Home > Shamrock Rovers Programme General Articles > From fan to player to fan – Interview with four in a row winner John Coady

From fan to player to fan – Interview with four in a row winner John Coady

This is the story of a boy who stood on the terraces in Milltown supporting Shamrock Rovers. The tale of the player who pulled on the famous green and white hooped jersey of the team he supported to score on his league debut. He would become part of Hooped folklore, a key member of the fabled four in a row side. He would win six league titles, two doubles with Rovers, a treble with Derry City, and was part of the last team to lift the league trophy in Dundalk prior to their title win last season. His playing career took him to the top flight of English football with Chelsea and he is now back where it all started – watching Shamrock Rovers as a fan. This is the story of John Coady.

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“My whole family were all Rovers supporters,” said Coady when Hoops Scene asked him about growing up a Hoops fan. “My three brothers went and occasionally my mother and one of my sisters would go. They were avid Rovers fans in the 1960s and followed them all over Ireland – here, there and everywhere.

 

“It was hilarious but when I was really young I wouldn’t be allowed go to Glenmalure Park because it was too crowded! They were getting 15 or 16,000 at every game in the ‘60s. My first Rovers match was around 1966 when my brother Tommy brought me.”

 

As a 21-year-old, Coady was playing with YMCA in the Leinster Senior League when a friend of his arranged for him to get a trial with Rovers’ reserves. “My friend Martin drove me up one Tuesday and in I went through the big green gates. That night being a Rovers fans I automatically went to the home dressing room to strip for training. That was where the first team changed. I walked along and couldn’t see a gap till I saw a gap beside Harry Kenny. I sat down and then I didn’t move for six years!”

 

John Giles was managing Rovers at that time and Coady quickly moved from playing in the reserves and into the first team by 1982. “John gave me my start. It was a very quick the transition between getting onto the B team and playing a first team game. I got a great break early on when Gilsey saw something in me and he put me in which was great. He wasn’t afraid to do that.

 

“We played a League Cup match against Drogheda in Tolka mid-week. That didn’t go so well as I missed what I thought were some reasonable chances that I would have put away. I was playing as a striker at the time. We were away to UCD the following Sunday and he didn’t tell me anything other than turn up. I turned up at Belfield and he named the team and I was in. I scored two on my debut in a 2-2 draw.”

 

Coady soon settled in to becoming a fixture in a Rovers side and under new manager Jim McLoughlin that squad would make League of Ireland history, winning four league titles in a row starting in the 1983/84 season. “Looking around the dressingroom the quality of players we had was fantastic. It was a privilege for me to be there as all I ever wanted to do was pull on a green and white jersey in a cup final. So to do that, win a couple of FAI Cups and then to win four leagues was extraordinary. There were no weak links in that team at all.

 

“Jim was brilliant for me. He is a fantastic man. You’d have to say the most successful manager in the League of Ireland. He knew the game inside out. His depth of knowledge of opposing teams was extraordinary. He was meticulous in the preparation. He would be able to tell you about any team that was coming up.

 

“We had a meeting every Saturday morning after training in Milltown. We would discuss the side we were going to play the next day and he would have all the details about them.”

 

The Hoops would dominate in Ireland during that period but European success would prove illusive. The match against Celtic in the European Cup in 1986 felt like one that got away as Rovers lost the first leg in Glenmalure Park to a late Murdo MacLeod goal. “It was disappointing as I thought we had enough in our armour to beat them that night. They were a good side but in Milltown we had enough about us to win the game but we got done by a sucker punch. They were great occasions. I loved the European games. They were very special nights in Milltown.”

 

A few months later the opportunity arose for Coady to join Chelsea and he admits that it was a difficult decision to make the make. “I was playing for Rovers and living the dream. I was winning every week. Dermot Keely was the manager and he rang me and told me they were interested. It wasn’t an easy decision and I was a bit reluctant. I was working in the post office and it was just me, my brother and my mother in the house.

 

“I said I would go over and meet them and see what they had to say. They told me what was on offer. I rang my Mum and we had a 10 minute discussion. She said ‘look, it is something you’ve always wanted, so you might as well go for it’.

 

Last Sunday QPR got caught by a late Cesc Fabregas goal as Chelsea earned a 1-0 win in Loftus Road. 28 years ago this very weekend, John Coady made his debut for Chelsea in the same fixture and, like on his league debut with Rovers, found the back of the net. “I scored in a 1-1 draw against QPR beating David Seaman in goal with a cracking volley from about three yards past him!”

 

Coady made 19 appearances for Chelsea across two seasons but has mixed views about his experiences at Stamford Bridge. “The highlight without question came on the first day when I scored. It is every schoolboys dream to be a professional footballer. Many try but few are chosen. So to get the opportunity to play there for those years was great.

 

“I was never a Chelsea fan though. I worked for them but never really like them. I have no time for them at all. I don’t really pay any heed to Premiership football at all. It leaves me cold.”

 

His move to London meant he departed before the drama of the controversial sale of Milltown. “I hadn’t heard anything about it and as it turned out I’m glad I was away when it happened. I couldn’t understand it looking from the outside as I was then but if I’d have been on the inside it would have been a huge wrench. It would have been awful. It is only in the last few years that the club recovered.”

 

These days Coady can be found in Tallaght on match nights sitting in the stands supporting the team he used to play for, cheering on Pat Fenlon’s team who have made an excellent unbeaten start to the domestic campaign. “The results haven’t been going our way in the last few seasons. Pat (Fenlon) will find his own team and everything takes time but people need to be patient and things will be alright.”
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Later in the year, European football will return to Tallaght and Coady gets a chance to enjoy the experience these days as a fan. He has made a number of European away trips in recent years. He remembers fondly the matches in 2010 and 2011 including the monsoon in Modena and the supporters singsong sheltering out of the rain at half-time.

 

“I love going up to Tallaght for the matches. I’ve had a season ticket since we moved there. We’ve had some great European ties. 2011 was an extraordinary season. The Juventus adventure the year before was brilliant in Modena. I’m still drying out from the night! Those antics at half-time were fantastic. They are the things that happen on the European trips. Sometimes I think it is better to be a fan on these trips!”

 

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Published in Hoops Scene 7 (2015) Shamrock Rovers v Drogheda United

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