Retro Shirt Reviews #7: Shelbourne Fanzine Special

With Shelbourne FC returning to Umbro kits for the first time in 8 years this week when the League of Ireland First Division kicks off, we thought it appropriate timing to upload our most recent Red Inc. fanzine special from last year, which funnily enough includes the first time the Reds wore Umbro in the early 80s. What’s more, a brand new article by ourselves will be in the imminent next issue, RI65, on sale at Shelbourne’s first home game of the season on Friday week.

Red Inc. is the longest running fanzine in Irish football, having been produced by the fan-group Reds Independent since 1999. After a Shels-inspired Pyro On The Pitch installment to start our RI guest slot, our Retro Shirt Reviews series was adapted for RI64, where usually we would breakdown an obscure jersey from our own POTP collection. But for this installment we deviate from that regular format to take a look back at some of the possibly lesser known kits from Shelbourne’s past.

A large thank you to Maurice Frazer and those at Shelbourne FC Photos for picture permission, follow their page if you are a Shels supporter.

Intro:

August 2018: DUBLIN has recently been awash with grown men proud as punch in their new English Premier League jerseys (usually derived from only a handful of clubs), especially when their teams have been playing meaningless cash-cow friendlies in the Aviva Stadium. This is particularly embarrassing when trying to explain to confused, non-Irish friends why there are so many people in Ireland supporting Liverpool for example.

The rise of two certain clubs in the Premier League since the new millennium mean that there are also a lot more blue English league jerseys around than there was in the 90s. But there was a time when the archetypal football club nicknames of “the blues” and “the reds” were synonymous with two native clubs: the blue shirted Waterford FC – who dominated the League of Ireland from the mid-60s to early 70s – and Shelbourne FC of Dublin.

Legends:

Established in 1895, one legend suggests that Shels’ original colourway of red, white and blue was a tribute to the Union Jack, reflecting that football was traditionally a sport of the Anglo-Irish establishment at the time (as opposed to the Gaelic Games associated with “old Irish” communities). Similarly, city rivals Bohemians were known to have close ties to the British Army (as with many clubs from “garrison towns”) and allegedly housed British soldiers during the 1916 Easter uprising. But just like how you would be hard-pressed to find a communist in the fanbase of teams called Dynamo/Dinamo or CSKA in eastern Europe these days, any early links to loyalism were soon long forgotten by the local supporting communities of both clubs.

Another legend states that Shelbourne were true pioneers in being the first Dublin team from any sport to adapt the city’s three castle coat of arms as their crest. There are also theories that the red jerseys used by St. Patrick’s Athletic upon their foundation in 1929 were inspired by an admiration of the already popular Ringsend outfit. Considering the historic connection of the shirt to Irish football history, as well as Shels’ use of red seemingly outdating that of both Liverpool and Manchester United (for whom many of  the Irish public would later develop an infantile fascination), it is no wonder that the club nickname would morph into the “real reds”; and more popular as of late, the “auld (old) reds”.

60s-70s:

In standing with the time, Shelbourne’s kits would remain minimal in design for the next several decades, with white collar variations and cuffs on the shirt being the only possible addition to the crest – if one appeared. A stylishly noteworthy strip that did offer a splash of colour was used at the time of the famous Cup Winners Cup tie with Barcelona in 1963, featuring a crew neck jersey with no trim and a blue crest with gold castles. Ten years later, huge winged collars with v-insets hearkening back to the 30s would again be all the rage. Shels were no exception to the trend with an otherwise plain shirt (crest later added), but like the national team, stripes now appeared on the white shorts.

The club continued to keep up with the ever-evolving kit styles, as by the end of the decade red shorts were employed for the home attire; the v-inset disappeared from the collar; and three elegant white stripes ran the length of each sleeve. But it was the brand of O’Neills that appeared parallel to the badge on the chest, not adidas. The shirt used the same template as the Irish national team jersey, meaning three stripes were also on the turnover of the collar. In what appeared to be clearly a blatant act of plagiarism of the West German company’s famous design – that would go on for decades, with the company shamelessly take “inspiration” from other well known shirt features later – amazingly after much legal battling it was declared that O’Neills would be allowed to continue to produce three striped sports gear, but in Ireland only.

