Tolka Park is the nearest League of Ireland ground to my house but even closer to me is the former League of Ireland ground at Whitehall Stadium. I’ve lived in Drumcondra for 9 years and have walked by the ground many, many times but last Wednesday was the first time I’ve gone in to see a live game there during my time in Drumcondra, and the first time in 20 years that I’ve seen a live game there, since I was there supporting Bray Wanderers in the 1997-98 League of Ireland First Division [Bray got promoted that year; Home Farm won the First Division Shield].
I’d gone to the game on Wednesday because I knew I was going to miss Friday’s League of Ireland soccer through other commitments, and wanted to get a game in. The match was an almost-end-of-season encounter between Home Farm and Verona in the Leinster Senior League’s Senior 1 Sunday division [Verona won 3-0 to move off the bottom of the table]. The pitch and stadium were exactly as I remembered themfrom their League of Ireland days, a really good set up and the clubhouse was still as I remembered it too. The all-weather pitches at the back were full of kids training – a thriving junior section is what always made Home Farm stand out.
A trip to the clubhouse at half time was educational. In the week that everyone was reliving Arsene Wegner’s greatest moments, including the famous ‘Invincibles’ side, I read all about Home Farm’s own invincible, record-breaking side. Managed by Paddy Hilliard and coached by, amongst others,Liam Tuohy during the 1980’s and 1990’s, a schoolboy Home Farm side went unbeaten for an incredible 203 games, a world record and enough to gain entry to the Guinness Book of Records.
The 203 game run included a massive 197 wins and only 6 draws as the side won everything before them as they progressed through the age categories. They won every league title from U11 to U18, as well as many Cups, League Cups and other tournaments. They scored 1,111 goals on this journey, conceding only 106! In total 29 players contributed to the side over the years. 11 players won underage international honours, and Gary Kelly and Graham Kavanagh became full Ireland internationals.
Being such a distinguished nursery club doesn’t mean that the senior Home Farm sides haven’t had their moments over the years. The FAI Junior Cup was won in 1955, and the FAI Intermediate Cup in 1963, 67 and 68. After joining the League of Ireland in 1972 [after merging with Drumcondra FC, acquiring Tolka Park and playing initially as Home Farm Drumcondra] the FAI Senior Cup was won in 1975 to complete the set.
Home Farm’s senior side moved to Whitehall Stadium in 1989. The stadium had been built and opened earlier in the 1980’s. The club celebrate their 90th anniversary this year, having started out playing on a converted rhubarb patch at the rear of what is now the Skylon Hotel back in 1928. I’m presuming their famous blue-and-white hooped shirts, in the style of QPR’s, were inspired by QPR having played at a ground called Home Farm before eventually settling in Loftus Road, but that could be a coincidence.
Many, many future internationals have come through the ranks of Home Farm. In the 1960’s alone the club produced 20 full internationals. In more recent years there has been Ronnie Whelan, Richard Dunne, the aforementioned Kelly and Kavanagh, amongst others. Much earlier in their history Johnny Carey went from Home Farm to Manchester United and became a full international, a path later followed by Munich Air Crash victim Liam Whelan.
Back to the 1990’s, when I occasionally visited Whitehall supporting Bray, the history of Home Farm wasn’t something I knew much about. The club, or at least their senior side, seemed to be in a constant state of change. Home Farm became Home Farm Everton [between 1995 and 99 due to a sponsorship deal; the club later had sponsorship deals with Leeds United and Portsmouth] and then there was a split in the club, with Home Farm regrouping as a Leinster Senior League side [where they still are] and an offshoot franchise named Home Farm Fingal continuing on in the League of Ireland before being rebranded as Dublin City and eventually folding.
Happy 90th anniversary Home Farm, and thanks for the trip down memory lane last Wednesday!