Edgar Street Photo: Hereford United FC

Edgar Street Photo: Hereford United FC

Fifty years ago when FA Amateur Cup winners and Isthmian League champions Wimbledon FC decided to turn semi-professional, the London club was admitted to the Southern League Division One (the lower of its two divisions). I started following the Dons at Plough Lane from that 1964/65 season onwards. With two great strikers, Wembley hero Eddie Reynolds and Gerry O’Rourke, they performed really well in their first season. Only one club was better: Hereford United, table toppers with a record number of points and goals (Albert Derrick: 37). Both sides were promoted to the Southern League Premier division.

Both Wimbledon and Hereford as non-league sides gained a reputation as giant killers in the FA Cup. In 1971/72 after a 2-2 draw with First Division Newcastle United at St James Park in the FA Cup third round, the teams met again at Edgar Street in a much postponed replay.  After taking a late lead through Malcolm MacDonald, Newcastle looked certain to progress. However, a Ronnie Radford goal for the Bulls sent the tie into extra time. Substitute Ricky George’s winner gave Hereford a famous 2-1 win, the first time a non-league side had beaten a First Division club since 1949. Three years later Wimbledon beat Burnley in the same round and went on to take Leeds to a replay in the fourth round. So the clubs have much in common, both of them going on to join the Football League.

Hereford United FC Logo

Hereford United FC Logo

Whereas the Dons have been reformed as a supporters-owned club, AFC Wimbledon, that climbed through the non-league ranks to regain league status, Hereford have had severe problems. Now the Football Association has announced that Hereford United FC which was playing in the Southern League Premier Division (Evo-Stik League) haswbeen suspended from all football activity.

A statement from the FA says that the club and its officer, John McCarthy, had been ordered last month to comply fully and correctly with their obligations under the Owners’ and Directors’ Test Regulations by 4pm on Thursday 4th December. Following consideration of a document submitted by the club, the Independent Regulatory Commission gave the parties until 4pm on Monday 8th December to submit further documentation to satisfy the orders of the Commission. Having failed to provide the requested further documentation by the deadline, both Hereford United and Mr McCarthy shall remain suspended until such time as the order of the Independent Regulatory Commission has been complied with to the satisfaction of the Commission.

The FA says it understands the importance of football clubs to their local communities and will continue to work with all relevant parties to ensure senior football returns to Hereford at the earliest opportunity, although this will be contingent on the club complying with the Regulations and subsequent orders of the Independent Regulatory Commission.



Old SW19 road sign from the days of Wimbledon FC

Old SW19 road sign from the days of Wimbledon FC

Wimbledon might be known internationally for tennis. But the area also came to fame through the achievements of Wimbledon Football Club. Plough Lane used to be their home. Now the original pitch is a housing development, a bit like Glenmalure Park in Milltown, former home of Shamrock Rovers FC. Durnsford Road (where the main entrance was) is where I saw the Dons play in their days as an amateur team (I began to watch them around 1963 when they won the Amateur Cup), as semi-professionals in the Southern League and eventually as a football league side rising to the first division and winning the FA Cup. The club survived there until 1991 when they entered a ground-sharing arrangement with Crystal Palace that lasted until 2003 in order to comply with a new FA rule on all-seater stadia.

Plough Lane Gates Photo: CC Licence Wiki

Plough Lane Gates Photo: Cliftonian via Wiki CC Licence

In the closing stages of Wimbledon FC at Selhurst I remember talking to the owner Sam Hammam about a suggestion that he was considering moving the club to Dublin (even Belfast was mentioned at one stage). Some Irish businessmen and at least one prominent soccer commentator were very supportive of such a move.

Wimbledon FC Crest

Wimbledon FC Crest

You can read more about the ‘Dublin Dons’ in Donal Fallon’s Come Here to Me blog here. In the end FIFA opposed such a move and the FA gave approval to transport the club, not abroad, but sixty miles away to a franchise in Milton Keynes, which now plays in League 1, one division above the new Wimbledon.

Sam Hammam Photo: © Glenn Copus / Evening Standard /Rex Features

Sam Hammam Photo: © Glenn Copus / Evening Standard /Rex Features

Plough Lane is also the site of another sports venue, Wimbledon Stadium. I remember going to watch speedway there. It is also the last remaining dog track in London, which had 33 greyhound stadia in the 1940s, and home to the William Hill Greyhound Derby, which always attracts a lot of Irish interest. I should add that although I never went to a dog meeting at Plough Lane, I have been a spectator at greyhound races in Ireland and have generally enjoyed such events. Indeed I have been at the stadium at Dundalk, which was opened on a greenfield site  in 2003 (with an all-weather horse racing track added later) by the Irish Greyhound Board (Bord na gCon) when the businessman Paschal Taggart was the Chairman. It replaced an older stadium that closed in 2000.