1980s:

The peak of Shelbourne’s later success would coincide with the club’s association with English kit-masters Umbro. But few are aware that Umbro were also briefly around as Shels began to embark upon the 1980s, a decade that  would see them hit their lowest ebb until that point. By this time jerseys were changing from heavier materials to sleek, streamlined and slim-fitting polyester, and an away game to Bohemians in 1981 shows a shiny white alternate shirt featuring a modern (for the time) red v-neck and cuffs, with Umbro diamonds and wordmark. The earlier-used diamond-only Umbro logo appears on the red shorts, which are accompanied by red socks with white trim. We can assume that the home shirt was a straight reversal. Although great, the unfortunate lack of a crest prevents this becoming an all-time Shels classic.

Shelbourne would soon be donning the three stripes again, but while O’Neills would later return, this time it wasn’t them. Much is made of Cork City’s early Guinness sponsored Adidas kits – a partnership that made sense since there was a factory producing Adidas licensed kits in the city – but again many modern fans may be unaware that the Reds wore Adidas before Cork City had even been founded in 1984. As well as a trefoil, a sponsor appeared by 1983 on a Shelbourne shirt for what seems to be the first time, in the form of Iveco.  This was an impressive combination as the van and truck company’s name was also being seen on the Adidas shirts being worn by Bayern Munich at the time, with their red and white colourway making some versions virtually indistinguishable from a Shels jersey if it wasn’t for the addition of the corporate name Magirus underneath.

In addition to the white sleeve stripes and Iveco sponsor, a home strip from this time featured a turn-over collar and a shield crest, which was apparently placed over the Adidas logo. The reason for this, as seen through other versions of the shirt, was that the trefoil on these basic teamware templates was positioned to the left where a badge usually would be, and so instead of going with a reversed “off” look it seems it was decided to put the crest there instead. The real beauty was the magnificent all-white away strip, which differed in it’s red v-neck and cuffs, red stripes, and a trefoil, but lacking a crest. The absence of this meant that the Adidas logo was placed on different different sides on different players jerseys, the likes of which was not uncommon at the time.

If Shelbourne were moving surprisingly well with the times, 1984 would see a slight step back. While still “shiny” material, a template was used that brought back the wing-collar/v-inset to an absurdly large degree, rivaling any huge collars from bygone eras. This was because the design was actually from several years before, as worn by Limerick FC in their in League winning 79/80 season. Their FAI Cup final version of the same year also displayed a black trefoil within the v-inset as well as chest (and humorously the clearly shoddy print job meant that even as the teams lined up the L and C in “Limerick Savings Bank” had fallen off several players’ jerseys) while Paul McGrath-era St. Pat’s also employed the template. Shels’ identifiable Iveco version was used as part of a lesser seen kit colour combination for the club, in red shirt, red shorts and white socks.

Another new strip was brought in for 1985 as a turn-over and v-neck collar returned, and delightfully pinstripes were seen on a Shelbourne shirt for the first – the most quintessential feature of 80s football kit fashion. Also freshening things up was the revival of white shorts, while Iveco was replaced on the shirt with a white panel containing the logo of “Corona Holidays”. But now, there was no sign of either crest nor trefoil, again possibly depriving this kit of a higher place on the pantheon of the club’s greatest gear. While the three stripes should still have left no doubt as to who the manufacturer was, as we have seen the O’Neills situation could have made things a little less clear if it wasn’t for the classic Adidas sweatshirts used by the subs.

The following year of 86, the remarkable turnover of kits continued with what was to be the Reds last Adidas offering, but what a way to go out it would be. Again pin stripes were the theme, but beautifully used to divide red shadow stripes, meaning alternating shades of vertical red strips. A tidy white v-neck was used, with the Adidas trefoil returning again in the “badge position”. Another significant change was the addition of popular Irish clothing retailer Penneys as sponsor. Like the previous shirt, their wordmark appeared in a white panel across the shirt. Red shorts were also used again with the home strip. Even without a crest, the ensemble was a marvelous piece of art thanks to a jersey that many supporters today would be undoubtedly willing to part with large sums of money to get their hands on.

