My Team & I: Shamrock Rovers

By Amy Eustace

Twitter: @sidewaysdown

Why Shamrock Rovers?

You’d be surprised. I haven’t supported Shamrock Rovers for a very long time – at least not in football terms.  There are vast ranks of Rovers fans who have followed them (and when I say followed, I mean in every sense of the word) the ‘Hoops’ for decades. Rovers have shown, perhaps more than any Irish club, that a decade is an awful long time. A decade ago, Shamrock Rovers were homeless. The nomads of Irish football. Lost, stranded, betrayed, with a bleak and uncertain future. A decade ago, I would never have dreamed of supporting an Irish team.

I was just a kid back then, a kid for whom football was something that was always on in the background but not something I was quite tuned in to.  My mum, and the rest of my family, pointed me in the direction of football – and by extension, what my football allegiances were to be, and it was from my mum I inherited my love of Liverpool. The League of Ireland didn’t feature on their radars, therefore it didn’t on mine, but maybe it would have if the area I grew up in had any tangible League of Ireland presence.

My home town, has spawned Ireland internationals such as Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Keith Fahey, but surprisingly enough, it’s never really had a representative football club competing in Ireland’s top division. A shame, to be honest. Tallaght’s youth had posters of David Beckham and Steven Gerrard on their walls, not the sort of lads that played non professionally in places as close as Inchicore and Belfield.

Back then I never heard of Rovers’ plight, though the name rang bells. I didn’t know that they had lost their home when their owners had short-sightedly sold their ground to property developers without putting any plans in place for a replacement. I didn’t know that they moved from ground to ground, that for them in essence every match was an away match. A decade ago, a representative from the club came to my school and told the class that Rovers were moving into a nearby green field site, where the foundations of a stadium had begun to take shape. We were encouraged to design a new crest and mascot, in the hopes of winning free lifetime access to this new ground.

But it was seven years before the stadium would finally be finished. For the record, we never did find out who won the competition.

Rovers’ struggles to secure Tallaght as its adopted home once and for all would fill the pages of local papers for the years to follow. Shamrock Rovers sunk into debt. The club was in examinership by 2005, suffered a points reduction, then relegation. In July of that year, a group of 400 supporters won a legal battle to own the club, and so began a tough process of dragging Rovers back to where they belonged.  Indeed Rovers had been Ireland’s most successful team before its nomadic years. And soon it would be there again. Rovers arrived in their new home in 2009. Two years ago. At the time, I was near the end of secondary school. Around me, there were the faintest signs of change. Boys in my class who had long been die-hard Manchester United fans had not only begun to attend Rovers matches in the new, impressive stadium, but were also lining out for Rovers’ schoolboy side. That summer, as a reward for helping out with state exams, I got free tickets to a match from my school.

I never expected to be as affected by Rovers as I was. Brought up on a strict diet of Liverpool (with the only domestic influence being the Irish national team), I was set in my ways, attached to English football in a way that never seemed wrong or unpatriotic in any sense. Associating with life long, die hard Rovers supporters and some gentle prodding made me see sense. My fondness for Rovers grew at an alarming rate.

The piece de resistance of Rovers’ debut season in Tallaght saw Cristiano Ronaldo make his first appearance in Real Madrid’s white with the Wicklow mountains as his backdrop. Real Madrid’s friendly encounter with Rovers brought Sky Sports cameras to town;  the event was a sell-out. The year ended with a remarkable second place finish for Michael O’Neill’s Rovers. By then, some of the kids of Tallaght now had posters of Gary Twigg alongside Messi and Torres. That was probably one of the Hoops greatest achievements.

I became a season ticket holder last year. I was there when Juventus came to town for a Europa League qualifier. I was in the seaside town of Bray when Rovers won the league with a 2-2 draw on goal difference, for the first time in many, many years. For me, it was a turning point in my football education. Liverpool hadn’t won the league in my lifetime, but here I was, a half hour drive from my house, watching my local team taste that kind of success. I wondered why it had taken so long to realise what was right under my nose.

In retrospect, it was never quite under my nose. Rovers’ lack of a home did little to encourage the growth of a young fan base in those darker days. Inchicore, home of Dublin rivals St. Patrick’s Athletic, was nearby but not close enough to inspire the kind of connection I only struck up when League of Ireland football  became part of my local landscape. Rovers’ move to Tallaght was very much the beginning of a symbiotic relationship. We had been crying out for our very own team. Meanwhile, Rovers had been starved of a place to call its own.

