Imagine… the League of Ireland is already known for not having that many people in the stadiums, with many people prefering to support either Celtic FC from Glasgow or an English club. Now the club in the League with the least fans of all was still the one selling more shirts than any other Irish club. Some shirts are probably worn still today in the streets of cities as far as New York, Sydney or Johannesburg. Impossible? Not really, Dublin City FC realised it.
The roots of Dublin City FC are attached to another more respected club from the Republic of Ireland: Home Farm FC. The club, who is amongst the most famous amateur clubs in Ireland and has produced many youth players who would move on to become professional players at other clubs, has played in the League of Ireland for some seasons until they decided to focus on amateur football alone. It was then the short but intense Dublin City FC saga began.
Let’s first look at Home Farm FC. The club was formally formed in 1928 due to a merger of two street football teams from the Drumcondra and Whitehall districts of North Dublin. The first season the club used the rather unusual combination of black and gold in their shirts, but in the second year of existance the blue-white hoops were adopted. These are still used today. The club has its home at Griffith Avenue, and would be a highly respected and succesful amateur outfit. Some of the players from their youth system would become full internationals for the Republic of Ireland, and some even made it to top clubs such as Manchester United. Liam Whelan, one of the players who died in the tragic Munich Air Disaster, was one of the many succesful players coming out of the ranks of Home Farm FC. The club’s senior team also booked a few successes: they won the FAI Intermediate Cup (not to be confused with the FAI Cup proper) three times in 1963, 1967 and 1968 and in 1964 they won the Leinster Senior Cup. Victim in that final was Dundalk FC, still a highly respected club in the Irish top division today. The under-14 squad made the Guiness Book of Records with 79 consecutive wins between 1968 and 1971.
In 1972 the club took the leap to League of Ireland football, temporarily leaving amateur football behind. A merger with Drumcondra FC, also from North Dublin and in high debts, lead to the formation of Home Farm Drumcondra which joined the League of Ireland and used Drumcondra’s Tolka Park (current home of Shelbourne FC) as home venue. Only 1 season later the club dropped the reference to Drumcondra FC and again adopted the name Home Farm FC. The club nonetheless remained amateur in practice. Drumcondra FC would later be reformed as an amateur league club and competes opposite of Tolka Park now in the Leinster Senior League, the same amateur league that Home Farm plays in nowadays. The original Drumcondra FC was also founded in 1928 like Home Farm and had won 5 Irish championships and 5 FAI Cups prior to the merger with Home Farm.
Back to the seventies. In 1975 Home Farm won its only silverware amongst the "big boys". They won the FAI Cup by beating Shelbourne FC at Dalymount Park. They were the first amateur team to win the FAI Cup in 40 years time and were rewarded a European Cup tie against French outfit RC Lens. A 1-1 draw in Dublin earned Home Farm much respect before being trashed 6-0 in the return in France.
The club remained producing fine players but was not succesful in itself. They played most seasons of their League of Ireland period in the second level, which is called First Division in Ireland. In 1995 a cooperation deal with English side Everton FC saw the club change names to Home Farm Everton. Under this name they promoted a last time to the top flight in Ireland in 1996. In 1999 the club disbanded the ties with Everton and called their League of Ireland days an end. They returned to amateur football as Home Farm FC and continue to play in the Leinster Senior League today.
In 1999 as well the story of the hated Dublin City FC began. Ronan Seery, the son of Home Farm FC co-founder Don Seery and then CEO within the club, did not support the return to amateur football and thanks to him Home Farm split in two: the club named Home Farm FC would play in the Leinster Senior League (and is still doing so today) while a split-off of the club took Home Farm’s license for League of Ireland football and continued to play in the League of Ireland as Home Farm Fingal (which has nothing to do with the present-day club Sporting Fingal). In 2001 Seery decided to rename the club Dublin City FC. He changed the colours of the club to the light blue-dark blue outfits similar to Dublin’s GAA teams, and adopted the city seal as logo for the new club. He announced that Dublin City FC was effectively a new club and not a continuation of the old Home Farm. However, rather than asking to be elected to enter the League of Ireland like all newly established clubs need to do, he continued to use the old license of Home Farm resulting in Dublin City entering the League of Ireland without the need to be elected. This fact, and the fact that Seery meanwhile remained saying that Dublin City was a totally new club, caused anger with football fans in the whole of Ireland who felt like Seery violated fairplay rules by bypassing the election process, thereby blocking some other clubs interested in joining the League of Ireland who would have participated in electrion procedures if it wasn’t for Dublin City bypassing these elections.