1987 saw a new make and a new sponsor, as O’Neills took back over the reigns and a company called TransIrish replaced Penneys. It was the most unremarkable Shels jersey in years, as besides the two companys logos there is little else to mention; even the v-neck and cuffs were red. White shorts again returned, and the away strip was a straight colour reversal. The kits nearly were actually quite nice in a minmalist  sort of way, but one thing definitely of note was the team tracktops, which were mostly red but featured a white inner hood with white strings, and a white horizontal section on the torso and sleeves, with “Shelbourne FC” in the centre. A crest and white O’Neills logo appeared above, while a squad number was placed around the left ribs section. Great stuff.

Although TransIrish remained as sponsor for another year, Shels changed kit provider for the third consecutive season as 1988 brought possibly the most intriguing shirt yet. The O’Neills tracktops also stayed but the kit was now being produced by little known brand Union Sport, who also made kits for Bray Wanderers ,Dundalk FC, and, in a similar red and white style to Shels, Sligo Rovers. The kicker is that Union Sport’s logo was a literal Confederate flag (minus a couple of stars), which did appear on the chest of a Shelbourne shirt. With said flag being a common symbol of far-right white nationalists in Europe (this came up last time too), it is especially hilarious considering the Union fought against the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

Another change was the crest, which was now permanently on the chest for the first time in years. The white shield used since the 70s was gone, leaving three larger white castles standing independent over the red background of the shirt. A Union Sport wordmark was also used instead of the flag logo, but white bars running down the sleeves and sides of shirt were interjected by the flag. From afar, this gave the appearance of Denmark’s 1979 Hummel kit which had chevrons in the same places, as well as a similar collar and the same colourway. It seemed that once again Shelbourne were in a plagiarised template, as well as politically incorrect by modern standards.

1990s:

As the 1990s dawned, Shelbourne made a deal with O’Neills for the third time. After the four different kit providers of the 1980s, the Irish brand would retain some stability by staying around for the next eight years, coinciding with Shelbourne’s return to league and cup dominance. A new era dawned with many of the jerseys worn fondly remembered today. But the teams lack of success in the decades before, coupled with poor coverage of the League of Ireland in general, meant that many of the shirts we have looked at are sadly less recognised; particularly Shels’ Adidas era.

Before Shelbourne did win finally win the league again in 91/92, O’Neills provided a perfectly 90s piece for 90/91, which was slightly understated compared to the “geometric shards” shirt that would come a couple of seasons later, but suave enough to make it an absolute classic. With a smart collar and button combination, white “flecks” appear all over the red of the shirt. An O’Neills logo joined is by a new sponsor, SpeedWay, who’s red and white logo fits seemlessly into the overall design. But most significantly, a new crest which incorporated the blue background and gold castles of the past was introduced. The white away shirt with red shorts was a perfect match.

The 90/91 kits may be among O’Neills greatest work in football, slightly redeeming themselves for their indiscretions. The above mentioned 1992/93 shirt was also a crazy classic. But around the same time they would be up their old tricks with another shirt that was extremely familiar, using identical shoulder bars and general layout on a white Shlebourne away shirt to that of the Adidas Equipment range, used by the likes of Spain and France at the time. Before O’Neills left for good – to be replaced by Umbro in 1998 – they proved that it wasn’t just Adidas that they were prepared to rip-off. The FAI Cup final and subsequent replay of that year was significant for another another rare appearance of a red-red-white kit, but in classic O’Neills-level subtly, the shirt looked suspiciously similar to what Brazil were about to wear in the 1998 World Cup.

*

Pic sources: British Pathé YouTube; the41.ie; finnharps.com; corkpastandpresent.ie; Sportsfile.ie; Shelbourne Cult Heroes books by Séan Fitzpatrick with photos courtesy of Maurice Frazer and the Frazer family; Getty Images; Shelbourne vs Shamrock Rovers 1987 progamme thanks to @1895Barry; The Bar At Tolka (framed team photo); vintagefootballshirts.com; 1993 FAI Cup Final preview; retroloi YouTube.

