​​​Shelbourne’s Man in the Hat – From Curlew Road to Camp Nou

With his right arm raised and his left tightly holding the reins of his mount, Josep Vildamont stood in front of the Caudillo on horseback wearing full military uniform. It was 1963 and as a Liverpudlian foursome exploded onto the music scene with their debut album ‘Please Please Me,’ the first statue of dictator Francisco Franco was ready to be unveiled in Barcelona. It would take centre stage in the grounds of the Castle of Montjuic.

In January 1939, nearly a quarter of a century earlier, the city had been captured by the Nationalists led by General Franco and between the 21st and the 25th days of that month, Barcelona was bombed forty times daily. The attacks were carried out by Hitler’s Condor Legion and only a year earlier Mussolini’s Aviazione Legionaria had killed thirteen hundred civilians and injured two thousand more in the city. It was the first aerial carpet bombing in history.

Amongst the rubble-strewn city lay the F.C. Barcelona clubhouse, and the club’s then Irish manager Patrick O’Connell would sift through the ruins on hands and knees salvaging what he could. Only a year earlier the staff of F.C. Barcelona had played exhibition matches in Mexico and New York, the Tour of Salvation following the assassination of club president Josep Sunyol in 1936 would keep the Blaugrana alive.

By February of 1939, thousands of Republicans were fleeing for the sanctuary of France: men, women and children would cross the Alps in the snow as all around them chaos reigned and roads were blown up. Ten thousand people would be murdered, four thousand Republicans alone would be killed in the Castle of Montjuic and there would be no more ‘Red’ in Barcelona apart from the spilled blood.

F.C. Barcelona would become Club de Futbol Barcelona as the authorities took over the club, and Barca would play its first match after the war on the 29th of June 1939 at Les Corts. The occasion would be overseen by the military as speeches on the day proclaimed the club would no longer be a vehicle for anti-Spanish sentiment.

Within eighteen years of the Spanish Civil War ending, the Archbishop of Barcelona was blessing the new Estadi del Barcelona. Centre stage stood a huge statue of the Virgin of Montserrat while the crowd sang Handel’s Hallelujah; that afternoon eleven thousand doves were set free into the air. The stadium name never took off and the locals christened it instead ‘Camp Nou’ – the new ground.

In that year of 1963, as Franco was being immortalised on former enemy soil, Gerry Doyle donned a tracksuit and set foot onto the hallowed turf of the ‘Cathedral of Football’. Doyle picked up a ball and started to perform keepie-uppies as the cameras flashed and the local media watched on curiously. Him and his Shelbourne players including great names like Heavey, Dunne, Strahan, Hennesey and Wilson went into folklore as the first Irish football club to play at Barcelona’s famous stadium.

Gerry Doyle

Doyle was born in 1911 and the Census taken that year proclaimed football -the garrison game – as the most popular sport in Dublin with its twenty-nine pitches in regular use in the Phoenix Park. Shelbourne competed in an All-Ireland format and that same year were Irish Cup champions, defeating Dublin rivals Bohemians 2-1 after a replay.

When it comes to football in Dublin Gerry Doyle was one of the main innovators – a great man’

John Giles

The Ireland under British Rule that Doyle was born into was starting to change. By August of 1913 the city’s tram drivers and conductors abandoned their vehicles and so began the great lockout led by ITGWU leader Jim Larkin. Within five days of the strike the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police would beat two workers to death and injure five hundred others. By the time that Gerry Doyle was five years of age and his homeland would change forever as the proclamation declaring a Republic was read out on the steps of the Dublin GPO. The British Army would eventually leave the streets of Dublin, but Ireland would be partitioned as he celebrated his tenth birthday.

