times until the shocking demise of Milltown. I went to the RDS and Tolka Park but when Rovers had to move out to Santry, it was, for various reasons, several bridges too far.
As the League of Ireland was in my blood and Belfield Park was only a good walk away I rambled down to a few games in the early autumn of 1999. It was my kind of football. I was hooked and still am. There have been ups and downs over the years but the football philosophy remains the same. I don’t think too much about the disappointing days and I don’t remember any really bad days apart from the relegation seaons, which were quickly followed by many great days when promotion was earned in style.
I could list players but I won’t. It would be unfair to name a few because everyone who has turned out over the years has given me great moments. As well as the immediate enjoyment of watching games involving UCD it is great to follow the careers of young footballers as they develop. It is all the better when you know that they are getting an education at the same time. Too many times in the old days, even great players ended up in penury as they were unprepared for life after football. It is a bad feeling to know your old heroes are struggling.
The curse on the League of Ireland is the lack of spectators and UCD is no exception despite the swarms of students attending the college and the fact that the college is in the hinterland of Shamrock Rovers old catchment area. The standard of football in the league is excellent but it rarely gets the publicity and praise it deserves because it is suffocated in the media by the sheer volume of coverage for the Premiership – “too much information about nothin” (to borrow a line from Bob Dylan)
That tens of thousands of “Irish” soccer supporters spend millions going to matches in England appals me. I am weary and tired of people puffing out their chests to proudly state that they follow an English or Scottish team. It is an insult and an affront to all the fine players and coaches here. Our League also provides significant employment. The country is on its uppers and every job is vital. Never was loyalty more needed – time for fans to put their shoulders to the wheel.