*****

 

 

Pyro On The Pitch #10: Shelbourne FC Away to Bohemian FC, League of Ireland, 23/10/1994

The following piece was first published in the June 2018 edition of the Shelbourne FC fanzine Red Inc., produced by the group Reds Independent (as reported here at the time). As a festive, end of year treat we now present online this special “print debut” installment of Pyro On The Pitch in full.

 

Intro:

Although a health and safety aficionado’s nightmare, the practice of pyrotechnics emanating from the stands and ending up on the playing surface at football matches has a proud, mischievous tradition that goes back decades and can represent several profound meanings. Sometimes it’s appearance acts as a symbol of euphoria upon a goal or team victory, while on other occasions flares and smoke bombs have been used as a tool by disaffected supporters in “political” fan actions. Random pyro on the pitch was somewhat of a regular occurrence in the ’80s and ’90s in certain European grounds with players and referees alike often happy to play on around the flaming phallus on the grass, contently accepting an intimidating and difficult atmosphere as simply part of the magic of the game back then. Of course on other occasions, it was a straight forward act of belligerent “hooliganism”.

The League of Ireland is no exception to any of these tropes, with it’s own unique supporter culture added into the mix. Indeed the use of pyro in Irish football has a far longer heritage than one might imagine, with a Dublin newspaper reporting in 1905: “Tar Barrels and bonfires were blazing across Ringsend and Sandymount that night as the Irish Cup was paraded around the district”. The team responsible for such celebrations were local side Shelbourne FC, the first winners of the IFA Cup not to have come from present day Northern Ireland.

In the early 2000s, the modern cultural ancestor of that 1905 mentality emerged in the form of the Irish ultras scene, now approaching two decades of existence at the time of writing.  Tifo-centric features such as pyro, large flags, stadium displays and most notably organised named groups have become commonplace for the larger League of Ireland clubs. St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers led the way with establishment of the Shed End Invincibles and SRFC Ultras respectively in 2001, and heavily influenced by continental leagues that had become accessible in the media driven ’90s, “tifo flags” began appearing at clubs even yet without groups – as evident at Shelbourne vs Drogehda United in 2003:


Shelbourne and Drogheda supporters with flags in 2003. Credit to Marucie Frazer - Youtube

By the end of that season Shels would have their own group in the form of Briogáid Dearg (BD), with the appearance of an “SFC Ultras” banner at games even preceding this. The one remaining Dublin club, Bohemains, were still on the “tifo flags level” and would take a few more years to progress to a named ultras group in the Notorious Boo Boys, although the existence of the Bohs Soccer Casuals since 1992 perhaps filled the vacuum. Meanwhile, BD would be recognised among the Irish supporter culture community as an influential player with it’s own unique identity, and will no doubt go down in future histories as an integral part of the original scene.

Despite this, as most Shelbourne fans will know, it is common for derision to come from the likes of Bohs regarding the perceived gap in support between the clubs. Obviously this sort of “banter” is tiresome at best, and while it may be true that there is somewhat of a gulf in numbers at games these days, it is also likely that the Bohemian support base would find themselves in a very similar position had their club gone the through the financial collapse and year-after-year of First Division football that the Shelbourne loyal have had to put up with.

Further to this, the league can actually thank Shelbourne fans for being among the original pioneers of bringing the European supporting style to Ireland, even before any of Ireland’s ultra groups had been conceived of. For the reasons why, we must go back to the proto-years of the era we have been talking about.

Background:

Non-club affiliated “supporter units” were nothing new as, like in England, feared organsied mobs had sprang up in the 1970s. The “Black Dragons” and skinheads of Limerick FC, along with “Red Alert” and the boot-boys of Sligo Rovers were among the most notorious and violent. Waterford also had a bad reputation, and games involving certain Dublin clubs always had the propensity for trouble.


Front page of a Limerick newspaper after some of the worst Irish domestic football violence to date, involving a mob of 80 Sligo youths following a tense Limerick FC cup game against Sligo Rovers, 1975.

 

***For more old school League of Ireland grittiness, click here for Football Special Report#2: Derry City vs Shamrock Rovers 1994***

For Shelbourne, the ’70s were a decade of gradual decline that would continue into the ’80’s when the club experienced one of their lowest ebbs until modern times. For comparison, in the domestic attendance golden age of the ’50s, a league game against Shamrock Rovers had drawn 11,000+ spectators to Tolka Park and the ’60s saw European competition for the first time. But many poor years cumulated in 1987 as the Reds suffered relegation and were soon being watched by a paltry fraction of the above figure at a derelict Harold’s Cross.

