Dublin 5 piece Oski Bravo came together in late 2015 and are Keith Cooke, Fiachra Robinson, John Crowther and Shane Fitzgerald, fronted by long time (and long suffering!) Red and our very own Donnchadh Mac Aogáin. Oski Bravo launch their self-titled debut album on 25 June with a live performance at Whelans, and we sat down with Dunny in early June to talk about the band, the forthcoming album, and of course the Reds.

Reds Independent: Dunny- what a 12 months you’ve had! The Reds promoted, Tolka Park saved, you did the double with Shels AFC and now you’re releasing Oski Bravo’s debut album – you’ve been very busy! How are you feeling?!

Tired and emotional! Ah it’s been incredible, it really has. In all of the above there were times; between Covid restrictions, a slow start to the season and things not always going our way with STP where it looked like things could fail on all three fronts. So to look at where things are now is incredibly rewarding.

RI: The two singles you’ve released this year have been great – We Want the World and Brand New Start – but a bit distinct from each other musically. Can you tell us a little bit about the album? What can we expect? Influences?

Yeah “We Want the World” is probably a bit more representative of the album overall, in that it’s quite up tempo and guitar driven. “Brand New Start” is a bit closer to our earlier stuff maybe, but I felt with the subject matter in that song it needed to be presented the way that we did it. The album itself is a mix of some former singles and new tracks we recorded over a few sessions with Dan Doherty (who did Fontaines DC’s early stuff) and I think it’s a good blend of indie-pop with hopefully some memorable tunes in there! Influence-wise I’ve always loved any guitar music with an emphasis on melody; The Smiths, Lemonheads, Sebadoh, REM…that type of stuff. But if it’s good, it’s good. Actually Irish acts like Cathy Davey and Delorentos have influenced me more and more over the past few years.

RI: How would you describe the music Oski Bravo typically create?

At first we leaned quite heavily on the acoustic elements, with cello and acoustic guitar doing a lot of the heavy-lifting. That meant that our early stuff on average was a bit slower and more ballad-like maybe. But once we got our first EP released and I had to start cranking out new songs again, our emphasis sort of changed. First John’s electric guitar came more to the fore and bit by bit the acoustic elements took a back seat. We have plenty of songs to choose from now and I find our live sets bounce along nicely these days and I’ve found myself smiling a great deal more than I used to onstage!

RI: What is the creative process like in Oski Bravo?

Well, I write all the songs and the lyrics and then pitch my ideas to the band usually. Before Covid I would usually just send over fresh acoustic versions I recorded on my phone and let the others hear it stripped down like that. When we’d get into the rehearsal room then and when the others added their parts you would really see the song taking shape. By the time a song gets recorded it can sound quite different to how they started out. But during Covid I ended up buying a bunch of electric guitars and using the Garageband app to effectively make demos of songs myself; I’d play all the guitar parts, the bass etc and then add the synthetic drums on top. I think I wrote over 15 new songs that way in the time where we couldn’t rehearse. “We Want the World” and “The Anarchist’s Wedding” came from that bunch. But as ever, the cool riffs always come from John! He’s on another level when it comes to electric guitar, the chap is outrageous!

RI: How long did this album take to make from start to finish, writing and recording-wise?

Well that’s a difficult one to answer ‘cause we started it before Covid and then had to do another session as soon as things reopened to finish it! Longer than it should have and hopefully a fraction of the time our next one will take!

RI: What kind of “sound”, production wise, did you have in the back of your mind, prior to entering the studio?

It’s probably a dangerous thing to go into any recording session having too many expectations on production, as every experience tends to be unique. Ultimately you go in with a collection of songs that you want to portray in the best possible light. In every session we’ve ever done there have been dark horses that surprise me they turn out so well (“All I Know” and “The Anarchist’s Wedding” would be in that category for me) and then sometimes the one you assume is going to be a home run can fall flat. But we’ve worked with a few producers now and out best experiences have been with Dan Doherty in Darklands; his attitude and way of working seems to suit us and work for the songs we have. If you’re nodding along by the time the last chorus rolls around that’s usually a good sign for me!

RI: It was very difficult being a football fan during the pandemic, but I’d say it was even worse being a musician. Was it difficult maintaining the spirit of the band during that time and did it have an impact on the recording process?

Yeah it was a fairly dispiriting time for everyone. Playing in rooms, be that gigs, rehearsals or recordings – that’s what being in a band is all about. So when that’s indefinitely taken away you do lose a sense of purpose. Lucky for us though, we had started the album and we were sure we wanted to see that process through. And as I said before, it gave me time to do a lot of writing. We did get knocked back a bit though when in only our second rehearsal after we came back, our bassist Ken told us he was leaving the band! His tinnitus had become too severe, and he had to stop playing altogether. So that put me on my arse for a bit! But we were blessed to get Shane Fitzgerald in after a little search and we’ve never been better now! He’s been a real shot in the arm for us all.

