Which League of Ireland ground would you consider a ‘home from home’? It could be the ground of your second-favourite side, or a ground you live nearest even though you don’t primarily support the team based there. It could be a team’s ground that a friend or relative plays for. Maybe you only attend your own team’s home games and are at a loose end when they are away. Or maybe you go to all your own team’s games, home and away, but are at a loose end on the other days of the weekend when a different side might be playing at a ground near you.
For me Tolka Park is my ‘home from home’. If I’m free when Bray Wanderers are at home obviously I’ll be in the Carlisle Grounds.
Although I’m from Wicklow I live in Drumcondra now so only get to the Dublin-based Bray away games. Tolka Park is only down the road from me and Shelbourne often play home games on Friday nights [Bray have a Saturday slot] so I’ll go down there occasionally. It’s nice to see First Division games too, different teams to those Bray play in the Premier Division.
Tolka Park has some special memories for me. There were the three 1999 FAI Cup final games against Finn Harps for starters, a sequence of matches that saw Bray emerge victorious after the second replay, lifting their second FAI Cup of the 1990’s under Pat Devlin. Bray played Celtic in a friendly there in the late 1990’s [during the John Barnes / Kenny Dalglish days], before they hosted the Hoops in the Carlisle Grounds in 2000 in what was Martin O’Neills first game in charge.
Tolka was also the scene of Wicklow League side Newtown United’s victory over Shelbourne in early 2015 in the Leinster Senior Cup, a memorable sporting achievement for Wicklow League football.
Tolka Park is a ground steeped in League of Ireland history. Drumcondra played there in their heyday. Home Farm played there in their own League of Ireland days, before they moved to Whitehall. Shamrock Rovers were based there too [amongst other places] during their wilderness years post-Milltown and pre-Tallaght. It was regularly full for matches during its heyday, and you can feel the lingering atmosphere of past glories when you visit the ground. It’s sad to see it in such a dilapidated state today. I used to like sitting in the city-side stand, but it’s not open now due to disrepair.
Maybe you don’t have a ‘home from home’. Some football fans are funny like that, they don’t like admitting to liking an opposing team’s ground and wouldn’t entertain the notion of going to a game as a neutral to watch two sides that you don’t support directly. I find it funny that the same people would watch Champions League and Premier League games featuring sides they don’t support but not League of Ireland games that don’t feature their own team. We should all be in it together in the League of Ireland.