Growing up in Bray, I didn’t associate Kilkenny with hurling, but with soccer, strange as that might seem. Bray Wanderers were my team and I supported them in their Leinster Senior League days as well as after their promotion to the League of Ireland when it was expanded to include a second tier in 1985. Accompanying Bray on their ascension to the big time were teams such as Cobh Ramblers [who were already renowned as FAI Cup giant-killers], Derry City [who had left the Irish League a decade before due to sectarian issues], Newcastlewest and EMFA [both now defunct].
It was the last of these teams that really intrigued me. EMFA – what did it mean and where was it?! Eventually I learned that they were from Kilkenny, and that the letters were a portmanteau for Emmet Street and Fatima Place.
Bray beat them twice that season en route to promotion – 3-1 in the Carlisle Grounds in Bray in November 1985 [thanks to goals from Kieran Cooper, Dave O’Brien and Jim Mahon] and 2-1 in Buckley Park in January 1986 [thanks to a brace from O’Brien].
The week after that first trip to Buckley Park, Bray were at home to Cobh Ramblers. A group of supporters who had made the trip to Kilkenny started singing [to the tune of ‘’If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands”] ‘’If You All Went To EMFA Clap Your Hands’’, much to the amusement of the assembled crowd, most of whom had no idea who or what ‘EMFA’ was.
The records show Wanderers played EMFA about a dozen times between 1985 and 1989 in all competitions – League, FAI Cup, Leinster Senior Cup and First Division Shield. I think we only lost once. 1989 brought the name change from EMFA to Kilkenny City, and with it a change in strip from claret and blue [which was a lovely kit] to black and amber [which was also a nice kit but was synonymous with the county hurling strip].
EMFA have a fascinating history. Formed in 1966 by Jim Rhatigan and a group of school friends [Jim’s book ‘Mud, Sweat & Jeers’ covers the formation and is a great read], they progressed through the ranks in local soccer to become the dominant force in the county prior to their League of Ireland days. After the name change in 1989 the club continued on the national stage until as recently as 2008 when lack of finance, poor results and paltry attendances finally did for them [attendances were not much above 100 at home games in the last couple of seasons].
The highlights of their stay in the big time were a First Division Shield win in 1987, an FAI Cup semi-final in 1991 against Shamrock Rovers and two promotions to the Premier Division – in 1997 and 2000. Nobody can take these achievements away. Altogether now: ‘’If You All Went To EMFA …’’