So the 2019 SSE Airtricity League has finished. When we resume in February it won’t just be the start of a new season for our clubs, but a new decade. This got me thinking about which decades in the past have been the most successful for my hometown club, Bray Wanderers.
Two decades in particular stand out – the 1950’s and the 1990’s. I wasn’t around for the former but have heard all about it from both my grandfather and my father. I was actively involved in the club for the latter and the memories of those heady days will be passed on to my own children and grandchildren.
In terms of progression, the 1950’s saw a meteoric rise through the ranks for Bray Wanderers. We started the decade in junior football, and lifted the FAI Junior Cup in 1950/51 and 1953/54. We entered the ranks of intermediate football and won a duo of FAI Intermediate Cups [in 1955/56 and 1957/58]. Added to this suite of Cup wins, the decade also saw back-to-back Leinster Senior League wins in 1957/58 and 1958/59 [a third win in 1960 completed the hat-trick].
I would love to have seen Alan Kelly [Senior] and Andy McEvoy in action for Wanderers. Both Andy and Alan started out with Bray in the 1950’s and played for Wanderers before going on to bigger things. If I ever get hold of a TARDIS-style time machine I’ll go back to the mid 1950’s and take in a few Bray games [I’ll also visit Woodstock, but that’s another story!].
Kelly – a goalkeeper – was nicknamed ‘’The Cat’’ during his time at Bray and was snapped up by Drumcondra [then the biggest club on Dublin’s northside and a regular supplier of players to the senior international Ireland team] in 1956 before moving on to Preston North End in 1958. He stayed at Deepdale until 1973 and made 447 appearances for North End; he also played 47 times for his country during his Drumcondra and Preston years.
Andy McEvoy, like Alan Kelly, moved on from Bray Wanderers in 1956. He was signed by Blackburn Rovers and played initially as a defender before being played up front during an injury crisis. He took to it like a duck to water, and by 1964 he was winning the First Division [now the Premier League] Golden Boot with 32 goals [he also shared it in 1965 with Jimmy Greaves, with 29 apiece].
Andy scored 89 times for Blackburn in 183 appearances, and was also an Ireland international during his time at EwoodPark, scoring six goals in 17 internationals. He later managed Bray and helped pave the way for our ascent to the League of Ireland in 1985.
Moving on to the 1990’s, that memorable decade for the Seagulls was bookended by our two FAI Senior Cup wins [St Francis were beaten in 1990 at Lansdowne Road thanks to a John Ryan hat-trick, while Finn Harps were beaten in 1999 at Tolka Park after a hat-trick of matches].
Although the club were in the doldrums for a while after the 1990 win, Pat Devlin’s return to the club in 1995 saw the club immediately win a double of First Division Shield and First Division Championship. The good times continued to roll with glamour friendlies against the likes of Newcastle United and Glasgow Celtic.
I was amongst the 5,000 wedged into the Carlisle on 06 August 1998 to see a Kenny Dalglish managed Newcastle side beat us 6-0, with Alan Shearer [then in his prime and just bought for £15m] scoring a hat-trick. Shay Given was also playing for Newcastle, as was the late Gary Speed and Didier Hamann. Bray’s side contained such Wanderers legends as Jody Lynch, ‘Pip’ Keogh, ‘Bo’ McKeever, Colm Tresson and ‘Tarzan’ O’Brien. Things were so good during those years that we even got to make a Cup Final record and made it onto the silver screen, with the Carlisle Grounds featuring in the Michael Collins film.
In reality fans of a club will have good memories of all the decades they have spent supporting their club. You were there and you made the most of it even if things weren’t going well. I’m thinking of Dave Roberts’ ‘’The Bromley Boys’’ book [now a film] and Mark Hodkinson’s ‘’Believe In The Sign’’ [about Rochdale] as two excellent soccer books that capture this feeling.
I loved watching Bray in the 1970’s when we were a Leinster Senior League team. I was a young boy and didn’t notice the dilapidated stadium, the frayed kit or the paltry crowd; I was at a live football game and spending quality time with my father and grandfather. The scent of mud and deep heat was getting into my nostrils and my hometown club was getting into my blood.
The decade just finishing may look on paper to have been an OK one for Bray – with a long run in the Premier Division – but that would be deceptive. There have been good individual days but for me it has been my least favourite time in all my years as a Wanderers fan. The club has struggled financially, battling at the wrong end of the table for most of the decade before finally falling through the trapdoor in 2018. My children were small and enjoying the matches so I kept going, even though I could see the crowds dwindling as managers came and went through a revolving door. We won’t go into the saga of the previous ownership of the club.
Thankfully Seagulls fans have every reason to be hopeful for the next decade. We have a good young manager in Gary Cronin, who has recently committed his future to the club. We have a good blend of youth and experience in our squad, and iconic players like Hughie Douglas to hold up as heroes and role models. The underage set-up will ensure a pathway to the first team for emerging talent. We have an excellent guy at the top in Niall O’Driscoll and have started to reconnect with our local fanbase and make the club a focal point for the town again. Plus, we still have our beloved Carlisle Grounds. Hands off!
I’m sure readers will have favourite decades from their own club’s past. For all of us though, it’s onwards and upwards tothe 2020’s; this is the dawning of a new era, as The Specials once sang. Beyond success for my own club I’d like to see crowds continuing to rise and more money being granted to clubs to improve their stadia. Personally I’d love to see a national third tier added to our pyramid or at least more interconnectivity between the regionalised provincial senior leagues and the existing tiers, maybe something like the way the Highland and Lowland Leagues in Scotland can now feed directly into the main pyramid.