RI: Oski Bravo were one of the stars of the Save Tolka Park night in the Button Factory. What was it like to play that night in front of a packed room of Reds?

Ah man that was a night I’ll never forget! It was very emotional for me to see where we had managed to take the STP campaign to and the incredible support that rowed in behind us. That night would have been special for me on that level alone! But to couple that with our first live performance since before lockdown…it really was magic. A room brimming with togetherness and positivity and I’m very proud to have played my own small part in the whole thing. I’ll never get tired of belting out a bit of Monaco to a room full of Reds!

RI: You’re launching the album in Whelan’s on 25th June, a night we’re all looking forward to. I know you played Bloom last week, any other gigs on the horizon?

That’s right yeah, Saturday the 25th, the night after Mauro Picotto rocks the bar! Bloom was a bit of fun yeah, it was nice getting to play for a full hour up on stage again. We’re in Galway the Friday after Whelan’s (at Livestock), then the following Saturday we’re opening for Mundy and The Stunning in Kilkenny which should be cool. And we wrap the summer up on Friday, August 26th in Clane, Co. Kildare at The Playing Fields. That’s a great festival actually; we played its opening year, and it was one of the best run events we’ve ever been at. So a great way to close things out.

RI: What’s next for Oski Bravo?

Well we’ll be firing out this album at the end of the month and then we’re going to enjoy these gigs that are in front of us as much as we can. Doing overnighters at festivals is definitely one of my favourite parts of being in a band. Bopping about places you’d never normally be, mixing with strangers and listening to all manner of mad stuff. A bit like an away day in the First Division I suppose! After that we’ll regroup in the winter and get our teeth into this batch of new songs and decide which ones will be next to get recorded. We like to prepare in the winter, record around Easter and then have new music to release and gig for the summer. So we’ll hopefully get back on track with that again.

RI: Can I ask you; how detrimental is Spotify or other streaming services to up and coming bands?

That’s a tricky enough situation. The streaming platforms, and YouTube as well, have decentralised music away from the record labels and have put the onus on the bands to create, ahem, “content” and essentially become your own promoter and record label. That has its advantages and pitfalls of course. Some say that it makes everything very democratic and if the music is good enough people will eventually find it and you will reap the rewards. But then again, the great thing that indie record labels had to offer was that the people behind those labels were prepared to take punts on acts that otherwise never would have gotten any oxygen. Now when you’re talking to festivals and venues they will ask you questions, not about the music; but about any videos or clips you’ve had that might have “gone viral” or how many followers you have on a certain social media platform. So unfortunately, I think we’ve gone too far the other way now. Putting your music “out there” has never been easier. But getting heard amongst the din is probably harder than ever.

RI: Finally, the Reds! Are you happy with how the season has gone and what are your expectations or predictions for the second half of the season?

The fucking Reds ey?! Never dull! Ah look the first half of the season started slowly enough but it definitely feels like some things have begun clicking for us now and sitting 6th at the midseason break was fantastic. Sean Boyd has hit his stride now and the same can be said for Moylan, which has seen us scoring a few more goals that were definitely needed. Clarkey coming in was obviously an important turning point for us and we’ve looked much more solid since then. My ambitions before the season started were: 1) Save Tolka Park – 2) Stay up and 3) win a couple of Dublin derbies. Anything above that would be gravy. We’ve already beaten Pats, saved Tolka and gone a long way towards staying up by opening the gap we have over the bottom two. From here on in I’d like us to maintain that gap, turn Bohs over at least once and get some revenge for those two dreadful losses against Harps! Oh, and a European away for the Shels WNL team por favor!

For more information check out www.OskiBravo.com, https://twitter.com/OskiBravo, https://www.instagram.com/oski.bravo.band/ , https://www.facebook.com/OskiBravoBand

Tolka Park: A History- Part 2

The 1940s had ended on a high for the supporters who frequented Tolka Park. Drumcondra were established as one of the top sides in the country, winning consecutive titles. There were often sizeable attendances at football fixtures around the country, though neither as large nor as frequently as nostalgic recollections might suggest, and this was also true of Tolka Park. The next decade would see innovations that would stand the test of time with Tolka Park at the forefront of these changes. Despite success on the soccer pitch, gates from football matches alone weren’t enough to run a football club, and the venue continued to be at the heart of entertainment in Dublin.


