The first and most important thing to note about Dublin is that it is not a soccer city. Soccer falls below rugby and Gaelic football on the priority list and many local soccer fans tend to follow the out of town clubs. That said, there is a great soccer scene in Dublin and the city itself is conducive to a great soccer scene.
There are two major stadiums for sporting events in Dublin, and it is important when visiting the city to know the difference. The more famous and historic of the two is Croke Park, which hosts only rugby and Gaelic football due to its dimensions. The second is Aviva Stadium, which if you are a college football fan may be familiar to you. The Aer Lingus Classic in Ireland is played in this beautiful, glass-enclosed stadium that hosts the large soccer and other sports gatherings. This year, when Dundalk needed a larger stadium for its Champions League knock-out home match, it played at Aviva.
The League of Ireland Premier Division is the country’s top division. Like MLS it plays a summer schedule. It ranks 41st in the UEFA rankings, which determines the number of Champions League and Europa League spots. As Ireland’s largest city, a large number of professional clubs play in or around Dublin. For the purpose of this article, we will write in-depth about Dublin city and suburban clubs in the top two divisions.
The “Bohs” are the oldest continuously operating soccer club in Ireland. Located in Phibsborough, Bohemian FC is the third most successful club in Ireland in terms of trophies won. They were one of the founding clubs of Ireland’s professional league and were dominant in the first few decades of the league’s existence. However, the club steadfastly refused to abandon amateur status, a common problem throughout Europe. As other clubs began paying players, the Bohs fell behind to the point of going over 30 years without a trophy. When the club abandoned amateur status in the 1970s, they again began to compete for trophies. Their most recent is a 2009 league title.
The Bohs play at Dalymount Park which opened in 1901. The Dalyer was for a time one of the premier grounds in Ireland and thus hosted a number of FAI matches. However, the ground’s upkeep and upgrades were never regular and currently the ground is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt. This decision by the city council came after a decade where the ground was initially sold to private investors, then bought by the city council to preserve the space. Arsenal fans should note that the light stands in the stadium are from the original Highbury; they were shipped to Dublin in 1962 and installed on the grounds.
The Bohs are one of the small number of clubs that are 100% fan owned and have been since its founding in 1890. The clubs boasts Samuel L. Jackson and Johnny Logan, among others, as celebrity fans. While the club has a number of rivalries with other Dublin clubs, it is their battles against the next team on this list that defines whether a season is truly successful.
The Hoops are the New York Yankees of Irish soccer. They have won the most first division titles and FAI Cup trophies in Ireland. They have also supplied the most players to the Irish national team of any Irish club. They are also the only male Irish club to reach the group stage of a major European competition, playing in the Europa League group stage in 2011-2012.
Shamerock Rovers allegedly was founded in 1901 in an area of Dublin south of the river Liffey and east, near the shipping docks. They joined the League in 1922 and won a title that first year. Save for a drought in the 1970s, the club regularly competed for titles with the most recent trophy coming in 2011 by winning the league. By 1949, the club had already won 44 trophies in seven competitions. American soccer historians may know Rovers as the Boston Rovers. The club traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 1967 to participate in the United Soccer Association.
Despite their success, Rovers have a nomadic history. Between 1926 and 1987 the club played at Glenmalure Park. In 1987, club owners sold the ground to developers, which led to a fan revolt and essentially bankrupting the club. Over the next twenty years the club played its home games in a variety of venues across the city while legal battles over its new ground, Tallaght Stadium, were fought.
Similar to their rivals, a fans’ group owns the club completely. In 2002, to raise funds to build a new stadium, the 400 Club formed with the support of fans and ownership. Eventually, the 400 Club became the club’s governing body. It is no surprise the first Irish ultra group belongs to Rovers; SRFC Ultras are known for their choreographic displays. Unsurprisingly, moving home matches around decimated the club’s ticket base but the new stadium has created a season ticket base of a few thousand for the club.
Oh, and this is their mascot.
