Q&A: A Fan For All Seasons

15th November 2023

Following the release of his book, A Fan For All Seasons: Memories of Irish Football, we caught up with Graham Howard to discuss his love of the SSE Airtricity League, writing a love letter of sorts to the domestic game, and the stories within its pa

Following the release of his book, A Fan For All Seasons: Memories of Irish Football, we caught up with Graham Howard to discuss his love of the SSE Airtricity League, writing a love letter of sorts to the domestic game, and the stories within its pages.   What encouraged you to start writing this book? My main reason for writing A Fan for All Seasons was to try capture the stories, characters and events of the League of Ireland since 1921 in to one collection. I was aware of a number of humours stories form the past as told to me by my father and thought it would be a good idea to get them down on paper and see what else was out there. I also feel that there has been a number of great players, such as Frank O’Neill and Glen Crowe, and occasions, like the League of Ireland XI beating the Football League at Dalymount, which could be recorded and shared. I hope that all League of Ireland fans, no matter who they support, will be able to enjoy the book and that the stories will bring back memories to older fans and give younger fans some tangible history for our league.   How do you explain the League to people who are unaware of it? For those who are unaware of the League, I point out that it is our local domestic league and has been running for nearly 100 years with a wealth of history, stories and achievements during this time. It is a great asset to the local community and has played a vital role in the encouragement and nurturing of many talented players who have gone on to play in World Cup Finals and European Championships and in different league’s around Europe. The League of Ireland has provided many moments of enjoyment to all fans over the years and through commentators, like the late Philip Greene of RTE, has given many quips and anecdotes to Irish Sport over the years.   What makes it the Greatest League in the World? Going to a game is a great way of experiencing all that the league has to offer. With the current quality of players on show it is a great chance to see the next Ireland star in action and the League of Ireland has been the starting point for a number of famous players who have gone on to play for Ireland. Added to that the League of Ireland is local and I think that this is a really important point for fans. Family and friends can go along to their local club and support their local players, giving them the support and encouragement that only locals can give, this I think, makes it the Greatest League in the World.   Do you have any particular favourite stories from the book? I have two favourite stories from the book. The first is a well-known tale about Mick O’Brien, who played in goal for Athlone Town. On two consecutive weekends Mick managed to break the crossbar by swinging from it during the game. In the first instance, Athlone were playing Finn Harps at Ballybofey and after tipping a shot over the bar he swung out of it and it collapsed. The following week, Mick and Athlone were once again playing Finn Harps, this time in a Cup semi-final at Oriel Park. Mick managed to break the crossbar again and Harps manager Patsy McGowan came on to the pitch to repair the damage. Things were not going too well for Athlone and Mick decided to test Patsy McGowan’s handiwork by climbing on to the crossbar. Down came the crossbar and net and enveloped Mick in the goal. The Harps fans were less than amused and so was the referee who sent Mick off. The final result ended with a five goal win for Harps and Athlone’s wait for another Cup would go on despite Mick’s valiant efforts for the Athlone cause. The second story came from Shamrock Rovers’ great cup team of the 60’s and their game with Bayern Munich in a 1966 Cup Winners Cup game. Rovers had drawn one all at Dalymount with Billy Dixon scoring for The Hoops. The return in Munich seemed to be going Bayern’s way as they raced in to a two goal lead by half time. However, The Hoops rallied and goals from Liam Tuohy and Bobby Gilbert had them back level and leading on the aggregate score line. It looked like Rovers would make it in to the quarterfinals of the competition for the first time. However, with just minutes to go, Gerd Muller stepped in to rescue Bayern and send The Hoops out. For me the tie showed the skill and competitive ability of our players and it took a world class player, and later World Cup winner, to swing the result for Bayern.   What was the most interesting new fact that you discovered during your research? An interesting fact I discovered was that St James’s Gate FC was started by the same man who founded St John’s Ambulance Ireland, Dr Sir John Lumsden. Lumsden was working at Guinness’s as a medical officer and had been keenly involved in improving the health of the workers. To this end he set up a sports committee to try reduce the high levels of TB amongst the workers. From this concern for health and well-being, emerged the club that would win the first League of Ireland championship. One other fact that I came across was that in the first three European matches to be held at Dalymount Park involving our clubs, over 100,000 spectators turned up to the games. This gave me a great indication of how excited the football public was by this new competition and their eagerness to see our clubs in action against the best Europe had to offer.   Is there a specific era that you are most intrigued by? I was particularly interested in the late 50’s to mid-60’s period which I covered in the chapter called ‘The Golden Era’. I think that the collection of players and the spread of talent around the clubs was probably only rivalled by today’s teams and showed the range of players on offer to fans each week. During this time there was a continual change in league champions and cup winners with just St Patrick’s Athletic retaining the championship and this showed that most clubs had the talent and teams capable of winning trophies. The competition was fierce and it took quality players to bring home silverware for their clubs. This period also signalled the high point for the Inter-League games and the League of Ireland XI. The quality of football in the league was brought to prominence on a number of occasions especially when the League of Ireland XI defeated the Football League in 1963 at Dalymount. That Football League side contained a number of players who would win the World Cup a few years later.   Who, in your opinion, is a character who sums the League up well? For me a character who sums up the League well would be Jim McLaughlin. Jim was a winner everywhere and brought great success to Dundalk, Rovers and his home town club, Derry City. Jim always portrayed a calm exterior and was at his best when preparing for European games. One story I came across demonstrates his commitment to his club and football in general. When he joined Dundalk he had been living in Wales at the time. He was unable to get a flight from Cardiff to Dublin so undertook driving to London, boarding a plane there and arriving in Dublin for the match just in time for kick-off. His journey time of nine hours to the game demonstrated League of Ireland commitment at its best.   What do you hope readers will gain from this book? I think that readers will enjoy the stories and that it will rekindle memories for all. I really hope that the book will serve as a repository for all that is good about the league and that the memories of players, characters and teams past will be remembered. We all have had great days with our clubs, and a number of tough days too, but I think that all fans have a special place for those players who thrilled them with their skill each week and kept them coming back for more.   Click here to get your copy of A Fan For All Seasons: Memories of Irish Football