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2009: The end of a Stadium Odyssey

Article for Shamrock Rovers match day programme against Cork March 2009

April 12th 1997 was a sad day for Shamrock Rovers Football Club and its fans.  This weekend marks the 22nd year anniversary of the last game in Glenmalure Park which brought the curtain down on Shamrock Rovers playing in Milltown.  Happily for the club, last month saw the Hoops play their first home game in Tallaght after a 22 year stadium odyssey.

No Irish football club in recent history has been as synonymous with their stadium as Shamrock Rovers have been.  When the name Shamrock Rovers is mentioned, some people may think of the record 15 league titles and 24 FAI Cups in our possession.  However, most will think of the sale of Milltown and the Tallaght Stadium saga.  Over the past decade, if Rovers fans had a euro for every time somebody asked them “What is happening with that stadium in Tallaght?” the club would have some very rich benefactors.  The stadium nightmare that fans, who are now the club owners, have endured is one that we have only now just woken up from.

The journey to Tallaght began with the eviction from Milltown in 1987.  The disgraceful sale of Glenmalure Park by the Kilcoyne family spelt disaster for Shamrock Rovers.  The club moved to Tolka Park for the next season but a boycott of the ground by fans forced the Kilcoynes to sell the club.  The new owners brought Rovers to Dalymount Park temporarily before the Hoops settled in the RDS in 1990.  Over 22,000 fans packed into the Ballsbridge venue for the opening game but Rovers couldn’t hang on to those crowds in the long term.   We were to win our only league title since the sale of Milltown during that six year tenure in the RDS.

It was in 1997 that Shamrock Rovers began to look at leaving the RDS, after demolition works left a one sided stadium in the Dublin 4 venue, and move to a stadium to be constructed in Tallaght.   Rovers, now playing again in Tolka Park, negotiated a lease for land in Tallaght from South Dublin County Council (SDCC).  It was the beginning of a planning and legal battle that would last a further eleven years.  Planning permission was granted in January 1998 but this was then appealed.  It took a further two years before the first sod was turned in the stadium by the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, with full construction beginning in autumn of that year.  The club ran into financial difficulty in November 2001 and work on the stadium ceased.  During this time Rovers played in Morton Stadium, Tolka Park, Richmond Park and even played a home game in Cork against tonight’s opposition before moving on to Dalymount Park.

The game in Cork in autumn 2003 proved a real low point for the club.  Evicted from Richmond Park, fans were disgusted, having travelled 250 km to see their team play in a home game, to see the team emerge in their away jersey rather than green and white hoops.  The relationship with the board and the fans group, the 400 Club, began to become frayed.  The owners applied for an 18 month extension to the planning permission on the stadium, which had now lapsed.  This was refused by SDCC as they saw no prospect of work resuming.   SDCC sought repossession of the site in January 2005.  The club was in financial meltdown and in April 2005, the High Court appointed an Examiner to prevent liquidation of the club.   After all the property speculators drifted away, it was the fans group, the 400 Club that emerged with ownership of the club.  This was a three year period when Rovers fans were reading High Court reports as well as football match reports.

In July 2005, SDCC, in consultation with the fans, now club owners, pressed ahead with plans to complete the stadium with Rovers as their anchor tenant.  A new barrier was to emerge at this time.  The GAA, through Thomas Davis GAA club, objected to the fact that the stadium size did not allow for senior GAA games.  Pressure from the GAA saw the local councillors go against the SDCC County Manager’s recommendations and vote to alter the stadium to accommodate a GAA pitch.  However, the Department of Sport stated they would not fund this alteration as the existing structure would have to be modified and the capacity would be reduced to 4,500.  In February 2006, as Rovers returned to play another season in Tolka Park, the Councillors voted to reverse their previous decision and proceed with the original soccer sized stadium.  In December 2006, Thomas Davis, took out a High Court Judicial Review of that decision.  Rovers fans at this stage were beginning to wonder whether the stadium site was cursed with an Indian Burial ground.

Thomas Davis had the full arsenal of the GAA behind them in the case to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as they stated in their submission to the High Court).   The Dublin GAA County Board, the GAA Director General and then GAA president Nickey Brennan were all vocal in supporting the Thomas Davis stance that the stadium in Tallaght should be made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”.  In December 2007, Justice Roderick Murphy ruled in favour of SDCC, and Shamrock Rovers, and against Thomas Davis.  It is a decision the GAA over a year later are still not happy with complaining in their recently published Annual Report that the “decision remain(s) a huge bone of contention within the GAA”.  However, they chose not to appeal to the Supreme Court so six months after the decision works began again on the Stadium.  When the builders returned at the start of May 2008, they didn’t quite know what to make of it as Rovers fans descended on the Stadium to see with their own eyes that construction had begun again.

March 13th 2009 was a momentous day for Shamrock Rovers Football Club and its fans.  The opening game in Tallaght was an amazing occasion.  The passion and noise generated as the teams came out was almost overwhelming and many a tear was shed on the night.  22 years of pent up frustration at the loss of Milltown and a home of our own, spilled out in a wall of noise.  As our new Umbro home jersey says, “Glenmalure Park gone but not forgotten”.  The sale of Milltown will no longer be a millstone around the football club’s neck.  Our new base in Tallaght is the beginning of a new chapter over 22 years in the making.  Let us hope that the return to a permanent home ground will see the return of silverware to the club to parade around the new stadium.

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