Chief Executive AFC Wimbledon Erik Samuelson Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

Chief Executive AFC Wimbledon Erik Samuelson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Fast forward a decade and now we have a new club AFC Wimbledon based at Kingsmeadow in Norbiton but proposing to move back to their spiritual home in Merton.  The outline plans for a new stadium seating 11,000 with potential to upgrade later to 20,000 have been fine tuned over the past year and have just been submitted to Merton Council. The football club’s preferred location is now known to be the greyhound track, beside the original home of the Dons at Plough Lane. The Club’s Chief Executive Erik Samuelson has explained how the proposals have taken a significant step forward. He also cautions supporters that there is a long way to go before the Dons’ plans become a reality.

Sketches for a new greyhound track at Wimbledon Picture: Irish Post

Sketches for a new greyhound track at Wimbledon Picture: Irish Post

However there is a separate proposal which has come from a consortium led by the Dublin-based businessman and greyhound enthusiast Paschal Taggart, who I referred to earlier. He has proposed a new greyhound stadium on the current site, with a squash club and gym etc.. He also points out that the (Irish) National Asset Management Agency NAMA will have a major say in any future development. So once again, Dublin comes into the equation when the development of our now community-owned football club in London is to be decided. Wimbledon was one of six greyhound tracks acquired by Risk Capital Partners from the Greyhound Racing Association in a £50m deal financed by Irish Nationwide. So because of the source of the loan the Stadium’s short term future has been determined by NAMA. The state agency in Dublin granted a five year lease for the Wimbledon track in July to a management team.

Paschal Taggart Photo: Irish Post

Paschal Taggart Photo: Irish Post

Paschal Taggart in a letter in July published by the Greyhound Owners’ Breeders’ and  Trainers’ Association urged supporters to continue to lobby Merton Council. He told them bluntly: “NOW IS THE TIME FOR GREYHOUND PEOPLE TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED if they believe that Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium is important to the UK and Irish greyhound industries“. Note the way he is appealing (quite legitimately) to breeders and trainers on this side of the Irish Sea. He was also playing the Irish card by saying in an Irish Post interview earlier this month that “many members of the Irish community around South London, and further afield, would be affected if alternative plans by the football club AFC Wimbledon to move back to the club’s former home were granted by Merton Council“. He has also been quite disparaging about our club, referring to AFC Wimbledon as a “Mickey Mouse football team” in an interview in July with the Irish Times.

It should be stated that the AFC Wimbledon pIan has been submitted to the Council in conjunction with Galliard Homes which wants to develop 600 houses. Galliard Homes is a co-owner of the Wimbledon Stadium site with GRA Ltd whose parent company is the investment company Risk Capital. Galliard and the GRA are also at the centre of a row over a proposed housing development to replace the greyhound track at Oxford, which was closed down by the operator at the end of last year and has now been declared by the local Council to have heritage asset status. Paschal Taggart expressed an interest in rescuing the Oxford stadium in February and also indicated his support for a return of speedway, according to the Oxford Mail.

The Plough Lane site has been designated for “sporting intensification” and is the subject of a draft sites and policies document by Merton Council. The document, which outlines planning regulations for all sites in Wimbledon, will be subject to a public inquiry led by an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. A final report will be given in early 2014 at which point the Council will adopt the plan allowing formal applications for the site to be accepted.

Can soccer and greyhounds be combined? My local dog track at Ballyskeagh near Lisburn serves also as a soccer stadium. Lisburn Distillery from the Irish League Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 division have a stand and social club on one side of the ground at what they call New Grosvenor stadium (Distillery FC used to be based in the Grosvenor Road area of Belfast until 1971, so their name and their history has been retained in their new setting from 1980 and in the new title from 1999). The main drawback I found when I attended a Setanta Cup game there against UCD (and I was one of the handful of College supporters present!) was that the pitch seemed quite a distance from the spectators, because of the width of the dog track. There is a similar situation at the Brandywell where Derry City (a former club of Wimbledon legend Eddie Reynolds) play in the Airtricity League of Ireland.

New Grosvenor Stadium looking across towards greyhound side Photo: © Michael Fisher

New Grosvenor Stadium looking across towards greyhound side Photo: © Michael Fisher

If you go to the dogs, you enter Drumbo Park and can have the benefit of all the bar and restaurant facilities in the purpose-built stand, opened in 2008. I have not yet been there but maybe I will get the chance to take a look at the set-up in the near future. The whole ground can accommodate 8,000. This article from Wikipedia gives a description of how the two sporting interests go about their business almost in separate worlds but using the same plot of land:-

The two organisations …co-exist on an icy basis of minimal co-operation and do not offer their facilities to each other’s events or co-operate in offering spectator packages for combined events. Indeed Drumbo Park has placed a dress code ban on the wearing of football related clothing in its stand. The nature of the two markets the Football Club and Greyhound Stadium are aiming at is also quite different. New Grosvenor Stadium is aimed at the traditional football fan and promotes itself as a family day out to the local Lisburn market whereas Drumbo Park caters for the hen party, stag night, office party and couples night out market aiming its advertising at the whole of the UK and Ireland. Both operators recognise that there is little cross-over in their respective markets and as a result have made no attempt to offer combined marketing packages.

