I was at a Leinster Senior League game in Whitehall last week [Home Farm versus Newtown Rangers in Senior Division 1; Home Farm won 4-2]. It was an evening match and in the clubhouse bar at half-time I noticed an elderly man looking at some of the Liam Whelan tributes on the wall. I was sitting close to where he was standing and after a while we struck up a conversation.
He spoke in a Manchester accent and it turned out he was a United fan who had heard about Home Farm and the Liam Whelan connection a long time ago. With it being the anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster this year he’d decided to make the trip over – attending a Home Farm game was something on his bucket list. He’d flown in that morning, spent the day in Dublin and was attending the game before heading home the next day.
I was impressed. It was a nice antidote to the all-too familiar tale of the Irish football fan boarding a flight to England to watch Premier League clubs [like Manchester United]. An English football fan [and a Manchester United fan at that] coming to Ireland to watch a game, and not even a League of Ireland game, this was a Leinster League match.
The phrase ‘The Long Road to Whitehall’ came to mind. I’d been reading about Dave Roberts’ forthcoming book on Bromley FC, ‘The Long Road to Wembley’ that day. Roberts started supporting Bromley as a teenager in the late 1960’s when they were a struggling non-league side. He’s continued to support them ever since, even when he lived in New Zealand.
These days Bromley are a progressive National League side and they made it to Wembley for a Cup Final at long last this year [the FA Trophy final; they lost to Brackley Town on penalties]. I guess the book will be about the many twists and turns in Bromley’s fortunes [and Roberts’ life] over the 50 years since he started supporting them to the final this summer.
I’m looking forward to the book. Roberts’ other football books [‘’32 Programmes’’, ‘’The Bromley Boys’’ and ‘’Home and Away’’] were all excellent reads. ‘’The Bromley Boys’’ – about the 1969-70 season which was the worst in the club’s history – has even been turned into a film [it wasn’t released over here; I have it ordered on DVD] starring, amongst others, Alan Davies [Johnathon Creek] and Martine McCutheon [Eastenders].
Roberts’ books, like those by another contemporary football writer whose work I enjoy, Mark Hodkinson [he’s a Rochdale fan; Rochdale had their own ‘Long Road to Wembley’ this year with the FA Cup run to the fifth-round replay against Tottenham], are effective because they seamlessly interweave events in the authors’ lives with events in the lives of their football teams.
It got me thinking, if I had to pick a time period where events in my own life were gathering pace quite quickly, and that happened to coincide with a memorable time for my club Bray Wanderers, what timeframe would I choose?
I’d have to go with the time between 1985 and 1990. In 1985 I was 16 and entering my last year in school. By 1990 I was turning 21 and finishing up in university and wondering [like the rest of my generation] whether I’d get a job here or would have to emigrate [thankfully I got a job here].
In 1985 Bray Wanderers had just been elected to the League of Ireland’s new First Division. We won promotion to the Premier Division in our first year under the stewardship of Pat Devlin and survived for 2 seasons in the top tier. By 1990, although we were a First Division club again, we won our first-ever FAI Cup [Pat was still at the helm; we beat St Francis 3-0 at Lansdowne Road, qualifying for the European Cup-Winners’ Cup].
Heady days for the club and for me. If I was writing a book or making a film [I can dream; how about ‘The Long Road to Lansdowne’ as a title!] about those times I’d pepper the narrative the world and local events from that era. On a global stage that timespan encompassed events as diverse as Live Aid, the release of the first Back To The Future film, Kasparov beating Karpov in chess, the Chernobyl Disaster, the spread of AIDS and the early days of trying to find a cure, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of an era in the former Soviet Union. Local events in Bray would have to include Hurricane Charlie in 1986, something that was truly frightening to live through.
Football events during this time on the world stage saw the horrific fire at Valley Parade and events at Heysel take place. There was Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in Mexico in 1986. There was the Republic of Ireland’s first appearance at a Euros  and a World Cup [Italia 1990].
What timeframe would you pick for you and your club, if you had to select a time that was memorable on both a personal and footballing level?