In June 1951 ‘The Gorgeous Gael’ was the headline attraction on the “all-in” wrestling card at Tolka Park. A colourful character to say the least, Jack Doyle was one of Ireland’s first celebrities. Described later by Eamon Dunphy as a “piss artist boxer” a string of 10 straight victories at the start of his career as a heavyweight boxer showed no little talent and brought him a wave of attention which he rode, to both fame and fortune. Having earned a shot at the British Heavyweight title, he was disqualified in the bout, causing a near riot in London in the process. He translated this sporting notoriety into a fledgling film career and discovered a tenor voice that could pack out concert halls. He went to America and caroused with the likes of Errol Flynn, seducing both the heiress to the Dodge motor fortune and her daughter. Celebrity took its toll on his sporting career. He quit boxing in 1943 and within a few years had squandered both his fortune and a marriage to Hollywood actress Movita. Alcoholic and homeless, Doyle sought to re-invent himself as a professional wrestler.


Doyle’s fame drew a huge audience of almost 23,000 to Tolka Park, possibly the largest “official” attendance ever recorded at the venue. His opponent was another former boxer, “Two Ton” Tony Galento, who in 1939 had fought against Joe Louis for the world heavyweight title. Earlier in the year, Galento had beaten Doyle in London, breaking the Irishman’s rib the fifth round. This time, the tables were turned in dramatic fashion, as “The Gorgeous Gael” lifted the American on his shoulders and spun him around. Both men crashed out of the ring, into the laps of the spectators below. The American’s head cracked against the concrete, while Doyle recovered quickly enough to beat the count and was declared the winner. Another card was arranged for the same venue the following year, with Gargantua, “The German Giant” as Doyle’s opponent, however rain intervened, and the promoters were left with a significant loss. Thus that June 1951 evening in Tolka Park was to prove a final highpoint for one of Ireland’s most tragic sporting figures.


In 1952 Tolka Park was headline news, but not for sporting reasons. Ten years previously a confrontation had taken place there between two gangs. Given the weaponry involved on the day it was lucky that no-one had been killed, with only the intervention of some players preventing serious injury or death but now there would be a final, fatal outcome of that notorious day.


Patrick J Synnott, a 21-year-old coal merchant from the Coombe, had spent the day of February 27th drinking. After closing time, he and friend retired to a milk bar, Mac’s Cafe on Ormond Street, where he was having a cup of Bovril when Christopher Genockey, 31, entered. According to the Synnott’s own testimony, he had mentioned something about the “Tolka Park Affair” which Genockey overheard and said “Shut up you are too young to remember about it” Synnott replied “You are not too young and I heard nothing about you being in it.” He then alleged that Genockey said “I am going to do you” and struck him twice before Synnott pulled a knife and stabbed Genockey once in chest, killing him. Though Synnott had sought to get his adversary to hospital, upon being told that Genockey was already dead Synnott fled the scene immediately and disposed of the weapon. He handed himself in to Newmarket Garda Station shortly afterwards.


The prosecution case was that the quarrel dated back 18 months to when Genockey had punched Synnott. The accused denied that he had ever any dispute with, nor intended to injure the victim that evening neither did it have anything to do with gang rivalry. Synnott was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in prison. Whatever the truth, it is clear that the events of Tolka Park, 1942 were local legend in the Coombe area long after the episode and ultimately played some part in the death of Christopher Genockey.


Drumcondra F.C.’s owners, the Hunter family, had delivered sporting success and created the first vestiges of a stadium, but it would be the Prole family that would lead the next two decades of development, when Sam Prole arrived in 1953. A supporter of Shelbourne as a boy, he was himself a handy footballer. His career with the Great Northern Railway took him to Dundalk and he was a founder member of that club, but his playing days were ended prematurely by a broken leg. He then threw himself into administration, becoming the club secretary and helping them gain membership of the Free State League ahead of Drumcondra. He also oversaw a transfer policy that helped the club turn a profit. As a key administrator within the FAI, he sat on numerous committees and served as an international selector.


Prole had informally suggested to then Drumcondra owner Walter Hunter, that were the Hunters ever considering selling the club, he would be interested in buying it. In 1952 the Hunters decided to take up this offer. After weeks of rumours, it was confirmed by the Drumcondra chairman in February 1953 that Prole had indeed left Dundalk to take over the club and the lease on Tolka Park. Funds would have to be raised and the club run as a business to survive. His son, Robert Prole, who would later go on to be both a player and director with Drums, recalls how his family were “ordinary, and had not won the sweeps or anything like that… but my father was able to get a few bob together and a deal was done”.


The team and staff remained the same, but immediately Sam and his son Royden set to work behind the scenes and within a month had announced the first floodlit fixture to take place in the Republic of Ireland. At the time, floodlights were not even commonplace at English grounds, with the first international under floodlights only taking place in 1955 and the first floodlit English League fixture in 1956. St. Mirren were the visitors to Tolka Park on March 30th, 1953 as the pylons 45 feet tall, which had been installed at the corners of the ground, were illuminated with 60,000 watts of electricity for the historic occasion.