The club was never really a success on the pitch and was a yo-yo club between the highest and second level in Ireland. The club hardly had a 100 followers. Even in "home" games they were often outnumbered by visiting fans by far. The few fans they had shared the incredible amount of criticism the club received for the way they established themselves as a League of Ireland club. The fact that the club was not named after any area of Dublin and thus nobody felt emotionally attached to the team, did not help much to gain a support. Also, the club had to wander around the capital due to the lack of an own stadium. From Whitehall the club went on to groundshare with Shelbourne at Tolka Park, then on to Bohemians where they were able to rent Dalymount Park for their home games in their final (incomplete season). Possibly the club also used the RSD or Santry briefly as a home, although I am unsure about that. For sure they played some games at Morton Stadium and at St Patrick’s Athletic home ground Richmond Park, although to my knowledge they never had those as a permanent season-long home (I am not entirely sure of this though).
In fact the club only realised one historical fact on the pitch: in 2005 the club was to play the play-off for promotion to the Premier division against the Irish record champions Shamrock Rovers. Rovers at that time were in high debts and a points deduction for their financial difficulties saw them end second from bottom, thus they had to defend their premiership spot in a playoff against Dublin City FC. The Irish record champions with their thousands of loyal fans against the most hated team in Ireland with their 100-or-so fans. David versus Goliath. However, Dublin City realised a huge shock by winning the tie on aggregate with 3-2. Their promotion to the highest division was therefor realised and they sentenced Shamrock Rovers to the second level for the first time in their history. The first and so far only time Rovers ever relegated. A huge triumph which assured that the mala fide Seery and his almost unsupported club would still make the Irish football history books for other reasons than the fact how the rest of the island hated them.
The promotion however was followed by a collapse. Dublin City FC moved from Tolka Park to Dalymount Park to groundshare with Bohemians for their return to the top division. The at that point also homeless Rovers made the reverse move from Dalymount to Tolka Park. Dublin City however never finished the 2006 season, quitting halfway due to financial difficulties. All results were eliminated and the most hated team in Ireland was no more. Seery’s mala fide game was over.
This was however not without the remarkable fact that Dublin City, despite having hardly any fans, sold more jerseys than any other Irish football club. This was due to Seery’s clever plan to adopt the colours of the Dublin Gaelic Football team and use the city seal as logo for the club. This way he could sell jerseys of the club in all souvenir stores in Dublin and at the souvenir outlets of Dublin airport, selling the gear to people not realising they were actually buying a shirt of a football team. For sure countless of Japanese, American, Canadian, Australian etc tourists have bought the shirt and wearing it still today in their home countries, not realising the shirt they bought actually was a football shirt. If someone was clever enough to link the shirt to a football team, the staff in the souvenir shops were not shy of lying that Dublin City was the most succesful team in Irish soccer. As an ignorant tourist you then just pay and proudly wear the shirt. This caused a huge sale in Dublin City shirts, and probably the team without fans still lives on by people wearing the shirt in the streets of New York, Toronto, Tokyo and Adelaide. If only they all knew the truth… Fact is there will be more Dublin City FC shirts sold to foreign visitors than the widely supported Irish clubs can ever realise. A huge fraude in fact, but Seery happily cashed in. Knowing this it remains a mystery to me how the club managed to still go bankrupt.
What lives on of Dublin City except for the hatred against the team? With only a 100 fans left without a club to support and without an own stadium left without owners, the club’s legacy is only that famous victory versus Shamrock Rovers and their corrupt merchandising.
The clubs that were somehow linked to the story however went on to become successes: Shamrock Rovers immediately returned to the highest division, meanwhile has its own home stadium in Dublin suburb Tallaght, and continues to play for thousands of loyal fans. Ironically the club is now free of debt and became champions of Ireland in 2010. Home Farm FC remains a highly respected club in the Leinster Senior League, playing their home games at Whitehall. The name Drumcondra FC also lives on even though the current Drumcondra FC is a restart and not a continuation of the original succesful club: the current Drumcondra FC in the amateur leagues is a merger of Drumcondra AFC and Drumcondra Athletic, since 2008 again adopting the historical Drumcondra FC name and playing in the same street as Tolka Park which was the home of the original Drumcondra FC. They, like Home Farm FC, play in the Leinster Senior League.
So of all clubs involved in the story, Dublin City in fact ended up as the one collapsing with only a 100 people mourning over its death. Ronan Seery lied to a large group of tourists with his merchandise in tourist shops, and thus the Dublin City FC saga may live on more in the streets of the USA, Australia, Japan, mainland Europe and such than it actually does in the Republic of Ireland itself. Oh the irony…
It remains a question if the trick will ever be repeated in other cities with succesful clubs that do not bear the city name. In Belfast there are 5 teams in the highest league of Northern Ireland but none of them used the name Belfast. In Glasgow, officially the two big clubs are named Celtic FC and Rangers FC, even when the press often adds the name Glasgow. In London, none of the countless clubs uses the name London City or similar. It sounds easy: collect 11 players, no matter how bad they are, adopt the city colours and city crest, and sell your merchandise to unknowing tourists. It was reality in Dublin for a while, but the saga ended with a very ironic twist.