Camp Nou opened around the same time as Doyle took over the managerial reins at Shelbourne and the papers would soon be drooling over his youth policy – his young talent nicknamed ‘Doyles Ducklings’. This was an era of Shamrock Rovers domination with Shelbourne finishing in mid-table during Doyle’s first season in charge. The versatile centre forward Dessie Glynn could score and create goals, and he notched a dozen for Doyle that season. Glynn would sadly retire from the game in 1958 after spending nine months in hospital with tuberculosis.

Within two years the manager’s belief in youth was to come to fruition as Shelbourne won the 1959 FAI Youth Cup with a team that featured Tony Dunne, a player who would go on to taste European Cup glory with Manchester United at Wembley less than a decade later. Another talented youngster was eighteen-year-old John ‘Jackie’ Hennessy who, as a sixteen-year-old boy took the boat with John Giles to Manchester but didn’t settle.

Tony Dunne, 1968

Joe Wilson from Crumlin was a year older than Hennessy and Doyle signed him up at the cost of £200 and a washing machine, which his mother was delighted with. Wilson would sign for Derry City years later and travel with the Miami Showband on occasion – three members of the band travelling along the A1 would be assassinated by the outlawed loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force in 1975 on their way home to Dublin.

Doyle always felt youngsters from the League of Ireland were sold on the cheap to English clubs, so Dunne landed at Old Trafford for the then princely sum of £5,000. For every future star who crossed the Irish Sea, most like Hennessy would suffer from home sickness in digs far from home.The shrewd Gerry Doyle turned Dunne from a wannabe centre forward to full back, utilising his pace and superb heading ability in the defensive position. Matt Busby reflected many years later that Dunne was one of his greatest signings, Bobby Charlton stated he was the best left back in Europe for more than a decade.

Drimnagh where Gerry Doyle lived was full of families with young kids, he came to the fore with Father Griffith in starting local street leagues, youngsters like Dermot Curtis who would don the green of Ireland and George Cummins who would play for Luton Town in the 1959 FA Cup Final were turned into diamondsOut of the leagues Doyle would setup local youth team St. Finbarrs football club, his success would lead him to Shelbourne. The ‘Barrs’ jerseys would be washed in the only washing machine on the road and hang proudly in the back garden; Doyle worked for Hoover.

Gerry Doyle broke the mould by ridding the club of the outdated committee men who chose the team: he was the manager, and they would do things his way and his way only. His methods paid dividends though and on the 24th of April 1960 the FAI Cup was won as his young charges swept aside Cork Hibernians at Dalymount Park. The legendary Charles Patrick Tully was then plying his trade in Cork and in a show of true sportsmanship, the man from the lower Falls Road would be snapped with the winning Shelbourne team in the victors dressing room.

Shelbourne 1960

Sadly for Doyle and his young charges, the club was not invited to play in the inaugural European Cup Winners Cup for the 1960/61 season. The European area would have to wait a little longer. Progress continued apace at the club however and on the 2nd of May 1962 Doyle led out his charges at Dalymount Park for the League championship play off with Cork Celtic. Both teams had finished on thirty-five points from their twenty-two games, so with goal difference exempt the two sides would play off for the title.

Ben Hannigan of East Wall would score the only goal for the ‘Reds’ leading to the league championship trophy being paraded down the Curlew Road. Also in the team that day was Tommy Carroll, a debutant debut under Doyle as a fifteen-year-old who would go on to win the second division title with Ipswich Town under Bill McGarry.

The victory would mean Shelbourne would take part in the eighth edition of the European Cup where they would be pitted against Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon. It was a baptism of fire for Doyle’s ‘ducklings’: Joao Morais opened the scoring in the first leg in Dublin and Shelbourne eventually succumbed to a 7-1 aggregate defeat. Morais would infamously play at the 1966 World Cup and be remembered for his lunging tackles on Pelé in Portugal’s second game at Goodison Park, bad fouls that were mostly ignored by referee George McCabe.

Doyle and Shelbourne were robbed of a domestic double in 1962 when three of the team’s key players travelled on a League of Ireland representative tour to Italy and fell sick from vaccinations. Already champions, Shels faced Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup Final and went into the game as firm favourites having beaten their opponents 6-2 in the League just nine days earlier. 

