In the latest instalment of our Making a Stand series, GERRY FARRELL looks at a man whose name doesn’t actually adorn the stand he’s associated with…
There is much discussion in the Irish football community about the redevelopment of Dalymount Park in the north Dublin suburb of Phibsborough. Dalymount was the first home of the Irish football team after their split with the IFA as well as being the home to Bohemian Football Club since its construction in 1901.
The ground has seen better days and the plans to redevelop it that have been put forward by Dublin City Council have been broadly welcomed by Bohemian’s supporters and by the wider Irish football community. It is proposed to redevelop the stadium as a community focused sports facility with Bohemian FC as anchor tenants. The stadium when complete should have a capacity of 10,000 as well as offices, meeting rooms and a football museum. League of Ireland fans usually take such proposals with a heavy dose of scepticism; however, there seems to be strong support from both Dublin City Council and the FAI who have earmarked the redevelopment of the “home of Irish football” as a legacy project from hosting games at Euro 2020.
When the existing stadium is demolished it will mean that the Bohs faithful will have to bid adieu to the Jodi stand, this is the main stand that holds the bulk of the Bohemians’ support and has been in place since 1999 when it was built to replace the old Archibald Leitch designed wooden grandstand.
At its peak the stadium could hold over 40,000 and was graced by the likes of Pelé, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Charlton, Matthews and Zidane, as well as home grown Irish legends like John Giles, Liam Brady and local boy Liam Whelan who grew up just minutes from the ground. Sadly, capacity is reduced to just over 4,000 these days with only two sides of the ground open to supporters, the majority of whom are accommodated in the Jodi stand.
So who was the “Jodi” that it was named after? Well, that would be Tony O’Connell and Jodi would be the company that he used to run. But there is more to this than simple commercial endorsement. Tony O’Connell is the Honorary Lifetime President of Bohemians, a position not awarded lightly but rather in recognition of decades of commitment to the club both on and off the field.
Prior to this Presidential role Tony was the man who scored the winner for Bohemians in the 1970 FAI Cup final ending the club’s trophy drought of over 30 years. He bought out his own contract with Dundalk so that he could initially sign for Bohs as an amateur. The club had long held fast to an amateur ethos but in order to better compete, the articles of the member’s owned club were changed and Tony O’Connell became the first professional player to wear the Red and Black of Bohemians.
As well as being a top League of Ireland player and Irish international, Tony was also a prominent businessman. His textile company Jodi, based in Duleek, Co. Meath had made him successful and several years before Kettering Town’s decision to wear sponsored shirts, he wrote a sponsorship cheque for £10,000 to help get Bohs out of a financial hole and had Jodi as the first shirt sponsor in these islands.
Tony continued to help the club financially over the intervening decades and despite his relatively short playing association with the club he is very much a match day fixture in Dalymount. Although his company were concerned with textile wholesale, and the fact that it ceased trading in 2003, the main stand at Dalymount continues to bear that name and will at least for a short while longer.