The idea of evening football outside of the late summer was very much a novelty. A chilly night meant that the crowd who witnessed Drumcondra’s 2-0 victory was somewhat disappointing. Prole had invested heavily in this concept and further fixtures were laid on the coming weeks against Glenavon and Distillery. The opponents chosen simply due to connections made through Prole’s role as an administrator with the association. Such networks would be crucial in arranging further fixtures. It wasn’t just football that benefited from electrification, as athletics, boxing and an exhibition from the Swedish gymnastics team all took place within a couple of months of the lights being installed. The evening athletics meeting of April 14th, 1953 was even broadcast live on Radio Éireann.


The summer break provided the first opportunity to improve facilities at the ground. Again, using his connections, the new owner would borrow the groundsman from Oriel Park to tend to what was a poor playing surface. The pitch itself was re-sodded around the goal areas and was said to be billiard table-like by the start of the following season. This would not last given the sheer volume of football that was played over the course of a season. The middle of the pitch in particular could become a notorious quagmire; however it was a considerable improvement from the pitch nicknamed ‘pothole park’.


The largest undertaking in 1953 was the addition of a roof and lengthening of the reserved stand on the Richmond Road side of the ground. Running from the Drumcondra end to around the halfway line, the shape and structure of the roof was largely as seen today. A loan of £1000 was sought from the FAI to help cover construction costs of £2600 for the redevelopment, though only £750 was granted. The stand could therefore only be lengthened further in stages, evidence of this phased construction can still be seen in the Richmond Road stand today.


The move to increase comfort for spectators and facilities for the press was a wise one, bringing with it plenty of positive coverage for the new owners. This contrasted with Shels, who were tenants at Tolka Park at this time while they were in the process of building their own, larger stadium at Irishtown. The Reds were hoping to create a ‘miniature Wembley’ which would be equipped with a running track, but this left no finance available for a covered stand to provide shelter from the wind and rain. This lack of cover ultimately proved to be the downfall of Irishtown, while Tolka Park thrived and Shels would eventually only play one season in their Irishtown stadium in 1955/6, before becoming tenants in Drumcondra once again.


tolkaPart2aThe lights became a useful marketing feature as evidenced by the Evening Herald advertisement for the meeting of Drums and St. Pat’s in the LOI shield on Oct 2nd ,1953, which was billed as “Ireland’s First Competitive Floodlit Game”. It worked too, as the crowd was considered “splendid” for an early season fixture. Further exhibition games followed in October with Celtic inflicting the first defeat under lights on a foggy evening that tested the limits of the illumination. Two weeks later, a star-studded Vienna Wacker side would also defeat their hosts, but crowds of 10,000 for mid-week games made the home side the real winner, even with a guarantee of £1,000 needed to tempt the Austrians.


That month Tolka Park staged the first junior floodlit game between Belgrove and Home Farm. It seemed inevitable that the League of Ireland would soon see regular games under lights. There was no formal objection from the FAI council, however their blessing included the provision that neither side objected to the lights being used. Fearing the lights provided the home side an advantage, few teams were willing to take the risk. The first partially lit floodlit game did not take place until the 7th of April 1954, when a Drums side in contention for the double used the artificial light to help relieve some fixture congestion. Their compliant opponents? Dundalk. Shortly afterwards the new owners were rewarded for their efforts, with victory in the FAI Cup securing the first silverware.


Evidence of the first permanent, covered dugouts can be seen late in 1954, positioned in front of the, then partially complete, main stand, just as they are now. However, it was never going to be all straightforward and much of the progress made was in danger of being completely wiped out when the Tolka river burst its banks on the night of Wednesday December 8th, 1954. Flood waters raged through Drumcondra, Ballybough and North Strand. A top of the table clash between Shelbourne and Drumcondra was scheduled for Sunday, but on Thursday evening it still wasn’t even possible to assess the damage. When they were finally able to return, the Proles found the pitch under approximately 8 feet of water and some of the terracing at the Ballybough end washed away. An estimated £400 of damage had been caused. The secretary of the league had stated on Friday evening that it seemed unlikely the ground would be playable for at least a fortnight.


However, by Saturday Sam Prole confidently announced the pitch would be ready for the followingtolkaPart2b day. His son Royden with other staff & local volunteers got straight to work, taking a sledgehammer to a further two walls to help the floodwaters to recede and pumping the remaining water. Robert Prole recalls how the residents of Richmond Road were grateful for Tolka Park’s presence, which spared their homes from total ruin. As late as 3 hours before kick-off, the game was in jeopardy but passed the referee’s inspection and the match went ahead. It was even noted that the pitch was in better condition than it had been for some time! The remarkable drainage assisted by the cinder foundation used when the ground was originally laid. It was an incredible achievement to even stage the game, and the crowd got to witness a magnificent comeback from the Reds, as they came back to win from 2 nil down to win with 3 goals in the final 11 minutes.


