Celebrating a Centenary of Soccer

De Facto
Celebrating a centenary of soccer

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Young lads rolled up socks and tied them together.  The ‘ball’ was chased, bringing limitless enjoyment and fun until it wore out.  More socks were ‘secured’ from unsuspecting clotheslines!  Westport Utd is kissing the breath of 100 years this year yet the first recorded piece on Association Football graced the pages of this newspaper in 1894.  Socks gave way to footballs.  
The Mayo News provided many match reports as the early 1900s danced into the new century.  A group of current Transition Year students is trawling through digitised reams of papers from the last century.  They are sifting out match reports, notices for meetings and anything that vaguely mentions Association Football.  The students are providing a wonderful service that will form an integral part of the history of soccer in Westport.  They are to be commended.
Where’s Mr Hall’s Field?  It is one of the questions currently being mused upon by another gentle group researching soccer in Westport.  A centenary must be celebrated.  A book is in the offing – to be launched during Covie Week, July 24 to July 31.  100 years running after a bag of wind!  There are other fields or pitches where tired legs played full of enthusiasm and where local people gathered to cheer on local heroes.  They include the Sodality Field (the Demesne), O’Malley’s Field (now Fr Angelus Park), Coyne’s Field (now Carrowbeg Estate), Carnalurgan Pitch (Quay Hearts played here), Munster’s Field (the Lodge Road), Carrowholly Pitch, the Cottages (now McConville Park), Jeffers’ Field (Newport Road), the Point (at the Quay) and the current home for Westport Utd at the Sports Park in the Paddock.  Soccer was played in all these pitches among others, including one close to the present GAA grounds, or was that the Sodality Field?
In 1894 a notice in The Mayo News headlined ‘Westport Association Football Club.’  The notice read: “The inaugural practice match of the above Club was played on Wednesday evening in the Demesne.  The play throughout showed a lot of spirit and dash, which augurs well for the success of the club.  In the future, the practice evenings will be Tuesday and Friday only.  Gentlemen wishing to join should send in their names to the Hon Sec.”
Only intermittent reports appeared over the next few years.  Westport played all sorts of teams in the early 1900s at home and away.  They battled with the RF Artillery from Ballinrobe in 1905 in Mr Hall’s Field in Westport.  Ballinrobe won 4:1.  This paper reported: “The Ballinrobe eleven are a clicking combination and their scientific play was much admired…In the evening, the visitors were hospitably entertained in the Town Hall, a very pleasant evening being spent.  The dinner was supplied by Mrs Walsh.  The Ballinrobe Brass Band travelled down with the team, but they were very sparing with their music.”  
Westport also played away to Ballinrobe McBrides that year.  Westport lost 5:1.  The match report stated: “Notwithstanding the score against them, Westport were playing a plucky game, and made several attempts to score…” The report continues:  “The visitors were afterwards entertained by the Ballinrobe Club, in their usual hospitable manner.  There will be a meeting of the Westport Football Club in the Town Hall, on Sunday immediately after second Mass, all members are invited to attend.”
Also in 1906 the Westport team boarded the 10.30 Sunday train to Castlebar to play against the Connaught Rangers team in the Demesne, Castlebar with kick-off at 12 noon.  In 1907 Bohemians beat Westport 4:2 in Dalymount Park.  A return match was held the following year in Westport. 
Westport Association Football Club hosted a concert in the Town Hall in 1909. “An excellent programme was gone through admirable… The excellent Brass Band of the Temperance Society contributed selections during the concert.”  On St Stephen’s Day 1910 Westport host Shelbourne.  “All lovers of Association Football can look forward to a grand game on that day.” 
Westport Utd was set up in 1911 with a District League soon under way.  Teams included Westport Utd, Wheelers, CBS, Clog Factory, Rovers and Bboys.  Note, CBS!  Strange how in later years the ‘ban’ put paid to all that!  In 1912 there was a challenge match listed between Westport Utd and ‘Pick of the Town’ with a set of gold medals for the winners.  Utd also travelled to play Irvinestown Wanderers at home in Co Fermanagh in the 3rd Round of the Irish Junior Cup!  Westport won 2:0.  Utd had beaten Sligo Celtic 2:0 in the 2nd round.  Westport hosted the first Inter-Provincial soccer match in Connacht on May 31, 1930.  Buses came from Achill, Galway, Leenane and Louisburgh.  Special trains operated from Sligo and Athlone. 
The book is currently under way with Brian Cusack driving hard and Pádraig Burns as editor.  My socks are missing off the clothesline.  I wonder…