There is only minimal infringement by one organisation’s events over the other’s as Greyhound racing is traditionally an evening event while Football is traditionally reserved for afternoons. Drumbo Park are restricted however to hosting meetings on Thursday-Saturday evenings only as Lisburn Distillery play many evening fixtures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the Irish League also occasionally stage Monday night games for television purposes, though, as of 2010, Lisburn have yet to feature in a live Monday night game. Conversely Lisburn Distillery have been unable to try out a switch to Friday evening Football as some other Irish League teams have done in a bid to increase attendances owing to the Greyhound Friday night meet.”

I write this as a season ticket holder and a founder member of AFC Wimbledon in 2002 via the Dons Trust, when the club started off in the Combined Counties League.


GAA in Britain Logo

GAA in Britain Logo

The first time I saw Gaelic Games being played was not in Croke Park or even in Ireland. I was introduced to them when I was still at primary school and I got the opportunity to visit England’s bastion of soccer, Wembley Stadium in North London. So tonight I was delighted to watch highlights on television of London’s narrow victory over Leitrim in the Connacht senior football semi-final.

The Londoners, a team made up mainly of exiles like Shane Mulligan from Aghabog in County Monaghan, will meet Mayo in the provincial final on July 21st, the first time they have managed such an achievement.

You can see how significant it is from the London GAA Roll of Honour up to today:-

Junior Football (6 titles)

1938 – Leitrim (5-7 to 2-9)

1966 – Cork (1-6 to 0-8)

1969 – Wicklow (3-12 to 1-11)

1970 – Kildare (1-12 to 0-9)

1971 – Dublin (1-9 to 0-9)

1986 – Cork (1-9 to 0-7)

Liam McCarthy was on London’s very first County Committee holding the position of Treasurer. The following year McCarthy became Secretary before assuming the position of President (now Chairperson) in 1898, a position he held for the next 9 years. 1898 also saw Liam McCarthy nominated as a Vice-President of the Association. In 1906 McCarthy stood down as President before returning to the position in 1906 and serving until 1911. McCarthy commissioned the manufacturing of a trophy which he offered to Croke Park and which was gratefully accepted. The trophy now bears his name and is awarded annually to the winners of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

Sam Maguire served alongside Liam McCarthy as Vice-President from 1902 until 1906. Maguire was an active player during this period and had the honour of captaining London against the All Ireland champions in 1903. Sam Maguire held the position of President in 1907 and again in 1908, stepping down in 1909 before returning to the position in 1912 and serving until 1915. After his death in 1927 a cup was designed and presented to the GAA, who presented it to the winner of the All Ireland Senior Football Champions for the first time in 1928.

The first Wembley Games were in 1958. On the website of An Fear Rua I found a report of the hurling match that year between then All-Ireland champions Kilkenny and Clare and the following year between Cork and Kilkenny:-




The long clearances of Kilkenny’s ace goalie, Ollie Walsh has been a prominent factor in the fast rise to fame of the young Thomastown wonder, but few hurling followers expected to see the day when his strokes would prove too lengthy for one of the World’s leading arenas. Yet this was what happened at London’s famous Wembley Stadium on Saturday, when Kilkenny beat Clare by 6-10 to 5-07 in the first ever hurling match at the headquarters of soccer, rugby league and numerous other sports. It was fitting that the first sample of hurling outside London’s GAA pitches should be provided by Kilkenny traditional masters of the game. According to reports, leading British sports critics wee very impressed with the game and although the attendance of 33,240 in a ground capable of taking over 100,000 was not al that might have been expected, the secretary of the London county board stated that he felt they would almost certainly put up two games again at Wembley next Whit Sunday. Ollie Walsh’s long pucking, and the equally long strokes of Clare’s Mick Hayes, on the 120 yard plus had a definite effect on the trend of the play and the scoring. An inordinate amount of work was thrown on the rival defences while the midfielder got little scope to figure prominently in the game. Consequently the high scoring – eleven goals was not a reflection on the respective defences, as it might seem, but was mainly due to the shortness of the pitch. The game finished in a crescendo of cheering. The atmosphere was super charged with excitement in the last quarter as Clare, inspired by a devastating Jimmy Smyth, made an all out bid for victory. The tempo, always fact, quickly mounted and the last eight or ten minutes were played at fever pitch. Scores were level three times in the first half and, although Kilkenny forged ahead on the resumption when backed by the considerable cold wind, there was always the possibility that the Munster men would catch them, if not regain the lead, The starts of Kilkenny’s triumph were Ollie Walsh, James Walsh, Tom Walsh – who had one of his best games to date – Johnny McGovern, Sean Clohessy – who was back top his best form, scoring three goals – and Denis Heaslip. Best of the Clare side were Jimmy Smyth, who hit the high spots after an inconspicuous first half, Naoise Jordan, Michael Hayes, who challenged Ollie Walsh for goalkeeping honours; Dermot Sheedy, Johnny Purcell and Gerry Ryan.