In 1955, the entrance at the Ballybough End was widened and with the acquisition of the adjoining garden from 110 Richmond Road, a rough banking created at that end for additional capacity. This was at least partly funded by the proceeds of a game between an All-Ireland side and England that took place in Dalymount Park in May to benefit the Tolka Park Improvements Fund. In November a new plan for Tolka Park was announced. Citing the ground’s capacity as 25,000, national newspapers reported the proposal to develop a sports arena with room for a further 10,000. This was to be achieved by the building of a new, covered stand at the Ballybough End. The idea was at an advanced enough stage to warrant a visit by a delegation from Dublin Corporation, led by the Lord Mayor, to the projected site of the new stand. Chairman Prole said “We hope to make the Park an up-to-date arena with gymnasium attached. The extent of the improvements will depend on the amount of public support we get.” Just a week later planning permission was granted.


One of the more unusual abandonments in the league’s history took place at Tolka Park on New Year’s Day 1956. Drums and Sligo were tied at 1-1 with just a couple of minutes remaining when the visitors scored what looked like the winning goal. The home side had time for one last attack, and when referee T. Mullen spotted what he considered a hand ball awarded a second penalty of the game to Drumcondra. Some of the crowd, already riled by several contentious decisions, poured on to the pitch, but the unique nature of this protest was its non-violence. The hordes simply packed into the Sligo goal and enveloped the ref so the kick could not be taken. When it became clear that they had no intention to leave the pitch Mullen abandoned the game and received a Garda escort to the pavilion. The one brief moment of aggression coming when a stone was thrown through the window of the home side’s dressing room.


By the middle of the decade Drums had yet to re-emerge as title contenders under the Proles but were in the midst of establishing the great rivalry of the era with Shamrock Rovers. A bumper crowd could be expected whenever the two sides met, even in lesser competitions such as the Dublin City Cup, or Leinster Senior Cup. In the 1956/57 season, Drums would finish runners up in the league to their southside rivals, but would claim the FAI Cup. No sooner had the season ended when the next phase of development began at Tolka Park. In late May 1957 the old pavilion was torn down to make way for an extension to the covered stand on the Richmond Road side. The steps and pathways were levelled to provide better access to the upper reaches of the stand and new dressing rooms were added beneath. At the same time a large bank was built at the Ballybough end creating further capacity behind the small terrace there. Further turnstiles were again installed at this end to cater for the increased numbers. As part of the “Prole Blueprint” the banking at this end was to be a temporary measure as the intention was to create another covered stand here which would replace the riverside as the popular side.


1958 saw another first as Tolka Park was the venue for the inaugural all-ticket match to be played in the League of Ireland. The Dublin derby between Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers was sure to attract a large crowd, but preparations were completely insufficient for the numbers that arrived. The official attendance was just over 19,000, however those without tickets simply tore through the fencing. By kick-off the numbers were so great they reached beyond the stands, over the wall that surrounded the perimeter of the pitch, and right to the touchlines. The game could have been called off there and then, but referee Sgt. Cannon pressed ahead.


The home side were 2-1 down and, as it was in the days before substitutes were allowed, a man down due to an earlier injury. With 25 minutes left the Drumcondra goalkeeper Kelly clashed with the Rovers attacker Hamilton. The referee was about to make a decision, some say to award a penalty, others a corner, when a number of supporters encroached onto the pitch to remonstrate. What was a trickle quickly became a flood and the Garda presence was quickly overwhelmed. Drumcondra chairman Royden Prole intervened to clear the pitch. It was reported that he “heaved a number of youngsters to the touchline” before he too was then attacked by the mob and had to be rescued by the Gardai. This distraction had provided the referee the opportunity to make his escape. The match was subsequently abandoned, leading spectators to chant for their money back.


The incident was thought to be the end of any hope for the Leinster Senior Cup Final replay between the two sides, which was to be played under floodlights the following week. That game did eventually go ahead as scheduled in the evening, albeit with a larger Garda presence and the crowd limited to what was probably a truer reflection of the ground’s capacity; 16,500. The points for the league game were subsequently awarded to Rovers, but despite losing out to the Hoops in three cup finals that season, the league trophy would return to Tolka Park.


Winning the league brought the prospect of European football for Tolka Park as early as 1958, however when the draw paired Drumcondra with Atletico Madrid, it was clear that the venue would be inadequate and so the fixture was instead played at Dalymount. Economic realities meant that larger games were occasionally moved to the Phibsborough venue in search of a £1000 “gate”. Nevertheless, that same year international football would arrive in Tolka Park. A visiting South African side were keen to legitimise the white-only Football Association of Southern Africa which had been controversially admitted by FIFA that year. Touring in Europe and the U.K. they sought games against national sides that would be recorded as full internationals, such as their game against an Irish FA side in Belfast. The FAI were clear in promoting it that the meeting at Tolka Park was a “B” international, still a crowd of 19,000 packed in to see a 1-0 win for the home nation.