However Shamrock Rovers comfortably won the final 4-1 with the Reds consolation goal coming from Eric Barber – another member of the 1959 youth cup winning team who would go on to net a club record of 126 goals for Shelbourne. A year later Doyle’s team were back in another final and this occasion brought a happier outcome with Cork Hibernians defeated 2-0. So followed entry to the Cup Winners Cup and that appointment at the Camp Nou.

The competition draws in those days distinctly lacked the glamour we associate with them today: no balls in drums, no glamour models nor television cameras in attendance. Defender Freddie Strahan only found out as he walked down the street to get his morning paper: ‘you’ve been drawn against Barcelona…’ came the shout from a passer by. In the paper that day Strahan read like many others in Dublin ‘Shelbourne draw Barcelona’ with the first game set for Dalymount Park on the 24th of September.

The adaptable first-teamer Jackie Hennessy remembers that night well. His works manager had more of a fondness for Irish sports than football and delayed the young buck’s departure from his day job. Gerry Doyle paced up and down the dressing room awaiting his player’s arrival which came with just thirty minutes to spare before kick off. Outside there was pandemonium as the gates were knocked down by a huge crowd determined to see the Catalan giants.

Shelbourne played like men possessed, defending for their lives while also coming close to scoring with chances falling to Wilson and Hennessy. Fitness would eventually tell as the part-timers succumbed to a two goal defeat with Chus Pereda scoring the second goal for the visitors. Pereda would help Spain win the 1964 European Championships by scoring in the semi-final against Hungary and following that up with a goal in the final against the Soviet Union.

On the evening of the 15th of October 1963, Theo Dunne stood in the centre circle of Camp Nou and presented Barcelona captain Joan Segarra with a Shelbourne pennant before the kick-off of the second leg. With twenty-nine minutes on the clock, Shelbourne’s Joe Wilson was sent tumbling in the opposition’s penalty area by Uruguayan fullback Julio Cesar Benitéz. Italian referee Concetto La Bella blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. 

Defender Patrick Bonham placed the ball and kept his cool amidst the jeering from the home fans to slot past goalkeeper Pesudo. On the touchline Gerry Doyle smiled across at his counterpart César Rodríguez Álvarez – a former Barca playing legend and now coach – as the young Irish upstarts halved the aggregate deficit.

Shelbourne’s lead would only last seven minutes as Sandór Koscis, a member of Hungary’s ‘Mighty Magyars’ team, equalised and further goals by captain Fúste and the Paraguayan Ré meant Doyle’s side lost 3-1 on the night.

Sadly none of the players swapped shirts as they had been firmly reminded that they had a game the following weekend and there was only one set of jerseys, so handshakes were the order of the day. As a side note, Julio Cesar Benitéz would tragically  pass away five years later from eating spoiled seafood which resulted in gastroenteritis and ultimately his death.

Gerry Doyle would depart Shelbourne in 1965 for Dundalk and then St. Patrick’s Athletic, but would subsequently return in 1967 and bring trophy success again with the League of Ireland Shield in 1971, which meant European qualification for the ‘Reds’ for Europe again.

He would be the only man in the club’s history to manage the club while also becoming chairman and president in later years. In 1990 he was an FAI guest at World Cup Italia 1990, sitting in the Stadio Olimpico watching his country play in the last eight of the competition against the hosts Italy. Sadly, less than six months later he would take his last breath on this earth.

If you take a walk down Harold’s Cross on Dublin’s south side today, you are sure to stumble across Doyles Hoover Centre where Glen Hansard filmed his scenes for the Oscar winning film ‘Once’. Inside you’ll find Gerry Jnr. and Fergus Doyle. Freddie Strahan is a customer and they still talk about those league titles, cup victories, European adventures and, of course, ‘the man in the hat’ – the inimitable Gerry Doyle.


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