TEAMS: KILKENNY O Walsh T Walsh J Walsh J Maher P Buggy M Walsh J McGovern J Sutton M Brophy  D Heaslip M Kenny J Murphy S Clohessy W Dwyer M Fleming CLARE M Hayes J Purcell D Hoey B Burke B Dilger D Sheedy M Blake N Deasy M Lynch J Smith M Nugent M Dilger P Kirby G Ryan W Jordan


Remember Whit Sunday 1959, because it marked a very rare occasion on the calendar of hurling events – the day Cork, for once, didn’t need Christy Ring. More frequently than not the Glen Rovers genius id indispensable in a Cork hurling team and the history of hurling championships is liberally sprinkled with the occasions on which Ring was in fact, Cork. When Cork lined out at sunny Wembley Stadium yesterday, 38-tear-old Ring was absent because of a shoulder-injury which prevent him from making the trip to London. But for this occasion it transpired that Cork could do without Christy Ring because they had Paddy Barry in their attack. And this veteran of many a championship campaign created havoc in the Kilkenny defence. A WARNING FOR TIPPERARY: Barry’s hurley was a lethal instrument of devastation, and from the centre-half-forward position he inspired this splendid Cork victory. which stands out as a warning for Tipperary that their Munster and All Ireland titles are in jeopardy. Here was a solid Cork defence, and it withstood the most adventurous attacks that Kilkenny could launch. Backed by brilliant Mick Cashman in goal, Gerald Mulcahy, Jimmy Brogan, Phil Duggan and Martin Thompson performed superbly. And from a mastery midfield partnership of Eamon Goulding and Noel Gallagher went with a steady supply of the ball which eager forwards like Barry, Willie Walsh and Noel O’Connell converted into score after score. Kilkenny went down fighting and their continued pressure in the second – half contributed greatly to a fast and hectic second period. Place no blame on Ollie Walsh, last year’s Wembley hero, who made some splendid saves, despite the seven which beat him. Mick Walsh who retired towards the end of the day with a slight ankle injury, Mick Fleming and Mickey Kelly were also prominent.

According to 100 Years of London GAA, County Board Chairman in 1958 Fr. Tom McNamara was the man who got the games of hurling and Gaelic Football to this magnificent arena. A Cork man, Fr McNamara knew that not only would this be great publicity for the game but that it would help the finances of the County Board which were at an all time low.

The first games took place on the Whit weekend of 1958 and the All-Ireland champions Kilkenny took on Clare and Galway took on Derry in the football. The crowds flocked to see their heroes and watch the masters at play. Players like Ollie Walsh, John Maher, Paddy Buggy (who went on to become President of the GAA) and the great Billy Dwyer were on show for the Noresiders. For the following twenty years Wembley played host to the cream of Gaelic Football and Hurling stars, with the Whit weekend being almost like that of All-Ireland days back home.

The Down footballers of the sixties used the Wembley games to their full advantage, as it was the practice run they had for their All-Ireland victory. Patsy O’Hagan became the first man to score a hat-trick at the stadium as Down blasted Galway off the field with a glorious display. Not forgetting the football, the likes of Cork, Kerry and the Dubs came to London and showed the capital their finest. No team came to Wembley with an under strength side, they knew how much the day meant to the exiles and they fielded their top players. In 1962 the London side defeated New York.

Patsy O’Hagan’s achievement when he scored four goals against Galway was in 1959. After the feat, there were reports in the English press that the first division side Chelsea were keen on signing the Gaelic footballer. The Clonduff man who died three years ago was a vital part of the Down side which brought the Sam Maguire Cup across the border for the first time in 1960. He played at full-forward in the final when they defeated Kerry by 2-10 to 0-8.

Programme for 1963 Amateur Cup Final at Wembley

Programme for 1963 Amateur Cup Final at Wembley

O’Hagan’s feat was rivalled in May 1963 by another Irishman, Eddie Reynolds from Belfast, as his four headed goals ensured victory by Wimbledon FC over Sutton United in the FA Amateur Cup, 4-2. His performance earned him a Northern Ireland cap against Scotland.