So Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers are through to the FAI Cup semi-finals. Well done to these sides, and commiserations to Waterford, Galway and UCD. The final last-eight tie – between Crumlin United and Bohemians – won’t take place until next week.
We could yet have an all-Rovers final for only the fourth time ever [Sligo beat Shamrock Rovers in 2010 at the Aviva Stadium, while The Hoops won the encounters in 1977-78 and 1939-40 which were both played at Dalymount Park].
When the Cup gets to the business end I’m always reminded of 1990, when Bray Wanderers went all theway and won, becoming the first-ever First Division side to lift the illustrious trophy.
As a small boy attending Wanderers’ Leinster Senior League games in the mid-1970’s, I never thought my team would one day get to an FAI Cup final. I never thought that they would ever get to play in the League of Ireland. It wasn’t that I lacked faith or confidence in them, it was just that I was content watching them battle it out further down the pyramid. There may have been very few people attending games in those days, but to those of us that did there was a kind of community in our fewness.
Dave Roberts’ new book ‘’The Long, Long Road ToWembley’’ reminds me both of those early days supporting Wanderers, and our later transformation into League of Ireland mainstays and FAI Cup winners.
Unlike me though, Roberts always new that his team – Bromley – would reach Wembley and lift the FA Amateur Cup [later split into the FA Trophy and FA Vase]. He never gave up hope, even when Bromley were trundling along at the bottom of the Isthmian League, getting knocked out of the FA Trophy on an annual basis in the early rounds.
Bromley had been there before, so I suppose Dave had that as an inspiration, reference point and confidence-builder. They had won the FA AmateurCup in 1910-11, when they’d beaten Bishop Auckland in the final, and again in 1937-38 when they got the better of Erith & Belvedere in the decider. Fast forward to 1948-49 and Bromley made it three wins from three finals when they beat Romford in what was the first FA Amateur Cup to be held at Wembley.
The trouble with all of these wins, great as they were, was that they had happened before Dave was born. He wanted to experience a Wembley final for himself. As a youngster I remember my grandad [who attended Wanderers games all his life] tellingme of the pair of FAI Junior Cup wins [in 1950-51 over Drogheda United and 1953-54 over Ierne] and the brace of FAI Intermediate Cup wins [in 1955-56 over Cork Hibernians and in 1957-58 over Chapelizod] that Bray had recorded. Impressive as these accounts were, nothing beat going to an actual final myself, as I did in 1990 for the FAI Senior Cup final at Lansdowne Road where we beat St Francis. In a neat piece of symmetry, our second FAI Senior Cup success [in 1999 over Finn Harps] means that we have two each of the three grades of FAI Cup.
Bromley eventually reached Wembley for the 2017-18 FA Trophy final. Although they lost, Dave Roberts – by then in his early 60’s – had finallyreached the end of the long, long road to Wembley. The book is a great read for anyone with a love for football a bit lower down the food chain than the megabucks and big time of the Premier League and Champions League.
Another fine football book I’ve just finished which also resonated with me as a Bray Wanderers fan is‘’The Overcoat Men’’ by writer and Rochdale fan Mark Hodkinson. The book charts the saving of the club from ruination in the early 1980’s by forward-thinking directors who had the survival of the club as their sole motivation.
In doing such a service, they helped bridge the gap between Rochdale’s barren years of having to apply frequently for re-election to the Football League [before automatic relegation to the National League was introduced; they once came within a single vote of losing their place] and the modern-day successes of Keith Hill and Brian Barry-Murphy’s teams.
Dale now compete in League One alongside Sunderland, Portsmouth, Ipswich Town and Coventry City. Tottenham Hotspur were taken to a replay in the FA Cup in 2017-18, and later this month the club take on Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup.
Most directors wore overcoats in the era Hodkinson writes about. Most directors were local businessmen who put money into the club from their own pockets to keep it going. Rochdale in those days was no different to Bray Wanderers in those days. I’m thinking specifically of Bray’s Secretary John O’Brien here, although John bucked the overcoat trend by wearing a brown leather jacket and cowboy hat.
John was Wanderers through and through, and at the time of his passing had been the driving force behind the development of the away side of the Carlisle Grounds stadium. I can still picture him now right through the decades, always standing on the grass bank behind the Quinnsborough Road goal, watching the game intently. Thankfully John lived to see the FAI Cup being won twice.