In 1959 Tolka Park could add another couple of sports to diverse list of activities that enthralled Dublin audiences. The fabled Harlem Globetrotters played two games on May 31st, 1959. A specially sprung court was imported from Australia for the event which saw the likes of Bob “Showboat” Hall and Joe Buckhalter demonstrating the wizardry and buffoonery that the ‘Trotters’ are famed for. Their patsies on this occasion were a San Francisco based side of Chinese-Americans; The Basketeers. The afternoon game finished 58-51 to the Globetrotters. The star of the show was Harlem’s Meadowlark Lemon, who at one point broke away, and seeing the goalposts still standing, in a typical Globetrotters routine continued off the court and kicked the ball through the posts, in process surely becoming the only member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to “score” a goal in Tolka Park.


A full programme of entertainment was planned with a junior basketball match between sides from Dublin and Kilkenny, acrobats, unicyclists and other balancing acts. Perhaps most unusual of all were table-tennis games between former world champions Richard Bergman and “Cannonball” Fujii, which were “thoroughly enjoyed” by the crowd despite almost being spoiled by strong winds. Unfortunately, the weather continued to worsen, and the evening game had to be curtailed due to rain. The second basketball match was abandoned after the 3rd quarter, with the favourites leading 46-37. The attendance was disappointing, though some estimates put it as high as 15,000. Perhaps the rest of the audience was waiting for them at the Matt Talbot Hall where a concert would take place after the game, the Globetrotters having placed an advertisement in the previous day’s Evening Herald asking for ‘Tall Girls’ to join them there!


As the 1950s drew to a close the supporters and owners at Tolka Park could be pleased. Comfort for spectators and players had improved immeasurably, with a blueprint in place for future expansion. Although funds were still tight, the sale of Alan Kelly to Preston in 1958 was enough to fund the team for a year or two. In another innovation, the ground was the first in the league to utilize pitchside advertising. The first ads appeared either side of the goals in 1958 and by the end of the decade space on the halfway line would remind thirsty supporters that Guinness was good for them. Although restrained by capacity, Tolka Park had led the way in pioneering changes that would forever alter how sport was enjoyed in Dublin and beyond.

Tolka Park: A History- Part 1

The following article originally appeared in RI66, last June. Part 2 will feature in RI67 available at the end of this month. In the meantime, enjoy Part 1 here

Tolka Park: A History- Part 1

Just alotolka parkng from Drumcondra Bridge, on a bend in the river where today the faded facade of a football stadium remains, there was once a residence called Trout Lodge. The name evokes a time when the river flowed fast and was more abundant with life.

Soon the bulldozers will come for the stands and terraces, what life remains within condemned to history. The record of a stadium on maps will, for future generations, be a curiosity, providing a hint of almost a century of sport and entertainment enjoyed there.

Its story begins with the founding of Drumcondra FC in 1924, though there had previously been other Drumcondra teams which had disbanded. The location carries echoes of some of the earliest football in Ireland. In the late 19th century, Larry Sheridan was among those who formed the Drumcondra-Botanic club at a meeting on the waterfront where the Riverside stand rises today. He would go on to become an influential figure in the Leinster Football association and the FAI.

There would follow another incarnation of Drumcondra in the early part of the 20th century. The Richmond Road itself was something of a hotbed for football, with several teams already based out of the many playing fields there, including Frankfort who were founding members of the League of Ireland in 1921.

Despite the failures of previous such clubs, the founders of Drumcondra; Tom Cribben, Tom Johnston, George Ollis, Christy Purcell and Andy Quinn, were hugely ambitious for their side. They identified a patch of land, close to the Drumcondra tram stop as ideal for their club’s new home. They would be far from the last men with grand dreams to be seduced by this location. The grounds would become known as Tolka Park, though it would be as late as 1926 before this moniker was commonplace in newspaper reports.

Tolka’s fortunes were closely intertwined with the successes and failures of the clubs who came to call it home through the years. Drumcondra, though a newly formed side, were immediately accepted into the Leinster Senior League Division 1. They would finish runners-up in their inaugural season and repeat this placing the following year. It seemed Drums were in prime position to be admitted to the League of Ireland’s Free State League and applied at the first opportunity, when the retirement of Pioneers created a vacancy in 1926.

By this time Tolka Park already had a pavilion and, in preparation for top tier football, an enclosure was added around this. The pitch was levelled by steamroller and embankments created for spectators where possible. Their efforts were in vain as instead, Dundalk were elected to the League of Ireland. Undeterred, within months of this rejection further improvements were made. These included the addition of hot and cold baths to the pavilion and the press noted the club’s efforts in looking after both spectators and players. It was around this time that the first advertisements for games at the venue – with admission prices of 1s & 6d – appear in the evening newspapers.