Almost three years on and there hasn’t been a moment I would change. Not that horrifically nerve wracking 90 minutes in Bray, or the 3-0 drubbing against Rubin Kazan the other week (well, maybe I would change that…), because while I may not have been ‘there’ for Rovers’ less remarkable years, I understand what every kick of the ball in Tallaght means to those who occasionally wondered if their team would ever have a home again. I understand that for a club who once teetered on the edge of extinction, playing Spurs in the Europa League is a massive achievement. Rovers have won a legion of new fans – a Tallaght generation – who aren’t always as clued in or worldly-wise as the more long in the tooth, but are no less passionate.

Favourite player?

Rovers fans have seen some legends back in the Glenmalure Park days, when Rovers had a home in the nearby area of Milltown. Ex-Leeds Johnny Giles, ex-Liverpool Jim Beglin and good old Eamonn Dunphy all plied their trade for Rovers at some point or another, but all those being well before my time, the class of 2009-2011 are more likely choices. And numerous players have endeared themselves to me over the past few seasons. It’s hard to ignore that star man, Glaswegian Gary Twigg, who scored his fiftieth goal for Rovers in last year’s end of season showdown at Bray. He may not look set to top the league’s scoring charts this season, but he did last year…and the year before that…and he’s achieved iconic status with Rovers fans, particularly for his penchant for scoring against Northside foes, Bohemians. Then there’s former Hearts man, another Scot, Craig Sives – a no nonsense central defender whose heroic display on that same night in Bray truly sealed his place in the history books. Enda Stevens, the Ireland U21 left-back, is bound for Villa Park in January, but has marked himself out as one to watch during his time at Rovers and will hopefully make a name for himself in the Premiership. This year, Conor McCormack, formerly on the books of Manchester United, has notched up impressive displays as a diligent defensive midfielder.

Favourite game?

Though I keep bringing it up, that night against Bray was the clearest example of ‘by the skin of their teeth’ I have ever witnessed, and I’d rather the lads spared me the heart attack in future. A 3-0 home win against Bohemians last season was characterised by a superb Twigg effort (and superb goading of the visiting fans, as ever). The penultimate game of last season saw Rovers beat Drogheda to hang on to a fighting chance of winning the league, but results coming in from other grounds, including the news that Bohemians had lost their match that night travelled quickly around the West Stand – sparking such hysteria that even the players seemed to be a bit unsettled. But this season, a win against Partizan Belgrade in the Serbian capital saw Rovers through to the group stages of the Europa League – the first Irish club in history to achieve the feat – in spectacular style, with a Pat Sullivan volley that will go down in Hoops lore, and I surely won’t forget that in a hurry.

Favourite kit?

In 2009 and 2010, Rovers’ away strip was a purple number that stands out in my memory as being the one we won our 16th league title in – 16 years since the last. Purple being an unusual shade for any football side, it could have gone hideously wrong, but memories like that – and playing Real Madrid in the same strip – make it that bit more special. There’s something vaguely pleasant about the mixture of purple and green…even if it does reek of Barney the dinosaur.

Worst thing about being a Shamrock Rovers fan?

There’s a popular Rovers chant that includes a melodious, “No one likes us, we don’t care!”. That may be true, but at the same time there’s something a tad unsettling about the extent of the bitterness and vitriol that gets directed Rovers’ way by other followers of the domestic game. It’s sad to think that there are League of Ireland fans who’d very much like to see Rovers fall off the face of the earth, as they came so close to doing not so long ago. Being universally hated grates on the nerves after a while. That and, while Rovers may currently boast the title of best in Ireland, we remain a long way off that next step – European competition is still daunting, and matches tend to evoke the gulf in class that one day will hopefully grow smaller.

Funniest moment?

Earlier in the year, someone on the local council had the nerve to suggest that one of the stands in Tallaght Stadium be named after the world’s most notable Tallaght native, childhood fan of every team in the world, Robbie Keane. Worth a chuckle, but provoked hysteria among Rovers fans. Just a few months before Keane had proclaimed his desire to manage Rovers at a later stage in his career…also worth a chuckle, and definitely worthy of mass panic.


One Response to “My Team & I: Shamrock Rovers”

  1. Massive game tonight for Shamrock Rovers against my mighty Spurs! 🙂

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