However, there was one bright spark born of the dark days of the era. This arose in the form of a new supporters group, autonomous from the club but also not hell bent on mindless violence like the chaotic mobs of the ’70s. The politically minded and opinionated Alternative Reds Club (ARC) was formed in the 84/85 season, with a new mentality more in style with continental sides.

While Shels were not in European competition themselves, some ARC members were known to travel abroad with the national team and perhaps this experience of foreign environments was influential at club games back home. Either way, Shelbourne’s long awaited return to success with a 1992 league win saw some exemplary fence climbing on the last day of the season away to Dundalk, fitting for any classic European arena; or indeed Oriel Park:

One outlet for the ARC to express themselves was through the group’s fanzine “From Home To Home” (presumably the first fanzine in Shels history) from which their philosophies could be spread to other supporters. The title was in reference to the clubs varied history of home grounds which included Shelbourne Park, Irishtown Stadium and at times Dalymount Park, as well as the aforementioned Tolka Park and Harold’s Cross. It remained an appropriate name as Shelbourne moved again to Tolka Park on a more permanent basis in 1989.


A 1993 ARC fanzine.

The ARC were also making their presence felt in the grounds with the appearance of an another important development: the group banner. Along with other flags, the banners went a step further in using the platform of the football stadium to deliver an overtly political message; also a feature of certain continental support basses. At the above mentioned Dundalk game for example, we can see the classic ARC banner baring group initials along side hammer & sickle, while at a home game against Bohs the same season, an actual Soviet Union flag is also present. Both left little doubt regarding the direction of the group’s leanings:

At the corresponding fixture the following year – where we can also see another beautiful ARC banner, in this instance devoid of other insignia – the hammer & sickle flag (now with added Irish tri-colour) is humorously placed near an American Confederate flag. The “Battle Flag”, as it is known to American history, is commonly displayed as an extreme right-wing symbol in certain European countries, but more than likely innocently employed for the colour-scheme here:

Despite the appearance over the coming years of some other left-associated symbols at Shels games, such as Che Guevara (see the picture vs Drogheda above), the Starry Plough (associated with Irish socialism), and the national flags of Euskal Herria & the Lebanese Republic, the support base remains apolitical on the whole. If anything in these divided times, the club provides a common ground for Dubliners of different ideals to come together over the slightly absurd but shared cause of the Reds, which can only be a positive thing. In that way, the Confederate flag sitting side by side with the Soviet symbol is an apt image, although a little extreme for most supporters real ideological beliefs these days.

Speaking of flags and banners, the European style was also appearing through external forces as Shels’ resurgence on the pitch brought back continental competition. Being drawn in consecutive years against recently independent Ukrainian opposition – Tavriya Simferopol in the 92/93 Champions League preliminary, Karpaty Lviv in the 93/94 Cup Winners Cup preliminary – meant that at first very few away fans were present, with ARC banner again visible at the latter; perhaps wisely without hammer and sickle:

But victory against Lviv meant the visit of ultras royalty Panathinaikos in the Cup Winner’s Cup first round proper on September 29th, 1993, and the resulting adornment of Tolka Park with several impressive standards displaying exotic Greek characters and symbols:

Visible on one banner is a “13”, of course referencing the mammoth Gate 13 supporters association that was founded in 1966 – more than likely the first ultras group to be represented in Tolka Park. At the same game on the Shels side, a very pleasing, long red and white banner could be seen, the bold simplicity of which is quite beautiful. The thoughts of one inspired and heroic supporter (or several) going to the effort of constructing this piece, bringing it to matches, and erecting it on fences brings us much joy, as well as indicating the increased pro-activity of the display minded Shelbourne fans:

At Dalymount Park (home of Bohemians) in the same season, the Shels fans inhabited the Tramway End (now closed) behind another classic parameter fence, perfect for hanging flags. While the ARC flag appears notable by it’s absence (or just off camera), an amazing large red and white banner with huge black “SFC” text can be seen to the left of the goal, more than making up for it.