St. Patrick’s Athletic FC
The Pats have never been relegated from the top flight. They began their life in 1929 playing in the Leinster Senior League. In 1951 they joined the League of Ireland and immediately won the league championship. They won two more league titles in the 1950s and their first FAI Cup.They would see more success in the 1980s and this decade, winning their most recent league title in 2013 and FAI Cup in 2014.
Despite their less impressive history than the previous two Dublin clubs mentioned, St. Patrick’s fans have a reputation of being the most boisterous. They count among their fans Wendell Pierce (Bunk of The Wire). The St. Patrick fan groups have close ties with ultras for other clubs, including Sheffield United, Ravenna, and Hannover 96, to the point where fans from the clubs travel regularly to each other’s games.
St. Pats plays at Richmond Park, where the British army was stationed prior Ireland’s independence from the U.K. The club moved into Richmond Park in 1930 and have played there since except between 1989 and 1993. In recent years the club has made sporadic replacements to the stands and grounds in response to embarrassing failures of the infrastructure, and the club is currently assessing its options to move. In a fun historical fact, Richmond Park hosted Ireland’s first outdoor rock festival; one of the performers was a new band called Thin Lizzy.
Lying to the southeast of Dublin in the suburbs, Cabinteely is a historic part of Ireland that has laid claim to a number of clubs throughout the decades. The current one has gone through a number of re-namings, and the club in the past few years stopped referring to themselves as Cabinteely Boys FC. Over 80 years ago the current club was founded as “The Blues from Cabinteely”. The senior men’s team only began competing in the League of Ireland First Division in 2015 and remains there today. The men’s team is one of 55 total teams in the area that share the brand.
Despite toiling in the second division, the Shels are one of Ireland’s most successful clubs. Winners of the top flight 13 times and a League of Ireland founding member, Shelbourne has the distinction of being the first Irish club to reach the third round of qualifying of the Champions League.
Although the club plays in Drumcondra, in the northern part of Dublin, they were actually founded in 1895 on the southside of the city. In a weird historical footnote, they’ve played in the shadow of both of Dublin’s greatest stadiums. Their first pitch at Havelock Square today is next to Aviva Stadium, while their current field is near Croke Park.
The club began their history as a regional power, and won a number of early IFA and Gold Cups. They were inaugural members of the League of Ireland and finished either first or second in the top flight between 1926 and 1929. Their first FAI Cup win was in 1939 over Sligo Rovers. Over the next few decades the club was a regular trophy competitor until the 1970s, when the club suffered a shocking decline, capped by a an FAI Cup final loss to the amateur side Home Farm. It would not be until the 1990s that the club would again become regular trophy contenders.
The 2000s launched the most recent run of dominance by the Shels. The club secured the double in 1999-2000 with the league and FAI Cup trophies and sent them into Europe, where they were eliminated in the second round. Under former player Pat Fenlon, the club won their first ever back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003, and in 2004 beat Croatian League champs Hajduk Split to reach the third round of the UEFA Champions League. They were the first (and until Dundalk’s run this year, only) Irish club to reach that point in the Champions League.
The club ran into financial trouble a few years later, leading to an exodus of staff and key players. Ever since, the Shels have failed to consistently perform as the soccer power they were.
University College Dublin (UCD)
Yes, UCD is a university club. Founded in 1895, the club only joined the league of Ireland in 1979. Their most notable fixture may be their 1984 loss to Everton in the European Cup Winners Cup. The Students lost 1-0 over two legs and, had a Joe Hanrahan shot gone in instead of skimming the bar, UCD would have eliminated the tournament champions and a club voted the best in Europe that year. UCD offers a scholarship program to players to allow them to complete their studies while playing soccer. It is modeled after the U.S. college system.
This article would be remiss if it did not mention the most successful Irish club in European competition. The Peas are founding members of the Women’s National League in Ireland, whose inagural title they won in 2012. The same year, they competed in the Women’s UEFA Champions League and became the first sneior Irish team of either gender to advance to the group stage of the Champions League. They finished second and advanced to the Round of 32, where the lost to PSG.