In 1927, success in winning the Free State Cup (the forerunner of the FAI Cup) as a “second grade” side and Leinster Cup pressed their case further. En route to a second cup final in succession in 1928, a record crowd of approximately 10,000 passed through the turnstiles for a game against Bray Unknowns. Though they would lose the final against Bohemians, Drumcondra’s claim to a place at the top table could no longer be ignored. In June 1928, they were duly elected to the Free State League and on August 26th of that year a large crowd witnessed a 1-1 draw between Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers in Tolka’s first League of Ireland match.

The rising popularity of the venue was evident with a letter to the Evening Herald in the name of “Safety First” noting the need for upgrades to the footpath along the football ground side of the Richmond Road due to the increasing traffic.

Up to this point the top games in Dublin had been the preserve of Shelbourne Park and Dalymount Park. Important matches like the Free State Cup semi-finals had been always been fixed for these venues as they were the only grounds with adequate capacity. However, early in 1929, a dispute arose between the clubs and the FAI about gate receipts. Shelbourne and Bohemians asked for 10% of the gate, but the association were only prepared to offer 7.5% With neither side prepared to back down, the decision was taken to move the game between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers to Tolka Park barely 48 hours before kick-off.

The late change of venue was problematic enough, but just a week earlier 13 spectators had been injured at Tolka Park. Wire fencing at one end of the ground collapsed, unable to support the weight of the 100 or so youths using it as vantage point to watch a game against Shelbourne which was already above capacity. Tolka’s capacity at this time was estimated at 10,000 – 12,00, less than half of the Ringsend and Phibsboro venues and considered far too small for the anticipated turnout, with the lack of a covered stand being a further drawback.  For the semi-final itself, many stayed away due to the fear of overcrowding and a boycott by members of Bohemians and Shelbourne. This resulted in reducing takings at the gate of just £300, far less than the £1600 the previous year’s final had generated.

It was clear that, despite the rapid improvements, further development would be needed to meet the growing attraction of football at Drumcondra’s home and to establish the ground as an equal of other Dublin venues. The challenge of such growth in its residential location was spelled out in yet another letter to the Evening Herald, lamenting the difficulties caused to locals by badly parked vehicles, inadequate policing, and spectators trying to gain access without paying via gardens. A first step was taken later in 1929, with the formation of a new public company; Drumcondra Football Club. This allowed the club to take on the debt necessary to upgrade the grounds and create a more professional setup.

The 1931-32 season was pivotal in laying the foundations for football as enjoyed in Tolka Park today. Drumcondra were among the first to experiment with Friday evening games in the early part of the season, while daylight allowed. It was certainly a change from afternoon games during the Winter in the 1920s which had to be shortened to 30 minutes a half due to bad light. The late summer evening exhibition games were reported to be popular with spectators and generated large attendances and profits which would be crucial for the largest building project at the ground yet.

In January 1932 excavations began on the river side of the ground. A covered stand was finally built. Like Noah’s Ark, it’s dimensions are faithfully recorded. The Irish Independent reported it would measure 160 feet long and 46 ft. 6 in. wide, with a covered frontage of 14ft. The estimated capacity of the stand was 5,000 but within a few years, it was reported that it held as many as 8,000. The pitch was also widened by 5 yards with plans to further lengthen it also.

The record attendance swelled first to 16,000. Then in 1935, with additional terracing in the Riverside stand and Richmond Road enclosure, and as many as 12 turnstiles in operation helped create a new record attendance of 18,000 for a cup semi-final, where despite the new facilities, numbers behind each of the goals were so great that the fencing was broken by the volume of the crowd. Photos from this era show a stand that is as recognisable to anyone who has seen the league’s newest sides like Cabinteely or Wexford Youths at Tolka as it would be to those who witnessed that semi-final between Drumcondra and Dolphin.

It wasn’t just football that drew crowds to Tolka Park. Almost from its earliest days it has been what is described in modern parlance as a multi-purpose arena. From 1929 it was a boxing venue with open air bouts fought every few years. In 1934 it hosted a contest for the national lightweight title. Probably the earliest footage of the ground is of the respected American heavyweight Tony Shucco defeating the great Irish hope Dom Lydon in 1938. For most of the next decade a boxing card would be a fixture of the summer, with the Drumcondra chairman even acting as promoter and the football club itself putting up the purse.

The most notorious fight at the Drumcondra venue during this era did not take place within the boxing ring. In March 1942, a “riot” broke out between two rival gangs, swiftly dubbed by newspapers as the “Battle of Tolka Park”. It happened during the semi-final of the Junior Combination Cup between St. Stephen’s and Mountview. The teams and Football Association were keen to point out the violence was not related to football. Nevertheless, the events that took place that day are be extraordinary enough as to be worth retelling even now.

The two gangs involved were the “Ash Street Gang” and the “Stafford Street Gang”. It was suggested in court that if the clash was not pre-arranged it was certainly expected, with weapons drawn on both sides. The Ash Street Gang had arrived at the match and reportedly entered without any of them paying admission. The Stafford Street Gang commandeered a flotilla of boats and rowed up the Tolka, mooring the boats near the Ballybough end. After fording the river, they scaled the boundary partition and attacked their rivals.

