Bohs set scene for their 2020 Euro return with historic retrospective

by Dave Donnelly

The Aciéries d’Angleur, diplomatic incidents and a wreath laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – just three of the more eventful moments in the storied European history of Bohemian FC.

They form the arc of a talk to be presented by Bohs historian, and fan, Gerard Farrell in partnership with DCC Libraries at the club’s Dalymount Park home next Saturday, December 7.

Farrell will present for the third year in a row, having previously spoken on striker Harold Sloan, who died fighting in World War One, and the shortlived ‘New York Bohemians’.

And while many fans of recent vintage will remember famous European nights like Aberdeen, Kaiserslautern or – whisper it – TNS, the club’s European pedigree dates back almost a century.

Some would be forgiven for thinking pan-European football started with the European Cup in 1955 – or even the start of the Champions League in 1992 – but there is a longer and richer history.

As Bohs prepare to return to Europe for the first time since 2012, it’s a fitting occasion to look back on Irish football’s lesser-known success on the continent.

“This was timely because I did some research on club tours to Belgium, France and Holland in the 1920s and 30s,” Farrell tells the Dublin Gazette.

“You had these madcap touring sides – you had everything from the crew of a German battleship to the first touring side to visit Britain and Ireland.

“After partition and the FAI split with the IFA, it was a way to promote football in the 26 counties.

“Quite literally, in some circumstances, you had Bohs playing in Belgium going on diplomatic missions.

“You had people in the Department of Foreign Affairs giving them flags and asking them to attend receptions or do things like lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels.

“You have an Irish team to smaller European tournaments with, in some cases, professional teams and actually winning them.”

With the Free State excluded from the Home Nations Championship – still viewed by the UK sides as the true pinnacle of international football – the FAI had to look to the continent for games.

Belgium had already visited Dalymount twice to face Ireland when League of Ireland champions Bohs were invited to the Aciéries d’Angleur invitational tournament in Liege.

A pre-tournament friendly began on a sour note as the team were greeted on the field by the Union Flag, much to their chagrin.

They would go on to beat both RFC Tilleur and Standard Liege to become the first Irish team to win a European trophy, and repeated the trick at Tournois de Pentecote in Paris three years later.

“Bohs in a few years won two European tournaments, one in Belgium and one in France, including against players who were French internationals.

“Even before the first European Cup, Real Madrid with Puskas and Di Stefano, there were different forms of European competitions and that ambition to look beyond your borders.

“Touring teams from South Africa, Peru, Chile, the United States coming to Ireland and also inviting Irish teams abroad. It’s an interesting social history and sporting history. The club have been very good at creating a sense of community, and part of the sense of community is the sense of history and the sense of place.”

** Bohs in Europe – the Early Years takes place in the Jackie Jameson Bar at Dalymount Park on Saturday, December 7. Admission is free but donations to the Bohemians Foundation are welcome.

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