How Soccer Began In Cork
England is the Official HOME of SOCCER
When we speak or write about soccer in Cork and Blackrock and how it was all started by our forebearers in the 19th century, a trawl through the history of soccer in England, where it all began, is worthy of research. England has long been regarded as the natural home of soccer, just as Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, is regarded as the home of hurling.
Soccer and hurling of course had lives of their own long before organised groups of men assembled in London and Thurles. Soccer is said to have strong Asian claims where groups of youths would gather with balls made from discarded heads of large animals. The head would be covered in a makeshift cloth, throw the head on the earthen ground and then commence a free for all melee kicking through the streets. This was around the 18th century period of nomadic rules.
Long before the Thurles G.A.A. foundation of Michael Cusack and colleagues in 1884, hurling had two formats.
Format one was Park Hurling, where anglo Irish landlords with vast estates taken from the downtrodden Irish farmers, challenged other landlords (also with vast estates) to an afternoon hurling match on their splendid green lawns. Great pride was at stake for the winning landlord and betting on the matches was huge. The winning team would be feasted on bacon and stout and the losers would drown their sorrows in the local pub.
Format two was field and ditch Parish Hurling, much like a steeplechase in horse racing. A team might consist of forty/fifty players who would meet to commence the match at a halfway point between the two competing parishes.
The best crafty hurlers, small and tidy in build, would be placed on the ditches on the two opposing teams and hence the old saying – The Best Hurlers Are Always on the Ditch.
The role of the hurlers on the ditch was to gather the ball, strike it as far back as possible against the team coming at them. With play flowing from field to field, matches might last an entire day and the winning team would celebrate all through the night with timber barrels of stout flowing freely. Again large bets were wavered by the gentry.
Eventually hurling on streets and fields was outlawed and in the mid 19th century a young Thurles boy was sent to prison for playing hurling on the street. In Kilkenny an English military officer who fell in love with hurling, dismounted his bicycle and stood on the ditch watching a match in progress. A fellow passing officer noticed his colleague, reported him and the offending officer was lashed, tortured and sent to jail.
No such aggression was set out against soccer in Ireland in the 19th century when soldiers of the crown imported the round ball game to Ireland. Irish cities and towns with garrison bases set up soccer teams and with garrisons all over the 32 counties, soccer was seen by Irish people as a foreign game played by the English.
It would be the tail end of the 20th century years before Irish people tried their hand at soccer and despite the glamour of the beautiful game, native Irish teams stood off the ball for many years in fear of reprimands by their own neighbours and friends.
FIRST EVER SOCCER MATCH IN CORK
It is recorded that the very first soccer match ever contested at a Cork venue was at Mallow where a local team called Penn’s College opposed Waterford team Lismore College on the 28th December 1877. It was a morning match to facilitate the Lismore College who travelled to and from Mallow by train on the old Mallow – Waterford line that took in on its eastern journey, the towns of Fermoy and Lismore.
Mallow station opened on the 17th March 1849 and the Waterford line ceased in 1967. It was operated by Great Southern and Western Railway. Irish people availed of many opportunities to watch army soccer matches in the late 19th century but were careful to avoid the watchful eyes of staunch republicans who were bitterly opposed to the playing of soccer in Ireland.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Irish towns that were mainly swamped with large military barracks, slowly emerged to begin establishing their own local soccer teams. However acquiring pitches from farmers for local soccer clubs was not an easy task as many farmers in the early 1900’s felt designating one of their fields for soccer was not a good idea as reprisals by staunch nationalists was a possibility. Soccer was after all declared a foreign sport. However, G.A.A. clubs since foundation, had no such worries as farmers who rented to G.A.A. clubs were regarded as pillars of Irish society.
In 1901, as the popularity of soccer expanded, a new association took root in Cork called The Munster Football Association. A cluster of Cork soccer pioneers met at Marlboro Street, Cork, to form the new body and they registered with the main governing association for all Irish soccer teams – The Irish Football Association, whose base was in Belfast.