Players and spectators quickly fled and later witnesses described seeing knives, swords, crowbars and bayonets, as well as corner flags and bricks being adapted for combat. One participant was being treated for head injuries in the pavilion when two men climbed through a window to finish him off, only being prevented from doing so by some of the players who were attending to him. Another antagonist was rescued after being thrown over the wall into the river. Unsurprisingly the match was quickly abandoned, but the clash continued and spilled on to the road outside. Ultimately ten young men were arrested and tried. Nine of them were found guilty and given sentences of between 6 and 18 months.

The entertainment on offer at Tolka Park went beyond sports, marking it as a venue of wider cultural importance for Dublin. In 1931, a programme of music and dance took place there as part of Wolfe Tone Week. A charity fête in 1933 featured such diverse events as a story-telling contest and a fairy cycle race. Long before floodlights arrived, there were illuminations of a different sort during the Tolka Park Carnival in 1937. Attractions included Dodgems, a Ghost Train and Donkey Rides. You could also have your palm read or take a motorboat ride on the river. Music and dance were catered for with acts such as Charlie Nutty’s A1 Combination playing the “Big Ballroom” and a ceilidh in the hall that had both been specially set up for the occasion.

Even animals graced its hallowed turf. As part of that 1937 carnival the “All Sorts of Dogs Show” took place, awarding prizes to the “Dog That Can Wag Tail Fastest” and “Nicest White Dog”. Dog shows continued to grow in popularity throughout the forties and by the middle of the decade a record 925 entries competed in the Combined Canine Club’s contest at Tolka Park. The Jeserich circus brought with it Horses, Bears and Lions while Reco Bros featured crocodiles and pythons.

These events were as practical as they were entertaining, ensuring the grounds were in continuous use, even outside the football season. The Hunter family, who owned the club at this time, were successful contractors, providing many Drumcondra players with employment, but the economic reality of 1930s Ireland followed by the lack of resources during the years of the second world war made further development of the ground fitful and incremental. The completion of terracing for the Riverside stand by 1938 meant that the focus was now on erecting the ‘reserved’ stand on the Richmond Road side, but an application to the FAI for a loan to complete these works in 1939 and again in 1940 was rejected on the grounds of “the precarious state of football today.”

By the end of the 1940s the Hunters had succeeded in developing the stadium to be one of the premier venues in Dublin and finally achieved the club’s dream of winning the League of Ireland, bringing the trophy home to Tolka for the first time in 1947/48 and retaining their title in 1948/49. Success on the pitch made the club an attractive proposition and the stage was now set for the next great era in Tolka’s history.

Red Inc. 59 on sale this Saturday

Red Inc. Issue 59 will be on sale Saturday night at the Waterford United game, outside the ground, from 7 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at the potential effect of Dundalk’s Euro success, focuses on the latest on Dalymount, RI FactCheck, a look back on the Doherty era, a feature on a Red at Euro 2016 and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a special 36 page end-of-season special edition, all for a mere €2.


Reds Independent

Red Inc. 58 on sale this Friday

Red Inc. Issue 58 will be on sale Friday night at the Cobh Ramblers game, outside the ground, from 6.20 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at Red identity, a review of up and coming Dublin band Oski Bravo’s debut single, a focus on the return of begging bowl season, we catch up with the affairs of our former Euro opponents and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a special 32 page edition, all for a mere €2.


Reds Independent


Red Inc. 57 on sale this Friday

Red Inc. Issue 57 will be on sale Friday night at the Athlone Town game, outside the ground, from 7 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue contains a look at Doc’s tactics, a review of Chris Sands’ new book, an examination of declining attendances, the return of Gah season and all your usual favourites as well as a whole lot more.

It is a special 36 page Cup Final 96 commemoration edition, all for a mere €2.


Reds Independent

RI54- on sale this Friday

Red Inc. Issue 54 will be on sale Friday night at the Wexford Youths game, outside the ground, from 6.45 pm up til kick off, and again outside Tolka at full time.

This month’s issue features an interview with Eoin Brennan on his excellent Ollie Byrne documentary, a look at fan ownership, the Reds on Periscope, FC Seoul, the second part of Ian Cusack’s article, as well as a whole lot more.

It is a 28 page edition, for a mere €2.


Reds Independent

RI 54

RI54 is currently being compiled, and will be out at the end of July for the Wexford game. As always we are looking for your articles, opinions, letters, ideas, pictures, cartoons, piss-takes and anything else that is vaguely (or not!) relating to the Reds, LoI, football or anything in general.

If you have an article or piece you would like to submit please send it to:
redsindependent {at} gmail.com

The deadline for contributions is 25 July, so get writing now!