The ARC would soon wind down as an active and cohesive unit, their mythical place in Shelbourne folklore already sealed as the revered, original fan culture group of the club. But the next generation had already begun, doubtlessly spurred on by the presence of a respectable “in the know” group like the ARC paving the way. This new attitude was especially evident the following season, as yet another game with northside neighbours Bohemians would provide a seminal supporter culture moment for the Reds.

The Match:

The game in question was the first of three league encounters between the sides for the 94/95 season, with a home tie for Bohemians on October 23rd, 1994. Again the away fans were in the Tramway End, as always providing a perfect banner hanging fence at the front of the terrace with the vintage staple of some steamers on the pitch. An interesting red and white saltire is also in view:

But from that same terrace early in the game would come the whole reason we are writing this article, bringing us right back around to where we started hours ago. As a Shelbourne team in sky blue away shirts (unlike the previous year’s white) defended their goal, a small but definite smoking flare landed on the pitch just inside the box:

If you had to classify it, the throwing of the flare was of the random mid-match variety that we highlighted earlier; a truly pure endevour of European supporter passion. As was expected of professionals in this gilded age, the players played on around the burning hazard and the game continued without question, as a closer camera angle gives us a better shot:

After this, the match went on as usual and eventually ended in what would probably be described as a thrilling 3-3 draw in some publications. But more importantly, history had gone down with what we are calling beyond doubt the first reported incident of pyro on the pitch in League of Ireland history (that may not be true but it suits our narrative). Incidentally, we have it on very good authority that the launcher of said flare, also present as a young supporter at Dundalk in ’92, would unsurprisingly go on to be a highly influential member of the Shelbourne supporter community.

Aftermath:

Up until this point we have not yet included an “Aftermath” section in our articles, but our story here certainly warrants it’s debut. As the decade progressed, usage of pyro at games involving League of Ireland clubs increased, all leading up to the inevitable evolution to actual ultras groups post-millennium. Sligo Rovers, for example, could be seen lighting up Tolka Park’s Ballybough End away to Shels in the 1996 League Cup 2nd leg, a match that we will cover in full in the future:

As for Shelbourne themselves, new groups such as Reds Independent and BD would pick up where the ARC left off, resulting in this very fanzine and many future flags, banners and displays at Shels games. While the likes of Shamrock Rovers will always try to boast the biggest following, and St. Pat’s the earliest Irish ultras group, we have demonstrated here that Shelbourne supporters were as important as any in introducing a more dynamic atmosphere to the country’s domestic league, as well as a new mentality. And since that Dalymount game in ’94, rightly or wrongly flares have made their way on to the pitch to accompany several other historic Reds moments including a last minute winner away to Bray Wanderers, an FAI Cup Final goal in the Aviva Stadium, and perhaps some other obscure occasion. Of course we would never condone or condemn such actions, as we are a 100% objective website. We are simply reporting history.

*****

Heroic Hang Jobs (Gallery) #4

In this gallery series we take a look back at a somewhat random assortment of flags and banner collectives at both international and club level from the 80s and 90s (and maybe even the 70s some day), united through being made correctly and hung the way banners were supposed to be hung (that is, chaotically). The first three installments can be found by clicking here, here and here.

Luxembourg vs Hungary, World Cup 94 qualifier, 09/09/1992:

Malta vs Italy, World Cup 94 qualifier, 19/12/1992:

Vitesse vs Parma, UEFA Cup 94/95, 13/09/1994:

(Click here for our Supporter Snap Back episode on this match)

Bayern Munich vs AS Roma, Cup Winners Cup 84/85, 06/03/1985:

Bayern Munich vs AS Roma, Cup Winners Cup 84/85, 06/03/1985:
(Noteworthy: use of “Celtic cross” right-wing symbol)


(Click here for full image)

AS Roma vs Bayern Munich, Cup Winners Cup 84/85, 20/03/1985:

Athlone Town vs Derry City, League of Ireland 94/95 Premier Division, 22/04/1995:

Hajduk Split vs Partizan Belgrade, Yugoslav First League 89/90, 19/11/1989:


Netherlands vs Germany, European Championships 1992, 18/06/1992:

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