The new Munster Football Association set up a Senior League and Cup and also set up junior competitions with various clubs from around Munster competing. Down the fields of Europe a looming war would cause great havoc and when World War 1 erupted playing sport was almost impossible. The Great War resulted in the Munster Football Association disbanding in 1914.
It would be the advent of the Irish Treaty in December 1921 when Dublin clubs broke away from the Belfast administrators stating unfair tactics were evident. A group in Dublin formed their own national association in June 1921 (The Football Association Of the Irish Free State) to administer soccer in the new 26 county Ireland.
An accessory association (Football League Of Ireland) to run soccer amongst League Of Ireland clubs was also set up in Dublin. The new League Of Ireland kicked off in September 1921 with just eight clubs competing – all Dublin based.
In 1922 The Munster Football Association was reformed at a time when the Irish Civil War was at its zenith. Cork had no team(s) competing at national level until Fordsons F.C. representing the Motor Company reached the F.A.I. Cup Final of 1924.
The history of football is a long and detailed one. England was the first country where the game was developed and codified. The modern global game of soccer was first codified in 1863 in London. The impetus for this was to unify English public schools and university football games.
There is evidence for refereed team football games being played in English schools since at least 1581. An account of an exclusively kicking football game from Nottinghamshire in the 15th century bears similarity to football.
England can boast the earliest ever documented use of the English word "football" (1409) and the earliest reference to the sport in France (1314).
England is home to the oldest football clubs in the world (dating from at least 1857), the world's oldest competition (the F.A. Cup founded in 1871) and the first ever football league (1888). For these reasons England is considered the home of the game of soccer.
Soccer In Cork – How It All Began
In 1921 Harry Buckle, a former Irish international player,settled in Cork and began working for the Ford Motor Company. Finding little or no soccer activity in Cork city, Buckle initially founded Ford F.C. and then helped found the Cork-based South Munster League for the team to play in.
In addition to playing and coaching with the new club, Buckle also served as president of the Tipperary and Limerick based North Munster League and helped reform the Munster Football Association.
By 1922–23 Ford F.C. had become Fordsons, renamed after the iconic Fordson tractor. Also the South Munster and North Munster leagues had effectively merged to become the Munster Senior League.
Fordsons won their first Munster Senior Cup in 1923–24 and also won their first Munster Senior League title. As a result, Fordsons qualified to represent the Munster Football Association in the F.A.I. Cup.
Fordsons joined the League Of Ireland in 1925/25 replacing Shelbourne United who withdrew from the League Of Ireland on 7th September 1924, the day after the competition officially started.
Together with Bray Unknowns, Fordsons became the second team to join the national league from outside of Co. Dublin, whilst Athlone had already registered. Fordsons also became the first club to represent Cork City and County in the League Of Ireland in 1924/25 and in their debut season finished a respectable fourth.
In 1925/26 they finished third and then achieved three more fourth-placed finishes in 1926/27; 1927/28; and 1929/30. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, unlike succeeding Cork teams, Fordsons did not have any financial difficulties. Even without the backing of Ford, they were reasonably self-sufficient,and regular top-four finishes provided healthy gate receipts.
Sudden Departure From League Of Ireland Football:
At the end of the 1929/30 season, Fordsons FC were informed by Ford management they could only continue as a factory team and should only play in local leagues.
The fledgling club parted company with Ford and changed their named to Cork Football Club and committed to continue playing in the new League Of Ireland. However the task of funding a Cork League of Ireland club was a huge responsibility as the vast majority of League Of Ireland clubs were Dublin based and this involved major travel expenditures.
In 1938 Cork’s soccer connection took a major hammer blow when the new club also ceased membership of the League Of Ireland and into their place came Cork City FC. The cradle of Cork soccer that began on the famed Blackrock Marina with the Ford Motor Company, had too many ups and downs in its formative years and no Cork City League of Ireland club managed to acquire their very own stadium as a base structure.
The origin of Cork soccer had a very sound financial base with the Ford Motor Company but it is worth recording that semi professional soccer clubs all over Ireland have all endured major financial problems for almost a century. Hundreds of local parish soccer teams all around Ireland put down firm roots by acquiring their own grounds whilst our own nationa soccer governing body cannot lay claim to their very own stadium.