Bray Wanderers’ run to the semi-final of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Senior Cup at the back-end of the 2015 season resulted in a home tie against Cork City, a pairing which reignited memories of the first time Bray reached the cup semi-final, in 1989. Central to the story behind the 1989 semi-final is the story of ‘The Gandhi Train’.
Bray lost the 2015 semi-final 1-0 in a closely-fought game. Back in 1989 the FAI had decided that the Cup semis would be decided over two legs, home and away, with a replay rather than extra time if the sides were level on aggregate after the two legs [a format never repeated]. Bray won in Cork 1-0 at Turners Cross [thanks to a Eugene Davis strike], before going down at home by the same score thus forcing a replay. The third game took place in Cork who romped to a 4-0 win.
Because the 1989 semi was Wanderers’ first-ever appearance at the penultimate stage of the nation’s premier knockout competition, demand for tickets was high. Bray had only come into senior football 4 years previously, with the advent of the First Division in 1985. Between 1985 and 1989 they had been promoted from the inaugural First Division, survived two seasons in the Premier Division and been relegated back. But never had a cup semi-final been reached.
As well as getting tickets for the first leg in Cork [Wanderers brought a healthy 2000 in the end] there was transport to be organized. Fewer people would have been in a position to drive compared to now. Supporters were normally ferried to away games by coach, but an away match in the league would only see a fraction of the numbers wanting to travel to Cork presenting themselves. Another option was needed.
Iarnrod Eireann intervened at this point and offered to run a train direct from Bray Daly station to Cork, a ‘special’ as it were. Subject to demand. A minimum number of tickets would have to be sold to fill the two or three allocated carriages. They need not have worried. Demand for the train was phenomenal, to the point that extra carriages kept being added. And then more. And more. By the time the day of the game arrived there were so many carriages on the train and each so full it resembled something out of Pathe newsreel footage of Gandhi’s India as it pulled out of Bray. I’m sure Health and Safety regulations would have had something to say if it had been 2016!
The only way the train could get direct to Cork from Bray was via the seldom-used Phoenix Park tunnel stretch of rail. Normally trains from Bray went into Connolly station. If you were going to Cork you needed to transfer to Heuston station by bus or taxi. There was a link between the two stations [via the aforementioned tunnel] that was still in working order, but it was closed to passenger trains and only used for freight trains or transfers between depots. ‘The Gandhi Train’ got a special dispensation to use the tunnel, an 800 meter long structure that links Heuston with the Maynooth line at Glasnevin, allowing access to Connolly and the docklands. Bray fans coming from Connolly would have gone into the tunnel at the Glasnevin side and emerged near the Wellington monument in the Phoenix Park.
The 1-0 win in the first leg in Cork was celebrated with gusto by the Bray fans in Cork, and ‘The Gandhi Train’ was a happy place on the return journey. The road to the semi-final had been a long one and in total Wanderers played 10 cup matches in a two-month period that year, a burden that probably explained the fatigue in the replay in Cork and the fall-off in league form that saw them pipped for the second promotion spot on goal difference by UCD.
Ultimately Bray’s exit from the cup that year after the replay was only a temporary denial of a place in the final, as they reached Lansdowne Road in 1990 and lifted the cup after beating St. Francis 3-0 thanks to a John Ryan hat-trick. They went on to lift the trophy again in 1999. As for the Phoenix Park tunnel, it has been used occasionally since for sport specials, mostly GAA ties in Croke Park. And as for ‘The Gandhi Train’, it has entered Wanderers folklore!