Friday, March 13, 2009

After 22 Years, Shamrock Rovers Finally Have a Place to Call Home

This night took 22 years to make. The most storied, celebrated, and successful team in Irish soccer have finally come home.

Just over two decades ago, Shamrock Rovers had Glenmalure Park sold from under them, in the intervening time frame they have travelled the length and breadth of the country to play their home matches...

Sharing grounds with rival clubs all over Dublin and even as far as Cork, Rovers had become somewhat of a joke within sporting circles in Ireland. With no ground to speak of, successive boards poured all their money into the team, paying mad wages and eventually running the club into the ground.

Their proposed stadium in Tallaght (pronounced Tala) was put on hold amid objections from rival sporting federations and a lack of funding. It came as no surprise to anyone involved in football to see Rovers go into administration and face extinction.

This situation was untenable for the fans of the club, and in late 2005 the "400 Club" was born.

A group of fans came together and bought the club with their own money. And each week, they put their own money into the club to pay the players wages.

A club run by fans for fans.

It is somewhat ironic in this age of an economic downturn where Ireland's economy has become a world wide laughing stock and the funding in the League of Ireland has hit an all-time low. Clubs are facing extinction by the season's end through a lack of money that Shamrock Rovers, through the 400 Club, are now hailed as the model on how to properly run a club.

After being relegated for the first time in the club's 105-year history in 2006, Rovers bounced back up at the first attempt and tonight, March 13, 2009 signalled the beginning of a new era in Irish football.

Shamrock Rovers played their first home game in Tallaght tonight. They entertained Sligo Rovers in front of a crowd that had travelled not only from near and far in Ireland, but from America, Canada, England, Belgium, Australia, and France to name but a few.

For tonight's opening match, the stadium could only hold 3,500 fans of its proposed 7,000 capacity. In trying to get the stadium ready for tonight SDCC (South Dublin County Council) finished one half of the ground with their own money and will complete the stadium by the year's end.

2,000 season tickets were sold within days, prompting Rovers to suspend their sales for the time being, demand being so great that only season-ticket holders would have access to home matches.

The match was an instant sell out.

Sligo Rovers came to upset the apple cart but a rampant Shamrock Rovers should have been home and dry by halftime, instead they had to make do with a slender 1-0 lead.

Home and dry being only a phrase as the weather on the night was anything but. It was always going to be a night to remember, a night to tell your children about.

The wind howled and the rain fell in every direction it possibly could, but nothing could dampen the home fans spirit on a night like this.

The second half continued in the same manner of the first with Rovers on the offensive and Sligo trying in vain to hold off the onslaught. The Hoops scored their second through local old boy Dessie Baker and the scene was set for a famous win.

Sligo scored a late consolation goal but nothing was going to deny Michael O'Neill's team on this historic night, and the fans went away happy with a 2-1 win.

It was an incredible night for fans of Irish football. A night that we had all hoped we would see but never thought would happen. A night that will stay in the memory long after other moments are forgotten.

Football has finally found a home. And the 400 Club—whoever they may be—should stand tall and be proud of what they have achieved. But the journey has only started and the road from Damascus is long and hard.

Shamrock Rovers are sounds nice when you say it aloud.

twitter / WillieGannon