Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard

London

September 2015

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Croke Park (Dublin)




Croke Park in Dublin was first used in 1884 as an athletics and sports ground, known as both The City and Suburban Racecourse and Jones Road. The ground was the first home of Bohemian FC.

The site quickly became a prominent venue for GAA sports and in 1896 it staged both All Ireland Finals for the first time. It also staged the IFA Cup Final of 1901 between Cliftonville and Freebooters.

In 1908 a journalest and GAA member Frank Dineen borrowed some money so he could buy the Jones Road site from owner Maurice Butterly for £3,250. In turn Dineen sold it on to the GAA for £3,500 five years later. The GAA immediately called the ground Croke Park after Archbishop Thomas Croke who was one of the associations' first patrons.

In 1913 Croke Park had two stands on the Jones Road side with grass banking around the rest of the arena. In 1916 rubble from the Easter Rising was put at the Railway End to form Hill 16 (which was also called Hill 60 because it was sixty metres high).

November 21st 1920 saw a tragic event at the stadium which would sour Anglo Irish relationships for many years. It was at the time of the Irish War of Independence and that morning the IRA murdered a gang of British undercover agents living and working in Dublin. The Royal Irish Constabulary along with the British Auxiliary Division went to Croke Park where Dublin were taking on Tipperary in a Gaelic Football match and where the forces thought the perpetrators of that mornings attack would be. They enclosed the ground and arrested many as well as firing indiscriminately into the crowd. Fourteen men were killed. Thirteen were spectators, with the other being Michael Hogan, the captain of the Tipperary team. The day became known as Bloody Sunday.






During the 1920's the GAA set about making Croker as many locals call it, into a high capacity stadium. In 1924 The Hogan Stand was constructed on the Jones Road side and three years later the Cusack Stand (named after Michael Cusack of Clare who was the founder of the GAA) was erected opposite. In 1952 The Nally Stand was built next to Hill 16 after Pat Nally, another founder of the GAA. In 1961 90,556 set a Croke Park attendance record at the Offaly against Down All Ireland Senior Football Final.

During the 1980's the GAA looked for ways to increase the capacity of the old stadium. By 1991 it stood at 80,000 but the association wanted an arena to serve modern demands and giving patrons a good view around the large pitch required for GAA sports.

A new Cusack Stand was completed in 1995 at a cost of £35M on three tiers with a capacity of 25,000. The Davin Stand was built at the Canal End as an extension to the Cusack Stand from 1998 before phase three of the development, a new Hogan Stand including extra facilities for players and VIPs was carried out soon after. 



 












The final stage was built after the staging of the 2003 Paralympics and saw the redevelopment of the open end of the ground into a new Nally End/Dineen Hill 16 terrace. This end was kept as terracing to allow the sale of cheaper tickets, and it was divided into three sections. When Sean Kelly, the GAA President opened it in 2005, Croke Park was left with a capacity of 82,300.

In 2005 the GAA faced a dilemma. Lansdowne Road across the city was about to be rebuilt so the IRFU and the FAI required a venue to stage their games. However the GAA had strict rules in place. Up to the early 1970's the GAA banned anyone from playing in their sports who was found to also play football, rugby or cricket as Gaelic games were a symbol to Irish nationalism and promoted and maintained indigenous Irish sport. This rule was relaxed although GAA ground were not permitted to stage 'foreign' sports which could prove competition to the GAA organisation.




 










At the GAA Annual Congress in April 2005, it was agreed to temporarily relax rule 42 by a slim two thirds majority to allow the national rugby and football teams to play matches at Croker during Lansdowne Road's rebuild.

Floodlights were installed in 2007 to accommodate the stadiums' new teams with Ireland narrowly being defeated by France in the first ever Rugby Union match at the stadium on 11th February 2007. In the second game, England were visitors. There was nervous anticipation before the game owing to previous history and the Bloody Sunday connection, but 'God Save the Queen' was meticulously observed before Ireland gave the visitors a huge beating on the pitch.

On 24th March 2007 the Republic of Ireland defeated Wales in a Euro 2008 Qualifier with Stephen Ireland scoring the only goal, and the first at the ground for one hundred and six years. Matches for both the rugby and football sides continued at Croker until they moved back across the city to the newly opened Aviva Stadium in 2010.



 










My visit

Friday 15th October 2010

I was in Dublin for a few days sightseeing, socialising and visiting stadiums. On the Friday morning I had dragged my aching body (the Guinness around the city had been wonderful the night before!) to Drumcondra, Shelbourne, Home Farm and Sporting Fingal before it was time to get to Croke Park for a stadium tour.

The website advised me that tours were regular. I was a bit ahead time wise so I hoped I may get on a midday tour and then take a prolonged siesta to aid recovery before attending that evenings FAI Cup semi final at Dalymount Park. On arrival I was told there wasn't a tour until 1pm but I could pay and look around the museum for an hour. I'm very pleased that this was my only option.


 









The museum was superb, offering many displays about the GAA and the stadium's history. There was plenty to keep people of all ages entertained with audio visual and interactive activities. I had a really good delve before relaxing with a cuppa.

We were taken by our tour guide to the press room where he started talking in Gaelic, cue panic amongst the majority of us! He relented after offering us a warm welcome and reverted to English, not that it was much use to the group of Italians who continued to use their mobile phones and generally become irritants for the rest of the tour.

We kicked off with simply the best video presentation I've seen on my many stadium tours. It went behind the scenes and showed us a typical match day at the stadium including fans, staff, caterers, VIPs, Garda, players and officials. Our appetites whetted we went around to the Hogan Stand and went into the changing rooms and VIP areas before walking up the tunnel to go pitch side. Our guide was excellent and also very willing to answer any questions from the several Englishmen on board.

It was certainly an eye opener to myself and gave me a far greater understanding of Irish culture and their side of things. We were taking up to the top of the Davin Stand where we got a wonderful view of the city looking out of the back and an even better view of the stadium from the seats.

We returned to the starting point and shown the wall at the back of the Cusack Stand which had plaques for every registered GAA club, from all over the world, which was another surprise for me. I said my thank yous for a great tour before heading down the tunnel under Hill 16 where I got chatting to some Derby County fans who were equally impressed by the tour.

I told them about that evenings game when they spotted the distant floodlights at Dalymount and they seemed fairly interested. I went on my way down to O'Connell Street for some desperately required refueling before hitting the sack ahead of another amazing evening (see Bohemian page).













Croke Park was superb. A great stadium with a fascinating history we would all do well to remember but move on from. I hope to be back one day for a GAA match, and of course all the pre and post match socialising that goes with it!

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