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Memories of Tolka Park (November 2008)

Article for the Shamrock Rovers match day programme (November 2008

Memories of Tolka Park

So tonight we reach a milestone in Shamrock Rovers’ history with our last home game in Tolka Park before the move to Tallaght at the beginning of next year.   The last home game in any season usually leads to some reminiscing about the games witnessed during the course of that season.  So with tonight being our last home game ever here, our minds can be drawn to numerous memorable occasions here in Tolka Park, both good and bad.  For Rovers, Tolka Park has been an integral part of our recent history during the past couple of decades.  For younger fans they will really know only know of home games at Tolka Park with brief tenures in Dalymount and Richmond Park to compare with.  Depending on the results in the eircom League First Division, it could well be the last time that Rovers ever play here in Tolka Park.  Indeed, with the ground having been sold by Shelbourne some years ago, it won’t be too long before the last ever football game will be played here on the banks of the River Tolka.

Shamrock Rovers arrived in Tolka Park to take up “home” residency twenty one years ago in the most controversial of circumstances.  The clubs owners at the time, having disgracefully sold Glenmalure Park, moved the club to Tolka Park.  Many Rovers fans never made the move with the team and have been lost to the club ever since.  The hope is that some of those lapsed fans will make the journey to our new home next season to join those of us who stayed with the Hoops and our new Tallaght based fans.  However, in 1987 many Rovers fans did travel to Tolka Park for every home game but didn’t set foot in the place.  They staged a boycott outside the ground in an attempt to starve the club’s owners of funds and this eventually forced the Kilcoyne’s out of Rovers.  After playing home games in Dalymount Park (1988 – 1990) and the RDS (1990 – 1996), in 1997 Shamrock Rovers returned on a “temporary” basis to Tolka Park.  The move was seen as a stepping stone before a permanent move to a new stadium in Tallaght.  Safe to say nobody foresaw that Rovers would still be playing in the venue more than a decade later.  In the last decade Rovers have played games in Morton Stadium, Richmond Park, and Dalymount Park but have always found themselves returning back here to Tolka Park to take up residency.

Having played home games, and away ones, in Tolka Park for so many seasons, most Rovers fans have probably stood in every section of the ground.  Each location tells a different story for each fan.  My first visit to Tolka Park, indeed my first visit to any away ground, was in our last League winning season in 1993/94.  Sitting in the main stand that night I saw Rovers put three past Shelbourne including an exquisite lob by Alan Dodd which led to match commentator Jimmy Magee saying “Roberto Baggio eat your heart out”.  Tolka Park was then and still is an old style football ground.  Big shed structures kept the elements from the fans but back in 1994 there was no “Lego Stand” behind the Drumcondra end goal but a narrow terrace where Eoin Mullen scored the third goal that night.

Section A of the main stand has traditionally been the section for the singing Rovers fans and where the Ultras have waved their massive tifo flags for many a year.  When Rovers returned to Tolka as a home venue in 1996, I remember those nights standing at the very back of the main stand in Section A where the ball if pumped forward up in the floodlight sky would be lost above the roof of the stand.  These were the nights of the late late show hosted by Tony Cousins as it appeared he single handily kept us up that season with some crucial late goals.

Rovers played our landlords Shelbourne every season up until 2005 but then followed Rovers’ and then Shelbourne’s relegation for financial irregularities.  It meant that we have stood as an away fan here in Tolka for both away and our own home games.  In 1997, Rovers fans stood in the Ballybough end on St. Valentine’s night when we defeated Shelbourne 6-4.  This was the type of tennis score we like to be involved in.

A highlight for many Rovers fans was the night when we knocked the then holders Shelbourne out of the FAI Cup in 2001.  This was an eagerly awaited FAI Cup quarter final as the original fixture was postponed due to the Foot and Mouth crises.  So after a month long footballing break Rovers saw off Shelbourne with a 3-0 victory.  In the final game of November 2003 on the night when our landlords were to collect the league trophy, the Riverside Stand was lit up by the Rovers Ultras with what seemed like a thousand flares.  With fans packed in under the corrugated iron roof, the atmosphere of noise and smoke was intoxicating.

When Rovers played Djurgardens back in 2002, it was the New Stand that was packed with expectant Rovers fans situated adjacent to the Riverside stand that had thousands of Swedish fans.  When Stephen McGuiness scored into the Rovers goal down below us that night and climbed up towards the celebrating fans it felt that Rovers were on the way to the next round.  It wasn’t to be but is a vibrant memory for many fans.

We have also had our share of heartbreak in Tolka Park.  Our last appearance in an FAI Cup final back in 2002 was not the memorable coronation for the Hoops that we hoped.  We did not collect our 25th FAI Cup that night but left the venue defeated by Derry City.  2005 was another low point where we came to Tolka Park for the away leg of a relegation playoff.  Dublin City, who were expunged from the League the very next season, were playing their home games here in Tolka Park that season.  Rovers were reaching the end of a truly disastrous season.  Docked points for financial irregularities, faced extinction after going into financial Examinership, the club sacked manager Roddy Collins and were facing relegation for the first time ever.  Fans looked on incredulous as the club many deemed too good to go down couldn’t conjure up a winner.  What a shame the Rovers legend, Derek Treacy, wouldn’t bow out that night after a long and distinguished career by leading Rovers to victory.

Of course, the relegation proved a cathartic process.  Shamrock Rovers emerged stronger after the fans dug deep into their own pockets and came up with the money to save the club.  Under former manager Pat Scully, Rovers made Tolka Park a fortress in the 2006 season conceding just five miserly goals during the 17 home games that season.   In November 2006, Rovers fans changed ends in the second half of the game against Finn Harps and it was in Section F of the main stand that we saw Rovers complete a 4-0 win to secure promotion back to top flight football where we belong.

When other clubs move stadiums like Arsenal, Ajax or Juventus there is always some fans who want to remain at their traditional home.  Rovers are no different but our traditional home was Glenmalure Park and not Tolka Park so there won’t be too much nostalgia over leaving this venue tonight.  It is a venue that is past its time.  Football fans and stadia have moved on.  Peering through the stands countless columns, squeezing through rickety turnstiles, having matches postponed because of unsafe floodlight pylons or the River Tolka bursting its banks are reasons why nobody will miss Tolka Park terribly.  Yes we will have our memories of Tolka but it is the new memories that we will be creating in Tallaght next season that make tonight an exciting occasion.  We said goodbye to Dublin 6 back in 1987, we say goodbye to Dublin 3 tonight knowing we will be saying hello to Dublin 24 next season.

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